Menu Adam R Brown

Notes navigation: Browse by titleBrowse by authorSubject index

Schattschneider: Party government

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Schattschneider. 1942. Party government.

In Brief

  1. "The political parties created democracy and modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of the parties."
  2. "A political party is an organized attempt to get control of the government."
  3. "The parties live in a highly competitive world."

Four Main Arguments

Political parties are 'not' associations of the voters who support the party candidates (53):

  1. "The Democratic party is not an association of the twenty-seven million people who voted for Mr. Roosevelt in November, 1940."
  2. "The party is divided into two entities: (1) an organized group of insiders who have effective control of the party, and (2) a mass of passive 'members' who seem to have very little to say about it."
  3. "It is manifestly impossible for twenty-seven million Democrats to control the Democratic party. Neither the will nor the machinery, in spite of the direct primaries and the conventions, exists."
  4. "To call [the parties] oligarchies and thus to identify them with undemocratic tendencies is unfortunate."

'Conclusion': "Will the parties be less responsive to the needs of the voters if their private character is generally recognized? Probably not. The parties do not need laws to make them sensitive to the wishes of the voters any more than we need laws compelling merchants to please their customers. The sovereignty of the voter consists in his freedom of choice... Democracy is not found in the parties but between the parties."

The effects of single member districts and plurality elections (74):

  1. "This system tends to exaggerate the representation of the winning party."
  2. "The greater the victory the more it will be exaggerated proportionately. Thus a party getting 55 per cent of the vote is likely to win 60 per cent of the seats, let us say. If however, it gets 65 per cent of the vote it is likely to win 85 per cent."
  3. "The smaller the percentage of the popular vote received by a given party, the more likely it is to receive less than its proportionate share of the seats."

'Conclusion': "The operation of the system is to exaggerate the victory of the strongest party and to discriminate radically against lesser parties... The odds against a minor party are especially great because it is certain to be no more than the third party, unless it has strongly concentrated its strength in one section."

The crucial position of the second major party (80):

  1. "Why does this system not crush the second major party also? ...The second major party (i.e., the defeated major party) is not easily wiped out completely because it is very likely to have sufficient sectional strength."
  2. "Since the defeated party is the first party in some regions, it benefits by the system, to an extent."
  3. "The defeated major party will [achieve] sufficient representation to enable it to continue its agitation in the interval between elections and enough to maintain a formidable lead over all other opposition parties, i.e., to be the opposition."
  4. "The monopoly of the opposition is the most important asset of the second major party... [It] is able to argue, therefore, that people who vote for minor opposition parties dissipate the opposition, that the supporters of the minor parties waste their votes.

'Conclusion': "The status of the second major party is the critical point in the two-party system. On the one side this party is protected against annihilation by the victorious party. On the other side it is protected against destruction by the minor parties.

The equality of the parties (93):

  1. "The equilibrium of the party system is more than a mere matter of a tendency of the parties toward moderation. There is a tendency of the parties to divide the electorate equally, i.e., elections have a way of becoming close contests between antagonists so well matched that the outcome is in doubt to the very end."
  2. "A strong opposition party is necessary to the survival of the party in power... What happens when a party is too successful, reducing the opposition to a contemptible status? The penalty of too much success is disunity."
  3. "There is a second objection to the contempt of party success involved in the ideal of winning 100 per cent of the vote. It is unnecessary and wasteful. Fifty-one percent of the vote will give any party all there is of the power to govern."

'Conclusion': "The perfect party victory is to be won by accumulating a relatively narrow majority, the mark of the skillful conduct of politics. Party politics tends to establish an equilibrium which approaches perfection when the parties are alike, equal, and compete on even terms throughout the country while events, rude disturbances outside the party system, upset the equilibrium.

Research on similar subjects


American PoliticsPartiesElectionsElectoral RulesParty Government

Wikisum home: Index of all summaries by title, by author, or by subject.