Leader selection in Italian parties. Intraparty democracy in weak organisations, 1946–2020
From Firenze University Press Journal: Quaderni dell’Osservatorio elettorale (QOE) — Italian Journal of Electoral Studies (IJES)
Fulvio Venturino, University of Cagliari
WHY PARTY LEADERS?
Personalisation has been defined as a process of change through which ‘… individual political actors have become more prominent at the expense of parties and collective identities’ (Karvonen 2010, 4). Although conceptually controversial, the trend towards personalisation has attracted the attention of scholars and is considered remarkable for its impact on numerous contemporary democracies. Rahat and Sheafer (2007) have contributed proposing a distinction among three types of personalisation. Institutional personalisation denotes the rise in power wielded by prime ministers within the governments they lead, a process also described as an example of ‘presidentialisation’ (Poguntke and Webb 2005). The media comprise the second arena in which personalisation has expanded dramatically in recent times; this type entails the overwhelming visibility of politicians within media coverage, with par-ties and institutions relegated to the background (Van Aelst, Sheafer and Stanyer 2012). Both politicians and voters may represent behavioural personalisation: politicians may disconnect from their parties, engendering ‘candidate-centred politics’ (Wattenberg 1991) during electoral periods; similarly, the choices made by voters could be driven by their assessments of leaders and candidates rather than the party attachment (Mughan and Aaldering 2018).Political personalisation thus pertains to several strands of research, and as usual it has generated mixed evidence and many controversies. Yet, party leaders have been deemed pivotal actors, regardless of the point of view.
First, popular leaders were considered relevant for their direct influence on electoral results (Aarts, Blais and Schmitt 2011; Bittner 2011; Costa Lobo and Curtice 2015; contra King 2002). Scholars have subsequently indicated the existence of indirect effects evoked by the electorate’s perceptions of party leaders. For example, Garzia (2012) has demonstrated that the origin of party identification was once connected with family socialisation and social class; however, it is currently deemed the specific consequence of a positive appraisal of a leader. Ferreira da Silva, Garzia and De Angelis (2021) have instead detected a ‘personalisation of voter turnout’ because the propensity towards electoral participation is demonstrated to some extent to result from the approval ratings of party leaders.Such leader effects are not confined to the domain of electoral activities. Webb and Poguntke (2005) focused on party organisations and identified a shift of power towards the party leader as a significant aspect of the presidential syndrome affecting democratic polities. Presidential or personal parties have become a recurrent presence in all party systems (Passarelli 2015; Kefford and McDonnell 2018); they may also assume the extreme form of the ‘entrepreneurial’ party (Hloušek, Kopečec and Vodová 2020), a hierarchical and centralised politi-cal organisation that is directed by its leader using business logic.
In this article, I adopt an organisational perspective to examine the changes in Italian political parties from World War II to recent times. The organisation of Italian parties has been extensively researched in the past2. The available analyses have included several topics, such as membership, finance, and cadres. Such a wide-rang-ing study would exceed the scope of this work, therefore I attend here to a single aspect of party organisation: how Italian parties have selected their leaders. Marsh (1993, 229) emphasised the relevance of leader selection via a path-breaking analysis presented in a special issue of the European Journal of Political Research. First, the methods used for their selection reveal a party’s organi-sational style given the abovementioned importance of leaders. Moreover, leader selection is a crucial aspect to assess the extent of intraparty democracy along with the selection of candidates for public offices and internal ref-erenda about crucial decisions on policies and coalition-building.To pursue my goals, I have first examined the party statutes to collect data about candidacy requirements and the inclusiveness of selectorates. These data may be used in different ways. I have avoided employing advanced statistical techniques in the present context and have instead proposed tabular and graphical analy-ses. Also, I did not search for covariates that can pre-sumably predict the changing selectorates of the Italian parties. Rather, I have presented my data disaggregated by decades to describe trends. In comparison to other researchers that have recently approached Italian parties from a similar perspective (Sandri, Seddone and Ven-turino 2014; Valbruzzi 2020), I make use of comparable techniques of analysis applied to a dataset unparalleled for duration and number of parties.
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