COES

 

titulo

Resilience and change: The party system in redemocratized Chile

 

Autores COES:
Otros Autores: Julio Samuel Valenzuela, Timothy Scully

Recent literature on the Chilean party system has noted that its characteristics changed under the impact of Pinochet’s long dictatorship. The right allegedly became a tool for maintaining his regime’s “legacies,” and this generated a binary pattern of electoral competition between “proauthoritarian” and “prodemocratic” forces after the return to democracy. The literature has also stressed that levels of identification with the nation’s parties have plummeted, thereby questioning the extent to which the Chilean party system is an institutionalized one. And yet all analysts acknowledge, without being able to explain, that the distribution of voter options for the main parties from one election to the next has continued to be largely stable. But the key characteristic of an institutionalized party system is precisely the continuity of freely expressed voter choices for its principal components. As a result, the main focus of this paper is to explain the reasons for this continuity, which has even leapfrogged the dictatorship. Using historical process-tracing evidence and a new survey conducted by its authors, the paper argues that the long standing social cleavages and ideological polarities that generated the party system still influence electoral outcomes given that they created deeply ingrained political subcultures in the society. Chilean voters have always had low levels of identity with specific parties configured as they have been into a very complex multiparty system. And yet voters are well aware of which parties correspond most closely with the political subculture to which they feel the greatest sense of attachment. The paper shows, therefore, that the alledged rupturing effects of the dictatorship on the party system have been greatly overblown. And it argues, in sum, that the Chilean party system continues to be a highly institutionalized one whose morphology still reflects its long standing patterns of division. The paper concludes with an analysis of recent changes in electoral laws. It examines the consequences of the now abolished binomial system used to allocate party representation in the lower house of congress, thereby suggesting how such representation could change in the near future. It also examines how the introduction of voluntary voting has generated a small measure of volatility to the voting results. And it discusses the reasons why, exceptionally, the Christian Democratic Party has experienced a protracted contraction of its vote.

COES