It’s My Party–But I’ll Start a New One if I Want To

Two small but notable bits of news today for those of us interested in new parties.  Even (perhaps especially) the highest of party officials may go off an found a new party when they find themselves unappreciated in their own:

It seems fairly clear that leaders now make parties.  Not only do most parties in Slovakia and the Czech Republic have relatively few mechanisms for dislodging their respective leaders (SNS, Smer, HZDS, VV, SaS, TOP 09), but those that do may find their dislodged leaders coming back with parties of their own: First Meciar from VPN and Fico from SDL, now Bugar from SMK-MKP, Zeman from CSSD, Paroubek from CSSD, and potentially (in the right circumstances) Radicova from SDKU (and from ODS, some say post-presidency Vaclav Klaus).  Why be the exiled leader of a big party when you can be the leader of your own, somewhat smaller party?
And a postscript:  Has Paroubek really named his party the “National Socialists”?  I find it hard to believe that the nostalgia for the mild interwar Czech National Socialists has triumphed over the stigma that  given to the combination of the words “national” and “socialist”  by the once-prominent German party of the same name?  (Will Czech parents again feel comfortable naming their baby boys “Adolf”?).  It is at least helpful that Paroubek has given his party the subtitle “21st Century Left” to distinguish it from the eponymous party of the “20th Century Right”

Obscure Slovak and Czech books seek good home

I have been ruthless of late in getting rid of things, especially books, but there are some books that took such trouble to obtain during my fieldwork that I cannot easily part with them unless I know that nobody else wants them.  As a result, I will post here a list of book titles (and pictures of the book spines, if that helps) and see if anybody out there wants them.  Please feel free to forward this to anybody who might care.  And because I want these books to find a good home, I will even pay the postage in the US or Canada and if you want me to send it across an ocean we can probably figure something out.

    Here’s the list.  Pictures below.

    • Capek: Loupeznik, RUR, Bila nemoc
    • Capek: Masaryk on thought and life
    • Capek: Spisy XX.  Hovory s T.G. Masarykem
    • Gajdos and Pasak: Vyvoj socioalno-ekologickej situace slovenskej spolocnosti
    • Gellner: Narody a nacionalismus
    • Hasek: Svejk (in Czech)
    • Havlicek Borovsky: Zivotni dilo
    • Hrabal: Tri novely
    • Janic: Roky bez domoviny
    • Jug-Kranjec: Slovenscina za tujce
    • Kusy: Eseje
    • Kusy: Na vlnach slobodnej Europy
    • Mistrik: Grammar of Contemporary Slovak
    • Pisarcikova and Michalus: Maly synonymicky slovnik
    • Prochazka: Chopin and Bohemia
    • Radvan: Stara Trnava v obrazoch
    • Samalik: Obcanska spolecnost
    • Sutaj: Obcianske politicke strany na Slovensku v rokoch 1944-1948
    • Tolstoy: Anna Kareninova (Czech)
    • Toqueville: Demokracie v Americe I and II

    Other books whose authors I did not manage to write down:

    • Anglicko-Cesky Frekvencni Slovnik
    • Berliz Czech phrasebook and dictionary
    • Biblia (in Czech)
    • Cesko-Anglicky Slovnik (2 copies)
    • Colloquial Czech
    • Croatian English: Poslovno-Upravni Rjecnik
    • Czech for English-Speaking Students
    • Das politische System in der Habsburgermonarchie
    • Dejiny hospodarstvi Ceskych zemi od pociatku industrializace do soucasnosti
    • Do you want to speak Czech and Chcete jeste lepe mluvit cesky
    • Etnokulturelle processe in Gross-stadten Mitteleuropas
    • Etnologicky rozpravy 1/1994
    • Funkcia prezidenta v ustavnych systemoch
    • Human Identity
    • Karpaty (a picture book about the Carpathian mountains)
    • Kratky slovnik slovenskeho jazyka
    • Leute in der Grossstadt
    • Maly frazeologicky slovnik
    • Mowimy po polsku
    • Narodnopisna kniznice
    • O slobode a spravedlivost
    • Otvorena spolecnost
    • Politicke elity v Ceskoslovensku 1918-1948
    • Postavenie Rusinov-Ukraincov na Slovensku 1948-1953
    • Ruzemberok in pictures
    • Slovensko-cesky a cesko slovensky slovnik: slovnik rozdilnych vyrazu
    • Slovnik slovenskeho slangu
    • Sovetska okupace Ceskoslovenska 1969-1970
    • Tisic let cesko-nemeckych vztahu
    • Trh prace a socialne dosledky. Ekonomickej reformy v Slovenskej republika
    • Issues of Slovo

    Party Personal-ism

    I didn’t think that I would need to be the one to do this, but somebody needs to do make a visual comment on what passes for party building on the Czech left.  So I guess it’s up to me and Adobe Photoshop.

    We saw this kind of love story in 2010, the two partners coming ever so close to the threshold:

    In the same election we saw also saw the similar, if more convoluted story of Jana Bobosikova, late of the Independent Democrats, then Politics 21, then presidential candidate of the Communist Party, then, in partnership with the Party of Common Sense, “Sovereignty-the Bloc of Jana Bobosikova, Party of Common Sense”, and finally “Sovereignty-The Bloc of Jana Bobosikova”

    Now it’s 2011 and time for another sequel, whose plot is nicely laid out in MF Dnes:
    Paroubek vzdal kandidaturu na Hrad. Blíží se politický přestup roku.

    But this effort needs a logo.  Once again through the power of Photoshop, I offer:

    Yes, it’s Zemovci II: Paroubkovci.  If that’s not quite clear enough,
    there is room in the logo for some helpful supplementary imagery.

    4.32% here we come!

    Sean Hanley waxes eloquent on Sovereignty

    Excellent post today by Sean Hanley on the potential of the “new”(ish) Czech Party “Sovereignty” which perfectly corresponds to all that is interesting to me about the region’s politics these day:

    Sovereignty’s politics are straightforward:   a mix of Czech nationalism, euroscepticism and the anti-elite, outsider rhetoric that many people like to call populism. It is, its website makes clear, a party ‘…defending the interests of citizens of the Czech Republic…’ with the conservatve-nationalist strap-line “Law, Labour, Order”

    Full post is here:

    You’re a mean one, Mr. Z.

    Congratuations to MF Dnes for publishing one of the most sinister images of a politician I’ve ever seen.  (“No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”)  It is also, in its way, one of the most beautiful.  Click on the image to see Milos Zeman’s hard-earned lines and crags.

    Unfortunately, I think the text contains a misprint, suggesting that Zeman rejects Islam as “anticivilization” because of it’s relationship to women. I think Zeman actually was referring to something else even nearer to his heart.  Here’s the correct version, I think:

    Work in progress: Thinking about cleavages, part IV

    The last post pointed toward a successor that would talk more about dimensions of competition, emphasizing the “non-primary” dimensions.  This allows some attention to the emerging question of “niche” parties and points directly to the question of salience that I promised would follow.  From this we can then look at the links between the kinds of conflicts and their roots in society (or lack thereof).

    And one final preliminary note: what follows is far longer and more detailed than anything I intended.  The material here pushed itself in this direction and I merely hung on for the ride.)

    The analysis in the previous post suggested a fairly wide consensus about the relatively narrow degree of dimensionality in most polities: something more than one dimension, but rarely more than two dimensions, at least not two dimensions of significance equal to the first.  What scholars find in most cases–whether they use manifesto data or expert survey data–is configurations that consist of one dominant dimension of conflict along with one or more subordinate dimensions, (analogous to the “one and two-halves party system” metaphor discussed with some disdain by Sartori (1976, 168) or perhaps metaphorically akin to the higher dimensions in string theory which are curved tightly in on themselves). The primary dimension is most often but not always socio-economic.  The number, type and strength of non-primary dimensions vary rather significantly from country to country (and, Stoll [2010] would suggest, over time).

    The question is how we should handle these various dimensions in scholarly analyses.  The major dimension(s) provide(s) a challenge in their composition, in how many issues they bundle.  Bakker’s work suggests that in most Western European countries the economic dimension bundles in the GAL-TAN dimension bundle whereas in some (especially Greece and Austria) it does so to a much smaller degree.  In postcommunist Europe, by contrast, the overall tightness of the bundling is somewhat lower (both mean and median correlations between economic and GAL-TAN positions are lower by about 0.10).

    For the dimensions beyond the primary conflict, problems of definition are different and there are questions of measurement and significance.   These secondary and tertiary dimensions are clearer in that they bundle fewer issues, but our everyday vocabulary–and even our scholarly vocabulary–is ill-equipped to deal with these dimensions and the parties that occupy them.

    Perhaps the most significant evidence of this inadequacy is the recent emergence of the notion of the “niche” party into active scholarly consideration.  A slightly-more-than cursory search of electronic sources suggests that this term has shifted over time from a rather idiosyncratic and descriptive term toward a theoretically-grounded concept.

    The etymology of the term “niche” is little help, deriving from the architectural term for “a  recess for a statue”(OED into a variety of meanings that imply removal, seclusion, and a general notion of “apartness.”  During the past century ecologists have transformed the word into a metaphor of suitability: every living thing has a “niche” outside of which it is not as fit for survival.

    Nor does the phrase “niche party” have a long history that would offer suggestions on how it is best to be used.  The phrase does not to have been in common use before the early 1990’s, with no mentions at all in the Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe or Google Books databases before 1993.  The early uses of the term appear between 1993 and 1999 tend to apply to small parties in systems with two or three dominant parties: the Progressive Democrats in Ireland, the New Democratic Party in Canada, the Ethnic Minority Party and Christian Heritage Party in New Zealand, and Shas in Israel.

    Gallagher in 1993 characterizes a “‘niche’ party” as “looking for support from certain groups” and contrasts this strategy with that of a “catchall party” (66,  A later commentator from New Zealand extends this metaphor directly into the realm of aquaculture:

    [Green Party co-leader Rod Donald] used “a fishing analogy to describe the difference between a broad-spectrum party and a niche party. The former “‘trawl” to catch as many voters as possible, while the latter use a more selective long line.  (Luke, Peter. 1999. “Push-button parties.”  The Press. 23 October, section 1, p. 11.)

    Niche parties are thus somehow distinctive, small, and unlikely to get much bigger.  Beyond these core characteristics, however, the precise identification of niche parties becomes more difficult and the boundaries between definitional and empirical limits begins to blur.  More recent definitions help to narrow down the field, but they do not necessarily agree.

    Perhaps the most specific of the recent definitions is the one provided by Meguid in her meticulous 2005 analysis of the interaction between “niche” and “mainstream” parties.  It is notable, first, that Meguid defines “niche” against “mainstream” rather than “catchall,” suggesting that the difference lay not (solely) in the way a party seeks to attract its voters but rather (also) in its position within the broader party system.  “Niche” here means “away from the main”

    Her definition involves three distinct aspects dealt with here or in previous (or future) posts on this topic: voter base, issue dimension and the degree of issue bundling

    First, niche parties reject the traditional class-based orientation of politics. Instead of prioritizing economic demands, these parties politicize sets of issues which were previously outside the dimensions of party competition…  [T]hese parties … challenge the content of political debate.

    Second, the issues raised by the niche parties are not only novel, but they often do not coincide with existing lines of political division. Niche parties appeal to groups of voters that may cross-cut traditional partisan alignments.

    Third, niche parties further differentiate themselves by limiting their issue appeals. They eschew the comprehensive policy platforms common to their mainstream party peers, instead adopting positions only on a restricted set of issues. Even as the number of issues covered in their manifestos has increased over the parties’ lifetimes, they have still been perceived as single issue parties by the voters. Unable to benefit from pre-existing partisan allegiances or the broad allure of comprehensive ideological positions, niche parties rely on the salience and attractiveness of their one policy stance for voter support.  (Meguid 2005, 347-348)

    Adams et al (2006) accept some of these restrictions but not all of them.  Their definition focuses on ideology but rejects the need for a cross-cutting ideological dimension or the abandonment of class politics.  Instead they accept as “niche” those

    party families who present either an extreme ideology (such as Communist and extreme nationalist parties) or a noncentrist “niche” ideology ( i.e., the Greens). (Adams et al, 2006, 513, .)

    The key underlying factor for Adams et al thus appears to be some kind of distance from the dimensional segment defined by the main parties; niche parties are either in the same plane as the main competition but some distance from the nearest competitor on its side, or they are some distance away from the main dimension on a secondary or tertiary dimension.  Graphically, the difference between Meguid and Adams et al looks something like this:


    Removing the restrictions on the main dimension of competition/class-based appeals is significant.  It minimizes the question of dimensionality, replacing it with proximity (“extreme”, “non-centrist”), and also eliminates Meguid’s demographic limitations that exclude class-based parties from the “niche” category.

    Wagner offers a simplified version of Meguid, defining “niche parties” as those “that de-emphasise economic concerns and stress a small range of non-economic issues”(2011, 3,

    Wagner’s analysis lends itself to an elegant graph that defines niche parties in strictly economic terms and places in the  mainstream any party that either emphasizes economic issues or avoids non-economic issues:

    Wagner’s definition thus sets aside any notion of the demographic basis of class competition (potentially opening the door to Communist parties) but it also removes the degree of extremeness of a party’s position in favor of a pure reliance on emphasis (excluding Communist parties from a different direction).  The simplification allows him to address and measure the “niche-ness” of specific parties rather than assuming it based on a party’s “family” which may for an individual party be a poor fit (Bresanelli 2011 finds a fairly large number of parties whose manifestos do not match well with those of others in their European Parliament group, with the share of such parties particularly high in postcommunist Europe,  Wagner’s party-specific measure also accommodates changes over time to and from the “niche” category as parties pick raise or lower their economic and non-economic emphases.  This more nuanced analysis has its limitations: Wagner establishes economic policy as the only dimension used for distinguishing mainstream from niche, and he establishes binary cut-off points for economic and non-emphasis.  Even here, however, he suggests some flexibility: he acknowledges both the possibility of a scalar alternative to the binary cutoff points, and he suggests the possibility of a non-economic variant  for “party systems in some countries are defined more strongly by, for example, ethnic divisions” (9)

    An even more recent piece by Miller and Meyer offer an alternative that strengthens Wagner at its weakest points: the binary distinction and the lack of attention to alternative dominant dimensions (2011,  Miller and Meyer define “niche parties”as those that “compete by stressing  other policies than their competitors“(4) or, according to another formulation in the paper, “A niche party emphasizes policies neglected by its rivals”(5). They operationalize this relatively simple definition with a measure that “compares a party’s policy profile with the (weighted) average of the remaining party system” across multiple dimensions (11).  In the process they depart from Wagner’s use of the economic dimension as a baseline for “the mainstream”: “We conclude that – while economic niches might be rare – to exclude them by definition unnecessarily restricts the concept”(8).  The formula also generates a scale which allows comparison of parties according to the “degree of nicheness.”

    The formula is intuitive and easy to grasp.   The farther a party is from all other parties on a given dimension–in terms of emphasis, it must be remembered, and not policy position–the higher is the niche score for its position on that dimension.  The more niches its positions on a variety of issues, the more it can be considered a niche party.  My first attempt to give a visual picture of how distances translate into niche positions is the spatial approach below:

    This is misleading,however, because we are used to reading these kinds of graphs as representing positions whereas in this case they represent intensities.  It is therefore useful (and more fun) to reconceptualize the map in terms color, with each party’s emphasis translating into a score on 3 color dimensions: red, blue and green. In this case the intensity of color is roughly analogous to difference from the center (which would be flat grey).  Bright in this case equals “nichy.”

    Party A and B occupy opposite positions on a single issue dimension (which could be taken here to be the “main” one except that this method does not identify a “main dimension”) and are low-emphasis on all the others. They thus have quite low niche scores and are quite grey.  Party C’s niche score is even lower because it is likewise low-emphasis on all issues except one and (thanks to parties A, B and G, it is relatively close to the mean on that one issue.  Parties D, E, F, and G all have unbalanced emphasis in their own way, either on one issue (E and G) or two (D) or all three (F) and are therefore brightly colored.  It is noteworthy here that while starting closer to Meguid’s notion of dimensionality than to that of Adams et al, Miller and Meyer end up allowing niche status to parties on any dimension of competition as long as it sufficiently different from the emphasis of other parties.

    In practical use, this measure still exhibits a certain degree of awkwardness. In particular it appears to be highly sensitive to number and type of dimensions used for calculating the overall niche scores.  Miller and Meyer use party manifesto data arranged in well-defined categories for Western Europe which appears to serve them well (I cannot judge at first glance), but for Eastern Europe where manifesto data is notoriously problematic, this method might not work as well (and it certainly depends in Miller and Meyer’s case on the not-always-accurate assumption that the sheer amount of verbiage translates into emphasis).  The method should, in theory, be usable with expert survey data on the salience of issues for particular parties, but these vary substantially in terms of what “dimensions” they ask about.  As a result, the results for “niche-ness” of particular parties can differ, even in relatively stable party systems.  The two tables below present results of my preliminary calculations for the two countries I know better than others using the available expert survey data on emphasis.  The results are extremely consistent for some parties and quite different for others, particularly those with some “niche” characteristics or others.

    Table 1. Niche scores for parties in the Czech Republic based on Expert Surveys

    Party Expert Surveys Overall My own assessment
    2002 Eurequal 2006 North Carolina 2007 Eurequal (evaluated dimensions) 2007 Eurequal (policy areas)
    CSSD -0.2 -0.3 +0.1 -0.1 Mainstream through intermediate Mainstream
    KDU-CSL +0.1 +.6 -0.2 +0.1 Mainstream through niche Interesting question
    KSCM -0.1 +0.2 -0.1 +0.4 Intermediate through niche Interesting question
    Nezavisli -0.1 Intermediate
    ODA +1.1 High
    ODS -0.3 +0.0 -0.0 -0.2
    Mainstream through intermediate
    SNK-ED -0.8 Mainstream
    SZ -0.1 +0.5 +0.8 Intermediate to niche Interesting question
    US +0.4 Intermediate

    Table 2. Niche scores for parties in Slovakia based on Expert Surveys

    Party Expert Surveys Overall My own guess
    2002 Eurequal 2006 North Carolina 2007 Eurequal (evaluated dimensions) 2007 Eurequal (policy areas)
    ANO +0.7 Niche
    HZDS -0.4 -0.8 -0.5 -0.4 Mainstream Mainstream(at first)
    KDH +1.1 +0.4 +0.6 +0.0 Intermediate through niche Intermediate through niche
    KSS -0.0 +0.1 Intermediate Interesting question
    PSNS -0.1 Intermediate Interesting question
    SDKU +0.1 +.01 +0.0 +0.5 Intermediate through niche Mainstream through intermediate
    SF -0.6 Mainstream
    Smer -0.3 -0.5 +0.2 +0.2 Mainstream through intermediate Mainstream
    SMK -.01 +0.7 +0.2 -0.1 Intermediate through niche Niche if there ever was one
    SNS +0.2 +0.7 +0.0 -0.1 Intermediate through niche Interesting question

    Used here the method does a fairly good job identifying parties that are clearly mainstream by any reckoning–the Czech ODS and CSSD and the Slovak Smer–but for other parties there is significant disagreement, and many of the parties producing the sharpest disagreements are those that defy easy non-quantitative categorization.

    • Green parties:  The Green party would be considered “niche” by both Meguid and Adams et al and falls into that categorization in both measures of the 2007 Eurequal survey but not in the 2006 North Carolina survey, in large part because the North Carolina survey simply does not have a measurement of environmental questions and so its niche-ness comes out only on lifestyle and ethnic minority questions.
    • Communist parties.  Both the Slovak and Czech communist parties (the unreconstructed ones rather than their social democratic successor parties) emerge as slightly but not overwhelmingly more niche-like than other parties.  That such parties are an open question corresponds well with the disagreement between Meguid and Adams et al about whether to include them in the niche category.
    • Christian Democratic parties.  While not included in either Meguid or Adams categories, such parties in postcommunist Europe (and in certain parts of Western Europe, particularly Scandinavia) often appear to operate by many of the principles specified by Meguid: avoiding class based appeals (they did this from early on), taking up issues off the main issue dimension (church and morality issues are not the main dimension in most of these countries), and keeping a relatively narrow range of issues, though they did at least claim to take positions across all of the major issue areas.  Both the Slovak and Czech Christian Democrats  put a foot in the niche category and in the 2002 survey Slovakia’s Christian Democratic Movement receives the highest niche score of any party in the survey.  At the same time it (and its Czech counterpart) show few niche qualities at all in the 2007 Eurequal survey long version, because their distinctive stands on lifestyle issues are diluted by an extremely large number of economy-related questions in the survey.
    • Ethnic minority parties.  Slovakia brings three additional parties into the niche debate, all of which made strong ethnic-based appeals.  The most clearly niche-like party of these three–indeed perhaps of all the parties listed in the two tables above–is SMK (the Party of the Hungarian Coalition)–a party with an almost purely ethnic Hungarian voting base and no major policy issues beyond minority rights and related issues.  Yet this party produces a high niche score only in the 2006 North Carolina survey which has three questions (out of a total of twelve) on nationalism, ethnic minorities, and decentralization.  The same survey suggests an equally high niche score for the SNS (the Slovak National Party) which takes diametrically opposed but equally emphatic positions on the same issues.
    • Liberal parties.  Finally, there is the question of liberal parties.  These are often small parties, sometimes with relatively narrow issue emphases, but because in Western Europe they tend to compete on the main issue dimensions,  they rarely fall into the niche category and are not included either by Meguid or Adams.  In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, however, they often appear to fall into this category.  The Czech party US (Freedom Union) received a positive niche score in because of its position on social rights (matched and countered by its election coalition partner, the Christian Democrats) and another liberal party, ODA received one of the highest niche scores on the 2002 Eurequal survey (though largely because the party was by then moribund and received low salience scores on nearly every question.  In Slovakia, one small liberal party returned extremely mainstream scores (SF, Free Forum) but two others returned scores that were mixed on the niche side (SDKU, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union) or strongly niche-like (ANO, the Alliance of the New Citizen) on the basis of social rights questions which in Slovakia (as in the Czech Republic) are not a high salience issue when compared to others.

    Even if this application of Miller and Meyer’s formula in this form and with this data does not (yet) provide a fully reliable measure, their standard for measuring niche parties does gets at the key issues of “niche-ness” in Central Europe and helps us think more clearly about politics in the region.

    Meguid took a helpful first step with her attention to secondary and tertiary issue dimensions, and Wagner and Miller and Meyer add a useful emphasis on issue salience that edges into areas of issue ownership.  One way to think about what politics is “about” in a particular country is to look at what the main political forces fight about and what other political forces “fight to fight about” turning political debate onto some other topic where they are strongest.  From Schattschneider and Riker through contemporary scholars such as Green-Pedersen, there has been a strong current of emphasis on the meta-struggle about the issues over which we struggle.  In this sense we might regard niche parties simply as those that achieve limited success in the herasthetic realm.  They neither fail so badly that they gain no voters nor succeed so well that their issue dimension becomes the dominant one.  Or (since according to Miller and Meyer this sort of  “niche-ness” is not static), they may be simply passing through from one of these extremes to another.  Niche parties thus call our attention to the partial dimensions that surround the main conflict, the asymmetrical battles between one party and all the rest.  They can be characterized as positional conflicts between two rival policies, but it may be better to characterize them as conflicts of attention between parties that do not care and parties that do.  So it is little surprise (in retrospect) that such parties behave differently from others since their struggle is not to attract voters to a position but rather to attract voters’ attention to that position and hold it there.

    In a sense it could be argued that all parties seek to do this, even on main dimensions.  So called mainstream parties seek out the niches within the main stream as they try to attract attention to a specific aspect of the issue where they hold the advantage: Party A’s reputation for lowering taxes versus Party B’s reputation for improving services (Colomer and Puglisi 2005).  It is not clear to me whether this is qualitatively different from the kind of effort undertaken by niche parties, but it does seem different to the extent that the two issues are bound up in the minds of voters: if lowering taxes and improving services are inextricably linked in most voters’ minds, then Party A’s appeals to its own area of strength cannot but cast some attention to the rival strength of Party B.  It may be for this reason that a considerable part of party effort may be in this linking or de-linking of issues to one another.  If Party A can argue successfully that the level of taxation has nothing to do with the quality of service, then it can create for itself a “niche”–and because it is a niche within the main stream of political life, where voters are already passionate and attentive, it may hold the key to political majority.  For less-discussed, less-salient issues, an equally persuasive effort at projecting issue ownership will net fewer voters and so niches outside of the mainstream, and so such a party must expend its effort not only to persuade that its position is right, and not only that it is the best party to advance that position, but also that the position matters in the first place.  So we should expect niche parties to be different from other parties.

    But perhaps by the same token we should expect niche parties to be different from one another, because some of these partial dimensions, secondary and tertiary dimensions may have fundamentally different characteristics from others.  And here it is necessary to raise the slippery question of demographics.  Demographic characteristics are admittedly less solid than they look.  Questions on public opinion surveys separate respondents into rigid, well-defined categories that seem relatively permanent but even once solid fixtures like class and religion are now in seemingly permanent definitional flux, and as with attitudes, the role of demography in political decision-making depends not only on an individual’s characteristics but on the salience of those characteristics in political struggle.  And salience is not the only fluctuating element.  A key element of demographic (and attitudinal) determinants of politics is the sense of mutual-recognition and groupness among those who share them.  These are often overlooked (perhaps because they are not easily quantified) but play a major role in shaping their importance.  Political decisions are not always made by individuals who participate in groups; they sometimes emerge within groups and capture the allegiance of the individuals involved.  That allegiance, like the demographic characteristics themselves, may be sticky, and may produce fairly high barriers between “in” and “out.”  And here, finally, is where niche parties come in.  Those whose partial issue dimensions depend on individual sentiment and loose attitudinal configurations should behave quite differently from those that stem from hard-to-change characteristics and mutually reinforcing social circles.  Both must constantly fight for the salience of their chief position; only some will do so by encouraging group identity and interconnection.

    It is this latter consideration that now causes me to wonder a bit about the wonderful work by Meguid, Wagner and Miller and Meyer.  In one sense it exactly what we need: serious research about partial dimensions and their empirical dimensions and dynamics.  In another sense, though, it may be a misnomer to talk about this in terms of “niches.”  I am struck by a passage of Miller and Meyer which notes that “Niche parties do not have their nicheness carved in stone”(2011, 8) and the contrast between this interpretation and the original meaning of  niche which was by definition something carved in stone.  Of course etymology is not destiny, but there is something relevant about the carved-in-stone-ness of certain party positions.  Niche parties may all shift political competition to questions more relevant to their own programmatic strength, but there is a fundamental difference between greens and majority nationalists on the one hand and ethnic or religious minorities on the other.  The latter come as close as possible to the architectural metaphor of a niche: the recesses are deep and the walls around them quite thick and hard-to-penetrate.  Of course the same can also be said for some Communist Parties, which may explain their inclusion in the work of Adams et al.  Compared to these, majority nationalists or greens or cultural liberals (in Central and Eastern Europe at least) do not fit the same profile, do not face the same advantages in holding a well-defined voting base or the same difficulties in trying to expand.

    This analysis suggests two different dimensions, producing three categories of niche party:

    Issue Centrality
    Secondary/Tertiary Dimension,
    Group closure Low Social Democrats Conservatives
    Majority nationalists
    Some social liberals
    High Communists
    Some Christian democrats
    Ethnic minorities
    Religious minorities
    Some Christian democrats

    Some parties qualify as niche by either standard–they have both a high degree of group closure and a non-central issue.  Of the remainder, some exhibit only collectivity or identity niches but remain on the central dimension of competition, while other occupy (potentially less enduring) issue niches without a sense of group identity or commonality beyond the issue at hand.

    This question needs more work that is not strictly relevant for my immediate purpose, so I will come back to it in future posts.  In the meantime, this discussion of niche parties leads directly into the last two topics I want to discuss in this “work in progress” series: issue salience and ownership and parties’ demographic and collective ties.  But more on those in a few days.

    Czech Election Update: The Election in Pictures

    No major news that I want to blog about today–or more precisely nothing that I have time to address–but I wanted to post two pictures from Prague sent to me by friend and Fulbright colleague Andrew Yurkovsky.  The first is technically not an election photo–he took it during the World Hockey Championship final–but it captures something very important.  The second captures someone very important.

    Ma vlast, by Andrew Yurkovsky, Prague 2010

    Admiral, by Andrew Yurkovsky

    Admiral, by Andrew Yurkovsky, Prague 2010

    Czech Election Update: Link Roundup

    Traveling again today so just a quick post to highlight the best blog posts I’ve seen on the Czech elections.  We have clearly entered an area where committed and educated amateurs can and will, for free, produce analysis of equal or better quality than what once would have cost lots of money, either to the consumer or to the newspaper/magazine that paid them.  (Yochai Benkler has some excellent analysis on the economics of social production and sharing.)

    There are a few other articles in Czech that deal nicely with key questions:

    These say it better than I could, so for once I’ll let somebody else’s words suffice.