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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Competition Within Parties Under Open- And Flexible-List PR Systems

Comparative Politics
Johannes Besch
University of Zurich
Johannes Besch
University of Zurich

Various studies have examined the political consequences of party factionalism. However, little research has devoted its attention to what drives politicians within parties to assemble factions. Moreover, existing studies focus mostly on case studies, but neglect more general determinants. To fill this lacuna, this paper explores party factionalism in a comparative perspective and develops a theory of faction formation. Arguing that faction formation is a product of inter- and intra-party competition, it proposes that cleavages, electoral systems and party organization determine faction formation. In particular, it hypothesizes a) that politicians assemble ideological factions when the societal demand for political representation is high – i.e. many cleavages – but the electoral systems is too impermeable to allow another viable party as competitor; b) politicians assemble self-interested factions when the electoral system creates intra-party competition – via the way candidates are voted for – and the party leadership is too weak to control their party via candidate nomination. The theory is tested with novel data on party factionalism, collected by surveying political journalists in 8 countries. The empirical results support the cornerstones of the theory. The findings have important implications for our understanding of representation via parties and party organization. First, contrary to large parts of the party literature, factions can be beneficial for parties as they allow to represent a more heterogeneous electorate and to aggregate different societal preferences. Second, parties can decrease (or increase) the likelihood of faction formation via its internal organization, but have limited control to prevent factionalism in general. Finally, Sartori’s famous argument that the number of factions in a polity is inversely related to the number of parties does not hold unconditionally.
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