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The Formation of National Party Systems Federalism and Party Competition in Canada, Great Britain, India, and the United States
By Pradeep Chhibber and Ken Kollman
Princeton University Press Pradeep Chhibber and Ken Kollman
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THE SAME POLITICAL PARTIES dominate contemporary American politics at the national level and in nearly every state. Despite a few well-publicized independent candidates and politicians and, in recent years, a smattering of celebrities from the Reform Party or Independent Party, such as Ross Perot, Patrick Buchanan, and Jesse Ventura, the Democratic and Republican parties control congressional delegations from all the states, majorities in the state legislatures, and governorships in all but a few states.1 Since the early twentieth century, the United States has displayed a pattern of virtually complete two-partism-that is, two national parties compete and win seats in every major region in the nation. Two-partism, however, has not always been characteristic of the United States, at least not for congressional and state elections. Throughout most of the nineteenth century, electoral support was spread across more than two parties, and some parties were competitive only in a few states. In certain regions, such as the South from the 1890s to the 1970s, one party predominated for long periods.
Compared with the contemporary era in the United States when two major parties compete and win seats in every major region in the nation, the 1850s marked a more highly regionalized, fractious, and turbulent decade in American party politics. After the collapse of the Whig Party early in the decade and subsequent attempts by various competitors to win cross-regional support, it was not clear whether another national party would emerge to compete with the Democrats for control of the national government. For a time the Know-Nothings, a shadowy political group dedicated to anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic principles, sought to be that party. But the Know-Nothings foundered by mid-decade, not only because their northern and southern factions split over the slavery issue but also because they could not agree on a national policy program to deal with issues that were essentially local in American society to that time: regulation of liquor, authorizations for Catholic schools, and legal tolerance of immigrant laborers (Gienapp 1987). Because these issues were addressed either by state or local governments, party politics for several elections was characterized by electoral competition among state-level or regional parties.
By creating an intraparty consensus around a national policy program opposing the expansion of slavery into new territories, the Republicans ultimately forged a national party. Republican leaders came to recognize that electoral success required presenting to the electorate national policy solutions to the great questions of the age. As a result, the young party won the presidency and dominated the congressional elections in 1860. It was a humiliating loss for the Democrats and for the political leaders in the South, leading to southern secession and civil war.2 In the 1990s politicians and voters in India and Canada faced difficulties in forming national coalitions not unlike those of nineteenth-century Americans. Numerous political parties fielded candidates in India, but in 2002 none had been able to craft a national majority to replace the Congress Party, which had lost its dominant status in the late 1980s. As of this writing, only two parties since 1991 have contested for national power, the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist party. Neither party, however, has been successful in articulating a national policy program that unites disparate regional factions within its party or absorbs enough regional or state parties to form a winning national party. And neither party can overcome the most difficult obstacle to national power-namely, the perception that the delivery of public goods and services such as electricity and clean water are the perview of state governments.
Canadian voters faced a loss of a national opposition to the Liberals in the 1990s. The Conservatives went from the position of majority party in one election to a party with only three seats in the House of Commons after the 1993 elections. By the turn of the millennium, few could predict which party, if any, would coordinate enough voters across the provinces to provide a serious challenge to the Liberals for national control. Ideological and regional divisions among former Conservative voters prevented them from rallying behind a single national leader or party label, and attempts to build national coalitions by other parties of the right such as Reform and Alliance parties foundered. As a result, for the first time since World War II, a Canadian prime minister, Jean Chrétien from the Liberal Party, won a third consecutive parliamentary majority in 2000.
In Britain, two national parties competed to form majorities in the House of Commons for much of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, unlike the situation in the United States, there has nearly always been the persistent presence of a third party, which draws a substantial share of the vote away from Labour and the Conservatives. At times, it was the Liberals or the Social Democrats. Today, it is the Liberal Democrats. In Britain, minor party strength has fluctuated. During World War I, for example, British politics was in dramatic flux, and as many as five parties won at least ten seats to the House of Commons in 1918.
The current U.S. phenomenon of two national parties competing everywhere in the country does not exist in Canada, Great Britain, and India, even though they share many of the same electoral rules. Two-partism did not even exist in previous eras in the United States, although its electoral rules have stayed relatively constant. In the three other countries, the national legislatures seat politicians from parties that are strong only in particular provinces, regions, and states. In Canada and India, provincial and state politics are often dominated by parties that have little or no national standing. In contemporary Britain, after the 1997 devolution and creation of independent assemblies in regions, regional political parties such as Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationals have gained prominence.
Modern American two-partism not only looks unusual in comparison with party politics in other countries with similar electoral laws but also when compared with party politics in other eras in American history. Why is it that two national parties dominate the American political landscape in modern times? And why does this pattern not exist in other countries such as Canada, Great Britain, and India? In this book we seek to explain not only such differences across these countries but also to explain within each country why and when national parties emerged and why regional parties have drawn significant vote shares.
We show that, although these four countries have similar electoral systems-single-member, simple-plurality voting systems for the lower houses of parliament-party systems vary not only across these countries but also over time within these countries. Using historical data, we attribute changes in the party systems in these nations to the changing role of the state. In particular, we examine the relationship between the national (federal) and provincial (state) governments. Our claim that the nature of federalism influences the dynamics and stability of a party system differs from previous party system theories that stress the significance of social cleavages, electoral laws, and other constitutional features.
PARTY SYSTEM CHANGE IN CANADA, GREAT BRITAIN, INDIA, AND THE UNITED STATES
Political parties and party systems are vital to the functioning of modern democratic politics. We define a political party in this book as a group of candidates running for election under the same label. (We acknowledge, though, that parties accomplish far more than that. A more extensive discussion appears in chapter 3.) Parties provide a means to organize and coordinate voters, candidates, political donors, legislators, executives, and interest groups around common goals.
A party system is an enduring pattern of electoral competition between parties for public office. There are marked differences in party systems across countries, including the number of parties that compete regularly at the national and lower levels, the stability of the governing coalitions and opposition, the durability of party loyalties within electorates, and the frequency of new-party formation.
Our primary interest in this book is the formation of national party systems. We define a national party system as one in which the same parties compete at different levels of vote aggregation. In practice, this means that party systems at the constituency level, or at the state or provincial levels, look similar to national party systems. Our understanding of the nationalization of party systems is similar to that of Carmani (2000; 2004), Cox (1999), and Jones and Mainwaring (2003). According to Jones and Mainwaring (2003, 140), a party system is "highly nationalized... [when] the major parties' respective vote shares do not differ much from one province to the next. In a weakly nationalized party system, the major parties' vote shares vary widely across provinces."
One widely studied component of party systems is the number of parties. The number of parties contesting seats in lower-house elections in Canada, Great Britain, India, and the United States has differed over time. In Britain, for example, twelve parties won seats to the House of Commons, and five parties won at least ten seats each in the 1918 elections. In 1992, five parties won seats, and three parties won at least ten seats. For elections to the Canadian House of Commons, the number of parties winning more than 10 percent of the national vote has fluctuated from as low as two (in 1925, for example) to as high as four in 1979 and 1993, while the number of parties seated in Parliament has ranged from two to as high as twelve.
In most political systems with free and fair elections, there can be dozens, if not hundreds, of parties competing in elections, most of which have little or no bearing on governments and policy outcomes. There are often hundreds of independent candidates who avoid party labels altogether. This is especially true for single-member district systems such as in the four countries examined here. In the United States, for example, the Prohibition Party ran candidates in hundreds of districts across the country from the 1870s to the 1950s. For a thirty-year stretch, from the 1880s to the 1910s, it won between 0.5 and 3.0 percent of the national vote in congressional elections, and fielded candidates in approximately half of the nation's congressional districts, although it never elected a single member to Congress. While still fielding hundreds of candidates into the 1950s, it won no more than 0.5 percent of the national vote in any decade after the 1910s. And this is a party that actually may have had some bearing on national policy during its peak in the early part of the twentieth century, especially in pressuring the major parties to adopt the policy goal of prohibition.3 Far more numerous, and less consequential, are the candidates who have run under obscure or humorous labels, such as the Umoja Party, the Miller High Life Party, or the Politicians Are Crooks Party, to give some examples from congressional elections in recent years.
Similar examples exist in most countries, and as these parties have little bearing on either the vote share of major parties or who governs, political scientists do not simply count the number of parties that contest elections as indicative of how many parties are competitive in a party system. Instead, political scientists use measures that calculate how many parties actually influence political outcomes. The most commonly used measure is Laakso and Taagepera's (1979) "effective number of parties" index, or N, which gives increasing weight to parties that get higher proportions of the vote. The formula is the inverse of the sum of the squared proportions of the vote or of the seats. For n parties receiving votes, and for pi representing the proportion of popular votes received by party i,
If one is using votes to calculate proportions, as we do throughout this book, when 2 parties share 98 percent of the vote equally between them, and 100 tiny parties win the remaining 2 percent, the measure will be very close to 2. When 2 parties each win 44 percent of the vote and a third party wins 12 percent of the vote, however, the measure will be close to 2.5.4
Figures 1.1-1.4 show the fluctuations in the effective number of national parties competing in national lower-house elections in Canada, Great Britain, India, and the United States. First notice the United States in Figure 1.4. Prior to the New Deal, and most certainly throughout the nineteenth century, more than 2 parties regularly won substantial portions of the vote in elections to the House of Representatives. In Canada (Figure 1.1) the effective number of parties getting votes in national elections was 3.5 in the first national elections held in 1867. In 1917 only 2 parties competed in elections for the lower house, whereas in 1995 the effective number of parties getting votes was approximately 4. In India (Figure 1.3) the number of parties competing in national elections also has fluctuated, although there has been a steady increase since the 1970s with the effective number of parties rising from 3 in 1977 to almost 7 for the 1996 and 1999 elections. In Britain (Figure 1.2) the effective number of parties receiving votes in 1885 (after the Second Reform Act and the adoption of single-member districts for much of Britain) was 2.17, increasing to 4.43 in 1918, and then settling to about 2.5 for much of postwar period before rising above 3 in the 1990s.
There are also significant differences across the countries in the number of parties. The United States has had the fewest number of parties in the contemporary period, although in the first half of the nineteenth century the party system in the United States resembled party systems in the other countries. India and Canada have more parties on average than either the United States or Great Britain. India in recent decades has had an unusually large number of parties receiving votes for the Lok Sabha (the lower house).
The fact that these countries have not experienced consistent two-partism at the national level represents a departure from well-known assertions made about the number of parties in countries with single-member district systems. Duverger ( 1963) wrote that countries with single-member districts tend to have two dominant national parties, and a large volume of literature has followed his original book. All four of these countries had single-member, simple-plurality electoral systems for lower-house elections during the periods represented in Figures 1.1-1.4.
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