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‘EMPTY NETS’ Social Democracy and the ‘Catch-All Party Thesis’

By Christopher S. Allen


‘third way ’ movements common to such political parties during the mid-1990s. By continuing to moderate their positions and move away from their traditional bases towards the centre, they seemed to embody – a generation later – a second embracing of Kirchheimer’s ‘catch-all ’ party thesis. But unlike its 1960s ’ incarnation, each of them in the mid-1990s disregarded their left flanks and saw considerable growth of both Green and Left (former communist) parties fill the policy space that social democracy had relinquished. Both parties no longer lead their govern-ments. This article suggests that the decline of social democracy in Germany and Sweden can be understood by a nuanced interpretation of the Kirchheimer thesis. Ultimately, it is argued that the failure of both parties to maintain electoral dominance results, paradoxically, from their overemphasis on the political centre, which left a lucrative space for left-wing parties to occupy especially in a PR setting. Kirchheimer helps us understand this pattern, because the focus on the centre leaves an ideologically moribund electorate that created space for Left parties to institutionally renew or adapt themselves to address the needs of these forgotten voters. This central hypothesis, along with others that derive from the catch-all thesis, is tested empirically with historical analysis and electoral and opinion data. KEY WORDS catch-all parties Germany Left–Right classification social democracy Swede

Year: 2016
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