The question of whether Western party systems were becoming more unstable and electorates more volatile had already become central to the study of modern European by the end of the 1970s. Much of the literature at the time stressed how Western Europe was experiencing a phase of party breakdown, dealignment and decay, and how traditional mass politics was in the process of transformation. In this first book-length analysis of the subject, Stefano Bartolini and Peter Mair convincingly demonstrated how this emphasis on change had been largely misconceived and misplaced. This was the first systematic and conceptually sophisticated work to bring together the study of electoral change and cleavage persistence, and has since become one of the landmark volumes in the study of electoral politics in Europe. The authors examine patterns of electoral persistence and change in Western Europe between 1885 and 1985. They assess both what these patterns indicate with regard to the persistence of traditional cleavages, particularly the class cleavage, and how these patterns vary according to political, institutional and social factors. They analyse the various patterns of competition which have characterised elections across the different European countries and in different historical periods, and how cleavages can persist and re-emerge even in the face of widespread social change. They develop a sophisticated model of aggregate electoral change, in which national electorates are conceived as being torn between the stability brought about by cultural identities and organisational structures and the stimuli for change that are provoked by party competition and institutional change. Identity, Competition and Electoral Availability was awarded the Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social Science Research and is now reprinted for the first time in paperback.
This volume is an exceptional achievement. Bartolini and Mair offer a theory of electoral stability in European democracies that covers most European democracies between 1885 and 1985. The volume’s powerful argument, encyclopedic data base, conceptual richness, and methodological sophistication place it at the top of the reading list for those who would study European electorates.
Bartolini and Mair have produced an impressive study in its historical breadth and empirical methodology. Some of the spectres haunting electoral research remain. But in assembling and analyzing this impressive body of evidence, Bartolini and Mair’s book significantly enriches the study of European electoral history.
For those interested in larger patterns of electoral persistence and change among West European electorates, Bartolini and Mair's work is absolutely required reading. This is an extremely ambitious book, one that seeks to "chart patterns of stability and instability across this century of mass politics; to assess what these patterns imply with regard to the hold of traditional cleavages; [and] to explain variance in these patterns through a variety of different factors . . . " (p. xviii). The authors accomplish this task principally by their compelling use of an impressive collection of electoral data representing the results of 303 elections from thirteen West European countries spanning a century of mass politics (1885-1985). This is an exciting book, whose findings are bound to refashion the debate about the shape of the West European electoral landscape.