Bernard Owen
Secrétaire général du Centre d'études comparatives des élections
Abonné·e de Mediapart

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Billet de blog 19 oct. 2021

The Integration Process of the Electorate into Governing and Opposition Bodies

This paper presents a theoretical aproach of the subjet matter. In the parliamentary system of government political parties act as elected representatives of the adult population . The electorate of a modern nation is so large that the analysis of such a number of individuals is only possible by classifying and dividing it into different types of categories or groups.

Bernard Owen
Secrétaire général du Centre d'études comparatives des élections
Abonné·e de Mediapart

Ce blog est personnel, la rédaction n’est pas à l’origine de ses contenus.

Taking this into account, and considered from an electoral point of view, a political party can represent either the opinion of one precise group of individuals (whatever the nature of the group) or produce the integration of the opinion of a certain number of such groups. It can then be implied that the nature of political parties (and the political life of a nation) will differ whether the parties act as representatives of only one group or if they represent a certain number of such groups.

The integration of the political opinion (or position) of groups is of primary importance as long as the aim of elections is unified government formation. The act of "representation" can then be considered as turning a multitude (the electorate) into one decision making body (the government).

The electorate is considered as composed of individuals belonging to different types of communities or groups. The vote is not considered as irrational but as depending on human gregarious instinct rather than on individual reasoning.  In order to facilitate the different developments, two opposite party systems are considered :

-  Characterized multiparty systems  and two-party systems.

Process of the Electorate into Governing and Opposition Bodies: A Theoretical Approach.

A national electorate considered as an aggregate of individuals gives a different picture to that of one composed of different groupings. An individual voter corresponds to the smallest unit, that is, one vote cannot be considered as anything else than whole.  Human groupings do not tend to electoral unity as they give rise to tendencies that lead (at least) to a majority vote for such a party and a minority vote for another party.

A national electorate can be divided into different types of categories or groupings and the choice made will alter our perception of the representative process.  Two main categories can be considered: voters that have certain common characteristics and voters grouped geographically.

As far as the first category is concerned, the common characteristics can be divided in two groups that have very different internal consequences.  There are the individual characteristics: Groupings of individuals sharing common points such as  age, occupation, type of habitat ...Secondly the social characteristics: In individuals belonging to some kind of social grouping such as religious, organized labor.  The integration of the political opinion (or position) of groups is of primary importance as long as the aim of elections is unified government formation.  The act of "representation" can then be considered as turning a multitude (the electorate) into one decision making body (the government). 

The second category takes into account the place of residence in a geographical sense. The nation is considered as a "whole" divided into regions that have different degrees of differentiation.  Geographic groupings concern the effect of belonging to a region differing from other regions or from the nation taken as a whole. The difference can be the result of historical migrations that have taken the shape of language or ethnical differences.

It appears that only the groups belonging to the social and geographical classifications have an active influence, that is, have an effect on the way an important but variable part of their members will vote. Organized labor belongs to the first classification (social).  Here, we find from 50 to 70% of trade union members voting for the party that has their union's support.  The effect on a two-arty political system is important but only becomes a determining factor when list proportional systems are used and parties that cannot obtain support of such groups tend to drop under 25% of the expressed votes.

The regional influence of geographic groupings is not as easily defined because religion, with the help of its social organizations (which are also classified in social intervenes generally in a significant manner.  The classification based on individual characteristics is not used as it does not give further information in characterized multiparty systems once the "left" and "right" (or "working class" and "middle class") voting habits have been dealt with, that is, in the case of three parties classified as being on the "left", the individual (age, income, professional status)  classification will not give information as to the reason why "left" voters choose one of the three and not another.  At this point, only social and geographical categories give useful information.

Nevertheless, the group, whatever its nature (geographical or social), does not lead to an electorally unified behavior.  Even in small groups unanimous electoral behavior is rare.  Listening to conversation in groups can give the impression of unified attitudes but this is the result of community moral constraints whose effect disappears in the case of the secret ballot.  tendencies come to light when elections are held.  One tendency will represent the main differentiating factor of the group from its environment while one or more tendencies will come in opposition to this original but not always numerically dominant line of thought.

These different lines of thought are based on two conflicting tendencies: Firstly, the sense of solidarity common to the members of the group.  Secondly, the temperamental opposition that appears when individuals get together. The relative importance of these two tendencies depends essentially on the amount of difference between the groups and its environment (other groups or the nation taken as a whole).

The first tendency will be a uniting factor for the members of the group and its importance will be proportional to the amount of the difference between the group and the rest: the larger the difference, the stronger the uniting factor.  The second tendency creates, inside the group, temperamental conflicts that are found in autonomous bodies free from outside influences.  The two opposite lines of thought result in a vote in favor of the existing source of political power within the group or a vote in opposition to the existing source of power.  This vote can be subdivided into tendencies.

As far as the political parties themselves, Parliamentary electoral representation consists in reducing a very large number of votes (x millions) into a very small number of seats (x hundred).  It happens that free national elections always give rise to the birth of parties.  It is then possible to organize them as members of parliament into different groupings that are political parties.

All classification of the electorate clearly show that the vote for a given party is not the result of a random choice but, owing to the discrepancy in numbers (voters — parties in parliament) it is unlikely that each individual citizen will fully identify himself with the party for which he votes.  It is then possible to say that each party groups an electorate having certain (but not all) common characteristics.  The diversity of human nature leads to the following statement:

All citizens will not find a party that corresponds in all respect to their own political nature but will vote for a party in which they find a sufficient number of common points (whatever the nature of those points).  The number of common points that have to be found for a fraction of the electorate to vote for a given party is related to the proportion: size of the electorate - number of parties. Let us take, for example, an electorate of 10,000,000 and 20 parties.  Admitting that the parties have a similar number of votes, each party has approximately 500,000 voters. In the case where only two parties are present, each party has approximately 5,000,000 voters. It can then be implied that more common points will be found in the case of one party that receives 50,000 votes than that of one party is equal to 5,000,000 votes.  If it is admitted that only one factor intervenes in the party choice (for example, ideology) it can be implied that the size of the electorate for a given party will have a direct effect on the intensity of the determining factor: in the first case, the 5,000,000 voters will have common determining factors of a fairly high intensity while, in the second case, the determining factor of the5,000,000 voters will be of a less intense nature.

In the case where it is supposed that not one but a certain number of factors intervenes in party identification, it can be deduced that the difference will reside not only in the intensity but in the number of common factors.  The degree of diversity of the electorate of each party is then a function of the total number of parties for a given electorate.  It can be assumed that a large number of parties will mean smaller parties, a smaller electorate (per party) of a more even composition.

We have to bear in mind that parliamentary government depends on the support of an absolute majority of its members. The government then acts as the last stage of the necessary integration of the very large number of citizens that makes up the electorate into the decision making unified body which is the government.  This last stage of the necessary integrating process concerns the parties that make up the parliament and acts very differently in cases of characterized multiparty or two-party systems. The integration which has to take place at government level will depend on the amount already realized at party level.  For  instance, the larger the number of parties, the lesser the amount of integration per party.  In the opposite case, an electorate divided into a small number of parties (a two-party system) will mean a large amount of integration per party (even if it is at a lesser degree).

At this point, the question to be answered is "How will the groups fare in regards to the parties?"   Do the groups correspond, in an exclusive manner to one party or will they be one (among others) of the components of a party? Theoretically, it is difficult to admit that a nation is equal to the addition of social and geographic groups that include all the population.  Furthermore, that each of the groups is linked in an inclusive manner to one party as  the minorities of the different groups would have to vote for a party belonging to another group, which would mean that the exclusiveness "one group - one party" disappears.  The hypothesis that the parties of a nation are linked exclusively to groups cannot then be retained.

A new hypothesis can then be worked upon, that of a mixed relationship between regional groups and personal social groups.  The two types of groups then have complementary effect: for instance, the majority of a regional group votes for a regional party while the regional minority votes for a personal (individural : age, occupation...) social type of party, which is trans-regional.

Let us now transpose to the two extreme parliamentary systems: characterized multiparty systems where the influence group-party should be more evident and the two-party systems where all the groups are to be found within the two parties.

Characterized multiparty systems.

As seen previously, there is no evidence that all the members of a group will vote in the same manner.  The theoretical hypothesis ‘one group - one party" becomes in practice "one party representing the dominant tendency of a group while the minority tendency either votes for a party representing the main tendency of another group or for a trans-regional party.

For practical reasons, let us have a regional group with a political right majority and a minority to the political left centered on the trade union movement.  We now have two sorts of parties; the regional type of party (it must be well noted that it will receive only one part of the regional vote) and the trans-regional or national type (this party can be expected to receive part of the votes from groups having personal social characteristics).  Nevertheless, each of these two types of parties will differ according to the nature and degree of differentiation they represent, for example, the regional party of a highly distinctive region (distance from the capital city, cultural, historical, economical, language differences) will be powerful and collect votes from a large part of the regional population.  In the opposite case (little difference between a given region and the nation as a whole) the regional party will be electorally less powerful and can hardly be taken as representing the region.

Small regional differences can modify and even inverse the strength of a regional party and its opposition to the point that the regional party is reduced to the hard core of regional activism and justifies its action by exaggerating the difference between the region and the rest of the nation.  Needless to say that, in this case, the regional members of parliament are far from being representative, giving a distorted antagonistic image. Belgium gives an example of this distorted image.  The country is divided by a language barrier, the Flemish and the Walloons each representing half of the population. None of the two communities are really dominant and the electoral habits do not follow linguistic lines to the exception of two parties that only represent a minority and whose main efforts aim at putting forward all aspects of the language question that divides the nation. (In the middle of the Euro crisis Belgium had not had a government for 18 months) The Flemish represent 50% of the nation and only 20% vote for the Flemish Party whereas in Finland, the  Swedish minority that represents 6% of the total population has an 80% vote for the Swedish party.

Two-party systems.

Free parliamentary elections lead to multiparty systems where the number of parties varies considerably. The two-party systems come in opposition to the "characterized multiparty systems giving the example of the smallest number of parties in parliament.  The example of regional type groups have been chosen as a geographic image.  We will clarify th parte theoretical development.

In this party system, the region "A" will be totally represented by the two parties X and Y.  In our theoretical approach we can imply that the majority vote of a well differentiated region will go towards the party that is in opposition to the dominant national source of power: the opposition party ("minority position" not taken electorally but  as regards to the "establishment").

Let us look now at the consequences that result from the different levels of integration. In multiparty systems in nations that are made up of more than two groups having different electoral characteristics, the case of the majority of a group  being equal to one party leads to a multiparty system, which brings about when no party reaches 50% of the parliamentary seats) to coalition government.  A government is then composed of 2, 3 4 or more parties that have agreed on a coalition platform. The fact that this government platform (the final integration) occurs after the election means that the parties concerned keep their political identities; those that were presented by means of a more or less precise electoral campaign.

On the one hand, the consequences of characterized multiparty systems, and their coalition governments, is that they place the final integration process  between the parliamentary elections and government formation. On the other hand, the integration will not last longer than the life of that coalition government.  The duration of the integration once it is realized is limited to relative short time periods as in the first case getting a government together is an urgent matter and in the second case, government duration rarely attains that of a parliamentary session.

The practical consequence of having to reach an agreement on the basis of which a coalition government can be formed is found in Belgium and the Netherlands where the delay between the election and government formation can be extended to periods of 2 to 6 months. In these cases, current affairs are looked after by the last government without a parliamentary majority. These semi-vacancies of the national political power can be tolerated in small well established democracies but are a source of potential trouble in countries experimenting democracy-

Government stability is endangered when the last stage of the integrating process is put off to the period that follows the election. Danger appears when a crisis occurs some time after the government has been formed. A crisis generally brings about a change of policy which often goes against the electoral manifesto of one of the coalition partners and justifies its backings out. Coalition governments give relative satisfaction as long as the economic and social national situation runs on normal lines. The change of policy brought about by a crisis results in  energetic unpopular measures which turn public opinion against the government and endanger its unity; minor government partners are then prone to respect scrupulously their electoral engagements and retire from the coalition.

Characterized multiparty systems have special types of alternative governments that encourage protest votes for new marginal parties. As we have said before, in characterized multiparty systems, the final integration occurs after the elections. It must then be understood that the electorate has not given its opinion as to government formation.

Let us now admit that after two  governments, for example  X and Y, an election is held following some kind of crisis sufficiently important to bring a significant part of the electorate (say 10%) to wish for an alternative government. This electorate will then have a difficult task as it has 5 parties to choose from, well before the final integration (government platform) is made. This means that none of the five parties can be clearly associated with alternative government before the election takes place.

Let us now consider how the parties of our model are perceived by the electorate. Two parties have not been associated with the last government. Party n°5 has kept out of the last two but does not, by itself represent an absolute majority of seats in parliament. There is no evidence to say that the non politically committed electorate will clearly see the n party as having been a member of the X government. Many will have doubts as to its belonging or not to the last government (Y).

The only clear non government vote will have to be for a party outside the traditional five, always ready, in the eyes of the electorate who is little aware of the political intricacies required to join a post electoral coalition government.  The "vote against the government" then has an anti-democratic connotation and appears as a protest not clearly defined. The vote is then directed towards a new party placed outside the usual habits of needed compromise government formation. This type of party can then be seen as the only one capable of being, by itself, the alternate choice. Many examples exist: In Germany, the Nazi vote of 1930, in France, the Poujade vote in 1956, in Denmark, the Progress vote in 1973.

In two-party systems the integration is at party level takes place before the parliamentary elections. No such remodeling of the electorate into a uniform governing body has to be made at parliamentary level as the government will be made up of only one party.  From a political point of view, "one party governments" are more stable than coalition governments.  The integration at party level is of a different nature than that which takes place in parliament in order to agree on a coalition platform.

Two points explain the difference: The level at which the integration takes place: The party works directly on the groups or individuals while, at parliamentary level, the integration acts on the elected representatives of the parties.  The integration at party level works on very long periods and can be considered as historical or permanent while that of a coalition government will not, at the best, outlive a parliamentary session and generally, a government. This last type of integration will then appear short-lived and of a more superficial nature.

Whatever the relationship "region-nation" or "region-region" or "region-social group", two- party systems will have all the groups that make up the nation in either one of the two parties.  It can then be implied that whatever the "opposition" or "support" tendencies of the different groups, the two-party system will have little in common with that of a political system where, for example, the majority of each region would have its own party. The differences will be considered at two levels:

In two-party systems at regional level the political attitudes and electoral platforms will have to take into account the ideological positions of the two national parties. The political action will thus have to integrate national and regional issues.  It is also important to note that majority and minority tendencies of the different groups will all vote for the same type of parties (two national parties that cut across regional  or group lines.  But in characterized multiparty systems the regional majorities will vote for regional parties while their minorities vote for national parties.  The electoral platforms of national parties will differ from that of regional parties.  The global national approach will lack unity as far as declared policy is concerned.

In characterized multiparty systems, the parties in Parliament have vocational differences. Policy topics run along different lines and the issues could be treated in specialized assemblies, for example, a legislative assembly for questions regarding national policies.  A regional  assembly for regional and inter-regional questions.  The diversity of the issues that have to be dealt with in a single assembly complicate the intricate working out of coalition government platform.  In two-party systems, a same party will have members coming from different regions and groups acting together in the name of  a common political platform. The members of parliament from a certain district will not belong to an autonomous group or party having to defend that particular district but to a party in which are found almost  half of the members of parliament whose political platform they will have to adopt.  This means that the members of a well defined district or group will first have to defend its cause in front of the party that will then have to include it in its general policy agenda.  The party has to assume the regional and group interests of all its members and voters so that the regional aspects will be integrated in the general platform.

The party can be represented as a pyramid whose base is at local level where the different national tendencies are found.  The whole volume of the pyramid converges at its summit that represents a unified attitude, the  result of different levels of integration of the tendencies found at the base.  On the contrary, in multi-party systems are then represented by "n" number of pyramids whose bases cover the whole nation . The "n'" number of summits indicate that parliament still has to integrate before a unified attitude is reached at government level.

Two-party systems consist of two pyramids whose bases cover the whole nation. The summit of the largest of the two pyramids represents the maximum integration needed to attain government formation.  

To conclude, and considering the problems of representation common to parliamentary systems, the general question to be answered in this paper was: at what level and by what means is a multitude (the electorate) turned into a unified decision making body (the government)?

The different levels of representation appear to act in the following manner: The electorate, considered as a whole, is electorally heterogeneous. The groups (whatever their nature), taken individually, do not obtain from their members unanimous electoral habits. The party is the first level at which electoral integration takes place and acts in the following ways: the integration takes place before the election and the integration concerns individuals and groups.  The existence of parties does not depend on the institutions: their life span is not limited and the integrating process can spread out over long historical periods.

Integration at parliament level acts differently: The integration takes place after the election and concerns ns the elected representatives of the parties. It takes place in a well defined short period: The time to agree on a coalition government platform.

The consequence is that the parties in the case of characterized multiparty systems and two- party systems are of a different nature.  The parties in a characterized multiparty system reproduce in a large but variable measure the national divisions or groupings with little intervention in the integrating process which has to take place at parliamentary level before government formation can be considered. The necessary integration is not then realized at the level of each individual party but after the election between the parties themselves.  In a two-party system, the party is in itself a place of integration that has the advantage of acting for long historical periods and at grass root level.

Taking this into account, and considered from an electoral point of view, a political party can represent either the opinion of one precise group of individuals (whatever the nature of the group) or produce the integration of the opinion of a certain number of such groups. It can then be implied that the nature of political parties (and the political life of a nation) will differ whether the parties act as representatives of only one group or if they represent a certain number of such groups.

The integration of the political opinion (or position) of groups is of primary importance as long as the aim of elections is unified government formation. The act of "representation" can then be considered as turning a multitude (the electorate) into one decision making body (the government).

The electorate is considered as composed of individuals belonging to different types of communities or groups. The vote is not considered as irrational but as depending on human gregarious instinct rather than on individual reasoning.  In order to facilitate the different developments, two opposite party systems are considered :

-  Characterized multiparty systems  and two-party systems.

Process of the Electorate into Governing and Opposition Bodies: A Theoretical Approach.

A national electorate considered as an aggregate of individuals gives a different picture to that of one composed of different groupings. An individual voter corresponds to the smallest unit, that is, one vote cannot be considered as anything else than whole.  Human groupings do not tend to electoral unity as they give rise to tendencies that lead (at least) to a majority vote for such a party and a minority vote for another party.

A national electorate can be divided into different types of categories or groupings and the choice made will alter our perception of the representative process.  Two main categories can be considered: voters that have certain common characteristics and voters grouped geographically.

As far as the first category is concerned, the common characteristics can be divided in two groups that have very different internal consequences.  There are the individual characteristics: Groupings of individuals sharing common points such as  age, occupation, type of habitat ...Secondly the social characteristics: In individuals belonging to some kind of social grouping such as religious, organized labor.  The integration of the political opinion (or position) of groups is of primary importance as long as the aim of elections is unified government formation.  The act of "representation" can then be considered as turning a multitude (the electorate) into one decision making body (the government). 

The second category takes into account the place of residence in a geographical sense. The nation is considered as a "whole" divided into regions that have different degrees of differentiation.  Geographic groupings concern the effect of belonging to a region differing from other regions or from the nation taken as a whole. The difference can be the result of historical migrations that have taken the shape of language or ethnical differences.

It appears that only the groups belonging to the social and geographical classifications have an active influence, that is, have an effect on the way an important but variable part of their members will vote. Organized labor belongs to the first classification (social).  Here, we find from 50 to 70% of trade union members voting for the party that has their union's support.  The effect on a two-arty political system is important but only becomes a determining factor when list proportional systems are used and parties that cannot obtain support of such groups tend to drop under 25% of the expressed votes.

The regional influence of geographic groupings is not as easily defined because religion, with the help of its social organizations (which are also classified in social intervenes generally in a significant manner.  The classification based on individual characteristics is not used as it does not give further information in characterized multiparty systems once the "left" and "right" (or "working class" and "middle class") voting habits have been dealt with, that is, in the case of three parties classified as being on the "left", the individual (age, income, professional status)  classification will not give information as to the reason why "left" voters choose one of the three and not another.  At this point, only social and geographical categories give useful information.

Nevertheless, the group, whatever its nature (geographical or social), does not lead to an electorally unified behavior.  Even in small groups unanimous electoral behavior is rare.  Listening to conversation in groups can give the impression of unified attitudes but this is the result of community moral constraints whose effect disappears in the case of the secret ballot.  tendencies come to light when elections are held.  One tendency will represent the main differentiating factor of the group from its environment while one or more tendencies will come in opposition to this original but not always numerically dominant line of thought.

These different lines of thought are based on two conflicting tendencies: Firstly, the sense of solidarity common to the members of the group.  Secondly, the temperamental opposition that appears when individuals get together. The relative importance of these two tendencies depends essentially on the amount of difference between the groups and its environment (other groups or the nation taken as a whole).

The first tendency will be a uniting factor for the members of the group and its importance will be proportional to the amount of the difference between the group and the rest: the larger the difference, the stronger the uniting factor.  The second tendency creates, inside the group, temperamental conflicts that are found in autonomous bodies free from outside influences.  The two opposite lines of thought result in a vote in favor of the existing source of political power within the group or a vote in opposition to the existing source of power.  This vote can be subdivided into tendencies.

As far as the political parties themselves, Parliamentary electoral representation consists in reducing a very large number of votes (x millions) into a very small number of seats (x hundred).  It happens that free national elections always give rise to the birth of parties.  It is then possible to organize them as members of parliament into different groupings that are political parties.

All classification of the electorate clearly show that the vote for a given party is not the result of a random choice but, owing to the discrepancy in numbers (voters — parties in parliament) it is unlikely that each individual citizen will fully identify himself with the party for which he votes.  It is then possible to say that each party groups an electorate having certain (but not all) common characteristics.  The diversity of human nature leads to the following statement:

All citizens will not find a party that corresponds in all respect to their own political nature but will vote for a party in which they find a sufficient number of common points (whatever the nature of those points).  The number of common points that have to be found for a fraction of the electorate to vote for a given party is related to the proportion: size of the electorate - number of parties. Let us take, for example, an electorate of 10,000,000 and 20 parties.  Admitting that the parties have a similar number of votes, each party has approximately 500,000 voters. In the case where only two parties are present, each party has approximately 5,000,000 voters. It can then be implied that more common points will be found in the case of one party that receives 50,000 votes than that of one party is equal to 5,000,000 votes.  If it is admitted that only one factor intervenes in the party choice (for example, ideology) it can be implied that the size of the electorate for a given party will have a direct effect on the intensity of the determining factor: in the first case, the 5,000,000 voters will have common determining factors of a fairly high intensity while, in the second case, the determining factor of the5,000,000 voters will be of a less intense nature.

In the case where it is supposed that not one but a certain number of factors intervenes in party identification, it can be deduced that the difference will reside not only in the intensity but in the number of common factors.  The degree of diversity of the electorate of each party is then a function of the total number of parties for a given electorate.  It can be assumed that a large number of parties will mean smaller parties, a smaller electorate (per party) of a more even composition.

We have to bear in mind that parliamentary government depends on the support of an absolute majority of its members. The government then acts as the last stage of the necessary integration of the very large number of citizens that makes up the electorate into the decision making unified body which is the government.  This last stage of the necessary integrating process concerns the parties that make up the parliament and acts very differently in cases of characterized multiparty or two-party systems. The integration which has to take place at government level will depend on the amount already realized at party level.  For  instance, the larger the number of parties, the lesser the amount of integration per party.  In the opposite case, an electorate divided into a small number of parties (a two-party system) will mean a large amount of integration per party (even if it is at a lesser degree).

At this point, the question to be answered is "How will the groups fare in regards to the parties?"   Do the groups correspond, in an exclusive manner to one party or will they be one (among others) of the components of a party? Theoretically, it is difficult to admit that a nation is equal to the addition of social and geographic groups that include all the population.  Furthermore, that each of the groups is linked in an inclusive manner to one party as  the minorities of the different groups would have to vote for a party belonging to another group, which would mean that the exclusiveness "one group - one party" disappears.  The hypothesis that the parties of a nation are linked exclusively to groups cannot then be retained.

A new hypothesis can then be worked upon, that of a mixed relationship between regional groups and personal social groups.  The two types of groups then have complementary effect: for instance, the majority of a regional group votes for a regional party while the regional minority votes for a personal (individural : age, occupation...) social type of party, which is trans-regional.

Let us now transpose to the two extreme parliamentary systems: characterized multiparty systems where the influence group-party should be more evident and the two-party systems where all the groups are to be found within the two parties.

Characterized multiparty systems.

As seen previously, there is no evidence that all the members of a group will vote in the same manner.  The theoretical hypothesis ‘one group - one party" becomes in practice "one party representing the dominant tendency of a group while the minority tendency either votes for a party representing the main tendency of another group or for a trans-regional party.

For practical reasons, let us have a regional group with a political right majority and a minority to the political left centered on the trade union movement.  We now have two sorts of parties; the regional type of party (it must be well noted that it will receive only one part of the regional vote) and the trans-regional or national type (this party can be expected to receive part of the votes from groups having personal social characteristics).  Nevertheless, each of these two types of parties will differ according to the nature and degree of differentiation they represent, for example, the regional party of a highly distinctive region (distance from the capital city, cultural, historical, economical, language differences) will be powerful and collect votes from a large part of the regional population.  In the opposite case (little difference between a given region and the nation as a whole) the regional party will be electorally less powerful and can hardly be taken as representing the region.

Small regional differences can modify and even inverse the strength of a regional party and its opposition to the point that the regional party is reduced to the hard core of regional activism and justifies its action by exaggerating the difference between the region and the rest of the nation.  Needless to say that, in this case, the regional members of parliament are far from being representative, giving a distorted antagonistic image. Belgium gives an example of this distorted image.  The country is divided by a language barrier, the Flemish and the Walloons each representing half of the population. None of the two communities are really dominant and the electoral habits do not follow linguistic lines to the exception of two parties that only represent a minority and whose main efforts aim at putting forward all aspects of the language question that divides the nation. (In the middle of the Euro crisis Belgium had not had a government for 18 months) The Flemish represent 50% of the nation and only 20% vote for the Flemish Party whereas in Finland, the  Swedish minority that represents 6% of the total population has an 80% vote for the Swedish party.

Two-party systems.

Free parliamentary elections lead to multiparty systems where the number of parties varies considerably. The two-party systems come in opposition to the "characterized multiparty systems giving the example of the smallest number of parties in parliament.  The example of regional type groups have been chosen as a geographic image.  We will clarify th parte theoretical development.

In this party system, the region "A" will be totally represented by the two parties X and Y.  In our theoretical approach we can imply that the majority vote of a well differentiated region will go towards the party that is in opposition to the dominant national source of power: the opposition party ("minority position" not taken electorally but  as regards to the "establishment").

Let us look now at the consequences that result from the different levels of integration. In multiparty systems in nations that are made up of more than two groups having different electoral characteristics, the case of the majority of a group  being equal to one party leads to a multiparty system, which brings about when no party reaches 50% of the parliamentary seats) to coalition government.  A government is then composed of 2, 3 4 or more parties that have agreed on a coalition platform. The fact that this government platform (the final integration) occurs after the election means that the parties concerned keep their political identities; those that were presented by means of a more or less precise electoral campaign.

On the one hand, the consequences of characterized multiparty systems, and their coalition governments, is that they place the final integration process  between the parliamentary elections and government formation. On the other hand, the integration will not last longer than the life of that coalition government.  The duration of the integration once it is realized is limited to relative short time periods as in the first case getting a government together is an urgent matter and in the second case, government duration rarely attains that of a parliamentary session.

The practical consequence of having to reach an agreement on the basis of which a coalition government can be formed is found in Belgium and the Netherlands where the delay between the election and government formation can be extended to periods of 2 to 6 months. In these cases, current affairs are looked after by the last government without a parliamentary majority. These semi-vacancies of the national political power can be tolerated in small well established democracies but are a source of potential trouble in countries experimenting democracy-

Government stability is endangered when the last stage of the integrating process is put off to the period that follows the election. Danger appears when a crisis occurs some time after the government has been formed. A crisis generally brings about a change of policy which often goes against the electoral manifesto of one of the coalition partners and justifies its backings out. Coalition governments give relative satisfaction as long as the economic and social national situation runs on normal lines. The change of policy brought about by a crisis results in  energetic unpopular measures which turn public opinion against the government and endanger its unity; minor government partners are then prone to respect scrupulously their electoral engagements and retire from the coalition.

Characterized multiparty systems have special types of alternative governments that encourage protest votes for new marginal parties. As we have said before, in characterized multiparty systems, the final integration occurs after the elections. It must then be understood that the electorate has not given its opinion as to government formation.

Let us now admit that after two  governments, for example  X and Y, an election is held following some kind of crisis sufficiently important to bring a significant part of the electorate (say 10%) to wish for an alternative government. This electorate will then have a difficult task as it has 5 parties to choose from, well before the final integration (government platform) is made. This means that none of the five parties can be clearly associated with alternative government before the election takes place.

Let us now consider how the parties of our model are perceived by the electorate. Two parties have not been associated with the last government. Party n°5 has kept out of the last two but does not, by itself represent an absolute majority of seats in parliament. There is no evidence to say that the non politically committed electorate will clearly see the n party as having been a member of the X government. Many will have doubts as to its belonging or not to the last government (Y).

The only clear non government vote will have to be for a party outside the traditional five, always ready, in the eyes of the electorate who is little aware of the political intricacies required to join a post electoral coalition government.  The "vote against the government" then has an anti-democratic connotation and appears as a protest not clearly defined. The vote is then directed towards a new party placed outside the usual habits of needed compromise government formation. This type of party can then be seen as the only one capable of being, by itself, the alternate choice. Many examples exist: In Germany, the Nazi vote of 1930, in France, the Poujade vote in 1956, in Denmark, the Progress vote in 1973.

In two-party systems the integration is at party level takes place before the parliamentary elections. No such remodeling of the electorate into a uniform governing body has to be made at parliamentary level as the government will be made up of only one party.  From a political point of view, "one party governments" are more stable than coalition governments.  The integration at party level is of a different nature than that which takes place in parliament in order to agree on a coalition platform.

Two points explain the difference: The level at which the integration takes place: The party works directly on the groups or individuals while, at parliamentary level, the integration acts on the elected representatives of the parties.  The integration at party level works on very long periods and can be considered as historical or permanent while that of a coalition government will not, at the best, outlive a parliamentary session and generally, a government. This last type of integration will then appear short-lived and of a more superficial nature.

Whatever the relationship "region-nation" or "region-region" or "region-social group", two- party systems will have all the groups that make up the nation in either one of the two parties.  It can then be implied that whatever the "opposition" or "support" tendencies of the different groups, the two-party system will have little in common with that of a political system where, for example, the majority of each region would have its own party. The differences will be considered at two levels:

In two-party systems at regional level the political attitudes and electoral platforms will have to take into account the ideological positions of the two national parties. The political action will thus have to integrate national and regional issues.  It is also important to note that majority and minority tendencies of the different groups will all vote for the same type of parties (two national parties that cut across regional  or group lines.  But in characterized multiparty systems the regional majorities will vote for regional parties while their minorities vote for national parties.  The electoral platforms of national parties will differ from that of regional parties.  The global national approach will lack unity as far as declared policy is concerned.

In characterized multiparty systems, the parties in Parliament have vocational differences. Policy topics run along different lines and the issues could be treated in specialized assemblies, for example, a legislative assembly for questions regarding national policies.  A regional  assembly for regional and inter-regional questions.  The diversity of the issues that have to be dealt with in a single assembly complicate the intricate working out of coalition government platform.  In two-party systems, a same party will have members coming from different regions and groups acting together in the name of  a common political platform. The members of parliament from a certain district will not belong to an autonomous group or party having to defend that particular district but to a party in which are found almost  half of the members of parliament whose political platform they will have to adopt.  This means that the members of a well defined district or group will first have to defend its cause in front of the party that will then have to include it in its general policy agenda.  The party has to assume the regional and group interests of all its members and voters so that the regional aspects will be integrated in the general platform.

The party can be represented as a pyramid whose base is at local level where the different national tendencies are found.  The whole volume of the pyramid converges at its summit that represents a unified attitude, the  result of different levels of integration of the tendencies found at the base.  On the contrary, in multi-party systems are then represented by "n" number of pyramids whose bases cover the whole nation . The "n'" number of summits indicate that parliament still has to integrate before a unified attitude is reached at government level.

Two-party systems consist of two pyramids whose bases cover the whole nation. The summit of the largest of the two pyramids represents the maximum integration needed to attain government formation.  

To conclude, and considering the problems of representation common to parliamentary systems, the general question to be answered in this paper was: at what level and by what means is a multitude (the electorate) turned into a unified decision making body (the government)?

The different levels of representation appear to act in the following manner: The electorate, considered as a whole, is electorally heterogeneous. The groups (whatever their nature), taken individually, do not obtain from their members unanimous electoral habits. The party is the first level at which electoral integration takes place and acts in the following ways: the integration takes place before the election and the integration concerns individuals and groups.  The existence of parties does not depend on the institutions: their life span is not limited and the integrating process can spread out over long historical periods.

Integration at parliament level acts differently: The integration takes place after the election and concerns ns the elected representatives of the parties. It takes place in a well defined short period: The time to agree on a coalition government platform.

The consequence is that the parties in the case of characterized multiparty systems and two- party systems are of a different nature.  The parties in a characterized multiparty system reproduce in a large but variable measure the national divisions or groupings with little intervention in the integrating process which has to take place at parliamentary level before government formation can be considered. The necessary integration is not then realized at the level of each individual party but after the election between the parties themselves.  In a two-party system, the party is in itself a place of integration that has the advantage of acting for long historical periods and at grass root level.

Bernard Owen and Maria Rodriguez-McKey.  : Centre d'études comparatives deséElections

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