competitive party system

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Political system in which more than one political party has a reasonable expectation of winning an election, or of being in a winning coalition. First‐past‐the‐post electoral systems are associated with party systems which superficially do not appear to be competitive. For instance, presidential elections in the United States have shown long periods of one‐party dominance: Democratic from 1828 to 1856, Republican from 1896 to 1928, and Democratic from 1932 to 1968, for example. Likewise, the Conservatives were dominant in the British party system from 1922 to 1997, and the Liberals and Whigs were equally dominant between 1846 and 1874. However, even in these systems ruling parties know that the exaggerated majorities which keep them in may one day throw them out; if they forget, they need only note the reduction of the Canadian Progressive Conservatives from 170 seats to 2 in the 1993 election there.

On this view, every party system in a democracy is competitive. Others would insist that there is a useful distinction between systems such as those mentioned above and systems in which shifting coalitions guarantee that the composition of the government is constantly changing. Finally, it is worth noting that some centre parties such as the German Free Democrats and, until 1992, the Italian Republicans were in almost every government, even though the party system could be labelled as competitive.

Subjects: Politics.

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