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The Politics of Leadership Selection and Party Discipline in Parliamentary Democracies

Parliaments
Political Leadership
Political Participation
Political Parties
Representation
Party Members
Electoral Behaviour
Voting Behaviour
Cristina Bucur
University College Dublin
Cristina Bucur
University College Dublin
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Abstract

Internal party democracy and the opening up of candidate and leadership selection processes to broad selectorates tends to be seen as a normative good. However, empirical evidence regarding the consequences of political parties allowing grassroots members and non-members to participate in selecting their candidates for public office is mixed. Highly participatory candidate nomination processes have been shown to lead to less inclusive and representative legislative institutions and highly undisciplined political parties. This paper argues that the democratisation of leadership selection is likely to produce a similar effect as far as party discipline is concerned. To be successful in party primary contests, candidates for top executive positions need to position themselves closer to the overall median voter, moving away from the median voter of their own party. Thus, the more inclusive the selectorate for party leadership selection, the more accountable the leader becomes to the wider selectorate and the more likely to overlook some of the core policy positions valued by their own backbenchers. Under certain circumstances, such dynamics may fuel the legislators’ use of dissent as a means of communicating their policy stances to voters. To test these expectations, a dataset containing the preferences expressed by backbenchers during the open primary contest organised by the French Socialist Party to select their 2012 presidential candidate was collected. The quantitative analysis finds evidence that the dissenting behaviour among the Socialist Party’s backbenchers during the 2012-2017 legislature followed from the ideological preferences expressed during the 2011 primary.