This panel will discuss the progress of the APSA presidential task force on promoting responsible political parties. The primary purpose of this Task Force is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the ways in which political parties can be responsible promoters of democracy, to prevent a decline into a more authoritarian form of government. The Task Force highlights insights rooted in the academic literature that can inform policy development and strategy.
The task force’s activities is rooted in an old idea. Parties have long been cited in the literature as a critical component of democracy. For instance, E.E. Schattscheider once remarked that “the political parties created democracy and modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of the political parties” (Schattschneider 1942, p. 1). Although perhaps overstating the case, there is indeed a general consensus in the scholarly literature that parties are essential entities in the building and consolidation of competitive democracy. The notion of the indispensability of parties is rooted in the idea that they perform essential democratic functions, and that while these functions may not be the exclusive domain of political parties, they are thought to perform these functions better than any other type of organizations (Webb & White, 2007; Webb, Farrell, Holliday 2002; Gunther & Diamond 2001; Dalton & Wattenberg 2000; Diamond & Linz 1989). One of the critical functions performed is political integration and the promotion of a responsible political discourse.
Events of recent years suggest that democracies are under a great deal of pressure, particularly in the United States. In particular there is growing alarm that our political parties are not engaging in responsible political behavior. What is responsible political behavior? According to Eisen et al (2019) responsible political behavior has two components: Leaders who behave responsibly engage in “institutional forbearance” and “mutual toleration.” The norm of institutional forbearance holds that politicians should refrain from using the full breadth and scope of their politically allocated power, when doing so would undermine the democratic system. A second norm crucial to democratic functioning is “mutual toleration”, which addresses how political opponents treat one another with respect and tolerance.
Both are becoming less evident in politics today.
Some critical questions the taskforce addresses are
1) What does the scholarly literature say about the functions of parties in democracies, and are these functions being performed?
2) How do we get parties and leaders to behave “responsibly”?
3) What are the major insights from the scholarly literature that may suggest opportunities and constraints for institutional and organizational changes that can help promote responsible political behavior?
Although the focus of much of the task force’s work is on parties in the United States, the insights provided by many comparative scholars working on the taskforce opens opportunities for discussion on the state of political parties and their role in modern democracies throughout the world.