Party system change in the Netherlands: intra-party cohesion, discourse, and the socio-cultural cleavage
Van Gorp, Johannes A. A. M.
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This dissertation seeks to explain not only how one of the most stable party systems in Western Europe became one of the most volatile, but also the timing of that change. In order to understand recent party system change in the Netherlands, one not only needs to consider the positioning of parties on the socio-cultural cleavage, but also how effective they are at communicating their views to the electorate. This cleavage - which encompasses nonmaterial issues such as immigration, immigrant integration, and European integration - has become increasingly salient throughout W estern Europe. A t one end of this spectrum parties argue government policy should be based on a more multicultural conception of nation, while on the other parties take the position that some imagined community should be protected from the "other". Most of the literature exploring the relationship between political parties and this cleavage has two shortcomings. First, parties are treated as cohesive units. Secondly, while the combination of policies proposed by a party is considered important, almost none consider how they are communicated. Both are important: if politicians within a party remain tom over an issue, parties will have a difficult time agreeing on what position to take and cannot communicate their ideas effectively. That is why the coordinative and communicative discourses of parties should be examined. Coordinative discourse encompasses the process whereby political actors agree on a policy programme; communicative discourse is the process through which this programme is presented to the public. The more internal agreement there is amongst politicians in a party, the easier its coordinative discourse will be. This allows for effective communicative discourse, making a party more recognizable to the voters. To provide empirical support for this argument, politicians from nine political parties were interviewed. It was found that internal agreement within parties varies substantially regarding socio-cultural issues. There is more agreement amongst politicians ofthe "new" left and right than there is within traditional political parties. Their coordinative discourse accordingly is fraught, which results in weaker communicative discourse. This has important ramifications for how successful parties are in framing socio-cultural policies and eventual electoral outcomes.
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