Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 4, issue 3

Paul Pennings, "Party Responsiveness and Socio-Economic Problem-Solving in Western Democracies," Party Politics, 4 (July 1998), 393-404.

First Paragraph:
In democratic societies political parties play a central role in transforming public problems into public policies. By reacting to public concerns, they fulfil their democratic role of representatives of the general interest. Party responsiveness may be defined as the extent to which parties represent societal demands by expressing both the saliency of a perceived problem and the preferred direction of the solution of this problem. Party responsiveness is assumed to be shaped by the institutional environment in which parties operate, most notably by the characteristics of the party system, i.e the nature and degree of party cooperation and party competition. This article seeks to give an encompassing view of the way political parties handle socioeconomic problems, given their institutional room to manoeuvre, in 17 OECD countries in the post-war period (1950-90). This remains a crucial topic for political scientists, as it placed the role and function of parties at the heart of the democratic-policy-making process.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1: Emphases on planning and market per party family (N = 712 party positions per election year)
Table 2: Regression analysis on models that predict party emphasis on market and planning (N = 702)
Table 3: Analysis of variance on decommodification and median voter positions per regime type (N = 17 OECD countries)

Last Paragraph:
The tests of the party responsiveness models have shown that the communication between political parties and the public on socio-economic problems is intermediated by ideology. One explanation of this is to be found in the working of representative democracy. That parties are not very responsive to the public is understandable as our universe of discourse consists of representative democracies and not of direct democracies. That parties are also not very responsive to contextual developments (i.e. fluctuations in unemployment and inflation) is also understandable as the ideological rigidity of parties seems to be electorally more rewarding than extreme responsive party positions. This does not mean, of course, that parties are totally unresponsive to voter preferences and changing socioeconomic circumstances. The role of parties in representative democracies is not to reflect what the public wants. In this respect, the role of parties is far more complex and encompassing.