Restrained Change: Party Systems in Times of Economic Crisis

31 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2016

See all articles by Fernando Casal Bertoa

Fernando Casal Bertoa

European University Institute

Till Weber

Baruch College, CUNY

Date Written: August 17, 2016


The global financial crisis of the recent years has been a serious stress test for representative democracies. Voter support has supposedly become more volatile, fragmented and polarized, leaving elites with an intricate mix of economic and political challenges. However, a closer look at a new dataset of party systems during three major crises (1929, 1973 and 2008) reveals that reality is less dramatic than the popular impression suggests. We propose a novel theory of party-system change that explains both the impact of economic crises as well as the robustness of party systems to more serious destabilization. Since voters and elites are risk-averse, economic crises tend to disturb party systems that are generally restrained but, at the same time, help consolidate more complex systems. This explains why party systems rarely fall apart, nor do they reach ultimate stability. We provide evidence for “restrained change” in various party-system dimensions using panel analysis.

Suggested Citation

Casal Bertoa, Fernando and Weber, Till, Restrained Change: Party Systems in Times of Economic Crisis (August 17, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Fernando Casal Bertoa

European University Institute ( email )

Villa Schifanoia
133 via Bocaccio
Firenze (Florence), Tuscany 50014

Till Weber (Contact Author)

Baruch College, CUNY ( email )

1 Bernard Baruch Way
Box B5-280
New York, NY 10010
United States

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