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Grigorii V. Golosov, "Party system classification: A methodological inquiry," Party Politics, 17 (September, 2011), 539-560. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
Just as any complex phenomena, party systems can be classified by different criteria. To cite several examples, the competitiveness of opposition (Dahl, 1966), the degrees of institutionalization (Mainwaring, 1999) and the extent of citizen involvement in politics (LaPalombara and Weiner, 1966) have all served as bases for party system classifications. However, the most widely accepted criterion - the one normally placed first on the list (Smith, 1989) - has always been the number of parties, often defined in terms of their relative sizes. Traditionally, this approach draws a salient distinction between two-party and multiparty systems which has long been recognized as a theoretically fundamental divide (Daalder, 2002: 43-51), and then proceeds to introduce several intermediate, supplementary or otherwise qualified types. Some of the classifications, including the most influential one (Sartori, 1976), combine the numerical/relative size criteria with different classificatory parameters, which is increasingly viewed as a desideratum in party system research (Bardi and Mair, 2008; Blau, 2008). But the number of parties is still important in such combinations. The purpose of this study is not to propose a new taxonomy of party systems nor to arrive at new substantive findings, even though some tribute will be paid to both these aspects, but rather to develop a method that can be used for defining party system types in operational terms, and distinguishing among them by a clear, parsimonious criterion.

Figures and Tables:
Figure 1. The segmented Nagayama triangle. Source: Adopted with a minor modification from Grofman et al. (2004)
Figure 2. The segmented relative-size triangle with some data points of significance
Table 1. Segments of the RST diagram defined by the sizes of the three largest components
Figure 3. The RST display with the definitions of segments
Table 2. Hypothetical party constellations on the RST diagram (Figure 2)
Table 3. The classification of party systems, 1945-2005
Figure 4. The party systems of the world, 1945-65 (see note 14 for country abbreviations)
Figure 5. The party systems of the world, 1966-85 (see note 14 for country abbreviations)
Figure 6. The party systems of the world, 1986-2005 (see note 14 for country abbreviations)

Last Paragraph:
The output of this study is classification based on a parsimonious operational definition of taxonomic units. While categorical by intention, it allows us to visualize intra-category differences by individual observations being placed in a bounded two-dimensional space. Not for nothing, the data requirements for the proposed classification are extremely limited even in comparison with such popular one-dimensional measures as the effective number of parties. This allows for comprehensive cross-national studies. And, after all, it answers the question asked at the beginning of this article: how many two-party systems are there in the world? For the period 1986-2005, the answer is 15 (two-and-a-half party systems not included). Arguably, one remaining problem is that categorical variables are not of great utility for quantitative political science. For instance, major achievements in research on electoral system effects were reached using the effective number of parties as the dependent variable in multiple regression analysis. Yet everybody who has ever engaged the index in this capacity is familiar with the difficulties stemming from the fact that the values of the effective number of parties are almost never distributed normally. Besides, being unable to discriminate among theoretically important party system types, the effective number of parties may yield unreliable results. If it has been established that plurality systems are conducive to lower fragmentation, this does not necessarily mean that they yield bipartism. Rather, they may be associated with predominant-party systems. True or false, this hypothesis cannot be tested with the effective number of parties. At the same time, recent advances in categorical data analysis (Agresti, 2002) make it perfectly possible to use multiple categorical variables with more statistical rigour than the continuous ones without violating the fundamental assumptions of the technique employed. For this, a classification is needed, and my concern in this study was to have it to hand.

Last updated August 2011