Electoral and Party Competition: Analytical Dimensions and Empirical Problems

Stefano Bartolini

in Political Parties

Published in print March 2002 | ISBN: 9780199246748
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599385 | DOI:

Series: Comparative Politics

 Electoral and Party Competition: Analytical Dimensions and Empirical Problems

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Focuses on the concept of electoral and party competition as the key mechanism leading party elites to respond to the preferences of voters. While competition is of central importance in both democratic theory and in empirical studies of party behaviour, the concept (as operationalized in many studies) is vague and ambiguous; in particular, it has very different meanings in the real world of electoral and parliamentary behaviour, on the one hand, and in the formal models of rational‐choice scholars, on the other. Discusses the unintended by‐product (social value) of competition, and gives an overview of the intellectual origins (from Simmel, Schumpeter, and Downs) of this approach. The bulk of the chapter is dedicated to an original criticism of the problems inherent in applying this import from economic theory to the study of electoral competition, first focusing on key dimensions of this competition—contestability, availability, decidability, and vulnerability, and then arguing that these four crucial dimensions of competition interact with one another in ways that are fundamentally incompatible with the simplifying assumptions upon which the economic model depends. Each of the dimensions of electoral competition impinges on the others in an interactive, if not sometimes contradictory manner, and as a result of these multidimensional interaction effects, party competition cannot be conceived of as a linear process that unfolds between minimum and maximum points on a single continuum, but rather as a moving point shifting about in a four‐dimensional space within which no equilibrium point can be identified; accordingly, electoral preferences cannot be regarded as exogenous to party competition, but are decisively influenced by parties and party elites.

Keywords: dimensions of competition; Downs; electoral availability; electoral competition; electoral contestability; electoral decidability; electoral preferences; electoral vulnerability; party competition; political parties; Schumpeter; Simmel; social value of competition

Chapter.  12690 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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