Home » Left-wing politics » Essay about Kirchheimers Catch-All Parties: A Case Study

Essay about Kirchheimers Catch-All Parties: A Case Study

For the purpose of this essay, Kirchheimer’s definition of catch- all parties will be used to assess whether the catch-all parties are in decline. Kirchheimer has identified, five key characteristics of catch-all parties; De-emphasise party ideology, de-emphasise class/ clientele relationship, strengthen top leadership, downgrade influence of party members and secure access to a variety of interest groups and financial support. These characteristics will be assessed individually to show whether catch-all parties are in decline.

It should be noted it is not only Kirchheimer, who has attempted to identify the type of party ystem in Germany, as well as the definition of catch-all parties. There are other theories, such as that by Gordon Smith, who in his work “Politics of centrality ” identifies, like Kirchheimer, the parties identify in the centre ground. There are also competing theories about the German party system, such as the cartel theory. This theory, however, was not designed around the party system in Germany but can be viewed to fit.

The idea of cartel parties is closely tied to the finance of political parties, again an aspect of Kirchheimer’s theory, but with a greater focus n using state funds to ensure a strong electoral position.. Panebianco later reformed Kirchheimer’s theory to have a greater focus on the electoral organisation of parties. Kirchheimer, however, remains an often-cited definition of catch-all parties despite attempts to reform it, it is still widely regarded as a useful definition for catch-all parties. The Germany party system after World War 2 could be viewed as a two and a half party system, creating the space for catch-all parties.

After reunification and the rise of the greens in the 1980s, it could now be viewed as a 2 large and 3 small party system. With the Christian Democrat Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) party group and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) forming the large two parties and the Left, Greens and Free Democrats (FPD) vying for position as the smaller parties. This expansion of parties with a degree of power, particularly at the state level, could undermine the status of catch-all parties. This essay will assess whether the rise of these smaller parties poses a threat to them.

It has could suggested that the FDP and Greens are on their way to becoming catch-all parties. If more parties can be classified as catch-all parties, it would suggest here isn’t a terminal decline of catch-all parties, potentially just a terminal decline of the CDU and SPD. However, as the FDP and Greens are yet to be classified as catch-all parties, this essay will assess whether the catch-all parties are in decline, by assessing whether parties still meet Kirchheimer’s theory. The first aspect of Kirchheimer’s theory for consideration is, de-emphasise party ideology.

This was originally facilitated due to the close proximity of the Soviet bloc. The parties were keen to avoid being viewed as too far to the left or right, so took up the centre ground. Both centre left and centre right positions were adopted by the SPD and CDU respectively. Adenauer was particularly interested in promoting the CDU as a party of the centre , this trend has continued under the other leaders of the party. The CSU faction of the CDU is slightly further right than the CDU, but this has not pulled the party too far away from the centre-ground that is a characteristic of catch-all parties.

Despite reunification, the parties still occupy the centre ground. The rise of the extreme right Alternative for Germany (AfD) may cause the parties to shift their ideology slightly, to prevent them from osing votes to the AfD. This has been seen by a minimal shift by the CDU towards a more conservative position. It is, however, unlikely the AfD will ever be in a position to help form the government and pose no real threat to the catch-all parties. Merkel’s slight shift to the right is unlikely to be the start of the catch-all parties moving away from the centre-ground.

In this regard, it can be said the catch-all parties are not in decline. The use of the centre ground is not the only way parties can de- emphasise party ideology. As will be discussed later, the parties have strong leaders. The use of a strong leader can be used to promote the politics of personality more than the politics of any ideology. The electoral system in Germany almost guarantees the need for coalition Government, federalism also necessitates compromises . This to a large degree strengthens the hand of the catch-all parties.

Strong positions on policy are unlikely to implemented in their full form, due to the influence of coalition partners. In this regard, it makes sense to focus less on policy in an election campaign. The need for coalition compromises almost ensures parties de-emphasise policy, this also suggests his aspect of Kirchheimer’s theory remains an accurate description of parties in Germany. Secondly, catch-all parties de- emphasise class and clientele relationship, this is due to the manifestation of centre-ground of politics.

The parties aim to attract broad support from all aspects of society. The parties reached the high point of support in 1976 attracting 91. 2% of all votes. This has been steadily declining since then, although it did pick up in the 2013 election, with the two large parties attracting 67. 2% of the vote . A steady decline in the votes being picked up by the big two parties could suggest that the parties re in a terminal decline. However, the vote share has picked up at the last election and still about 2/3 of the population supporting the two large parties.

The de-emphasising of class relationship may not be the reason why their vote share has fallen. The CDU is still open to a wide variety of religious groups, with their first Muslim MP being elected to the Bundestag in 2013, despite the name suggesting they appeal to Christians. The SPD, like the CDU, has tried to attract a broad range of support. In the post-war period, the SPD tried to brand itself as a party for more than just the working class. This has been coupled with a decline in the class system within Germany.

For many theorists, this decline in social cleavages can be seen to be a result of reunification in Germany. It has not only been the reduction of social classes, but also religious institutions. The decline in both of these assists the catch-all parties, as they do not aim to appeal to a single social cleavage. Therefore, in theory, the decline of the populace’s affiliation to a class doesn’t affect affinity to a party. In practice, however, the decline of the class system has coincided with an increase in “floating voters”. Nowadays, the electorate is much more likely to switch party allegiance.

In real terms, this can be seen with both the rise and fall of the FDP. The idea of not having a strong party allegiance is also evident with the idea of ticket splitting. In 2005, nearly 30% of voters split their ticket, the highest ever level of ticket splitting . For some, this may have been a tactical decision as they support a smaller party. The 5% threshold may be too difficult for the party in the list system, but not for the individual candidate. These voters then may tactically vote for their ideal coalition partner in the party list vote.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.