Party as a Carrier of Ideas

Francesca Vassallo & Clyde Wilcox. Handbook of Party Politics. Editor: Richard S Katz & William Crotty. 2006. Sage Publishing.


In the USA the Republican Party gained unified control of national government in 2002. Soon thereafter, party leaders began to push for policies that would promote private competition with government programs—school vouchers that would enhance the growth of private schools, a health care plan that would help private insurance companies compete with Medicare, federal aid to faith-based charities that might enable them to compete with national welfare programs, and a plan that might enable private mutual fund companies to compete with the national pensions system. Republicans claimed that these were vigorous new ideas that would improve the quality of services, while Democrats charged that they were recycled attempts to dismantle the welfare state.

Regardless of whether these ideas were new, they were expedient for electoral politics. School vouchers appealed to African-Americans and Latinos trapped in poor inner-city schools and to traditional Catholics, all of whom were traditional Democratic constituencies. The Republicans’ health care plan would expand coverage for prescription drugs for the elderly, another traditional Democratic bloc. Not only did each of these programs appeal to Democratic voters—they were also centered in a policy domain that the Democrats had long been perceived to dominate.

School vouchers were not only politically expedient in dividing the Democratic coalition, but also consistent with long-time Republican preferences for small government and competition. In contrast, the prescription drug benefit plan was consistent with the party’s long-standing commitment to competition, but inconsistent with the party’s opposition to entitlement programs of the welfare state. Many Republican legislators complained that their party had sold its ideology for the votes of the elderly.

Political parties package and promote ideas for the political system. Their platforms serve as repositories for ideologies. There is considerable continuity in party ideologies and programs from one election to another, although party positions are not frozen. Moreover, many types of political parties advocate similar ideas in different countries: Christian Democratic parties, Socialist parties, and Green parties, for example, frequently share platform elements and may cooperate across country lines. In some cases, political parties provide aid to similar parties in developing countries, including help with manifestoes and policy proposals.

Party Ideologies and Ideas

The earliest accounts of political parties often described individuals bound together by common ideas. Edmund Burke defined the party as a body of men ‘united, for promoting for their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed’ (Burke, 1889). Most textbooks argue that parties form to advocate policy ideas. Kernell and Jacobson (2003), writing of the American case, argue that the first parties were created as temporary expedients to allow like-minded citizens to promote their shared vision of the common good.

Under this conception, policies and ideologies are the reason why parties exist. Many scholars have described ideologies as central to parties. A party’s ideology is seen as a ‘characterization of a belief system that goes to the heart of a party’s identity’ (Mair and Mudde, 1998: 220). Carver (2004: 9) suggests that ideologies are ‘an agenda of things to discuss, questions to ask, hypotheses to make.’ Political ideologies portray the true essence of parties, as in ‘what they are,’ as Mair and Mudde (1998: 220) put it, not in what they do. A political party without an ideology would have no base for existence, and could not perform any task in the political context since ‘ideologies in this sense represent the core identities of parties and provide blueprints of alternative solutions for current problems of societies’ (Volkens and Klingemann, 2002: 144).

Yet other scholars argue that parties are merely coalitions of individuals seeking to control government (Downs, 1957). Under this conception, political ideologies are ‘means of obtaining votes,’ and parties choose ideas and ideologies to maximize their share of the popular vote, or to perhaps create a minimum winning coalition of parties. Downs’ seminal analysis sought to predict optimal party ideologies based on the electoral system and the distribution of the voters’ preferences.

Yet even if parties adopt ideologies only to gain votes, they may still have an incentive to maintain a relatively constant set of issues across elections. Downs suggests that parties may adopt consistent platforms in order to convince voters of their reliability (Budge, 2003). Volkens and Klingemann (2002) suggest that parties may lose supporters if they dramatically change their manifesto, and that an ideology provides parties with a fundamental force for continuity. Moreover, ideologies are tools that parties can use not only to attract votes but also to motivate activists and to form bridges with non-party organizations. Ideologies provide a conceptual map to politics for party leaders, activists, and voters to interpret campaigns and issues. They reduce the information costs associated with sorting out party positions on many concrete issues (Budge, 1994).

For all of these reasons, most political parties can be identified with at least some ideological elements, and often with a general ideology. These ideologies vary in their specificity, and they may evolve over time, but parties do not usually greatly change their positions on the left-right dimension (Budge, 2003). Thus the durable dimensions of ideological differences between parties have been the focus of most research (Lijphart, 1990).

Parties may be seen as the repository of ideologies, but they are also the short-term carrier of ideas. The specific policy ideas debated by parties will vary across countries and in between election cycles. In the USA and Europe, political parties today debate methods to combat terrorism, an issue far less salient on national agendas just 5 years earlier. As most Western nations face the eventual retirement of a significant segment of its working population, debates over the best way to finance these retirements have arisen in some but not all countries. Party issue positions must change as societies face new problems.

The specific ideas that parties choose to implement their ideologies and attract voters come from many sources. Social movements and interest groups may develop policy proposals and insert them into the political dialogue. Research institutes, think tanks, and academics may recommend policies. Many political parties have their own research arms to help them more thoroughly develop their agendas (the Konrad Adenauer Foundation for the Christian Democrats in Germany, for instance).

In recent years, political consultants have played a role in selecting specific policy ideas for the political parties. In 1994, the Republican party in the USA offered a ‘Contract with America’ that included ten specific policy pledges, some (but not all) of which were implemented when the party gained control of Congress. The specific items were chosen from a list through focus groups and careful polling. Consultants helped the British Labour Party develop its agenda in the 1990s, and are working in new democracies to form agendas for parties and candidates.

However policy ideas originate, they are linked to the political agenda by political parties in elections. When countries face difficult decisions, political parties can articulate and debate alternative solutions, and elections can then lead to a societal decision. Political parties typically carry these ideas across several election cycles, although it is not unusual for parties to coopt specific ideas offered by other parties in order to eliminate the issue in the campaign.

Cleavages in Party Systems

The sources of party ideologies are generally thought to lie in socially ordered cleavages. Political parties often represent groups that actively contest with others over the distribution of material goods or values. These cleavages vary across societies, although scholars have sought to identify the most common ones. Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan (1967) produced one of the earliest and most influential typologies. The authors identified four main cleavages around which groups and parties mobilize: center-periphery state-church, land-industry and owner-worker. They argue that these cleavages reflect in part a solidification of conflicts that date from 40 years earlier. The cleavages were ‘frozen’ into the party system, and thus survived despite social change. Later research has repeatedly confirmed the continuity of these cleavages: Knutsen (1988: 349) concludes that ‘the old structural cleavages in the Lipset-Rokkan model still have the strongest impact in most Western democracies.’

Other scholars have proposed differing lists for the major ideological dimensions of party systems (Taylor and Laver, 1973; Dodd, 1976; Harmel and Janda, 1976). Lijphart (1990) identified eight dimensions within party systems, including socioeconomic, religious, cultural-ethnic, urban-rural, regime support, foreign policy, and postmaterialism. These dimensions were generally identified by non-quantitative analysis, based primarily on Western European party systems.

However frozen these cleavages may have been, social change in the decades subsequent to Lipset’s and Rokkan’s analyses has thawed the cleavage structure, created new cleavages, and elevated the importance of some cleavages while reducing that of others. In Western Europe, religious cleavages have declined in importance, as societies became more secular. The platforms of Christian democratic parties have changed to accommodate this secularization. Yet religion remains an important source of division, for Knutsen shows that in Norway in the 1980s religion remained the second largest factor in predicting party identification. In Canada, although religion remained a significant source of voting in 1980, it was not a significant predictor of fidelity in voting over time (Irvine and Gold, 1980). Yet in the USA, many observers have described the emergence of a new cleavage based on religiosity that emerged in the 1990s (see Wilcox and Larson, 2004, for a discussion).

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s class cleavages appear to have become less salient in Western Europe and the USA, and cultural cleavages more important. The materialist-postmaterialist dimension identified by Inglehart (1977, 1990) has emerged in most Western democracies. Inglehart argued that as voters came to take material well-being for granted, politics would come to hinge on conflicts over expressive values. Klingemann et al. (1994) modify the original Lipset-Rokkan typology to add this new cleavage. Postmaterialist values are reflected best by the emergence of left-libertarian and Green parties, and in the discussion of issues of gender, sexual identity, civil liberties, and the environment by many existing parties. In many cases postmaterialism has not spawned new parties but instead transformed the platform of existing parties, as the Democratic Party in the USA has moved from an emphasis on labor issues to one that stresses the environment, women’s equality, and libertarian positions on abortion and gay rights.

Of course, not all cleavages in a society are translated into political parties, and thus some issues are depoliticized rather than incorporated into party ideologies. Electoral systems may help to limit the number of political parties that can compete effectively, thereby limiting in turn the number of cleavages that can be represented by the parties. Zielinski (2002) has argued that in the new democracies of Eastern Europe, the parties that survive the early elections help to determine which cleavages are politicized. He argues that class conflict may be precluded in some cases by the constellation of parties that solidify after the initial shake-out. Cleavages may become politicized as new parties emerge or depoliticized as older parties disappear. Other types of organizations besides parties may press issues into the party system (Lawson and Merkl, 1988).

Party Manifestoes and Ideologies

For most political parties, ideologies and ideas are embodied in party platforms, manifestoes, and programs. These official party statements contain some mix of ideological statements, abstract principles, broad goals, and specific policy proposals. Party manifestoes provide scholars with an indication of both abstract party ideologies, and narrower, concrete policy proposals to implement that ideology. Manifestoes may remain unchanged for several years, although they are routinely revised and published before or during election campaigns. Manifestoes generally stress the importance of various policy areas, and sometimes also contain promises to potential voters about policies that the party will pursue if granted the reins of power. The promises are concrete representations of the broader ideological principles that the parties have staked out. (A notable exception is the USA, where platforms bind no one. In 1996, after the Republican platform committee rejected a tolerance plank on abortion, party nominee Bob Dole announced that he had not read the platform, and did not intend to.)

It is also important to note that there are often important ideological cleavages within parties, so that manifestoes often represent compromises between contending party elements. This is especially likely in catch-all parties that may seek a broad appeal across several social groups. Although not all party factions are ideologically based, many truly are.

Most party manifestoes retain the same general ideological principles for significant periods of time, even when parties change their names and organizational structures. In the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, Western European communist parties adopted new names but made few changes in their general ideological stance (Mair and Mudde, 1998: 221).

At the same time, rational vote-seeking parties will adjust their positions to respond to shifts in the voters’ preferences and in response to the positions of other parties. Moreover, as circumstances change, new issues are thrust to the fore of politics. The war on terrorism sparked by the September 11, 2001 attacks on the USA presented political parties in Britain, Spain, Poland, Germany, and elsewhere with a new issue that did not fit neatly into previous pronouncements.

Sometimes these new issues fit very poorly into previous ideological cleavages. In the USA, the 2004 ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Court that the state must permit gays and lesbians to marry confronted the Republican Party with a choice between its abstract ideological commitment to states’ rights, and its more recent abstract commitment to conservative Christian social policy. The similar issue of civil unions (PACS) in France cut across party lines to unite Gaullist President Chirac with the Socialist Prime Minister Jospin.

Over longer stretches, even the general principles of parties change. In the USA, the Republican Party accepted the welfare state in the 1950s, but by the 1980s had launched an assault on its key programs (Shafer, 2003). At times, parties abandon their general principles in pursuit of more centrist policies, resulting in ‘catch-all parties’ (Kirchheimer, 1966). In Europe, this is most commonly ascribed to former socialist parties that seek to keep some ties to workers while appealing more broadly to middle-class voters. The British Labour Party is a case in point, finally returning to power after it modified its platform to appeal to more middle-class concerns, while retaining vestiges of its working-class roots. It is often argued that most Latin American party systems center around large, catch-all parties (Dix, 1989; but see Coppedge, 1998).

In other cases, parties may undergo profound changes, dropping key ideological elements or more from their manifestoes. After the collapse of the Soviet Union many Eastern European communist parties faced severe pressures, yet most did not disappear as many had predicted. In the Czech Republic the party made few changes in its ideology or policy proposals, and has dwindled to a small, marginalized entity. In Slovakia, the SDL restructured and adopted a shifting ideological stance that left it open to charges of inconsistency. In Poland, the party reemerged as the Social Democracy of Poland, which supported continued economic reforms but promised more competent administration. Finally, the Hungarian Socialist Party reemerged as the defender of the social safety net (Grzymala-Busse, 2002).

In some federal countries such as the USA and Canada, the same political party may take very different positions in different states or provinces (for a somewhat different example, see Chhibber and Petrocik, 1990). In the USA, some state party platforms include planks that are quite extreme, and even bizarre. In 1988 the Washington State Republican platform called for the end to ‘mind altering techniques’ in the public schools, and opposition to ‘New Age Movement philosophy, including reincarnation, mystical powers, Satan worship, etc. as introduced in the textbooks of our education system’ (Hertzke, 1993: 167–8). In Virginia, the 1994 platform embraced the state’s ‘colonial, Confederate, and American heritage’ and stated that ‘to ensure that military firearms suitable for militia be readily available to twentieth-century militia in Virginia … semiautomatic rifles are twentieth-century milita firearms’ (Rozell and Wilcox, 1996).

The written manifestoes of Western European political parties have been systematically analyzed by the Manifesto Research Group. Their analysis coded the statements in the programs into one of 54 separate policy domains, and then calculated the percentage of all statements that focused on this policy. Their analysis resulted in some 20 policy dimensions, making it difficult for even the most imaginative scholar to visualize party locations (Budge et al., 1987).

Yet ultimately Budge (2001) chose to project this complexity onto a single left-right dimension. A variety of different methodologies confirm that the left-right dimension is a satisfactory representation of the space in which parties compete, and that it is understood by party elites and to a lesser extent by voters (for a summary see Budge, this volume).

Moreover, different methodologies seem to come to similar conclusions about the placement of parties on this single, underlying dimension (Gabel and Huber, 2000). Thus Huber and Inglehart (1995) collapse ten specific concepts to create the left-right dimension. They overlap but are not identical to the ten concepts that Thomas (1980) had employed.

There is little doubt that this single dimension simplifies reality—most modern democracies have both economics and values conflicts that are not perfectly correlated with one another. As Huber and Inglehart (1995: 90) note: ‘it is an amorphous vessel whose meaning varies in systematic ways with the underlying political and economic conditions in a given society.’ Dalton (1996) reports that left-right self placement by voters in Western democracies is correlated with different sets of issues in different countries. In many countries, including Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, and France, it is highly correlated with economic issues. In Spain, West Germany, the Netherlands, and the USA abortion attitudes are also strong predictors. In most nations post materialist values are also sources of left-right self-placement.

In the case of Latin America, Coppedge (1998) argues for the need to include both a left-right and a religious-secular dimension to sort out the various parties. But most scholars see the analytic payoff of a single dimension as outweighing that disadvantage. In addition to simplifying many statistical problems, the single left-right dimension makes visualizing party space far simpler.

It is important to note that not all parties are focused on ideology. In Latin America and Africa, many parties center on individual leaders (personalized parties), and others are clientelistic. Personalism and clientelism are not incompatible with ideology, and indeed some parties that are vehicles for strong leaders are quite ideological. Yet in Latin America, some countries appear to have largely ideological parties, and others have largely non-ideological, personalistic, and clientelistic parties (Coppedge, 1998).

Political Party Families

Political parties are often categorized into ideological families (Seiler, 1980; Beyme, 1985), although this is not always a straightforward procedure (Mair and Mudde, 1998; Volkens and Klingemann, 2002: 158; Beyme, 1985). Most typologies have emerged from historical analyses of European party systems (Mair and Mudde, 1998), but some attempts have also been made to include parties from other political systems (Seiler, 1980; Ware, 1996; Alexander, 1973). Parties can also be grouped based upon their membership in international federations according to the federation’s requirements and updating of lists. However, some parties may belong to more than one federation, when sharing more than one exclusive ideological position.

Typologies based on party families do not precisely translate into ideological classification, because even within ideological families there is a range of issue emphases and even issue positions. Within families, different parties have drifted in different directions (Volkens and Klingemann, 2002). The list below identifies major families of parties that are commonly identified.

Communist Parties

Occupying the far left of the ideological spectrum, communist parties have generally sought to expand state control of the means of production and increased benefits for workers. These parties trace their ideological roots to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto of 1848, and in the early 20th century many sought to destroy the capitalist system. They advocated revolutionary overthrow of governments and the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Early in the 20th century many communist parties in different countries allied themselves with the Soviet Union, but over time many began to criticize Soviet foreign policy, and in some cases the domestic policy of Stalin. In response, many communist parties moved to accept the rules of liberal democracy and sought instead to influence public policy. When included in governing coalitions, communist parties tried to increase government ownership of key sectors of the economy, and to expand the social welfare state, including education and health care. They also generally advocated peace and disarmament, claiming that capitalism was the source of most wars.

Today the ideas portrayed by parties belonging to the communist family deal mainly with social, political and economic equality in society: the ultimate goal, as Vincent (1995: 86) states, is ‘to regulate human consumption in an egalitarian manner.’ As the standard of living has increased for workers throughout Europe and elsewhere, communist parties have changed their names, and in many cases reconstituted themselves. They have faced competition on the left from Greens and socialists, and have faced dwindling support in much of the world.

Socialist Parties

Socialist parties have generally comprised the largest leftist parties in most democracies. Socialism shares common ideological roots with communism, but many socialist parties have explicitly distanced themselves from communist parties. Socialist parties have been more willing to accept democracy and elements of a market economy. The typical manifestoes of socialist parties have ‘incorporated demands for the extension of democratic suffrage, trade union rights, parliamentary reform and social justice for working people’ (Vincent, 1995: 89).

Socialist programs have focused on expanding state intervention in the economy, on the social welfare state, progressive taxation, and peace and disarmament (Beyme, 1985). In many European countries—France, Spain, Italy, Greece, and some Scandinavian countries—socialist parties have altered their ideological profiles sufficiently to be labeled ‘new left’ by some observers. Recently, in Britain (under Tony Blair) and Germany (under Gerhard Schröder), socialist parties have moved sharply to the center, resembling in some ways the US Democratic Party more than perhaps their socialist counterparts in other countries.

Left-Libertarian Parties

Left-libertarian parties take a postmaterialist stance on economic and social issues. They oppose the emphasis of right and left parties on economic growth at the expense of other values such as the environment. They support more egalitarian policies but are critical of the bureaucratic welfare state, which is thought to stifle participation and autonomy. They reject the consumerist values of the market economy, focusing instead on values stemming from communities, civil society, etc. (Kitschelt, 1988).

Left-libertarian support comes from younger, better-educated voters from the middle class with leftist values. Supporters and sympathizers also tend to support peace movements, environmental movements, feminist movements, and gay and lesbian rights movements. It is the issues promoted by these movements more than the traditional economic issues that motivate supporters of left-libertarian parties.

Lacking a coherent economic agenda, left-libertarian parties are vulnerable when existing parties (especially socialist parties) incorporate some of their postmaterialist policy goals into their manifestoes. Left-libertarian parties have also struggled to define their role in relation to the official party system, for they have characteristics of social movements that are especially attractive to their members. Nonetheless, as parties they still seek to win seats in elections.

Green Parties

Green parties are perhaps a subset of left-libertarian parties, but their focused environmentalist goals might mark them as a distinctive family in their own right. Green parties frequently articulate not a coherent ideology, but rather a network of values derived from leftist and postmaterialist positions. Green movements and parties have arisen in reaction to environmental destruction and threats. In particular, Green supporters promote issues that deal with health and the environment, as indicated by their emphasis on the relationship between the individual and his or her surroundings.

Green parties began with a narrow focus on environmental policies, hoping that respect for the environment or the peaceful cohabitation with endangered species would soon become new political issues for the political arena. To broaden their appeal, they needed to develop ‘people-oriented issues’ (Beyme, 1985: 131). Eventually Green parties sought to reject key assumptions of the economic system that were considered to be the cause of environmental degradation. In many countries they also came to reject affluence, unequal distribution of power, and social status as the basis of inequality (Kitschelt, 1988: 225).

Green movements experienced difficulties in transforming from political movements into political parties. Some activists supported the transition, arguing that political parties were essential to gain influence over political decisions, but others argued that political parties were inherently corrupt and that they embodied elements of social structure that were incompatible with Green ideals. While Green movements remained outside the party system they could offer critiques of that system, but once they joined the ranks of political parties such critiques were problematic (see the disagreement between Realos and Fundis in the German Green Party).

In other cases, the decline of Green ideas in the early 1990s, about two decades after their emergence, was simply the final result of a ‘convergence of generational change and political economic decline’ (Kitschelt, 1988: 226). The conditions that allowed the development and successful expansion of the movement gradually receded, undermining the context in which the green ideals had proliferated. Still present in the party systems of many European countries, the Green parties are nowadays fragmented and divided regarding a possible conciliation between their ideals and the economic reality: another obstacle to their electoral reemergence in the future.

In the USA, the nascent Green Party suffered a setback in 2000, when nominee Ralph Nader won tens of thousands of votes in Florida to help elect Republican candidate George W. Bush. Bush was clearly far less ‘green’ than Democratic nominee Al Gore, whose book Earth in the Balance articulated a strong environmental stance. The winner-take-all electoral system in the USA resulted in an interesting anomaly, as major Green interest groups such as the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth spent millions encouraging their members to vote against the Green Party and for the Democratic nominee.

Liberal Parties

Liberal parties are usually positioned slightly right of the center in the left-right spectrum, and can move in either direction to attract votes. This potential advantage has inherent risks, since parties from the left and right frequently accuse liberal parties of lacking core principles, and of changing their manifestoes solely to win votes. Although in the USA ‘liberalism’ is associated with bigger government and more economic regulation, the family of European liberal parties promotes smaller government, less state regulation of the economy, and a free market economy.

Today, the main features of traditional liberal parties are ‘religious tolerance, free inquiry, self-government, and the market economy’ (Kirchner, 1988: 3). The relative importance of these elements depends upon the specific country the scholar considers. At the core of liberal ideology is the belief that individuals have rights and needs that are distinct from those of society at large, but worthy of respect. This leads to support for limited government, including a smaller welfare state. In their support for progress, tolerance, and the free market (Vincent, 1995), liberal parties have struggled with the issue of equality. This has been a particularly complicated issue for German liberals in their coalition decisions.

Christian Democratic Parties

Christian democratic parties are typically the largest right-of-center parties, formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe in part as a reaction to secularization and liberalism (Beyme, 1985). Initially, all Christian democratic parties had ties to established churches, providing a useful infrastructure. In many countries, Christian democratic parties draw from both Catholic and Protestant voters, although at times competing parties have appealed for the votes of these two religious constituencies.

Christian democratic parties have traditionally supported the capitalist economic system but also regulation and taxation of business. Their religious basis has led to support for a strong welfare state to protect the poor. They have stressed law and order programs in times of social unrest, and have emphasized the importance of moral traditionalism and a respect for the institutions of the state. Petrocik (1998) has argued that the US Republican Party has attained some of the characteristics of a Christian democratic party, minus the support for social welfare and business regulation.

New Right Parties

At the far right of the spectrum are new right parties. Although new right parties often are historically linked to fascist and Nazi parties, most have disavowed this heritage. New right parties continue to stress nationalism and a national identity that is often starkly contrasted to the values of new immigrants. The new right appears to do best in societies that are deeply divided on values and have a polarized party system (Volkens and Klingemann, 2002: 153), where there are many conservative citizens who have low levels of interpersonal trust (Wilcox et al., 2003).

New right parties have sought to expand their issue agenda, and their programs now include support for economic liberalism and a free market economy. Many oppose key elements of the social welfare state. Although in the past rightist parties called for state centralization, they now call for a reduction in state control of the economy.

Supporters of new right parties are usually well-educated citizens who are disappointed with the conservative parties in their countries (Kitschelt and Gann, 1995: 14). New right parties also endorse religious values, and draw support from religious citizens. As Europe faces ongoing waves of immigration, new right parties continue to find support, through the ‘use of diffuse public sentiments of anxiety’ (Betz, 1994: 4) vis-ă-vis possible instability.


Political parties serve as repositories for ideologies and ideological fragments, maintaining similar tendencies and manifesto elements across many election cycles. Party manifestoes vary on many dimensions, but these differences can usually be projected on to the left-right dimension in ways that permit meaningful comparison. Although parties do change ideologically between elections, they usually retain a general ideological tendency.

Parties also serve as carriers for narrower policy ideas. As societies face new problems, parties propose solutions and adopt solutions proposed by others, and debate these solutions in electoral campaigns. In this way elections can serve to choose among ideas. Parties often carry ideas for several years, but they are more easily changed than ideologies.

Entire families of parties may share a common set of ideological elements and policy proposals. This is true both because parties communicate across national boundaries, and because similar types of cleavages arise in many societies, allowing for the creation of similar parties. The similarity of political ideas that parties represent in different political systems ultimately confirms the validity of a possible idea-based typology, beyond country-specific electoral systems.