Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - PARTYINSTABILITY (Unstable party supply in established and new democracies: causes and electoral consequences)

This project aimed at understanding the causes and consequences of the instability in political party organizations. Parties play a key role in contemporary democracies by aggregating and representing citizens’ interests, mobilizing voters, and recruiting and socializing political elites. However, to perform these functions, parties need to reach a certain degree of stability. The lack of such stability may have severe repercussions for democratic consolidation and such aspects of the quality of democracy as political representation and accountability. Party instability is a particularly important issue in young democracies where parties tend to be weaker, although it is also increasingly present in many Western European countries, especially in the wake of the economic crisis that has weakened many established parties. Thus, the study of party instability is crucial for understanding the functioning of contemporary democracies. It is also of interest to the policymakers and broader policy community involved in strengthening political party institutions.

The main contribution of the project is that it addressed those forms of party instability of which the academic and policy community has little systematic understanding. Specifically, the papers accepted for publication or under review during the duration of the project examined why parties form temporary electoral coalitions and permanent party mergers, the factors that affect the survival of merged parties as unified organizations, the causes and consequences of party splits, and the reasons that lead to the dissolution of party organizations. To answer these questions, the project relied on the statistical analysis of party-level data from both Western and Central and Eastern Europe. A substantial share of this dataset was collected during the duration of the project using academic publications, media reports and archival records. Additionally, case studies or qualitative examples were used to illustrate the mechanisms of the hypothesised causal relationships.

The project provides robust evidence that party mergers, electoral coalitions and splits are on average more prevalent in newer democracies in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) than in most Western European countries, although it also underscores several notable exceptions to this pattern. Furthermore, party change has been less frequent in CEE countries in the last several electoral periods in comparison to the rather chaotic 1990s. Complex patterns emerge also when looking at the factors of party change. As suggested by numerous previous studies, smaller parties form alliances and merge to have sufficient popular support to overcome thresholds of parliamentary representation. The pre-merger legislative strength also affects the decisions of constituent parties with regard to staying in the merged party. However, larger parties also have incentives to participate in electoral alliances and mergers to increase their influence in the formation of government coalitions. Moreover, the findings underscore the importance of the extent to which parties are institutionalized organizations as opposed to loose groupings of individual politicians. Institutionalized parties are less likely to merge, but also less likely to leave merged parties (provided that a merger was preceded by previous cooperation between parties), and they are more likely to withstand breakaways without substantial electoral losses. Last but not least, the project also uncovers a modest but important effect of European parties on party mergers in Central and Eastern Europe. Overall, these findings shed much-needed light on complex changes of party organizations in both established and newer democracies, and also provides some basis for predicting such transformations in the future. Their results are therefore highly relevant to the policymakers and the broader policy community that seek to affect or at least understand the frequency and types of party change in both established and new democracies.

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United Kingdom


Scientific Research
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