Partisan Competition and Welfare State Retrenchment

Herbert Kitschelt

in The New Politics of the Welfare State

Published in print April 2001 | ISBN: 9780198297567
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600104 | DOI:
Partisan Competition and Welfare State Retrenchment

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This is the third of three chapters on the implications of electoral politics and the design of political institutions for welfare state adjustment. Kitschelt's main proposition is that the strategic configuration of party systems, net of public opinion on social policy reforms, is a critical force that shapes social policy reform programmes and their implementation. He lays out mechanisms that may induce politicians to pursue often unpopular reforms based on internal opportunities offered by the dynamic of competitive party democracy that have received only scant attention in the comparative political economy and social policy literature. The central guiding proposition of the chapter requires two important qualifications: first, that the dynamic of party competition is only one of several mechanisms that affect social policy retrenchment; and second, that a comparative study of social policy change in the 1980s and 1990s would ideally rely on equivalent measures across a wide range of countries, but cross‐nationally comparable measures are not available. These data limitations currently make it impossible to determine the explanatory power of internal political conditions relative to external demographic and economic changes in accounts of social policy retrenchment, so Kitschelt uses case studies from Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan to illustrate how mechanisms of party competition impinge on social policy change, and beyond that, attempts to generalize his argument based on a reading of much looser expert judgements about social policy retrenchment in a broader set of countries.

Keywords: competitive party democracy; electoral politics; Germany; Japan; Netherlands; party competition; party systems; political institutions; public opinion; social policy change; social policy reform; social policy retrenchment; Sweden; unpopular policies; unpopular reforms; welfare state; welfare state reform; welfare state retrenchment

Chapter.  16655 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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