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

Rethinking the Concept of Intra-Party Cohesion

Comparative Politics
Political Parties
Party Members
Caroline Close
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Caroline Close
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Sergiu Gherghina
University of Glasgow

Given the centrality of intra-party cohesion in parliamentary democracies, and given its multiple effects on many aspects of the polity –government stability and survival (Boucek 2012, Saalfeld 2009), electoral performances of the party (Gherghina 2014; Tavits 2009), processes of party change (Harmel & Tan 2003; Gauja 2012)–, the concept of cohesion is regularly included in many research designs. However, confusions abound about the proper definition and measurement of this concept (Bowler et al. 1999; Hazan 2003). As argued in this paper, this confusion results from the multidimensional nature of intra-party cohesion. The Paper aims at providing a comprehensive understanding of the concept of intra-party cohesion, across different fields of research and across the three ‘faces’ of the party organization. In this aim, the paper builds a conceptual framework that attempts to integrate these various dimensions. Three fields of research are critically reviewed: the literature on party factionalism, based on structural approaches of party organizations; legislative studies, stimulated by new institutional approaches; and studies applying Hirschman’s (1970) trilogy of ‘exit, voice and loyalty’ at the intra-party level. Based on both qualitative assessments and a quantitative network-based analysis of bibliographic data, the analysis shows that Hirschman’s legacy has been weakly integrated by the two other fields, despite providing relevant tools for the study of intra-party cohesion, especially as a dynamic process. The Paper finally highlights major gaps and challenges in the study of intra-party cohesion. Among these challenges, it points out the need to extend our understanding of intra-party cohesion beyond the ideological dimension and beyond the legislative arena, and to develop empirical examinations of socio-psychological and material forms of cohesion, in order to better understand processes of intra-party cohesion.
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"Aristocracies … may preserve themselves longest, but only democracies, which refresh their ruling class, can expand" - Hugh Trevor-Roper

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