chapter  6
24 Pages

Political parties and the welfare state in Western and post- communist democracies


The role of political parties in shaping the welfare state is the topic of a voluminous body of literature.1 This literature centres attention on economically advanced democracies and resides in ‘partisan theory’ (Hibbs 1992: 361), that is, the view that parties make a difference in public policy. According to partisan theory, political parties and, above all, differences in the party composition of governments are major determinants of the timing, substance, expansion and retrenchment of public policy in general and of social policy in particular. Empirically, partisan theory rests upon significant covariation between indicators of public policy and measures of the party complexion of governments. The theory presumes that this relationship is amenable to probabilistic or causal inferences. The welfare state indicators of partisan theory include gross and net social expenditure (per capita or as a percentage of GDP), levels of social rights and welfare state regimes, while its measures of the party composition of governments are mainly based on rightist or leftist parties’ participation in government (Castles 1998) and on short-term and long-term cabinet seat shares of various political-ideological families of parties. Among these, the major differences are those between party families of liberal, market oriented-conservative, centrist-religious and leftist character (Schmidt 1996, 2010). Partisan theory also predicts that a major change in the party composition of government, for example the change from a market-oriented government to a government dominated by a party of the left, is associated with – and, by inference, causally related to – change in social policy choices, outputs and outcomes.