agrarian parties

Quick Reference

Parties representing farmers have been a significant feature of many Western political systems, but are now declining in importance. As urbanization and industrialization reduce the share of the rural population in the electorate, agrarian parties have found it more difficult to sustain an electoral base, and a number have either faded away, or have converted themselves into parties with a more general electoral appeal. The interests of farmers may be more effectively represented by national farmers' organizations with close links with the national agricultural ministry, the pattern that has been followed in Britain and Germany. Agrarian parties have been particularly important in Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden), and have appeared in some of the new democracies of Eastern and Central Europe, such as Hungary and Poland. They have been particularly influential in Poland, joining coalition governments. To some extent the electoral weakness of agrarian parties in urbanized societies is offset by their organizational strength, based on their links with a network of rural and farming organizations; high memberships and high membership ratios; an ability to mobilize their members; and stable leadership and internal party unity. Particularly in political systems based on proportional representation with a strong tradition of coalition government, agrarian parties that have converted themselves into centre parties with a broader appeal have been frequent participants in government. The Keskustapuolue (KESK) in Finland has one of the most impressive records of post‐war office for a party with a rural base, although the Swiss Volkspartei (formerly the BGB, the Burghers, Artisans and Peasants Party) has been represented in the Federal Council since 1929. In general, the electoral base for an agrarian party is too narrow to make it an effective presence in most Western political systems.

Wyn Grant


Subjects: Politics.

Reference entries