Extremist Outbidding in Ethnic Party Systems is Not Inevitable: Tribune Parties in Northern Ireland
LSE PSPE Working Paper No. 6
41 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2007 Last revised: 2 Jan 2008
Date Written: October 2006
Ethnic out-bidding models correctly suggest that democratic stability is much more difficult to achieve in divided societies with fully mobilised ethnic party systems. But they are not correct when they predict that ethnic party systems inevitably lead to perpetual extremist outbidding leading to inevitable democratic collapse. We argue that the incentives of powersharing institutions combined with Downsian vote-seeking motivations can encourage the development of electoral strategies based on 'ethnic tribune appeals', where parties combine robust ethnic identity representation with increased pragmatism over political resource allocation. We test these arguments in Northern Ireland and show that though evidence of direct vote-switching from moderate parties to ostensibly 'extreme' parties is prima facie consistent with the outbidding thesis, attitudinal convergence between the nationalist and unionist communities on the main political issues is not. The recent success of the DUP and Sinn Féin can instead be explained by these parties' increased moderation in combination with their 'tribune' appeals.
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