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Concepts for Analyzing Political Parties (cont)

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American parties are clearly less centralized than the European norm, and they are certainly among the most decentralized parties in the world. None of the Western European parties in the sample had a lower score on the centralization of power than did U.S. parties. Moreover, when the entire sample of the world's parties is considered, the American parties outrank only the Blancos and Colorados of Uruguay--which some scholars would contend are not parties but coalitions, or groupings of parties--and the Social Action Party of Chad, which terminated in 1962 . . . (Janda 1980a, 355).

However, the same study also showed that American parties did not lack in complexity of organization: "In point of fact, American political parties do tend to have as much if not more in the way of formal structure than most other parties in the world . . ." (p. 355). Since that cross-national comparison was made, most observers would contend that American national party organizations have become more professional and organizationally active, and somewhat more centralized (Herrnson 1990), but the Democrats and Republicans are still highly decentralized by world standards.

In analyzing the nature of American parties, Keefe held that "parties are less what they make of themselves than what their environment makes of them" (1991, 1). Clearly, the U.S. constitutional framework (especially the presidential system and federalism) has contributed to the decentralized nature of its parties compared with parties elsewhere (Janda, 1992). But both the Democrats and Republicans have changed over time, as they adapted to a changing environment. Future scholars will be aided in studying organizational change with the publication of a major data handbook on indicators of party change from 1960 to 1990, edited by Katz and Mair (1992). The result of a coordinated cross-national research project involving scholars in twelve Western countries, this handbook provides time-series data on party membership, finance, staff size, and so on, and detailed information on party rules changes and on the relationship of political parties to other social organizations over time.


Autonomy can be defined as a party's structural independence from other institutions and organizations, whether in or out of the country (Janda 1980b, 91).[17] This concept figures prominently in writings of Sartori (1976, 45-46) and Panebianco (1988, 55-58), who said a party is autonomous to the extent that it is not dependent on resources controlled by other organizations, and it fits with Lagroye's comment (1989, 364-365) that parties are embedded in a "system of organizations," all of which are subject to changes affecting their parts of the system. Parties can sacrifice autonomy to other sectors of society by relying on them for funds, members, or leaders. Structural infringement on party autonomy can also come from relations with domestic parties or foreign organizations. Some research showed that all five sources of infringement are essentially unrelated (Janda 1980b, 152). Apparently autonomy, like virtue, can be compromised in a variety of ways.

Source of funds: In an early article, Heidenheimer (1963) described the difficulty in obtaining data for comparative research on party finance. In his study of parties in eight countries, only the German SPD covered its normal expenses from party dues (p.792-793). This fits with other findings that only about 25 percent of the world's parties in the 1950s and 1960s relied on their own sources (mainly party dues) for most funding (Janda, 1980b, 92). Since Heidenheimer, there has been relatively little cross-national research on party finance published in journals, especially in English.[18] However, some valuable studies have appeared in edited volumes on elections and campaign funding (particularly Alexander 1989a and Levush 1991). This research has focused on the trend toward public financing in western nations (Paltiel 1980 and 1981). Alexander reported that 18 of 21 nations introduced public funding after 1960 (1989b, 14), resulting in a decline in the importance of party dues. The effects of public funding on parties are complex. Strom (1990, 579-581) theorized that public finance increased the autonomy of party leaders vis-a-vis party activists, and Schlesinger (1991, 25) thought that public finance made parties more bureaucratic. Nassmacher's study (1989) of public subsidies to parties in Austria, Italy, Sweden, and West Germany tended to support both contentions, and Mendilow's research on party politics in Israel and elsewhere concluded that public funding "is capable of generating fundamental changes such as may lead to the restructuring of the entire party system" (1992, 113). One major result was an increased centralization of power "by the subordination of branches to the central headquarters and top leadership" (p. 112). Public funding was also addictive, and--at least in Israel--tended to increase the ideological stance of new parties.

Source of members: Duverger distinguished between "direct" and "indirect" membership, depending on whether membership is a voluntary act of affiliation or a consequence of membership in another social organization, like a labor union (1963, 6). This is a

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