Why New Political Parties Sizzle or Fizzle

Aug 04, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Across the globe, new political parties, from green parties to anti-immigration parties, are constantly emerging in democratic countries. But while some of these nascent single-issue groups fade away, others, often to great surprise, capture the electorate's heart, winning significant victories at the polls.

What determines the trajectory of niche parties? The answer, says Assistant Professor of Political Science Bonnie Meguid in her new book, Party Competition between Unequals, lies not so much in the parties themselves or in the inherent popularity of the issues they champion. Rather, says Meguid, the success or failure of small, single-issue political parties is largely determined by how established political parties respond to these less powerful competitors.

Combining statistical analyses with in-depth case studies from Western Europe, Meguid shows that dominant parties deliberately employ a wide range of strategies to undermine niche parties or to turn them into weapons against their mainstream party opponents. Focusing on these strategies offers a new theory of party competition, one that Meguid argues better explains the fate of new parties than conventional analysis of a country's socioeconomic climate or its electoral institutions.

For example, when the Green Party in Great Britain won 14.9 percent of the vote in the 1989 European Parliament elections, both the Labour and Conservative parties reacted by trying to be as "green" as possible to win back environmentally concerned voters. Eventually Labour was able the steal the thunder of the Green Party by co-opting its issue, leading to the Green Party's steady decline in future national and European elections.

But, says Meguid, major political parties do not always work to undermine their smaller opponents. Parties sometimes follow the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." She cites the 2000 U.S. presidential election as a case in point. With most votes cast for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader coming from Democratic ranks, the Republican Leadership Council actually paid for and ran pro-Nader television ads highlighting Nader's environmental record. Founded on the idea that "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush," the Republican's strategy turned the niche Green Party into a weapon against the Democratic competition and tipped the election to the Republicans.

Could a third party again play a swing role in the upcoming U.S. presidential election? Perhaps, muses Meguid, but this time the tables could be turned. With the help of the Democrats, Libertarian nominee Bob Barr may woo enough Republican voters to become the "king maker" for the Democratic candidate.

Provided by University of Rochester

Explore further: Education Dept awards $75M in innovation grants

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Battery system will be able to light 2,500 homes

Sep 30, 2014

One of the largest, most environmentally-friendly, battery-based energy storage systems in the nation will be installed at the University of California, San Diego the campus announced today (Sept. 29).

Soft design for a sustainable world

Sep 24, 2014

"Around the world at unprecedented rates, people are moving from the country to the city," says Sheila Kennedy, professor of the practice at MIT's Department of Architecture. "But this rapid urbanization is not a one-way ...

Great Barrier Reef dredge dumping plan could be shelved

Sep 02, 2014

An India-backed mining consortium could shelve controversial plans to dump dredging waste in the Great Barrier Reef, with alternative sites on land being considered amid growing environmental concerns, Australia ...

Invasive insect threatens iconic Florida citrus

Aug 24, 2014

The tourists stream to Florida in their cars, intent on a week at Disney or a sugar-sand seashore or a nonstop party on South Beach. Road weary and thirsty, they pull over at one of the state's five official ...

Apple bans use of two chemicals in iPhone assembly

Aug 14, 2014

Apple is banning the use of two potentially hazardous chemicals during the final assembly of iPhones and iPads as part of the company's latest commitment to protect the factory workers who build its trendy ...

Recommended for you

Research band at Karolinska tuck Dylan gems into papers

Sep 29, 2014

(Phys.org) —A 17-year old bet among scientists at the Karolinska Institute has been a wager that whoever wrote the most articles with Dylan quotes before they retired would get a free lunch. Results included ...

A simulation game to help people prep for court

Sep 25, 2014

Preparing for court and appearing before a judge can be a daunting experience, particularly for people who are representing themselves because they can't afford a lawyer or simply don't know all the ropes ...

When finding 'nothing' means something

Sep 25, 2014

Scientists usually communicate their latest findings by publishing results as scientific papers in journals that are almost always accessible online (albeit often at a price), ensuring fast sharing of latest ...

User comments : 0