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Political parties or party systems? Assessing the ‘myth’ of institutionalisation and democracy

Casal B�rtoa, Fernando

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No matter the region of the world under study, party (system) institutionalisation has been traditionally considered to be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the survival of democracy. Despite being one of the most quoted statements in the democratisation literature, the few studies looking at the relationship between institutionalisation and democratic endurance have found no evidence of the ‘almost magical’ powers of the former. This article revisits the abovementioned research question by making use of an original dataset covering all European democracies between 1848 and 2014. The main findings are threefold: (1) it is not the institutionalisation of political parties but the institutionalisation of party systems as a whole that has fostered the prospects for democratic survival in Europe; (2) there is a threshold of systemic institutionalisation which, once reached, will avoid democratic collapse; and (3) systemic over-institutionalisation does not seem to be so perilous for the survival of democracy.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 12, 2016
Online Publication Date Aug 18, 2016
Publication Date Mar 4, 2017
Deposit Date Aug 26, 2016
Publicly Available Date Aug 26, 2016
Journal West European Politics
Print ISSN 0140-2382
Electronic ISSN 1743-9655
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 40
Issue 2
Pages 402-429
Keywords party system institutionalisation; party institutionalisation; democratic survival; Europe; 1848–2015
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in West European Politics on 18/08/2016, available online:


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