The Organizational Voter: Support for New Parties in Young Democracies

The forthcoming article “The Organizational Voter: Support for New Parties in Young Democracies” by Mathias Poertner is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Across much of the democratic world, political parties are experiencing a critical moment: trust in established parties has decreased in recent decades and new parties are emerging. While new parties arise even in many well-established, historic democracies, this happens even more frequently in young democracies. Whereas most of these new parties remain short-lived and disappear quickly, some manage to secure substantial electoral support surprisingly quickly and to maintain support over repeated elections.  

In order to understand the success and failure of new parties, this article explores how voters come to support them. This question is critical for understanding the quality and stability of democratic representation and accountability especially in young democracies, yet little studied in the literature, which tends to focus on well-established parties.  

While researchers have predominantly explained variation in success by focusing on direct ethnic or personalistic appeals that parties make to voters, I show that organizationally mediated appeals—those that engage voters through civil society organizations—can secure electoral support more effectively and durably. Locally organized, participant-based civil society organizations—such as neighborhood associations, informal sector unions, and indigenous movements—formed around a broad range of political identities and interests are particularly widespread in the developing world: in most Latin American countries, for example, about one third to one half of citizens regularly attend meetings of such organizations. 

Using a randomized experiment in Bolivia—one of the most unstable party systems in the regionpresenting voters with campaign posters, I demonstrate that endorsements by such organizations hold considerable sway over the vote preferences of organization members and other people in their wider social networks. Endorsements can even counteract policy and ethnic differences between candidates and voters. Finally, I find suggestive evidence that repeated endorsements for the same party have lasting effects and lead voters to become attached to party itself. 

The findings suggest an important, understudied route to partisan support in new democracies and have important implications for research on political accountability. The findings dovetail with other recent research that has highlighted that voters, even the most informed voters, typically make choices not on the basis of policy preferences or ideology” (Aachen and Bartels 2016, 4). At the same time, it expands on this work, by illustrating how group identities influence electoral politics outside the context of established democracies with stable party systems and by demonstrating how organized civil society groups can overcome diffuse group identities (e.g., ethnic identities). Finally, the article sheds light on how marginalized populations, such as indigenous people or informal sector workers, who in many developing countries have historically been largely excluded from representation through traditional parties, can achieve representation in electoral politics.  

About the Author: Mathias Poertner is Assistant Professor, Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University. Their research “The Organizational Voter: Support for New Parties in Young Democracies” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming article of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Speak Your Mind



The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

%d bloggers like this: