Political Parties: Insights from a Tri-Planar Model of Political Economy

Originally published in Constitutional Political Economy

What is the place of political parties within a democratic system of political economy? Parties are often described as intermediaries that lubricate the political process by facilitating the matching of voter preferences with candidate positions. This line of analysis flows from a bi-planar model of the political process where politicians appeal directly to voters. In this paper, we examine how construction of a meso level of analysis that lies between micro and macro levels might influence the relationship between candidates and voters. This meso level interjects such organizations as political parties between candidates and voters, with those organizations comprising interest groups within a democratic process, as against serving simply as neutral intermediaries. In this case, political parties can exert substantive effects on democratic outcomes as they take on characteristics of interest groups, bringing to mind Michels (Political parties: a sociological study of the oligarchical tendencies of modern democracy, Hearst’s International Library, New York, 1915) analysis of the unavoidably oligopolistic nature of democratic political organization.

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