Party Politics and Typology

First, nearly all of the existing typologies of political parties were derived
from studies of West European parties over the past century and a half.
Accordingly, some of their distinguishing features are products of that
particular temporal and geographical context. Parties that have emerged
more recently, as well as those functioning in other parts of the world, have
been substantially affected by greatly different social and technological
environments. This is certainly true of parties in developing countries whose
populations exhibit considerable ethnic, religious and/or linguistic diversity,
upon which competitive parties have most commonly been based. It is even
true of the United States, whose two highly decentralized parties fit uneasily
with most existing party typologies (see Beck, 1997).
Similarly, many of the parties that first emerged in the late twentieth
century have prominent features that cannot be captured using classic party
typologies developed a century earlier. In this later period of party development,
television (which did not exist at the time the classic party typologies
were formulated) had unequivocally become the most important medium of
political communication between candidates and voters in nearly all modern
democracies (see Gunther and Mughan, 2000). This medium systematically
privileges the personalities of party leaders over presentation of party programmes
or ideology, at the same time as it greatly reduces the utility of
mass membership as a vehicle for electoral mobilization. Also in the late
twentieth century, public opinion polling and ‘focus groups’ have been
increasingly employed, facilitating the crafting of ad hoc electoral appeals,
at the expense of long-standing ideological principles, programmatic commitments
and constituency interests. Finally, fundamental features of mass
culture and social structure had also changed profoundly by the late twentieth
century: extreme economic inequality and the high political salience of
the class cleavage had declined in many countries, while new political conflicts
growing out of ‘post-materialist’ values had begun to affect partisan
In the absence of an expanded and updated typology of parties, the small
number of party models that make up the most commonly used typologies
has often led to an excessive ‘concept stretching’. Inappropriate labels have
been applied to newly emerging parties whose characteristics depart
markedly from those which went into the original definition of the party
model. In effect, this represents an effort to cram square pegs into round
holes. Both empirical studies and theory-building can be weakened by
unwarranted assumptions of commonalities (if not uniformity) among
parties that are, in fact, quite varied, and by the inappropriate application
of labels to parties whose organizational, ideological or strategic characteristics
differ significantly from the original prototype. The term ‘catch-all’,
for example, has been most frequently subjected to this kind of abuse (see
Puhle, 2002), given its de facto status as a residual category that seems to
be more flexible and adaptable to contemporary circumstances than the
earlier classic party models. Thus, while we acknowledge the many valuable
contributions of empirical studies of parties that have been based upon the
traditional West European party models, we believe that the study of parties
in other world regions, as well as efforts to better capture the dynamics of
‘the new campaign politics’ of recent decades (see Pasquino, 2001), would
be greatly enhanced by a reassessment and broadening of these party
A second problem with the existing typologies is that, in the aggregate,
they have been based on a wide variety of criteria, and little or no effort has
been invested in an attempt to make them more consistent and compatible
with one another. These inconsistencies, as well as the lack of precision in
defining certain types of parties, have hindered the capacity of research in
this area to result in cumulative theory-building. Some typologies are based
upon functionalist criteria, differentiating among parties on the basis of an
organizational raison d’être or some specific goal that they pursue. Sigmund
Neumann (1956), for example, distinguishes between ‘parties of individual
representation’ (which articulate the demands of specific social groups) and
‘parties of social integration’ (which have well-developed organizations and
provide a wide variety of services to members, encapsulating them within a
partisan community, in exchange for which they count on financial contributions
and volunteered services of members during election campaigns). In
his typology, ‘parties of total integration’ have more ambitious goals of
seizing power and radically transforming societies, demanding the full
commitment and unquestioning obedience of members. Herbert Kitschelt
(1989) differentiates parties that emphasize the ‘logic of electoral competition’
from those (such as the ‘left-libertarian’ type that he introduces)
that place much greater stress on the ‘logic of constituency representation’.
Wolinetz (2002) distinguishes among ‘vote-seeking’, ‘policy-seeking’ and
‘office-seeking’ parties. And Katz and Mair (1995) implicitly advance a
functionalist logic in setting forth the model of the ‘cartel party’, in which
public financing of parties and the expanded role of the state induce party
leaders to restrain competition and seek primarily to perpetuate themselves
in power to avail themselves of these new resources.
Other classification schemes are organizational, distinguishing between
parties that have thin organizational structures and those that have developed
large infrastructures and complex networks of collaborative relationships
with other secondary organizations. The classic statement of this kind
was by Maurice Duverger, who advanced a two-and-one-half category
scheme separating ‘cadre’ parties (most commonly led by individuals with
high socio-economic status) from ‘mass’ parties (which mobilize broad
segments of the electorate through the development of a large and complex
organization), with the ‘devotee’ party alluded to but dismissed as ‘too
vague to constitute a separate category’.1 Herbert Kitschelt (1994) posits a
four-part classification system distinguishing among ‘centralist clubs’,
‘Leninist cadre’ parties, ‘decentralized clubs’ and ‘decentralized mass’
parties. And Angelo Panebianco (1988), in the most elaborate articulation
of an organizational typology, contrasts ‘mass-bureaucratic’ parties with
‘electoral-professional’ parties.