Article

Party Networks

Seth Masket

in Political Science

ISBN: 9780199756223
Published online February 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0091
Party Networks

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The study of party networks is a subset of social network analysis within political science. Social network analysis has a venerable history in mathematics and has been adopted by the social sciences over the past few decades but has really only taken hold within political science since the late 1990s. In general, social network analysis examines the relationships between individual actors, relying upon links (or “edges”) between individuals (or “nodes”) to reveal hidden but important patterns in behavior. Such an investigative tool is ideal for the study of political parties, given their multicephalous structures and occasionally secretive behavior. A relatively new branch of scholarship views political parties (American political parties, in particular) as networks. That is, they are not hierarchical organizations with clearly defined leaders and roles; rather, they consist of associations of candidates, officeholders, donors, activists, consultants, and others who conspire to affect elections and influence the direction of government. As such, a social network research approach is likely to be more productive and more accurate in understanding just what parties are and how they function. The network approach allows us to see, for example, how donors advantage a small number of candidates in party nomination contests, how legislators signal their support for bills and build coalitions for their passage, the extent to which interest groups are tied to political parties, and so on. These analyses provide useful descriptions of parties but also go beyond that; recent innovations in network studies allow for empirical tests of causal arguments. The application of social network techniques is proving to be an incredibly powerful and revealing tool in the study of parties, one of the most inscrutable topics within political science.

Article.  5416 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Comparative Politics ; Political Institutions ; Political Methodology ; Political Theory

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