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Inside Parties

Politicians must reconcile a number of competing interests from different constituencies when making policy decisions in office. How and how well they do so determines the quality of a democracy's representation. Although we know that political parties play a critical role in tying politicians to voters, we have a poor understanding of the internal processes that lead some parties to be more successful than others at adopting attractive policy commitments and winning elections.

This book investigates the internal party rules that shape representation, participation, and electoral outcomes. While there is extensive research examining electoral structures and institutions at the country-level, very little work makes systematic comparisons of the rules within parties that govern how parties select their candidates, nominate their leaders, write their platforms, and allocate resources. Focusing on these four areas, I argue that decentralized parties (i.e. parties that allow local party members to participate in important decisions) are more likely to well-represent their core supporters at the expense of adopting less competitive positions in the general electorate. In contrast, centralized parties (i.e. those in which elite members of the party are responsible for nominating candidates to office, writing the manifesto, and other activities) are better able to choose candidates and position the party platform to reflect the interests of the entire electorate. I also argue that voters are less likely to identify with a party, or participate in activities beyond voting -- such as actively campaigning or persuading others to vote for their preferred party -- if the party they support is decentralized than if it is centralized. Voters prefer parties with clear, consistent platforms, and decentralized parties are more ambiguous in their policy appeals. Decentralization is difficult to reverse, so parties that do empower members have recently moved to become even more decentralized in hopes of encouraging party supporters who are not active in the party to participate.

The book is based on original research on party organizations in 65 parties from 20 parliamentary democracies. I collected and coded official party documents -- namely, party statutes and bylaws -- and I conducted hundreds of in-person and telephone interviews with party bureaucrats and representatives around the world.


For this research, I collected data in 66 parliamentary democracies from 20 countries on party quotas, candidate nominations, resource allocation within parties, writing the manifesto, writing party statutes, leadership selection, and membership fees. Click here for a link to the codebook. The data is currently not available for distribution.


Works in Progress / Under Review

  • Kernell, Georgia and Samuel Kernell. "Monitoring the Economy"

  • Kernell, Georgia and P.J. Lamberson "Social Influence Shapes the Voting Calculus"

  • Yang, V.C., Daniel M. Abrams, Georgia Kernell, and Adilson E. Motte "Election Dynamics"