Most conventional conceptions of what democracy is and of how it should be organized imply particular characteristics and functions for parties and party systems, and particular kinds of relationships among parties, citizens, and the state. Our contention is that the party government model so conceived, while quite powerful prescriptively, has only a marginal connection to the way parties and party system really work in the early twenty-first century. Our basic argument is that at the level of party systems, the mainstream parties, and most minor parties as well, have effectively formed a cartel. While the appearance of competition is preserved, in terms of political substance it has become spectacle—a show for the audience of audience democracy.
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