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The German volkspartei and the career of the catch-all concept

Padgett, S.A. (2001) The German volkspartei and the career of the catch-all concept. German Politics, 10 (2). pp. 51-72. ISSN 0964-4008

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Abstract

Almost 20 years after Gordon Smith's critique of Kirchheimer's formulation, this article re-examines the concept of the catch-all party and the performance of the parties in the German context. The failure of Kirchheimer's prediction of increasing catch-all party dominance is attributed to three factors. First, the model underestimated the difficulty that catch-all parties face in controlling the electorate without socially structured partisanship. Second, in equating affluence with consensus it reckoned without the cultural cleavages and conflicts of economic interest that characterise post-industrial society. Finally, it exaggerated the autonomy of party elites, and their capacity to pursue 'rational' vote seeking strategies in the face of countervailing intra-party tendencies. These three factors, it is argued, explain the fluctuating fortunes of catch-all parties in the German context.