The Institutionalization of European Party Systems: Explaining Party Competition in 48 Democracies (1848-2015)


Party system institutionalization has been traditionally considered to be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for both the consolidation and the healthy functioning of democracy (Mainwaring 1999; Morlino 1998). However, and in spite of the burgeoning interest in the consequences of systemic institutionalization, the issue of why party systems institutionalize (or not) in the first place still remains unclear.

Because a moderately institutionalized party system is essential for the good democratic quality of a polity, this research project aims at providing an answer to the question of how and why party systems institutionalize and/or de-institutionalize through a comparative analysis of 48 European democracies since the birth of “modern” democracy in the first half of the 19th century.

In particular, this project has three main objectives. First of all, to devise a new way of operationalizing party system institutionalization which is both conceptually and empirically superior. Secondly, to examine how party systems have evolved from the moment of their formation. The main goal here is to understand how the process of institutionalization has affected the different party systems over time and, therefore, to be able to classify those systems according to elections/periods on the basis of the various levels of institutionalization achieved. Thirdly, to determine the possible sources that explain the variance in the degree of institutionalization observed in European party systems across time.

In order to fulfill all of these objectives, and after building a unique dataset containing information on the composition of European governments between 1848 and 2015, I will make use of a nested research design that combines both quantitative and qualitative methods. The former will enable me to discover what factors have allowed party systems to institutionalize. The latter will help me to understand the causal mechanisms by which the different (relevant and significant) factors have affected the process of systemic institutionalization.