The project is about the effects of local-level government collaboration with challenger parties in two Scandinavian countries: Norway and Sweden. The initial observation that constitutes the starting point of the project is that challenger parties engage in local government coalitions for years or even decades while they are uncoalitionable at the national level. While such local collaboration is usually not taken as evidence of overall system integration, we know little about whether it might be causing such integration over time.
The prospectus has three research questions:
First, does local government participation lead to (durable) ideological proximity between challenger and mainstream parties?
Second, does local government participation lead to a (durable) reduction in polarizing rhetoric and style between challenger and mainstream parties?
And finally, does local government participation increase the overall coalition potential of the challenger party?
The concept of challenger party is here comprised of three definitional attributes: First, challenger parties have ideological profiles that place them far apart from the mainstream parties on some dimension or set of issues. Second, challenger parties have low coalition potential at the national level. Finally, challenger parties engage in outbidding propaganda tactics or employ delegitimizing messages against the mainstream parties or political establishment. These attributes are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Taking radical stances and employing polarizing rhetoric can for instance undermine the coalition potential of the party. Once challenger parties moderate, engage in national coalitions and refrain from using anti-establishment rhetoric they arguably stop being challenger parties. This does not always happen all at once. A party may for instance engage in polarizing anti-establishment rhetoric while in government. This has led some scholars to speak of halfway house parties, accommodating anti-system parties and outsider parties in government.
The local level is likely different in terms of the willingness or ability of the challenger party to take part in coalitions. Collaboration is less likely to be viewed as problematic because many of the large ideological questions that most separate the parties are not directly decided at this level of government. There could also be strategic differences between the national and local levels. A challenger party that is fairly marginal at the national level could be the largest party or in the position of kingmaker in a given municipality. Additionally there is surely less media scrutiny at the local level which would mitigate the vote-loss following coalition making or policy moderation.
I propose a set of potential mechanisms that could mediate a causal effect of local government participation on overall system integration for the challenger party. First, such collaboration might weaken the perception among voters that the party is irresponsible or too radical to function as a normal party. This might expand the party?s voter base to new segments of the electorate, so that it needs to be responsive and appealing not only to the radical fringes. Secondly, local government participation is likely to attract members that are more career driven and office driven and less likely to perpetuate the confrontational protest-profile that characterizes the early life of such parties. In order to participate in a government coalition, the party needs to compromise and to tone down areas of conflict. Finally, the responsibilities of holding office are likely to result in less radical policies.
Three empirical approaches are employed: a set of quantitative studies, a set of qualitative comparative case studies and a multilevel study examining the impact of activities at one level of government on the other.
This project is about the causes and consequences of collaboration with anti-system parties at the local level in two Scandinavian countries, Norway and Sweden. Both these countries have far left and far right parties that are, or have been until recently, excluded from national office, yet still accepted as coalition partners in various municipalities. By distinguishing between polarization among elites and among citizens, as well as between polarization at the local and the national level, the project asks the following two questions. First, to what extent is elite collaboration at the local level affected by polarization among elites at the national level and citizens at the local level? Second, how does elite collaboration at the local level affect polarization among elites at the national level and citizens at the local level?