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Carolyn Forestiere, "Kirchheimer Italian Style: Catch-All Parties or Catch-All Blocs," Party Politics, 15 (September 2009), 573-591.

First paragraph:
In 1966, a group of noted comparative scholars published an important collection of essays pertaining to political parties and political development (LaPalombara and Weiner, 1966). It was in the sixth chapter of this volume that Kirchheimer's catch-all thesis received extensive elaboration (Kirchheimer, 1966). His collective ideas on the development of political parties (primarily from mass to catch-all) are 'a summary of a more general theory' (Krouwel, 2003: 25), and for this reason in this article I refer to Kirchheimer's observations on the development of catch-all parties as the 'catchall thesis', rather than a unified theory of party development.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. PCI membership, selected years''
Table 2. Electoral vote and seat-share for the DC and PCI in the Chamber of Deputies, 1948-1992
Table 3. Electoral vote and seat-share for the smaller Italian parties, 1948-1992
Table 4. Vote and seat percentages for parties in the Chamber of Deputies, 1994-2008
Table 5. Party 'blocs' in the Chamber of Deputies, 1994-2006

Last Paragraph:
What lessons can the Italian experience shed on the applicability of the catch-all thesis for other democracies? Probably the most salient conclusion is the distinction between Kirchheimer's conception of the catch-all party and the catch-all bloc. The catch-all bloc, as a group of pre-aligned parties, can function as a single catch-all party. In addition, the notion of a catchall system becomes important. Catch-all systems exist where all parties (in a two-party system) or all blocs (as a group of parties) collectively behave in a catch-all manner. While the parties and political system of the First Republic were not catch-all, a significant transformation occurred after major electoral reform in the early 1990s, when the overall party system clearly became catch-all, not because of the presence of two catch-all parties, but because of the presence of two catch-all blocs, each containing a relatively high number of parties. The catch-all blocs contested each other and alternated in power between 1994 and 2006. In 2008, Veltroni tried to introduce a new type of electoral competition by dismantling the centre-left's catch-all bloc; Romano Prodi's experience in government had demonstrated the immense difficulties in forging artificial electoral coalitions that face enormous collective action problems once all the parties arrive in government. By not aligning in advance with all the small parties of the centre-left, Veltroni tried to force leftist voters to support his party. In terms of the 2008 elections, the strategy failed and, currently, Berlusconi and his allies enjoy a healthy majority in both houses of parliament. Nonetheless, because both Veltroni and Berlusconi employed tactics to capture as much of the vote as possible, the entire party system now represents something closer to what Kirchheimer would have expected. Consequently, the Italian case demonstrates the innovative ways in which Kirchheimer's thesis may be applied.

Last updated October 2009