Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 19, Issue 1

Grigorii V. Golosov, "Towards a classification of the world's democratic party systems, step 1: Identifying the units," Party Politics, 19 (January, 2013), 122-142. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
In his seminal contribution to comparative research on political parties, Sartori (1976) defines party systems as recurring patterns of interaction among political parties. At the most easily available level of observation, party systems manifest themselves as election outcomes. But, as follows from Sartori's definition, the reverse is not necessarily true: not every election outcome can be viewed as a manifestation of a party system. First, we have to establish whether this or that particular election can be viewed as potentially possessing party system properties. Not every election is party structured, and, if it is, the systemic nature of interaction cannot be taken for granted. Second, even if we are reasonably confident that a party system is in place, isolated election outcomes can be viewed, at best, as snapshots. What is lacking is cross-temporal continuity, without which we cannot observe the recurrent patterns of inter-party interaction. But if an election outcome is part of a sequence of elections, then the question is: Does every such sequence make a party system? And if some of them do while others do not, how does one draw the line? In order to answer these questions, we need operational criteria

Figures and Tables:
Figure 1. Identifying the units for party system classification (criteria in ovals)
Table 1. The democratic party systems and party non-systems of the world, 1792-2009

Last Paragraph:
First, the operational criteria developed in this study are sometimes based on arbitrarily set thresholds, which may require refinement. Yet it is clear that, however refined, such thresholds will remain, on the one hand, arbitrary, and, on the other, necessary. This is inherent in classification procedures. What is important is to avoid using situational criteria, specifically developed to accommodate certain cases or sets of cases. From this perspective, the universalistic approach taken in this study is a remedy even if the ultimate solution is not possible. Second, as any classification of dynamic objects, party system classification cannot be done once and forever. The extinct party systems and non-systems will not change, but the existing ones, even in continuous democracies, can be subject either to rapid transformation, as a result of extra-system volatility, or to cumulative change. Therefore even with a perfect tool for party system classification, the empirical procedures elaborated in the study will have to be repeated as long as the phenomenon of party system remains in the present, not just in history. The advantage of the proposed set of operational criteria is that for any research task that has to be pursued with the use of party system classification, the units of analysis can be easily identified in a uniform way. This promises the comparability of results, which is one of the most important desiderata in cross-national political research.

Last updated December 2012