Historical Social Research

Johannes Schmitt & Simon T. Franzmann: A Polarizing Dynamic by Center Cabinets? The Mechanism of Limited Contestation. [Abstract]

What effect does the presence of a coalition of the ideological center have on polarization in party systems? Studies of party positioning demonstrate the impact of a party’s affiliation to the cabinet for its electoral campaigning. In addition, comparative studies of party systems analyzed the effects of the competitive situation between the coalition and the opposition on party competition dynamics. Nevertheless, the linkage between findings of both branches of literature is still missing. On the one hand, studies of party competition models generally focus on explaining party behavior and do not aggregate these insights. On the other hand, party system studies usually lack an analytical micro-foundation. Thus, we do not know the mechanism that drives a polity to the extreme. To find this missing link, we derive two potential explanations based on the spatial theory of party competition and Satori’s study of party systems: incumbent punishment and limited contestation. We elaborate these mechanisms with the help of an agent-based model. Then, we trace the effect of cabinet type back to the limited contestation between coalition parties. If the incumbent parties avoid contestation with each other, a center cabinet induces polarizing dynamics since the opposition then has no incentive for responsible office-seeking. Specific circumstances such as a polarized electorate and voters’ negative evaluation of the cabinet parties support this mechanism. Methodologically, our simulation study reveals three advantages of the agent-based modeling approach: (1) the uncovering of thus far implicit assumptions; (2) the possibility of analyzing causal dependencies within a complex and dynamic model; and (3) the precision of our theoretical expectations based on the micro-foundation.

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