Peer 1 response
Cleavage structures involve some sort of social division that separates people in terms of key societal characteristics. The most basic cleavage examples include occupation, status, religion, or ethnicity. These groups must be aware of their collective identity and have some sport of expressed organization tied with it. Examples of these organizational structures include churches, political parties, trade unions, and any organization that allows for the formal expression of the group’s interests. Throughout Europe, there are four main cleavages: dominant culture vs. subject culture, church vs. state, primary economy vs. secondary economy, and employers vs. workers. One must recognize the complexity of cleavages in terms of their interdependence on one another as well as their sectionalism across Europe.
Since cleavages are a part of one’s social identity, they become a mechanism for political parties to gain support. Party leaders will infiltrate the spheres in which this identity is commonly displayed and show how their party cares so deeply about said identity. Whether it’s through recreational services, social clubs, or welfare programs, partisanship has found a way to profit off of cleavages. It is common for cleavages to cut across one another for the sake of politics. For example, the class cleavage in Austria overlapped with the church-state cleavage, and as a result, the Christian Democratic Party was formed; this party represented both the church and employers (Gallagher et al., 2011). It is important to note that cleavages are involved with politics and partisanship, but they cannot be solely defined from said political level. As political sentiments change and develop, so do cleavages.
The notion of dealignment has been an area of concern throughout western Europe. There are three main types of evidence that support political scientists’ concerns. First, there is a decline in the association of voters with political parties. While this is one of the most notable signs of dealignment, there are external influences that play a part in this trend. According to Gallagher et al., voters in fragmented party systems tend to identify with more than one party at a time (2011). When this occurs, it seems as if citizens are not buying into the party system, when in reality they are belonging to multiple party identities. Another area of concern is the rise of new political parties and their ability to gain support in electoral systems. As previously mentioned, cleavages and party ideology tend to change over time in order to adapt to prevalent issues. In a multiparty system of government, it makes sense that parties are constantly forming and gaining support because those parties are relevant to the issue at hand, and the system of government supports the idea of having multiple, policy-specific parties. If one were to view these issues from a holistic point of view, it makes sense to argue that there is dealignment, but since most of Europe functions under a multiparty system, it is a disservice to apply the concept in a similar manner.
Gallagher, M., Laver, M., & Mair, P. (2011). Representative government in Modern Europe. McGraw-Hill College.
Peer 2 response
Question #1: The authors describe several “party families” in European politics. Pick one of these families and describe their general political orientations. Do you think that these resemble any trends in U.S. politics? Why or why not?
One of the “party families” representing the center-right beliefs of Europe is known as the Conservative Party. In Western Europe, the conservative party is relatively prosperous and holds more votes than the other right-wing party, the Christian Democrats. Throughout the party’s history, it is relevant that its success has been steady. Meaning while the Christian Democrats faced severe failure, the conservative party was fortunate enough not to endure too disastrous setbacks, allowing it to gain more votes than the Christian Democrats. In addition to this, the conservative party is distinguished to not competing in every country in Europe, but to be successful in the countries, it does compete.
Ultimately, the conservative party presented an alternative ideology to the social democratic parties of Europe, as the conservative party is far more right. The political orientation of the conservative party goes hand-in-hand with the stress of traditional values of Europe. Alongside the protection of tradition, the conservative party highlights the need to support private enterprises and work to encourage fiscal austerity, such as cutting taxes and lowering government spending. In addition to this, the party emphasizes the need for government efficiency and upholding law and order. All in all, the right-wing party works to support tradition, private businesses, order, and a smaller, more efficient government.
While comparing the conservative party of Europe to the United States, there are plenty of similarities in their trends. The apparent similarity comes from the political orientation that both the parties obtain. The protection of tradition is a large portion of American conservatives’ political direction and ideology. Often, conservatives in America find the democrats too progressive and support not making any radical changes, especially to the founding elements of the nation. In addition to this, their economic trends are similar to American conservatives who also work to protect private businesses and encouragement of fiscal austerity. Ultimately, I do not find this shocking that the two countries’ parties follow similar trends and ideologies, for I think it is a pretty universal belief apart from the social democratic ideologies. Moreso, I think Europe and the United States are pretty influential towards one another. Because of this, the political trends and ideologies can be identified as relatively similar between the countries.