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Party System ChangeApproaches and Interpretations$
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Peter Mair

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780198295495

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198295499.001.0001

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Myths of Electoral Change and the Survival of the ‘Old’ Parties 1

Myths of Electoral Change and the Survival of the ‘Old’ Parties 1

(p.76) 4 Myths of Electoral Change and the Survival of the ‘Old’ Parties1
Party System Change

Peter Mair (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This is the second of three chapters on persistence and change in political parties, and discusses myths of electoral change and the survival of the ‘old’ parties in western Europe. It starts by presenting the three main sources of evidence (trends in aggregate electoral volatility; evidence of the mobilization and success of new parties; (imputed) evidence of the decline of party and the emergence of new forms of interest mediation) that are usually cited against the contemporary applicability of the Lipset–Rokkan ‘law’ on the ‘freezing of party systems’, showing that each of these three patterns of change is more or less rooted in varieties of electoral change. The author then contends in the rest of the chapter that this popular image of electoral change is largely mythical, and lacking in foundation (bearing little or no relation to the actual patterns of electoral alignments in contemporary Europe). It is argued that the empirical evidence suggests that European electorates continue to be stable, that alignments continue to be relatively frozen, and that the old parties continue to survive; in other words, that much of what Lipset and Rokkan contended in the late 1960s concerning freezing, ageing, and stability, still continues to be valid today. The argument is presented in four sections: (1) Levels of Electoral Volatility; (2) The Survival of Traditional Parties; (3) What Sustains the Myths of Electoral Change?; and (4) The Neglect of Party.

Keywords:   change, decline of party, electoral alignments, electoral change, electoral volatility, freezing of party systems, new parties, persistence, political parties, stability, traditional parties, western Europe, western party systems

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