ECPR Joint Sessions
University of Nottingham, Nottingham
25 - 30 April 2017

Party Switching: The Ultimate Lack of Cohesion within Party in Public Office

Political Parties
Helene Helboe Pedersen
Aarhus Universitet
Helene Helboe Pedersen
Aarhus Universitet
Marie Kaldahl Nielsen
Aarhus Universitet

Party cohesion is crucial for political parties’ ability to serve as linkages between civil society and the political system as well as their ability to form stable and effective cabinets and legislative coalitions (Özbudun, 1970). Party cohesion also comes in various forms referring both to agreement within the organization and to united behavior within the legislature. In this paper, we investigate one aspect of cohesion: Party switching. Party switching refers to a situation where a MP leaves the party she was elected for without giving up her seat in parliament (Mershon, 2014). She might switch to another party, start building a new party or choose to be party independent. In most countries and across political systems, party switching is a rare and critical event (O’Brien and Shomer, 2013). However, we argue that exactly due to the rareness and severity of party switching, these events have much to teach us about party cohesion. Furthermore, we argue that studies of party switching have overlooked the potential relationship between intra-party organization and party switching. We hypothesize that switching is more likely when the decision-making power is placed either in the hands of an extra-parliamentarian branch of the party or in the hands of an almost absolute party leader. We test our hypothesis using data on party switching in Denmark from 1953 to 2015 including the full population of Danish MPs and show that party switching is not only becoming more frequent (though still rare) but also differ systematically across parties. Our quantitative material is supplemented with statements from all party switchers which tell us that party switching is indeed often spurred by disagreement with the party leadership either in the form of an executive committee or a party leader.
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"Man is by nature a political animal" - Aristotle

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