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    The catch-all thesis

    Original version of the essay, titled

    "The Transformation of the Western EuropeanParty Systems"

    by Otto Kirchheimerappears in the volume

    "Political Parties and Political Development",

    edited by

    Joseph LaPalombara and Myron Weiner,

    published in 1966

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    According to the catch-all thesis

    two main changes have taken place inpolitical parties:

    1. Organisational

    Parties have become more elitist

    2. Ideological

    Ideological differences between parties have

    been reduced For the catch-all party, the top priority is

    vote maximising

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    Kirchheimers point of departure

    is the ante-bellum (pre-war) Mass Integration Party,i.e. socialist working class parties. Had an important

    function in socialising members into the political system

    This they failed to do, due to resistance from thebourgeois parties (i.e. conservative, liberal or Christian

    Democratic parties; here referred to as non-socialist) The socialist parties failed to integrate their members and

    supporters into the official political system

    Non-socialist parties did not even try. Remained partiesofIndividual Representation, with no incentives to

    integrate people. Their core groups already had access tothe state and political system

    Note the parallel between:

    Kirchheimer: mass integration v individualrepresentation parties

    Maurice Duverger: mass v cadre parties

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    The conditions for these two types

    of parties changed gradually and these changes became increasinglyapparent after WWII

    The law of the political market took over

    Extension of the right to vote meant that politicaldemocracy was established

    At the same time, affluence and increasedstandard of living meant that traditional classboundaries eroded

    Socialist parties saw their core of supportreduced, and also less loyal than before

    Meanwhile the non-socialist parties began to seetheir chance to make electoral inroads into

    previously unreachable groups

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    The nature of elections changed

    Earlier, elections were focused on mobilisation

    of the social groups that supported them. Little

    point in trying to convince other groups into

    voting for them

    The new development meant that elections were

    also about persuasion

    It had become possible to persuade people thattraditionally had belonged to social groups that

    used to be unreachable for your party

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    The parties had to adapt to the new

    situation No longer any good for the traditional mass integrationparties to portray themselves as the champions of aparticular class, because

    it would mean that they disqualified themselves fromcompeting for all the other, socially unattached, votesthat were now up for grabs

    Socialist parties thus adapted to the new situation, andbecame what Kirchheimer calls Catch-All parties, or'people's parties'

    These parties had given up their efforts to educate andintegrate underprivileged citizens, and insteadconcentrated on maximising their share of the vote

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    According to Kirchheimer

    catch-all parties are not totally unconstrained in theirappeal to the electorate. For example ChristianDemocratic parties cannot try to appeal to secular oranti-clerical people, and Social Democratic/Labour

    parties may find it difficult to appeal to real estateinterests (this was written over 40 years ago) oragricultural interests

    Still, this leaves them with large groups that are up forgrabs, for example the blue and white collar, wage

    earning and salaried employees in the cities, and thecivil servants

    This encourages parties to concentrate on issues whichwill meet little resistance, such as education

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    Four functions of political parties,

    according toK

    irchheimer:1. Channels forintegrating

    individuals and groups into the

    political order

    2. Determining policies

    3. Nomination ofoffice holders4. Expression of opinion

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    Catch all parties less able to

    perform their key functions The integrative fuction not successful in the first place

    The expressive function has become increasinglyproblematical

    Before democracy, the business of government and theexpression of opinion were separate

    With democracy, the functions of government businessand expression of opinion are concentrated into thesame organisations, the political parties.

    Catch-all parties find it difficult to maintain the expressivefunction, because they must put re-election at risk

    There is a conflict between the parties' role as critics ofthe establishment and their role as support for theestablishment

    The expressive function is hindered by restrictions and

    tactical considerations

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    Reasons why catch-all parties

    cannot perform their functions: Drastic reduction ofideological baggage in

    favour of short term tactical considerations andattempts to appeal to the new groups

    A strengthening of the top leadership groupsand, consequently

    downgrading ofindividual party members

    Less emphasis on parties' respective traditional

    core class in favour of recruiting voters amongthe population at large

    Attempts to secure access to a wide range ofinterest groups

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    Access to interest groups

    has happened partly due to financial considerations

    but the main reason is that the interest groups providesomething that the catch-all parties have left behind them, namelyloyal voters

    If the party has distanced itself from their traditional sociallydefined support groups, interest groups may offer a short-cut backto the support of such groups

    Often random who wins in a competition between catch-all parties

    Therefore party has to look for what Kirchheimer calls "a morepermanent clientele". Only the interest group can provide "massreservoirs of readily accessible voters"

    Co-operation between parties and interest groups is not new. Whatis new is the type ofrelationship between them

    There used to be co-operation towards the same goals between,for example, socialist parties and trade unions

    A catch-all party tries to secure links to other interest groups, sothat they gain access a broader range of interest group members

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    The most important function of

    catch-all parties is the nomination of political leaders The de-ideologisation and reduction of politically

    controversial policies mean that personalities becomemore important in the quest for votes

    Thus, the choice of the best leader is crucial for the party

    At the same time parties have increased the distance toordinary citizens

    Parties used to provide a channel of protest, a source of

    visions for the future and also protection Now, Kirchheimer argued, parties have become remote,

    quasi-official and alien structures.

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    Kirchheimer was normative

    He did not make much of an attempt to hide thathe was critical of the development into catch-allparties

    His criticism came from a Leftist, democraticsocialist, perspective

    He deplored the loss of the parties' ability andwillingness to facilitate the integration of ordinarycitizens into the political system

    He had a class-based perspective on society,and he seemed to suggest that the catch-allparties are letting the underprivileged classesdown

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    Kirchheimer also unhappy

    about catch-all partiess focus on getting

    elected

    The way he puts the argument, it could be that if

    a high and equal level of education had beenachieved, then the catch-all model would work

    quite well. But he does not accept that this level

    of high and equal level of education has been

    reached, and therefore significant groups in

    society are being let down

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    The development into catch-all

    parties has adversely affected the parties' role aslinks, ortransmission belts, betweenpeople and the governmental institutions

    This is partly because the parties are nolonger interested in representing theinterests, thoughts and ambitions of

    ordinary people It is also because the catch-all parties donot offer any participatory facilities

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    The fact that voters have been cut off from the organisations of the

    catch-all parties, and reduced to voting customers, couldbackfire on the parties

    A party, argues Kirchheimer, cannot be any more rationalthan the voters. The voters were once subject to some

    sort of discipline, provided by the parties of massintegration

    Now that this discipline is no longer at hand, the catch-allparties may be transformed into too blunt an instrument toprovide a link between government and the people

    What he means is that, in return for involving, protectingand integrating ordinary people in the political process,the mass integration parties could count on their loyalsupport

    If they stop involving, protecting and integrating people,the support from their traditional suppo