Kenneth Greene – Why Dominant Parties Lose

1. The Puzzle of Single-Party Dominance

  • Majority voters held negative retrospective evaluations of the incumbent, but still planned to vote for it.

In the 1980s, the PRI presided over negative growth rates, record inflation, and dramatic dips in real wages. Although this performance debacle did affect voters, hardship translated into far fewer votes for the opposition than one might expect.

2. A Theory of Single-Party Dominance and Opposition Party Development

  • Incumbent’s access to patronage resources and its use of authoritarian controls, including repression and electoral fraud.

Knowing that the competitive game is rigged those with the most anti-status quo policy preferences. In other words, citizens would have to despise the dominant party’s policies to find it worthwhile to join a costly cause with a low chance of success.

  • Niche parties v.s. catchall parties.

When opposition parties fail to expand and instead remain niche-oriented challengers, they are undercompetitive and fail to coordinate, thus allowing incumbent dominant parties to remain in power.

  • Five types of illicit public resources that dominant parties politicize for partisan purposes: divert funds from budges of SOEs; directly from public budgets; patronage jobs; kickbacks: illicit campaign contributions for economic protections; “administrative resources of the state”.

3. Dominant Party Advantages and Opposition Party Failure, 1930s-1990s

  • “Firefighting” strategy, PRI tacked back-and-forth between the left and right over time; (Huntington) “pragmatic” party that quickly abandoned the left-leaning redistributive ideals of the Mexican Revolution and instead focused on maintaining power.
  • Populism and opportunities on the right in late 1930s: PRI policy shift to the right  and accelerating after 1940s undercut PAN’s appeals, selective and targeted repression raised costs of participation — these twin tools worked so effectively during the next nearly 40 years;
  • Opportunity on the left in the 1940s and 1950s: incumbent’s effective use of patronage to buy off moderates and targeted repression — trimmed the left’s sails, reduce activism to those willing to pay high personal costs for political involvement while reaping uncertain rewards;
  • Further opportunities on the left in the 1970s: repression;
  • Neopopulism and opportunities on the right, 1970-1982: Echeverria, populist style redistribution, undermined a broader leftwing movement, isolated the radical left, opposition forces questioned the usefulness of challenging the PRI, (electoral reform) channeled oppsosition efforts through the electoral process rather than armed rebelion;
  • Why did a new rightwing fail to organize in the 1970s? 1) Echeverria mollified the most important businessmen through key concessions; 2) new rightwing parties found limited support from the middle class: (Echeverria) expanding higher education, middle class, state’s role in industry, raised tariffs, incorporated small business;

Influencing policy from behind the scenes rather than direct political activism was a more comfortable role for big business in any case.

  • Debt crisis, neoliberalism and opportunities on the left in 1980s: in credit crunch due to finance in neopopulist policies and extraction of oil deposits; left slow progress — economic crash softened by state’s large role; PRD failed to develop into a catchall party — 1) (PRI) buy electoral support through massive poverty-alleviation program; 2) leaders in PRD hold comparatively extreme policy preferences; 3) renewed use of repression; 4) fraud.
  • Single party dominance and resource assymetries, revenues of SOEs, support from state treasury — rooted in traditions for many years.

The absence of rotation in Mexico and other dominant party systems leaves the incumbent party free to generate and spend resources with impunity and creates what I called hyper-incumbency advantages.

  • Economic crisis and subsequent restructuring sharply reduced the resources that could be pumped through national patronage system: 1) participation of SOEs diminished; 2) slimmed down the size of federal public bureaucracy; 3) move to more open economy reduced the reach and organizational capacity of the PRI’s sectoral organizations, increased informal workers outside the party’s patronage network;

Both informal sector and service sector workers are comparatively difficult to organize because they tend to be more geographically dispersed than workers in other formal sectors and often have area-specific rather than collective interests.

By 1997 the playing field was quite level and Mexico came as close to many established democracies to a fair or neutral market for votes where no party held an outright pre-electoral advantage.

4. Why participate?

  • Instrumental benefits v.s. expressive benefits: overcome high costs of participation and a low probability of success — such benefits comes from the sheer act of participation.

If group policies reflect ideological, religious, or moral principles, he may feel a responsibility to ‘do his part’ in support of these policies. It is not the actual provision of these collective goods that represents the source of purposive benefits in this case, but the support and pursuit of worthwhile collective goods.

  • Office seekers (top-down) v.s. message seekers (bottom-up). Office seekers more sensitive to changes in political environment.

5. The Empirical Dynamics of Elite Activism

  • Both PRD and PAN favored democracy, but PRD preferred larger role for the state, PAN preferred market-led development; PRI close the center.
  • OLS result (economic and regime policy as dependent): resources and repression statistically significant, education associated with market-led economic development, socio-economic development has no effect.

Economic crisis beginning in 1982 and austerity under free-market restructuring turned voters against the PRI but did not immediately result in support for the opposition. Voters continued to view the challengers as too far to the left or to the right. Only when the free market policy response to the crisis created a leaner public bureaucracy and reduced the overall size of the state’s resources did the PRI’s access to illicit public funds fall. As they did, the partisan playing field leveled and more moderates were willing to join the opposition. However, these catchall-oriented later joiners conflicted with niche-oriented early joiners.

6. Constrained to the Core

  • Mid 1980s, challengers failed to gain support from dissatisfied voters, because they were constrained by their origins (early joiners’ initial socialization) — rigid party organizations that are slow to innovate in the face of new opportunities.
  • Maintain tight links to loyal base, even when the possibility of attracting noncore voters increased — core voters were the opposition’s lifeblood during the lean years.
  • Early joiners, dedicated lives to consciousness raising and local organization building; newer joiners, more likely to recognize the advantages of mass advertising to achieve the more limited goal of winning votes.

7. Dominance Defeated

  • 2000 elections, equalizing opportunities, a fair market where all parties could compete for voters’ sympathies.
  • Fox: more centrist than PAN, closest to voters’ issue preferences, downplayed ideological differences in part because of independent resources —  won as a sensible centrist, not as a radical revolutionary.

Unlike Cardenas, Fox was not organically tied to his party and thus was more capable of making broader centrist appeals even when they conflicted with the preferences of his party’s elites.

8. Extending the Argument to Italy, Japan, Malaysia, and Taiwan

  • DPARs and DPDRs, similar, while DPDRs do not use authoritatrian controls and instead ensure all freedoms commensurate with democracy and clean operation of electoral institutions.
  • Taiwan 1987-2000, defined as DPAR; DPP: ethnic politics, mobilize native Taiwanese voters; NP: campaigned on unification; KMT: moderate centrist position.
  • KMT’s advantages: 1) convert public resources into partisan goods; 2) party-run or party-invested enterprises. The resource base was threatened due to the privatization of state-owned enterprises and increasingly open domestic markets. Smaller decreases in resource advantages became more consequential due to votes splits between Lien and Song.
  • Malaysia, DPAR since 1971, UMNO catchall, challengers small bases of support and established relatively extreme positions. Public sector growth as a vital role in industrial development and political response of race riots.

One consequence of the huge expansion of the public sector was a decline in accountability and increased scope for the misuse of public funds. This plan not only opened up opportunities for UMNO to enrich itself through proxy companies, but also created a political economy characterized by corruption and cronyism or, in the words of UMNO government, ‘handouts’ for the favored.

  • Private business owners became reliant on UMNO politicians.

Often Chinese businesspeople were forced to accept Malay partners who made little contribution to management but whose contacts with UMNO facilitated dealings with the government. Thus, the state’s major role in the economy transformed the private business community into a willing supporter of the UMNO-led government.

  • UMNO remained in power after the 1997 Asian economic crisis because 1) resisted privatization, remain centrally involved, even briefly increased the share of investment and 2) more repressive to dissidents.
  • Japan, 1955-1993, LDP, right-leaning but still hold the broad center, generated resource advantage in two ways: 1) control over public policy apparatus, use government purse to reward its supporters; 2) business under state protection by colluding with the incumbent.


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