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New political parties, as capable of forging strong attachments with citizens as historical ones

31 May 2022
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A study by the UAB and the University of Lisbon shows that citizens can quickly develop partisan ties with new political organisations and that these ties can be as stable, strong and influential as those built with historical parties. The research was conducted by analysing the transformation of Spain's political system between 2010 and 2018.

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Innovation in the political party system has increased considerably in recent years across Europe. Parliaments embrace new formations, some of them with very considerable percentages of votes and seats. Studies have mainly focused on explaining the emergence and survival of these new parties, but we know much less about their potential to establish meaningful ties with citizens and how individuals react to their emergence, especially in the context of a consolidated democracy.

Eva Anduiza, ICREA Academia researcher at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), and Roberto Pannico, researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon and currently Beatriu de Pinós fellow at the Universitat de Barcelona (UB), analysed in a new study the dynamics and implications of citizens' adhesion to new political parties.

The results of their work show that new parties can quickly establish links with citizens and arouse an attachment comparable to that of traditional organisations, even though they may have fewer followers. This implies that their presence in the political system is not necessarily temporary or precarious. On the contrary, they can generate stable and relatively strong attachments, which allows them to shape political preferences and attract votes at least as much as traditional parties.

"Our study challenges the claim that time is a prerequisite for building meaningful partisanship and shows that citizens do not need many years to become familiar with parties, as has traditionally been assumed", explains Eva Anduiza, professor at the Department of Political Science and Public Law at the UAB and director of the research group Democracy, Elections and Citizenship (DEC), for whom the results obtained "are unprecedented and especially relevant in a context in which new parties are on the rise".

The researchers suggest several explanations for their results. New parties are not complex institutional structures, such as an electoral system, but organisations with visible leaders who can quickly connect with groups or social demands. The current context of information acceleration facilitates the creation of attachments in less time than expected. And their emergence, embedded in processes of political change in periods of particular intensity, with a rapid succession of events that generate interest and emotion, takes place in a context that facilitates knowledge and familiarity.

Spain as a case study

To conduct the study, the researchers used survey data collected between 2010 and 2018 in the Spanish Political Attitudes Panel Dataset (POLAT) produced by the DEC, covering a period of transformation of the party system in Spain. The analysis compared new and historical parties in relation to three dimensions: stability of voter-party closeness, strength of ties, and influence on preferences and voting. The total number of individuals interviewed was 4,216 (more than 17,000 observations over the 10 waves of the survey). Parties that ran for the first time in national elections in 2011 or later were categorised as new: Podemos, Ciudadanos, Catalunya en Comú, Partido X, VOX, Bildu, Compromís, Equo and Foro Asturias.

"Our work indicates that 'new' does not necessarily mean 'fragile', as had been assumed until now on the basis of data exclusively from the North American case," says Anduiza. "Evidently, not all new parties manage to consolidate and survive, nor are they all capable of generating these ties. In the case of Spain, we can see important differences between parties when it comes to forging strong identities, for example, between Podemos and Ciudadanos," she adds.

For the researchers, future studies should provide comparative data from different countries, analyse the specific chain of events that lead to identification with a new political party, and also examine how different aspects of the bond, such as interest, knowledge, familiarity or experience with the party develop over time.

In addition, the conditions under which new parties succeed in generating public attachment should be elucidated. "The characteristics of each party in terms of organisation, strategy, communication or competence to build a well-defined constituency will probably influence – even more than their novelty – their capacity to generate significant links and, indirectly, to strengthen their chances of survival", concludes Eva Anduiza.

Article: Pannico, R., Anduiza, E. On time and meaningful partisanship: Stability, strength, and sway of attachment to new parties. Party Politics. https://doi.org/10.1177/13540688221085235