Elff, Martin. 2013. “On the Distinctiveness of Party Families”.


The concept of party families has been a useful tool for the comparison and analysis of party systems in European democracies. Central to the concept is that parties maintain an identity as member in one of the “familles spirituelles” due to their heritage from the great ideological movements of the 19th and early 20th century. It is often presumed that in a post-ideological age, party families may become obsolete. But whether this empirically is the case remains an open question. This paper examines the political distinctiveness of party families in European politics after 1945. Using a novel approach at analyzing party manifesto data it overcomes the restrictions imposed on the such analysis by the assumption of one or two ideological “super-issue” dimensions. As a consequence it is possible to establish the distinction e.g. between party families such as the christian democrats and the conservatives, which often are lumped together into a single category of “center-right” parties.

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