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Kitschelt: Linkages between citizens and politicans in democratic politics

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Kitschelt. 2000. Linkages between citizens and politicans in democratic politics. Comparative Political Studies 33 (6/7).


What links voters to a politician/party? Previous theories have focused on policy promises (for the future) and policy achievements (in the past). However, these theories ignore other possible linkages, such as charisma (how much you like a politician) and clientelism (selective incentives that you get for your support). Thus, this article explores theories about "linkage choice"--which form of linkage will be used. It begins by giving conceptual definitions of a few types of linkage: charismatic, clientelist, and programmatic (policy-based) linkages. Next, this article considers whether politicians face a trade-off in their selection of which type of linkage to use, or whether all of them can be used as mutually reinforcing types of linkage. The core of this article--its most important contribution--is a critique of several theories about linkage formation in democracies (developmentalist, statist, institutional, political-economic, and cultural-ideological theories)--showing that none of these theories is fully on the mark. This article ends with a discussion of the empirical problems associated with trying to study linkage.

The author's abstract: "Research on democratic party competition in the formal spatial tradition of Downs and the comparative-historical tradition of Lipset and Rokkan assumes that linkages of accountability and responsiveness between voters and political elites work through politicians' programmatic appeals and policy achievements. This ignores, however, alternative voter-elite linkages through the personal charisma of political leaders and, more important, selective material incentives in networks of direct exchange (clientelism). In light of the diversity of linkage mechanisms appearing in new democracies and changing linkages in established democracies, this article expores theories of linkage choice. It first develops conceptual definitions of charismatic, clientelist, and programmatic linkages between politicians and electoral constituencies. It then asks whether politicians face a trade-off or mutual reinforcement in employing linkage mechanisms. The core section of the article details developmentalist, statist, institutional, political-economic, and cultural-ideological theories of citizen-elite linkage formation in democracies, showing that none of the theories is fully encompassing. The final section considers empirical measurement problems in comparative research on linkage."

Understanding Linkage

Any band of politicians running under a joint label may be called a "party." But to classify parties as charismatic, clientelistic, or programmatic, we must understand them along two dimensions (derived from Aldrich 1995).

  1. Collective Action: Parties may or may not solve collective action problems. This involves "resource pooling among candidates" and helping voters reduce the complexity of evaluating candidates (since they have a common party label). "What facilitates collective action is an investment in parties' administrative-organizational infrastructure" (p 847).
  2. Social (i.e. Collective) Choice: Parties may or may not solve collective choice problems. To do so, parties work out a platform, or "a joint preference ranking supported by multiple politicians" (p 848), allowing voters to clearly understand how their vote might influence political outcomes. Creating such a platform requires investment "in intraparty procedures of conflict resolution among diverse preference schedules based on deliberation, persuasion, indoctrination, coercion, and bargaining," requiring further an "investment in organizational-technical infrastructure" (p 848). To be useful, the party platforms must be comparable in a low-dimensional space.

Typology of Parties

This typology depends on the two dimensions discussed above: collective action and social choice.

  • Charismatic parties solve neither collective action nor collective choice problems. Only the party leader's charisma holds the party together.
  • Clientelistic parties solve only the collective action problem. They organize and exchange electoral support (votes and money) for policy favors, but do not present ideological platforms.
  • Programmatic parties solve both problems. They both organize electorally and present an ideological platform.

A Tradeoff in Linkage Choice?

It is difficult to combine 'clientelism with programmatic' linkages. First, paying contributors off with selective incentives conflicts with two key ideologies: socialism and liberalism. Second, once you've paid off with clientelism, you've lost your incentive to come through on campaign promises--it's not vital. Thus, there is probably a trade-off here, but it's hard to fully make the case.

It's easier to argue that 'charismatic linkages cannot be combined with clientelism or programmatic linkages'. "Charismatic leaders focus the allegiance of their rank and file on their personal qualities by not permitting the emergence of party machines with routines or with fixed programs that could bind their hands and divert the attention of their supporters to more mundane and predictable bases of political mobilization" (855).

You can probably use all three at low dosages, but as you increase your use of one, you may have trouble increasing your use of the others. See figure 1 (856) (and preceding page) for visual representation of the production possibility frontier (the plane along which you can move without hurting the total amount of support you can produce).

What Explains Linkage Choice?

By reviewing the literature, Kitschelt derives several partial explanations. See Table 1 (p 867-8) for a quick summary.

Socioeconomic modernization theory:

With modernization, party systems move from clientelism to programmatic linkages. Why? Poor and uneducated citizens have short time horizons, and clientelism offers quicker payment for a vote. But more developed societies yield people less dependent on rewards today, thus more willing to wait for promised policies. Plus, citizens in these societies "perceive the higher opportunity costs of clientelism."

But this doesn't explain persistence of clientelism in advanced democracies (Japan, Italy, Austria) or why clientelism is much more prominent in Russia/Ukraine than in the Baltics.

Statist theory: State formation and political democratization:

The timing of suffrage affects linkage strategies. (1) Early suffrage (before industrialization) (like in US) and (2) the absence of a professionalized (predemocratic) state bureaucracy --> clientelism. But is this explanation overwhelmingly path dependent?

Democratic institutions shaping citizen-politician linkages

Electoral laws: laws favoring personalized candidate competition lead to clientelism (see e.g. Cox 1987).

Executive-legislative arrangements: stronger presidents --> clientelism. Because of personalized competition, presidentialism creates personal support networks that want to be paid back. This encourages less emphasis on programs, and presidents only stay powerful if they can prevent a stable, program-based legislative majority from emerging.

Political economy and democratic linkage mechanisms

"Countries with high trade exposure and foreign pressure to open trade cannot afford electoral systems that promote clientelism and thus rent seeking" (862). Problem: this is just a functionalist explanation, it lacks an actor-based causal mechanism.

In other ways, though, PE explanations are important. See text for details.

Political ideology and ethnocultural cleavages

The argument: Market-liberal and Marxian Socialist ideology lean towards programmatic competition. Kitschelt seems to support this, especially in his argument (above) that there is a tradeoff between clientelist and programmatic strategies.

Operational obstacles: challenges to empirical analysis

It's hard to know which linkage mechanism is dominant in a polity. You can't just ask politicians--they'll conceal lots of clientelism. You also can't measure "programmatic party cohesion" through roll-call votes alone (p 870). Thus, we must rely on indirect techniques. For example, ask politicians to evaluate their own and other parties (details, p 869).

Conclusion: democratic linkage strategies and the democratic class struggle

An important argument; both clientelistic and programmatic linkages should be viewed as capable of organizing accountability and responsiveness. Much of the literature assumes (implicitly) that accountability works only when democracies are programmatic. But our models should also be able to work in clientelistic systems.