Partisan Governments, Centrist Preferences: Resolving the Paradox of Party Representation

Ian Budge, Hans Keman, Michael McDonald and Paul Pennings

in Organizing Democratic Choice

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199654932
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741685 | DOI:

Series: Comparative Politics

Partisan Governments, Centrist Preferences: Resolving the Paradox of Party Representation

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This chapter draws on the validated theory to resolve a central paradox of modern representative democracy – that is, how a system that works on the basis of partisan conflict and rewards one extreme with governmental power can represent popular preferences which are irredeemably centrist in nature? To do it draws on two robust facts about contemporary democracy a) the tendency for incumbent governments to lose votes b) the inclusion of the plurality party in almost all governments. These facts are set within our validated model of democratic representation. The model shows that plurality party selection and de-selection has two countervailing, but in combination, propitious effects. The selection of the most popular party or a combination of newly popular previously opposition parties produces a short-run dynamic in response to changes in voter preferences. At the next election the tendency of the last election’s more popular than normal party or parties to lose vote support produces enough alternation in government to create a medium-term policy centrism in close proximity to median citizen preferences. Because the dynamics and stable centrism of the process rely on gaining more votes than usual to become the governing party or parties and then dropping back at the next election, voters do not have to be extraordinarily informed, diligent, and calculating in order to keep democracy responsive and congruent. The democratic norms and institutional devices that go into including the currently most popular party or parties in government do much of the work. A ‘policy equilibrium interval’ is calculated to measure the representational effect of these processes more exactly.

Keywords: partisanship; centrism; alternation; government vote loss; plurality party; policy; equilibrium internal

Chapter.  8268 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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