The Full Wiki

Party system: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A party system is a concept in comparative political science concerning the system of government by political parties in a democratic country. The idea is that political parties have basic similarities: they control the government, have a stable base of mass popular support, and create internal mechanisms for controlling funding, information and nominations. The concept was originated by European scholars studying the United States, especially James Bryce and Moisey Ostrogorsky, and has been expanded to cover other democracies.[1]


A typical system, the U.S. system and the British System

In most democracies the electorate vote for a party. The party members develop an agenda, and nominate candidates to office based on how well they believe the candidate can carry out the agenda. The party is funded by a nominal membership fee, and contributions from the state for the cost of campaigning. The contribution may be in relation to the membership, the votes in the previous election, or similar. The party is not allowed to receive other contributions, a rule intended to prevent plutocracy. Parties may be grass-roots organizations with a bottom-up decision-making process, or top controlled, but in either case it is the party who sets the agenda and nominates the candidates for the ballots. In some cases the voter can mark individual names, in others he can only vote for a pre-determined set of names.

The U.S. system is completely different as it was designed for a situation without parties. In the U.S. it is the candidate who decides under what party he should run, registers to run, pays the fees, etc. In the primaries the party organization stays neutral until one candidate has been elected. The platform of the party is written by the winning candidate (in presidential elections; in other elections no platform is involved). Each candidate has his or her own campaign, fund raising organization, etc. The primary elections in the main parties is organized by the states, who also registers the party affiliation of the voters (this also makes it easier to gerrymander the congressional districts). The party is thus little more than a campaign organization for the main elections.

The British Westminster system, on which many Commonwealth systems are based, is in some ways a mixture of the two: the parliament was also not originally designed for political parties, and some of the greatest early prime ministers, like Pitt the Younger, are well-known to have detested its developing partisan nature. The parties are officially registered, but their role in parliament is not officially recognised: the electorate votes for members of parliament, who officially merely happen to be generally party-aligned. The parties can be seen de jure as accidental collections of members of parliament who generally vote the same way, but this system is not built into parliamentary law. However, unlike the American system, there is a much stronger relationship between the party structure and their arrangement in government - though not necessarily, the party leader is usually the prime ministerial candidate at each election, and even opposition parties have 'shadow ministers' (declaring the role in government they would have were their party in power) - an arrangement possible since the prime minister, unlike a president, is not head of state but just first among equals in parliament, with a role of head of the executive only officially recognised as late as 1905.

Giovanni Sartori devised the most widely used classification method for party systems. He suggested that party systems should be classified by the number of relevant parties and the degree of fragmentation (as caused by differing ideology). Party systems can thus be distinguished by the effective number of parties.[2]


According to recent scholarship there have been at least three party systems in Canada at the federal level since Confederation, each with its own distinctive pattern of social support, patronage relationships, leadership styles, and electoral strategies.[3] Political scientists disagree on the names and precise boundaries of the eras, however. Steve Patten identifies four party systems in Canada's political history[4]

  • The first party system emerged from pre-Confederation colonial politics, had its "heyday" from 1896 to 1911 and lasted until the Conscription Crisis of 1917, and was characterized by local patronage administered by the two largest parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives.
  • The second system emerged following the First World War, and had its heyday from 1935 and 1957, was characterized by regionalism and saw the emergence of several protest parties, such as the Progressives, the Social Credit Party, and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.
  • The third system emerged in 1963 and had its heyday from 1968 to 1983 and began to unravel thereafter. The two largest parties were challenged by a strong third party, the New Democratic Party. Campaigns during this era became more national in scope due to the electronic media, and involved a greater focus on leadership. The dominant policy of the era was Keynesian economics.
  • The fourth party system has involved the rise of the Reform Party, the Bloc Quebecois, and the merger of the Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives. It saw most parties move to one-member-one-vote leadership contests, and a major reform to campaign finance laws in 2004. The dominant policy themes have been neo-liberal economics, and the social investment state.

U.S. models

The concept of party system was introduced by English scholar James Bryce in American Commonwealth (1885).

American Party Systems was a major textbook by Charles Merriam in 1920s. In 1967 the most important single breakthrough appeared, The American Party Systems. Stages of Political Development, edited by William Nisbet Chambers and Walter Dean Burnham. It brought together historians and political scientists who agreed on a common framework and numbering system. Thus Chambers published The First Party System in 1972. Burnham published numerous articles and books. Closely related is the concept of critical elections (introduced by V. O. Key in 1955), and "realignments."

A political science college textbook explains:

"Scholars generally agree that realignment theory identifies five distinct party systems with the following approximate dates and major parties: 1. 1796-1816, First Party System: Jeffersonian Republicans and Federalists; 2. 1840-1856, Second Party System: Democrats and Whigs; 3. 1860-1896, Third Party System: Republicans and Democrats; 4. 1896-1932, Fourth Party System: Republicans and Democrats; 5. 1932-, Fifth Party System: Democrats and Republicans."[5]

According to Marjorie Hershey, there have been at least six different party systems throughout the history of the United States:

First Party System: This system can be considered to have developed as a result of the factions in the George Washington administration. The two factions were Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists and Thomas Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists. The Federalists argued for a strong national government with a national bank and a strong economic and industry system. The Anti-Federalists argued for a limited government, with a more emphasis on farmers and states' rights. After the 1800 Presidential election, the Anti-Federalists (later known as the Democratic-Republicans) gained major dominance for the next twenty years, and the Federalists slowly died off.

Second Party System: This system developed as a result of the one party rule of the Democratic-Republicans not being able to contain some of the most pressing issues of the time, namely slavery. Out of this system came the Whig Party. Wealthier people tended to support the Whigs, and the less fortunate tended to support the Democrats. The Democrats dominated this era, but the party began to break apart into factions, mainly over the issue of slavery.

Third Party System: Beginning around the time of the start of the Civil War, this system was defined by bitter conflict and striking party differences and coalitions. These coalitions were most evidently defined by geography. The South was dominated by the Democrats, and the North, with the exception of some major political machines, was dominated by the Republicans. This era was a time of extreme industrial and economic expansion.

Fourth Party System: This era was defined by Progressivism and immigration. The Democrats wanted to work with these newly arrived immigrants, while the Republicans strongly disliked working with them.

Fifth Party System: This is the system defined by the New Deal programs. The Republican’s response to the Great Depression caused them to lose support from minorities and the poor. The Democrats in this era received much support and were in power in Congress for a substantial amount of time. This era lasted approximately until around 1968.

The sixth party system is still currently developing today, and began with the Democrats losing the South in the late 1960’s. The sectional era of the parties seemed to end the dominance in the south, but created a Republican dominance in the south as shown by election results today.[6]


Scholars of Argentina identify two distinct party systems, one in place between 1912 and 1940, the other emerging after 1946. The first party system was not consistently class based, but the second was, with the Radical Party representing the middle classes and the Peronists, workers and the poor.[7]


  1. ^ Sartori (1976); Lipset and Rokkan (1967); Karvonen and Kuhnle (2000)
  2. ^ Sartori (1976)
  3. ^ Gagnon and Tanguay, 2007: 1
  4. ^ Patten, 2007: 57-58
  5. ^ Robert C. Benedict, Matthew J. Burbank and Ronald J. Hrebenar, Political Parties, Interest Groups and Political Campaigns. Westview Press. 1999. Page 11.
  6. ^ Hershey, Marjorie Randon. Party Politics in America 12th ed. 2007: Longman Classics in Political Science. pages 119-123
  7. ^ Noam Lupu and Susan C. Stokes, "The Social Bases of Political Parties in Argentina, 1912–2003," Latin American Research Review Vol. 44#1, 2009 pp 58-87


  • Aronoff, Myron Joel. "The Americanization of Israeli Politics and Realignment of the Party System," Israel Studies, Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 2000, pp. 92-127
  • Belloc, Hilaire, and Cecil Chesterton. The Party System. (1911) online edition, on British politics
  • Patten, Steve (2007). "The Evolution of the Canadian Party System". in Gagnon, Alain-G., Tanguay, A. Brain. Canadian Parties in Transition (3rd ed. ed.). Broadview. pp. 55–81. ISBN 978-1-55111-785-0.  
  • Gagon, Alain-G.; Tanguay, A. Brain (2007). "Introduction". in Gagnon, Alain-G., Tanguay, A. Brain. Canadian Parties in Transition (3rd ed. ed.). Broadview. pp. 1–14. ISBN 978-1-55111-785-0.  
  • Ishiyama, John. "Electoral Systems, Ethnic Fragmentation, and Party System Volatility in Sub-Saharan African Countries," Northeast African Studies, Volume 10, Number 2, 2003 (New Series), pp. 203-220
  • Karvonen, Lauri, and Stein Kuhnle, eds. Party Systems and Voter Alignments Revisited (2000) updates on Lipset and Rokkan (1967) excerpt and text search
  • Lewis, Paul G. and Paul Webb, eds. Pan-European Perspectives on Party Politics (2003)
  • Lipset, Seymour M. and Stein Rokkan, eds. Party Systems And Voter Alignments (1967)
  • Mainwaring, Scott, and Timothy R. Scully. Building Democratic Institutions: Party Systems in Latin America (1996)
  • Mair, Peter, ed. The West European Party System (Oxford University Press, 1990) online excerpt pp. 302-310
  • Mair, Peter. The Changing Irish Party System: Organisation, Ideology and Electoral Competition (London, 1987).
  • Meleshevich, Andrey A. Party Systems in Post-Soviet Countries: A Comparative Study of Political Institutionalization in the Baltic States, Russia, and Ukraine (2007)
  • Sartori, Giovanni . Parties and Party Systems: A framework for analysis (1976; reprint in 2005)
  • Tan, Alexander C. Emerging Party Systems (2005)
  • Tan, Paige Johnson. "Indonesia Seven Years after Soeharto: Party System Institutionalization in a New Democracy," Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs, Volume 28, Number 1, April 2006, pp. 88-114
  • Walch, James. Faction and Front: Party Systems in South India (1976)

United States

  • Bartley, Numan V. "Voters and Party Systems: A Review of the Recent Literature," The History Teacher, Vol. 8, No. 3 (May, 1975), pp. 452-469. online at JSTOR
  • Beck, Paul Allen. "Micropolitics in Macro Perspective: the Political History of Walter Dean Burnham." Social Science History 1986 10(3): 221-245. Issn: 0145-5532 Fulltext in Jstor
  • Brady, David, and Joseph Stewart, Jr. "Congressional Party Realignment and Transformations of Public Policy in Three Realignment Eras," American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 26, No. 2 (May, 1982), pp. 333-360 online at JSTOR Looks at links among cross-cutting issues, electoral realignments, the U.S. House and public policy changes during the Civil War, 1890s and New Deal realignments. In each case the policy changes are voted through by a partisan "new" majority party. The Civil War and 1890s realignments were more polarized than was the New Deal realignment, and the extent of party structuring of issue dimensions was greater.
  • Burnham, Walter Dean. "Periodization Schemes and 'Party Systems': The 'System of 1896' as a Case in Point" Social Science History, Vol. 10, No. 3, 263-314.
  • William Nisbet Chambers and Walter Dean Burnham, eds. The American Party Systems. Stages of Political Development, (1967)
  • Chambers, William Nisbet. Political Parties in a New Nation: The American Experience, 1776–1809 (1963)
  • Hofstadter, Richard. The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780-1840 (1970)
  • James, Scott C. Presidents, Parties, and the State: A Party System Perspective on Democratic Regulatory Choice, 1884-1936 (2000)
  • Jensen, Richard. "American Election Analysis: A Case History of Methodological Innovation and Diffusion," in S. M. Lipset, ed, Politics and the Social Sciences (Oxford University Press, 1969), 226-43.
  • Jensen, Richard. "History and the Political Scientist," in S. M. Lipset, ed, Politics and the Social Sciences (Oxford University Press, 1969), , 1-28.
  • Jensen, Richard. "Historiography of Political History," in Jack Greene ed., Encyclopedia of American Political History (Scribners, 1984), 1:1-25. online
  • Jensen, Richard. "The Changing Shape of Burnham's Political Universe," Social Science History 10 (1986) 209-19 Issn: 0145-5532 Fulltext in Jstor
  • Renda, Lex. "Richard P. McCormick and the Second American Party System." Reviews in American History (1995) 23(2): 378-389. Issn: 0048-7511 Fulltext in Project Muse.

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address