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perceived exclusion of political parties
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Joost van Spanje
Posted 15/6/2008 00:02 (#64)
Subject: perceived exclusion of political parties

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Posts: 2

The perceived exclusion of political parties: A question proposal

Every now and then, party systems face attempts by newly emerging parties to enter the political scene. Why do some new parties succeed in becoming a longstanding credible alternative to the established parties in the eyes of voters, and why do others fail to do so? In answering this question, only very few studies (Downs 2001; Meguid 2005) have taken the political responses of other parties to the emergence of newcomers into account. The specific strategy of treating a new party as a pariah has never been systematically explored. In my Ph.D. dissertation, I argue and empirically show that this strategy can seal a new rival’s fate.

Only a very small literature exists on the political responses of parties to the emergence of new rivals in a party system. One of the few studies in the field was conducted by William Downs, who distinguishes between “engage” and “disengage” strategies of the establishment, the latter being either to “ignore” or to “isolate” the new party (Downs 2001). On his view, isolating strategies can be divided into isolating a party “de jure” or “de facto”. Building on this model, ostracism is defined as an “isolation” strategy.

Downs suggests two possibilities of isolation strategies: either “legal restrictions” or “blocking coalitions”. However, the latter possibility – which Downs also refers to as isolation de facto – is wider than just pacts to block coalitions with a particular party, also known as “anti-pacts” (Martin and Stevenson 2001: 36-7, 46; Strǿm et al. 1994: 317; Budge and Keman 1990). Strategies of ostracism often involve not only blocking coalitions, but various additional measures. Damen, for instance, specifies six ways in which the former Flemish Bloc (VB) was ostracized (Damen 2001: 92), only one of which is the use of blocking coalitions. Indeed, many anti-immigrant parties were ostracized by the other parties even though they did not come at all close to joining any government coalitions. It is evident that the ostracism of the National Front (NF) in Britain (Eatwell 2004), for example, has had nothing to do with blocking any government coalition. It could even be argued that the essence of ostracism is something other than the blocking of coalitions once these parties have acquired coalition potential (Sartori 1976) – even in the typical case of the Flemish Bloc (VB). In 1989, when the other parties talked about a “cordon sanitaire” agreement for the first time, the VB was polling only about 2% of the vote in Flanders and no one could have foreseen that this party would become an important player within just a couple of years. Thus, the argument here is that the category of “blocking coalitions” should be extended to encompass more general party strategies. Instead of this category, the concept of ‘ostracism’ is proposed.

The starting point for this conceptualization is that each party in any party system can be confronted at any level with a strategy of systematic boycotting by any of the other parties in that system at that level. Ostracism is thus defined as the systematic boycotting of the party by other parties in the system at a specific level. Following Damen (2001: 92), I take into account six features of such a boycott. Apart from being an anti-pact, a boycott includes a refusal to engage in joint legislative activities, to refrain from asking support from the targeted party for such activities, to refuse to support the targeted party regarding such activities, to have no joint press releases with the targeted party, and no electoral alliances with it. An example of a party that was confronted by a full-scale boycott that had all these characteristics was the Dutch Centre Democrats (CD). The case of the Northern League (LN) in Italy, by contrast, which was invited to join a government coalition in 1994 and 2001, is characterized by an absence of ostracism (e.g., Bull and Newell 1995). This conceptualisation has been outlined in previous work by the author of this proposal (Van der Brug and Van Spanje 2004; Van Spanje and Van der Brug 2007).

Until now, I have implicitly assumed that voters are aware of the ostracism of parties. However, most voters are usually considered as ‘rationally ignorant’ about politics in general (Downs 1957). Although in most of the empirically observed cases such as the Flemish Interest (VB) in Belgium or the Republicans (REPs) in Germany, it seems nearly impossible that any voter would not notice the ostracizing strategies of the mainstream parties, I may still want to account for the often incomplete knowledge of voters about inter-party strategies. Although the parties that participate in ostracism have a stake in advertising the isolated position of the targeted party, whether or not they eventually succeed in making voters aware of the ostracism remains an open question. I therefore propose to ask voters directly about this. Thus, I suggest including a specific question about the ostracism of parties in the EES09 questionnaire.

Parties can be ostracized at all levels that they operate, usually four – European, national, regional and local levels. However, the proposed question pertains to the national level only. The framework of the EES constitutes a unique opportunity to study the ostracism of parties and its effects. First of all, it will be possible to capitalize on the special situation of the 'natural experiment' provided by the fact that in certain countries, national election campaigns, in which voters are likely to be reminded about the ostracism of particular parties, will be held simultaneously with the elections to the European Parliament, while they will have been months, or even years before in others. Secondly, the existence of anti-immigrant parties in most of the 27 EU member states and the different responses that they faced by other parties in these different countries provides a unique opportunity to study the consequences of ostracism.

The proposed question concerning ostracism is the following.

Q1. “It sometimes happens that a particular political party is systematically boycotted by one or several other parties. This means that one or several other parties permanently refrain from any political cooperation with the specific party. For example, other parties can refuse to form a coalition government with a particular party, or to have electoral alliances with it. At the national level, is there, in your opinion, a [German/Italian/…] party that is currently excluded in this way?”

possible answers: yes / no / DK

[if yes:]

1.a “Which party?”


1.b “Is that party systematically boycotted by one, several, or all other parties?”

possible answers: by one other party / several but not all other parties / all other parties / DK


1.c “Is there any other party that is systematically boycotted?”

1.d “Is that party systematically boycotted by one, several, or all other parties?”

possible answers: by one other party / several but not all other parties / all other parties / DK

Abedi, Amir. 2002. "Challenges to established parties: The effects of party system features on the electoral fortunes of anti-political-establishment parties." European Journal of Political Research 41 (4):551-83.
Budge, Ian, and Hans Keman. 1990. Parties and Democracy: Coalition Formation and Government Functioning in Twenty States. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Bull, Martin J., and James L. Newell. 1995. "Italy Changes Course? The 1994 Elections and the Victory of the Right." Parliamentary Affairs 48 (1):72-99.
Damen, Sofie. 2001. "Strategieën tegen extreem-rechts: Het cordon sanitaire onder de loep." Tijdschrift voor Sociologie 22 (1):89-110.
Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Downs, William. 2001. "Pariahs in their Midst: Belgian and Norwegian Parties React to Extremist Threats." West European Politics 24 (3):23-42.
Eatwell, Roger. 2004. "The extreme right in Britain: The long road to 'modernization'." In Western Democracies and the New Extreme Right Challenge, ed. R. Eatwell and C. Mudde. London: Routledge.
Martin, Lanny W., and Randolph T. Stevenson. 2001. "Government Formation in Parliamentary Democracies." American Journal of Political Science 45 (1):33-50.
Meguid, Bonnie. 2005. "Competition between Unequals: The Role of Mainstream Party Strategy in Niche Party Success." American Political Science Review 99 (3):435-52.
Sartori, Giovanni. 1976. Party and party systems: a framework for analysis: Cambridge University Press.
Schedler, Andreas. 1996. "Anti-Political-Establishment Parties." Party politics 2 (3):291-312.
Strǿm, Kaare, Ian Budge, and Michael Laver. 1994. "Constraints on Cabinet Formation in Parliamentary Democracies." American Journal of Political Science 38 (2):303-35.
Van der Brug, Wouter, and Joost Van Spanje. 2004. The Strategy of a 'Cordon Sanitaire': Consequences for Anti-Immigrant Parties. Paper read at ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops at Uppsala.
Van Spanje, Joost, and Wouter Van der Brug. 2007. "The Party as Pariah: The Exclusion of Anti-Immigration Parties and its Effect on their Ideological Positions." West European Politics 30 (5):1022-40.
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