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Stanford POLSCI 313 - Lecture Notes

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Taking Regime Type Seriously: Theories of Party Systems RevisitedHeather StollStanford UniversityFall Quarter, 2001-2 Academic YearSubmitted in partial fulfillment of candidacy requirementsA significant debate in comparative politics concerns the relationship between politicalinstitutions and party systems. Current theories only offer basic models of how regime types—the ideal types of presidentialism, parliamentarism, semi-presidentialism, and president-parliamentarism, for example, as well as their hybrids—interact with electoral systems and socialcleavages to produce party systems. These models usually take the form of distinguishingbetween presidential and parliamentary systems, where presidential systems are generally held toreduce the effective number of legislative parties relative to parliamentary ones, dependent uponthe electoral cycle and the permissiveness of the presidential electoral system. Surely, however,this is not the only difference in regime type that matters: it is now well acknowledged thatsignificant differences exist within regimes broadly classified as presidential or parliamentary.Further, there are the less common ideal types of semi-presidential and president-parliamentaryregimes to consider, not to mention the many hybrids that do not exactly approximate any oneideal type.The lack of theorizing on this matter is surprising because the type of regime in whichpolitical competition takes place certainly affects the strategic calculations of voters and politicalelites alike. The decision to vote strategically is not only a function of the electoral system butalso of the way in which political power is structured within a regime. Similarly, the strategicchoices faced by party leaders about how to fight elections—when, if, and what kind of allianceswith other parties should be formed—are at least partially a function of the regime type underwhich elections are held. In other words, this paper agrees with existing theories that both thepropensity for and the qualitative kinds of strategic behavior that actors engage in vary with thetype of political regime, as different regimes confront actors with coordination problems ofvarying difficulty that impose varying penalties for coordination failures. However, this paperargues that existing theories fail to account for significant cross-national and cross-temporalvariation in party systems because they only model the variable of regime type as a dichotomybetween parliamentarism and presidentialism. The paper extends existing models byhypothesizing that the strategic incentives for coordination in electoral contests vary with thedistribution of political power within a regime: the more that a regime concentrates politicalpower in one political body such as the executive or the legislature, the greater the incentive foractors to construct strategic alliances in the electoral contest for that body, and thus the greaterconsolidatory pressure on the party system surrounding it. This paper demonstrates the short-comings of existing theories by examining Israel’sexperience with a novel political regime from 1996-2001, a natural experiment where regime typeis allowed to vary but social cleavages and electoral system are held relatively constant. It1provides further evidence to this effect by comparing Israel’s executive party system with theexecutive party systems of France and Peru, polities that are somewhat similar in social cleavagesand that employ the same electoral system in the selection of their executive, yet operate underdifferent political regimes. After illustrating the problems with existing models of party systems,the paper will develop an alternative approach that rejects the conventional presidential-parliamentary dichotomy for a more detailed classification of regimes by the distribution ofpolitical power (political constraints) within each regime. Accordingly, the paper first reviews the literature relating political institutions and socialcleavages to party systems. It then derives testable hypotheses from this literature about howparty systems should vary when variables such as social cleavages are controlled for and othervariables such as regime type are allowed to vary. It turns to the Israeli case to test thesehypotheses. Finally, it concludes that existing models need further refinement and outlines thelogic of such an alternative (more refined) model; in doing so, it suggests how strategiccoordination might vary from regime to regime. Academic Literature: Party SystemsThis section of the paper analyzes the academic literature surrounding the dependent variables ofthe national legislative and executive party systems. By national legislative party system, I referprimarily to the effective number of parties winning seats in the national legislature, a statisticthat characterizes a party system by both the number of competitors and their relative sizes.1Similarly, by national executive party system, I refer to the number of candidates (or the numberof parties) running for the national executive office, if the executive is elected separately from thelegislature. Usually, but not always, this executive is termed a president. In brief, threeindependent variables have been utilized to explain both cross-national and cross-temporalvariance in party systems: social cleavages, electoral systems, and—more recently—regime type.The latter two variables could clearly be subsumed by a more broadly defined variable of politicalinstitutions. As illustrated in Figure 1, a reasonable consensus has developed in the literature thatparty systems are best understood by studying the interaction between political institutions andsocial cleavages. The focus of this paper is on the former, although it does not of course ignorethe latter. 1 I will describe this index in greater detail later in the paper.2Figure 1. Independent Variables in the Party Systems Literature.Accordingly, I shall trace the development of the literature relating the political institutionalindependent variables to party systems. While much ink has been spilled in comparative politicsinvestigating the relationship of political institutions to legislative


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