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Southern Political Science Association

The Dominant Party System: A Neglected Model of Democratic Stability

Author(s): Alan Arian and Samuel H. Barnes
Source: The Journal of Politics, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Aug., 1974), pp. 592-614
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Southern Political Science Association
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The Dominant Party
A Neglected Model of
Democratic Stability
POLITICAL PARTIES have long been central to the field of political
science. As the most common linkage between the formal govern-
mental structure and the social world, parties are a natural focus
for students of political institutions, political behavior, political
psychology, and political theory. The variety of the literature on
parties reflects their multifaceted nature and the range of questions
that can be asked about them. Although the taxonomic is one of
the least rewarding approaches to the study of parties, much of the
analysis existing in the literature reflects our concern with the dif-
ferences between one, two, and multi-party systems. Underlying
this concern is the realization that the number of parties has sig-
nificance. The party is a major link between political elites and
the mass and an important instrument of governing in most politi-
cal systems, but the ways in which these functions are performed
vary widely. The number of parties in a system and the ways in
which they relate to one another are associated with radically dif-
ferent styles of politics.
The dominant party system is sometimes recognized as having a
separate identity, though more often than not it is seen as a partic-
ular mutant of one of the other systems that results from idiosyn-
cratic features of a specific historical tradition. It is our contention
that the dominant party system is sui generis. It should not be con-
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ceptualized as a stage between pure types; it may be transformed
into a different system, but this truism applies to all systems. It is
quite different from Neumann's "party of integration" though it
performs integrative functions.' The dominant party system sug-
gests a model of how democracy and stability may be combined
under difficult conditions. Since it permits more than one party to
compete, it is certainly democratic in the procedural sense. And
since, as we will demonstrate, it mobilizes the modal citizens of a
society, it can be said to be substantively democratic as well.
Moreover, it provides for stable government because it facilitates
the formation of a majority either alone or in coalition with part-
ners that it is able to dominate.
The dominant party system has often been associated with de-
veloping countries, where low levels of mobilization have some-
times combined with independence movements to give rise to parties
that seem to dominate their polities completely without doing away
with democratic procedures and symbols. The party systems of
the industrial and postindustrial countries, on the other hand, are
much more often interpreted to fit the procrustean bed of our one,
two, and more-than-two typology. We maintain that several of
these developed polities can best be understood as dominant party
systems, and we will analyze two of them in order to understand
better their principal characteristics. The universe of dominant
party systems is of course much larger than the two discussed here.
We have chosen to concentrate on these polities rather than en-
compassing a wider range of experience for two reasons. The first
is the availability of excellent data concerning these polities.2 The
second is that we feel we have a knowledge-in-depth about these
polities that enables us to understand them with greater clarity and
' Sigmund Neumann, "Towards a Comparative Study of Political Parties,"
reprinted in Comparative Politics, ed. Harry Eckstein and David Apter (New
York: Free Press, 1963), 351-367.
2 Our data on Italy and Israel are primarily from national surveys undertaken
in 1968 and 1969. The Italian data are from 2,500 interviews taken in 1968
by Centro Italiano di Sondaggi e Ricerche (CISER) of Rome immediately
following the Italian parliamentary elections of that year. The Israeli data
are from three separate samples taken before and after the 1969 national
election and directed by Alan Arian, Michael Gurevitch, Emmanuel Gutmann
and Louis Guttman. Israeli tables refer to all three samples combined, unless
otherwise noted. The Italian sample is representative of the adult population.
The Israeli samples are of the urban, adult, Jewish population.
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assurance. Probably most of the general features of the dominant
party systems we describe herein apply to many others, but we
make no attempt to evaluate the general applicability of the model.
Its value lies in its utility for the understanding of party systems of
a particular type, and this utility can best be evaluated by scholars
who have labored long in different vineyards.
In the analysis that follows we will begin by sketching in the
characteristics of the parties and the party systems in Israel and
Italy. We will then turn to the relationships between the elec-
torates and the dominant parties of these two countries.
Maurice Duverger, writing in 1951 about political parties in gen-
eral, gives an amazingly accurate description of the leading parties
of Israel and Italy, the Alignment and the Christian Democrats:
A party is dominant when it is identified with an epoch; when its doctrines,
ideas, methods, its style, so to speak, coincide with those of the epoch....
Domination is a question of influence rather than of strength: it is also linked
with belief. A dominant party is that which public opinion believes to be
dominant. . . . Even the enemies of the dominant party, even citizens who
refuse to give it their vote, acknowledge its superior status and its influence;
they deplore it but admit it.3
These parties have dominated the politics of their countries for
a generation. The Alignment is an arrangement arrived at before
the 1969 elections between the Labor party and Mapam to seek
joint representation in the Knesset. The Labor party itself resulted
from the 1968 merger of Mapai, Ahdut Haavoda, and Rafi-the
parties of the noncommunist Israeli left; they are the parties associ-
ated with the creation of an independent Israel and have been
associated with its national achievements. The Christian Demo-
cratic party has likewise been the party of the Italian establishment.
It has dominated the Italian government since 1946; every prime
minister has been a Christian Democrat, and it always receives
more ministerial portfolios than all other parties.
It may well be virtually necessary for a party to preside over the
establishment of the polity in order for it to achieve the level of
identification with the epoch enjoyed by these two parties. Cer-
3Political Parties (2d ed; London: Methuen, 1959), 308-309.
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tainly many dominant parties, including but not limited to the two
under consideration, have been closely identified with the creation
of the constitutional and political order that they came to dominate,
and it is unlikely that this association has been due to chance. The
opportunity to shape fledgling institutions in a favorable direction
and to staff public and semipublic bureaucracies during a period of
rapid expansion, the identification in the public mind with an heroic
or eventful period, and a leadership cadre with an unusual wealth
of experiences are all important consequences of the party's early
arrival on the scene.
This strength can also become a handicap in some ways. By be-
ing identified with a particular epoch the party risks deteriorating
and passing from the scene with the end of the epoch. As Duverger
has written, "The dominant party wears itself out in office, it loses
its vigor, its arteries harden. It would thus be possible to show ...
that every domination bears within itself the seeds of its own de-
struction."4 The two parties being discussed here have certainly
been identified with an epoch, though there are differences between
them that illustrate why the Alignment is held in higher esteem
than the Christian Democratic party.
The dominant element in the Alignment is Mapai, and-to state
it without qualifications-Mapai has been the dominant political
force throughout the history of modern Israel.5 It was presented
with an opportunity shared by few parties in democratic polities-
that of presiding over the creation. As a consequence, it is closely
identified with the emergence of the new state, and for those seg-
ments of Israeli society most involved in those heroic years-for
example, organized labor, Eastern Europeans, and older citizens-
it was their party. It has also been able to translate this identifica-
tion into an organizational network that complements and strength-
ens the advantages conveyed by its image. Furthermore, since
most of this network consists of public bureaucracies maintained at
4Ibid, 312.
On Israeli politics see Alan Arian, The Choosing People: Voting Behavior
in Israel (Cleveland, Ohio: The Press of Case Western Reserve University,
1973); Arian, Ideological Change in Israel (Cleveland, Ohio: The Press of
Case Western Reserve University, 1968); Lester G. Seligman, Leadership in a
New Nation (New York: Atherton Press, 1964); Leonard J. Fein, Politics in
Israel (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1967); and Amitai Etzioni, "Alternative
Ways to Democracy: The Example of Israel," Political Science Quarterly, 74
(June 1959), 196-214.
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VOL. 36, 1974
state expense, party and government tend to merge in the popular
mind. And it is the Alignment parties that dominate the govern-
In Italy the Christian Democratic party does not have and can-
not obtain comparable advantages.6 Whereas the Alignment in-
herited a society devoid of almost all traditional divisions and was
largely able to contain the cleavages that emerged, Christian De-
mocracy has had to cope with all the problems common to indus-
trial society plus some that are peculiarly Italian. Many of these
divisions are related historically to the role of the Church. Since
the party owes its existence to the Catholic tradition, it inherited
many problems antedating its foundation and beyond its ability to
control. Religion, so central to the party's concerns, sets great
constraints upon the party's real, as opposed to formal, freedom of
action. The long-standing estrangement of much of the working
class from the Church and the strength of the leftist parties among
workers, in addition to its associations with religious practice, tra-
ditionalism, and age, all hamper the Christian Democratic party in
its efforts to appeal to everyone. Unlike Israel, no enemy threatens
Italy, and nationalism is not in vogue; therefore these sources of a
broadened political appeal are denied the Christian Democrats. In
practice the party concentrates heavily on maintaining its position
among tradition-oriented groups. Although this strategy has been
successful for a generation, modernization and the appearance of a
new generation may make it less effective.
The logic of the dominant party model suggests that the Chris-
tian Democratic party should have moved leftward with the Italian
electorate, as it did indeed when it began an opening to the left
by forming a coalition with the Socialists.7 Whether its clerical
On the Christian Democratic party and Italian politics see: Francesco
Alberoni et al., L'attivista di partito (Bologna: II Mulino, 1967); Giorgio
Galli and Alfonso Prandi, Patterns of Political Participation in Italy (New
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1970); Agopik Manoukian et al., La
presenza sociale del PCI e della DC (Bologna: II Mulino, 1968); Gianfranco
Poggi et al., L'organizzazione partitica del PCI e della DC (Bologna: Il
Mulino, 1968); and Giovanni Sartori, "European Political Parties: The Case
of Polarized Pluralism," in Political Parties and Political Development, ed.
Joseph LaPalombara and Myron Weiner (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University
Press, 1966), 137-176.
7Spatial models of party competition are applied to Italy in Samuel H.
Barnes, "Left, Right, and the Italian Voter," Comparative Political Studies, 4
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ties will permit it to move still further left or whether such a move
will in fact prove essential to continued exercise of power remains
to be seen. The Christian Democrats seem to lack the flexibility of
maneuver possessed by the Alignment. Perhaps in an epoch of a
leftward drift in politics, common in our age, it is easier for parties
of the left to shift right than vice versa.
The dominant party must adjust to changes in the society, and the
greater the fragmentation of the society the greater the difficulty it
experiences in doing so. Despite this handicap, it is easier for the
dominant party to accomplish such adjustment than for its op-
ponents because it starts from a much broader base and with
greater resources. However, there is no guarantee that it will try
to adapt or that it will accomplish adaptation successfully. To re-
main dominant, the party must make and implement the correct
strategic decisions.
Dominant parties carry a large baggage of historical, ideological,
and organizational commitments that set real limits on their freedom
of maneuver. The key to survival is that these seeming boundaries
are flexible. Like signs that say "Police lines. Do not cross," the
boundaries may be moved by authorities. The dominant party is
the authority that defines the boundaries between the permissible
and the unacceptable. As an aid to change it can substitute patron-
age and other rewards for ideological purity and consistency; the
carrot and the stick become the means of adaptation.
Leaders of dominant parties are first and foremost practitioners
of power and are skilled in the arts suitable for its exercise. They
develop a keen sense of their limitations. In Italy, for example, the
Christian Democratic party was able to move to the left and coa-
lesce with the Socialists despite the weight of history and ideology.
Similarly, the Labor party has come to terms with many antagonis-
tic forces in Israeli society-for example, religion-that coexist un-
easily with its socialist and secular origins. In the same manner in
which the party shifts to where the action is, it must also pay close
(July 1971), 157-176, and in "Modelli spaziali e l'identificazione partitica
dell'elettore italiano," Rivista italiana di scienza politica, 1 (January 1971),
123-143; Barnes and Roy Pierce, "Public Opinion and Political Preferences in
France and Italy," Midwest Journal of Political Science, 15 (November 1971),
643-660; and Robert Axelrod,
Conflict of Interest: A Theory of Divergent
Goals with Applications to Politics (Chicago: Markham Publishing Co., 1970),
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598 n; JOURNAL OF POLITICS, VOL. 36, 1974
attention to its social foundations. The societal aspects of this
problem will be examined below; the consequences for party strat-
egy are our present concern.
The dominant party mobilizes selectively and differentially. It
needs majority or near majority support in order to remain in
power; yet, being in power, it must be careful about its commit-
ments and hence cannot promise everything to everyone. It con-
centrates on groups that will make fewer demands than others or
that will give a maximum political payoff for minimum effort. At
the same time, in order to claim to represent the nation the party
must have strength across the political spectrum and hence must re-
cruit or seem to recruit from all segments of society. It follows a
strategy of mobilization that is designed to achieve this scope; when
joined with its centrist orientation, this selective strategy renders
the task of opposition very difficult. Other parties must mobilize
what remains, usually a melange of politically peripheral groups
from opposite ends of the spectrum that make uneasy allies. For
example, Italian Communists and other leftist groups cannot easily
coalesce with the right opposition to form an alternative to the
Christian Democrats. And the Israeli Communists are unlikely
partners of the religious and rightist parties; in fact, the latter are
themselves coalitions of uneasy partners who undoubtedly find it
less difficult to unite in opposition than to form a government.
This selective mobilization can have the result of cutting some
groups off from political influence and denying them effective in-
puts into politics. Opposition access to party and bureaucratic
decision-makers is often blocked. Joseph LaPalombara has referred
to this technique in Italy as parentela or kinship (as opposed to
clientelistic) bases of contacts between government and citizens.8
The term reflects the partial nature of political pluralism in these
societies. What is less immediately obvious is the extent to which
parentela relationships strengthen the government in controlling
and filtering inputs. This system insures that most, though not all,
interests within society are represented; but the governing party
decides who will be recognized as the spokesmen for those inter-
ests. Thus in Italy, spokesmen for Catholic-related unions and other
organizations have ready access to decision-makers while Com-
Interest Groups in Italian Politics (Princeton, N.J.; Princeton University
Press, 1964).
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munist-related spokesmen do not. In this way the dominant party
can dampen demands, filter inputs, and channel outputs in direc-
tions that reinforce its strength among selected groups.
This selective mobilization leaves many groups dissatisfied and
frustrated, and such groups are often the ones most in need of
costly governmental programs. But power remains elusive for those
denied access as long as the dominant party can grant sufficient
rewards to maintain its dominance. Frustration may lead to aliena-
tion and disaffection within the opposition, though the case of
Israel demonstrates that these reactions are not inevitable. Un-
doubtedly, ideological and historical factors are crucial in the
growth of alienation; party strategies are only in part responsible.
One conclusion that seems important and inescapable is that ide-
ology and subcultural identification are more devices for exclusion
than guides to decision-making. In economies of scarcity they eas-
ily become justifications for the differential treatment of outwardly
similar categories of people, and they radically simplify many prob-
lems for the dominant party.
Dominant parties exist in dominant party systems. Long dom-
inance by one party affects the way the other political forces per-
ceive the political system; and, as Duverger notes, the dominant
party becomes identified with the regime and even with the epoch.
Opposition parties are reduced to a role of carping and sniping
rather than that of developing immediate alternatives. But in many
multiparty systems, parties are the result of historical and social
forces and are only partially the conscious creation of political
leaders. And in single party systems, only organizational inade-
quacies set limits on the exercise of power. The dominant party
system is one in which politics is king, in which dominance results
from strategic political decisions made by the party elite. Politics
is not a dependent variable. Political strategy is determining.
The strategy of the dominant party vis-'a-vis other parties in the
system thus has two principal goals; to keep the party near the cen-
ter where the action is, and to mobilize and rebuff segments of the
population selectively in relation to the needs and absorptive ca-
pacity of the party. In the development of this strategy the party
benefits from its symbiotic relationship with the society in that its
dominance insures it a major role in determining where the center
is. Moreover, its orientation toward power encourages it to move
with long term shifts in public opinion regardless of its ideology.
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Party- strategists labor under several obvious and some not-so-
obvious handicaps in moving the party in new directions, and their
success is anything but inevitable, just as nothing is inevitable about
the continued dominance of the party. Wrong interpretations of
public opinion, inadequate attention to the demands of major
groups, misperceptions about the importance of marginal groups,
poor organizational work-all these can lead to disaster. So long
as the dominant party performs intelligently, the opposition can do
little that is effective. Even bad decisions will not be disastrous
unless the opposition is in a position to take advantage of them, and
it seldom is.
As a result, the dominant party system is remarkably stable.9
Disorder and even violence may be recurring features of the system,
but they are surface disturbances that lead to little change. The
opposition cannot replace the dominant coalition. The frustration
of the opposition leads only to superficial instability. Although
governments may not last long, the same parties and usually the
same men continue to dominate the coalition. The faithful are re-
warded, the opposition shut off from power. In the words of an
Italian colleague who wishes to remain anonymous, "The system
may be badly designed, but it is constructed of iron."
In fact, the system seems poorly designed only when it is com-
pared with an idealized view of a two-party system. All else being
equal, few would question the dominant party system's superiority
over the fragmented multiparty systems with which it is sometimes
confused. If the dominant party system is viewed not as an im-
perfect two-party system but rather as sui generis, its superiority as
a means to stability in fragmented polities becomes apparent. A
two-party system requires a level of consensus that is rare; most
multiparty systems exist because such consensus is absent. The
dominant party system combines stability with political competition
and a large measure of civil liberties. This is quite an achievement.
If it is true that the dominant party recruits its supporters selec-
tively so as to insure some support in most segments of society and
This conclusion meshes well with those of Michael Taylor and V. M. Her-
man, "Party Systems and Government Stability," American Political Science
Review, 65 (March 1971), 28-37: one-party govemments were more stable
than coalitions, majority governments were more stable than minority ones,
and neither the number of parties in the opposition nor the fractionalization
of the opposition affected government stability.
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to deprive the opposition of monopolies within significant substrata,
and if it reduces the demands made on it by concentrating on the
relatively satisfied and secure, how are these achievements brought
While the dominant party system of Israel and Italy have both
similarities and differences, the societies themselves at first glance
seem to be totally dissimilar. However, analysis reveals several
important common features. One of these is the role of centralized
hierarchical structures, especially bureaucracies, in the societies.
The democratic internal processes of two-party systems described
by Harry Eckstein are absent here.10 The apparatus of mobilization
typical of single-party systems is likewise negligible as a base of
power, though it exists. The two societies tend to be held together
by hierarchies that serve as the principal links between government
and citizen. Indeed, these lines of communication, extended and
humanized by networks of personal ties, are the true instruments
of control in the societies, and they are largely co-opted by the
dominant party.
The pervasiveness of the structures is related to still another
characteristic of the societies-the highly structural nature of po-
litical inputs. Inputs do not emerge from the free interplay of
interests and ideas. Rather, they are filtered through structures
dominated by the party and thereby softened, purified, and domes-
ticated. The party selects those inputs that provide the best mix
from the party's point of view; the rest fail to get by the gate-
keepers. Though the result is often frustration and sometimes
violence, the party is not persuaded to a sharing of power. At best,
opposition results in tactical and sometimes strategic alterations in
the formula adopted by the dominant party to facilitate its own
perception. This type of change does not alter the nature of the
system but only the names of the players. And here is one of the
strengths of the dominant party: it controls not only the status quo
but also the pace of change. By intelligent trimming it can remain
at the center of the action-conservative but not rigid, principled
but flexible-and its strategic stance vis-a-vis society is in the long
run more important than its dealings with other parties. For if it
maintains an intelligently open stance toward the evolution of its
A Theory of Stable Democracy (Princeton University: Center for Inter-
national Studies, 1961).
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society, if it remains attuned to fundamental changes, it can cement
its dominance even further by aiding and facilitating that which
it cannot prevent while it repels much else. Support of the status
quo need not mean opposition to change, and the more positive
image that the Alignment has in Israel compared with that of the
Christian Democratic party in Italy undoubtedly owes much to the
greater willingness of the former to come to terms with change.
The Christian Democrats, however, would not have been in power
for a generation had they not also adapted, though certainly with
less enthusiasm.
This combination of hierarchical structures controlling inputs and
sensitivity to societal change is closely related to another feature of
these parties-the role of factionalism in party decision-making."
The dominant party lacks the tight organizational structures of
mobilization parties; it has ties, often formal ones, with many di-
verse groups and interests that it must somehow reconcile, pacify,
and reward. Party leaders are usually identified organizationally
or programmatically, or both, with these groups and interests and,
in turn, represent such groups and interests in the inner councils of
the party. These independent sources of support for the leadership
make it difficult to maintain party cohesion by means of strict party
discipline. Rather, cohesion emerges from the mutual desire to
share the fruits of power, a desire sufficiently strong to hold extreme
demands in check and to moderate potentially disintegrative ten-
In this respect and in others the dominant party is a microcosm
of a partially pluralist society. Its factions reflect the divisions of
the society; its internal decision-making processes are, in effect,
identical with those of the polity, and since they are, the close
identification between party and polity is reinforced in the public
The Italian and Israeli political systems differ in numerous ways.
Israel is a much newer state than Italy. The center of political
Factionalism is explored for the Christian Democrats in Raphael Zariski,
"Intra-Party Conflict in a Dominant Party: The Experience of Italian Christian
Democracy," Journal of Politics, 27 (February 1965), 3-34.
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gravity in Italy is to the right; in Israel, it is clearly to the left. The
Italian system is fragmented into political subcultures, and a Com-
munist party receives more than a quarter of the votes in most
elections; in Israel, a strong consensual base undergirds the political
system and narrows the range of political dissent. The one over-
riding similarity between the two polities is the existence of a party
system in which one party has been the crucial pivot of govern-
mental coalitions for more than a generation. Having already ex-
plored some characteristics of this dominant party system, we now
turn to the bases of electoral support for the dominant party in
order to point out that in both the Italian and Israeli cases the
dominant party is supported by the more established, traditional,
and modal elements of the society.
Table 1 makes this point very clear. In both systems, women
more than men and the old more than the young support the dom-
inant party. In each age group, women more than men support
the party; in each sex group, age is directly related to dominant
party support. In both systems, men support the nondominant
parties more than women in almost every age category. However,
the greater support that men give the nondominant parties falls off
with age.
The dominant party tends to be the "old women's party." This
label is far from pejorative, for dominant parties share many of the
best-and worst-characteristics of old women: stability, experi-
ence, and wisdom. Outward appearances might have deteriorated
over the years, but family members can find tender, loving care and
a mother's concern under the surface. There are of course draw-
backs. Old women can be difficult, and at times, their attention
can be stifling. But on the whole, the security that the party offers
overshadows the temperamental mood that sometimes characterizes
The dominant party assures its continued success by effectively
spreading out among many social strata rather than concentrating
in only one; it mobilizes support from all sectors of society by mo-
bilizing groups and issues from a broad spectrum. It finds its
firmest base of support among the modal types in society and
spreads out widely from these to consolidate its power.
When we study the parties' supporters by level of education (see
Table 2), we find that the dominant parties in both Israel and Italy
are strongest in the category that contains the median respondent,
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that is, the one that has 50 percent of the respondents with less
education and 50 percent with more. The Alignment does best
among those Israeli voters who have had some high school training.
The Christian Democratic party does best among Italians with an
elementary education.
The dominant parties are much more successful than others in
generating broad-based support. The religious parties in Israel
and the Communists in Italy receive a disproportionate amount of
support from groups with low education. The Italian Socialists, on
the other hand, are better received among those groups with higher
levels of education. The Gahal pattern, which is an arrangement
between the Israeli Liberals and the Herut (Freedom) movement,
seems to be broadly based with a consistent spread across groups.
But much of this spread is an artifact of the differences between the
Liberals and Herut. The Liberals are a bourgeois party that re-
ceives most of its support from middle and upper-middle class
merchants and businessmen. Herut, on the other hand, is a na-
tionalist party that appeals disproportionately to lower and lower-
middle class workers and to Israelis born in Asia and Africa. Since
the followers of the Liberal party have higher levels of education
than supporters of Herut, the spread evident for Gahal is a balanc-
ing of two countertendencies; thus it is misleading to read into the
data that Gahal is beginning to generate the appeal characteristic
of a dominant party.
Our conception of a dominant party includes its continuing role
as the pivot of the government coalition. Therefore, it is not too
surprising to note that supporters of the dominant party evaluate
government more favorably than supporters of other parties (see
Table 3). We can also learn two things from Table 3 that take us
further in refining our thinking about dominant party systems in
general and in making comparisons between Israel and Italy in par-
ticular. The first point has to do with the contrasting structures of
evaluation in the two systems. On the whole, Israelis evaluate their
government favorably, with almost three-fourths of them giving the
government a grade of "very good" or "good" in the way it conducts
affairs of state. On the other hand, Italians are much less suppor-
tive; less than half report that they have confidence that those who
govern them act as they should "almost always" or "most of the
time." Undoubtedly, the differences reflect the type of consensus
that has developed in Israel in relation to its ever-tense security
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Very good Good Fair Poor
Alignment (931) 17% 63% 14%o 1%/
Gahal (289) 9 50 28 4
Religious (177) 15 53 26 6
Total ( 1,531) 14 58 19 9
PCI (279) 6 9 46 40
PSI-PSDI (369) 8 37 46 10
DC ( 1,048) 19 41 34 5
Total (2,500) 14 33 41 13
'The question used in Israel was, "What is your opinion of the way the
government conducts affairs of state?" Five alternatives were provided. In
the table above, the alternatives "conducted badly" and "conducted very
badly" were combined as "Poor." In Italy, the wording of the question was,
"Up to what point can one have confidence that those who govern us act as
they should?" The four response categories were "almost always," "most of
the time," "sometimes," and "almost never."
b Israeli data were based on first and second samples.
situation. Political consensus in Italy is less developed and is found
within but not between political subcultures.
One can only speculate about the type of response one would get
in Israel if the security situation eased. Israelis are probably as
inherently distrustful of authority as citizens of any nation. How-
ever, as a new state Israel lacks most of the cleavages deeply rooted
in tradition that mark the social structures of many nations, though
the nascent disputes over ethnicity and religion could polarize the
society. Whether the habit of consensus will be strong enough to
overcome centrifugal forces in the society will only be answered
by time.
Table 3 suggests a second general point about dominant party
systems that is of some importance. As we noted, the dominant
party is the pivot of the coalition. Table 3 shows that the sup-
porters of the dominant parties will evaluate the government in
which their party is at the center more favorably than will members
of other parties. Table 3 also reveals that the major coalition part-
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ners of th1e dominant parties evaluate the government more favor-
ably but at a rate lower than the dominant parties' supporters. In
Italy, the Socialists were the major coalition partner in the Christian
Democrats' opening to the left. In Israel, the National Religious
Party and the leftist Poale Aguda have been coalition partners of
the dominant Labor party. (The third religious party, Agudat
Israel, has not recently been in the coalition, but its respondents
make up a tiny fraction of the religious party group in these
The strength of the dominant party lies in its ability to make
identification with the political system and support for the party
interchangeable. It alone controls the mechanisms of legitimacy
and dependence upon which continuing political power rests. In
Table 3, we documented the high level of positive evaluative sup-
port dominant party voters had for the government. Since the
dominant party is such a pervasive and all-embracing phenomenon
in the political system, we would expect that the levels of support
that the party itself receives might be lower than that generated
for other parties that are more group-specific. Our argument is
that, since support for state and dominant party can be blurred in
the citizen's mind, and since the party can be effective without
developing tight networks of control and identification with the
party, ties with the party among dominant party supporters will
not be unusually high.
To test this line of thinking we looked at two comparable ques-
tions in Israel and in Italy. In Israel, we used membership in a
political party as an indicator of party support, an indicator espec-
ially relevant in Israel where party membership rates, for a number
of reasons, are unusually high. In Italy, we used a more subjec-
tive question asking whether the respondent felt "very close,"
"more or less close," or "not very close" to the party with which he
said he identified. Table 4 presents the results. Our reasoning
regarding the moderate identification of supporters of the dominant
party with their party appears to be in part substantiated. The
Communists in Italy and the religious parties in Israel enjoy the
highest level of identification from their supporters. These parties
make party-organizational efforts that the dominant parties do not
have to make. Our concern is not with the absolute values of the
percentages in comparing Israel and Italy or in comparing Tables
3 and 4 but rather with the kinds of patterns that exist within coun-
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"Do you support a party, or are you a member of one?"
Alignment Gahal Religious Total
Member 24% 14%
35% 23%
Supporter 43 49 41 45
Neither 33 36 24 32
N 1,534 307 263 2,369
"How close do you feel to a party?">
Very close 54% 31% 43%
More or less 43 62 51 52
Not very close 3 7 6 6
N 269 354 985 1799
Alignment Gahal Religious Total
Party 21% 19% 33% 22%
Candidates 26 15 6 22
Platform 35 40 52 39
Party being in
government or
opposition 10 19 3 11
N 1,470 399 258 2,303
Party 63% 53% 57% 56%
14 16 14 15
Platform 8 13 6 9
Party and platform (3 8 9 9
N 268 365 996 1,822
For Italy, this response includes candidates and head of the party.
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tries among parties. And in both countries the dominant parties
elicit lower levels of support than some other parties, though they
are not the lowest in these levels of support.
Similar results are evident in Table 5, which shows that, using a
more directly comparable question about the most important factor
influencing the respondent in determining his party choice, sup-
porters of the major nondominant parties-religious in Israel and
Communist in Italy-mention the party more often than supporters
of the dominant parties. On the other hand, supporters of the
Alignment are much higher than the other groups in the prom-
inence they award to the candidate in determining their vote. This
strengthens the Alignment in an indirect way since the most "pop-
ular" candidates are almost always affiliated with the Alignment.
Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Abba Eban, and Pinhas
Sapir are names that are often mentioned, and they account for the
overwhelming proportion of popular support expressed for can-
didates. Differences in Italy are not as great as the conventional
wisdom led us to expect; indeed they lack statistical significance
and do not square with the large number of preference votes cast
for Christian Democrat candidates compared, for example, with
those on the left.
The platform of the party has traditionally been important in
Israeli politics and coincides with the decidedly ideological nature
of political debate. The Italian pattern differs, with the party being
mentioned by 56 percent of the sample. In Israel, even though the
platform is identified as the most important determining factor by
supporters of all parties, the rate for Alignment supporters is lowest.
This is likewise true of the Christian Democrats, though differences
are negligible. Dependence on the party, identification with the
platform, and support for the candidates are all important, and all
work to the advantage of the dominant party.
The platform of the dominant party generally reflects a compro-
mise among many groups and factions. The party tends to take on
some characteristics of a catchall party in a two-party system. Its
competitors, however, are more likely to behave like the sectarian,
group-specific parties often associated with a multiparty electoral
system. As in a two-party system, the platform is not unimportant
for the dominant party; but it takes on relatively less significance
while candidates assume more.
Dominant parties perpetuate their strength by means more subtle
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and effective than is indicated by the term "mobilization." They
mobilize support in unobtrusive ways by blurring the distinction
between themselves and the state. It follows that they should be
most effective among those who are most susceptible to massive
societal influences. As we have seen, the dominant party does not
and need not organize tightly because of the other advantages of
power that accrue to it. By the same token, the dominant party
is likely to be most successful among respondents whose politiciza-
tion has been weakest. When primary groups provide cues regard-
ing appropriate political behavior, the individual tends to respond
in accordance with these cues. However, the success of the dom-
inant party is likely to be greatest among those individuals who are
not closely affiliated with primary groups and thereby are not pro-
vided these cues. The dominant party sets the mood of the politi-
cal scene and is in the best strategic position to attract those who
are undecided. The Italian case illustrates how lack of prior politi-
cization accrues to the benefit of the dominant party (see Table 6).
"How often did your father talk to you about politics?"
Often 8% 6% 3% 5%
Sometimes 21 21 15 19
Never 71 73 81 77
N 268 355 1,015 1,830
In a different way, Table 7 makes the same point about the Is-
raelis. The supporters of religious parties are most likely to vote
as their families vote. Gahal supporters are next, and Alignment
supporters last. Evidently, primary group pressures are most per-
ceived among religious respondents. Alignment supporters have
the highest rate of out-family voting, a fact which indicates that
forces have been exerted capable of overcoming the pull of the
primary group.
Another indication of this pattern is evident when we study
party choice by politicization (Table 7, part 2). Among those who
vote as their families do, more than two-thirds vote for the Align-
ment. But for those individuals who report they behave in a man-
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"Do you vote as your family votes?"
Alignment Gahal Religious Total
Yes 32% 39% 55% 35%o
No 61 56 37 58
Don't know
how they vote 7 5 8 7
N 750 139 98 987
Yes No Don't know how Total
family votes
Alignment 69% 80% 79% 76%
Gahal 16 14 10 14
Religious 16 6 11 10
N 345 572 70 987
Based on samples two and three.
ner contrary to the primary group, four-fifths vote for the Align-
ment. The dominant party is a powerful magnet that draws in-
dividuals to it, especially if the primary ties of those individuals
are tenuous. The picture we are presented of the dominant party
is not one of a tightly organized mobilization structure but rather
one of a party that oozes out throughout the society and engulfs
diverse types of individuals.
How different is the picture for the religious parties of Israel?
Their supporters mention being influenced by party in determining
their vote more often than those of other parties; their supporters
also show the highest rate of party membership compared with the
other groups. Being the most highly organized group of party
members, they are also the most consistent with their primary
groups in voting. Among those in the sample who vote as their
families vote, sixteen percent vote for religious parties; among those
who vote differently from their families, six percent vote for these
parties. The pattern of loose party ties that we found for the
dominant party is reversed in the case of the religious. Moreover,
Gahal's pattern of party ties is similar to that of the labor parties,
but it enjoys neither their effective organizational efforts nor the
advantages of being a dominant party.
In sum, we have found that the dominant parties of Israel and
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Italy both enjoy widespread support among older voters, more
established groups, and women. The dominant party is also ef-
fective in securing widespread support across social strata, and
there is evidence that its major strength is located in modal social
groups. The dominant party manages to reap the benefits of sup-
port for the government it heads. Dominant party supporters are
more positive about evaluating the government than are supporters
of other parties; coalition parties' supporters are also supportive but
less so than dominant party supporters. Since the dominant parties
have so many avenues of mobilizing public support, they can de-
emphasize some traditional mechanisms, such as strong identifica-
tion with the party on the part of their supporters. Opposition
parties have higher mean levels of support, but in dominant party
systems this support is not necessarily a sign of strength. As a
corollary, we have learned that the dominant parties can benefit
from low levels of politicization. In Italy we have seen that the
dominant party does best where politicization is lowest. In Israel
we have seen that the dominant party is successful in moderating
the force of primary-group voting loyalty and in bringing unto
itself large numbers of individuals who vote against the family
Political scientists have often used the number of parties in the
system as an indicator of the patterns expected to be found. Politi-
cal sociologists have often stressed societal variables such as social
and ideological cleavages in order to explain party systems. Schol-
ars with a more psychological bent have relied heavily on learning
models for explaining party identification and perceived spatial
distances in the party universe. We suggest that the dominant
party system is a political rather than sociological or psychological
model. Because of its structural characteristics and the importance
of strategic decisions as well as the impact it has on the competition,
the mass public, and the organs of power, the dominant party model
provides an alternative way of understanding the emergence of
competitive democracies in multiparty systems.
The dominant party system is a rich field of study because, in a
sense, it is a competitive system in which electoral results are held
constant. This situation highlights the bureaucratic and coalition
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aspects of politics and invites focus on the elite and their strategies
in order to understand the system. The mass public and its orien-
tations are of interest in the passive sense. Why is it that they
continue to support the dominant party, and how does the party
perpetuate its support among them?
The dominant party system places on the politician many con-
straints that are absent in a single-party system. Concomitantly,
the dominant party system liberates the politician from many of the
concerns characteristic of his colleagues in a two-party system. The
politician of the dominant party can rely on electoral stability if
he makes the appropriate decisions; he can rely on the co-operation
of the satellite parties and the harmlessness of the opposition if he
has electoral stability. His strategy must be one of dynamic con-
servatism-being prepared to change in order to retain what he
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