Roots in society: Attachment between citizens and party systems in latin america

Jason Seawright*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


INTRODUCTION Party systems are valuable at least in part because of their role in connecting citizens with the often elite-dominated politics of governance. Parties can represent voters in a Downsian sense of producing policy responsive to citizen preferences (Downs 1957) without incorporating citizens in any active, participatory sense - but such modes of representation foreclose opportunities for citizens to contribute to the process of representation in more creative, self-transformative, and potentially system-stabilizing ways. For these reasons, the study of party system institutionalization (PSI) must bring citizens into the discussion in a way that goes beyond their role as the demand side of the electoral market. Mainwaring and Scully’s concept of PSI (Mainwaring and Scully 1995b) brings citizens in by defining institutionalized systems as having roots in society. The first chapter in this volume instead sees stability as the defining feature of institutionalization, and suggests that a party system’s roots in society contribute to institutionalization by facilitating stable identities, vote shares, and modes of voter linkages on the part of parties (Chapter 1 in this volume). This chapter examines party systems’ roots in society as a window into institutionalization - a plausible cause of stability. I first propose a three-part conceptualization of party system/citizen attachment, in which a prototypical institutionalized party system will be one where many citizens have party identifications, work for parties and participate in their meetings, and hold supportive attitudes toward the party system as a democratic institution. I then demonstrate that existing theoretical and empirical literature on various components of this conceptualization provide an over-abundance of explanatory possibilities. Using random forests (Breiman 2001), a machine learning tool for comprehensive description, I offer an exploratory descriptive analysis encompassing all of these candidate explanations, as well as virtually every other variable in use in cross-national statistical social science. While this analysis is at best a weak tool for causal inference, it provides empirically rich clues about domains for future investigation. The results are intriguing. In particular, social and economic development are negatively connected with rates of partisan identification and participation, but positively tied to attitudes of support for the party system as a democratic institution. Other factors, particularly several related to the structure of class and ethnic cleavages in society and the bureaucratic quality of the state, raise important issues for further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationParty Systems in Latin America
Subtitle of host publicationInstitutionalization, Decay, and Collapse
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781316798553
ISBN (Print)9781107175525
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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