- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0091
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0091
The study of party networks is a subset of social network analysis within political science. Social network analysis has a venerable history in mathematics and has been adopted by the social sciences over the past few decades but has really only taken hold within political science since the late 1990s. In general, social network analysis examines the relationships between individual actors, relying upon links (or “edges”) between individuals (or “nodes”) to reveal hidden but important patterns in behavior. Such an investigative tool is ideal for the study of political parties, given their multicephalous structures and occasionally secretive behavior. A relatively new branch of scholarship views political parties (American political parties, in particular) as networks. That is, they are not hierarchical organizations with clearly defined leaders and roles; rather, they consist of associations of candidates, officeholders, donors, activists, consultants, and others who conspire to affect elections and influence the direction of government. As such, a social network research approach is likely to be more productive and more accurate in understanding just what parties are and how they function. The network approach allows us to see, for example, how donors advantage a small number of candidates in party nomination contests, how legislators signal their support for bills and build coalitions for their passage, the extent to which interest groups are tied to political parties, and so on. These analyses provide useful descriptions of parties but also go beyond that; recent innovations in network studies allow for empirical tests of causal arguments. The application of social network techniques is proving to be an incredibly powerful and revealing tool in the study of parties, one of the most inscrutable topics within political science.
Several political science works regard parties conceptually as networks without specifically using social network techniques in their analysis. The theoretical framework is nonetheless important, allowing us to see parties as collections of actors working toward common goals. Bernstein 2005 offers a handy review of some of this scholarship as of the mid-2000s. Schlesinger 1985 argues that a new form of political party is emerging in which ties are stronger between candidates and officeholders. Monroe 2001 finds evidence of such a new type of party in a study of political staffers in California. Cohen, et al. 2008 argues that informal networks of political elites conspire to determine the outcome of presidential primaries, a finding echoed at the congressional level in Dominguez 2005 and at the state legislative level in Masket 2009. Bawn, et al. 2012 expands on these findings somewhat to offer a more general model of parties as collections of intense policy demanders whose preferences do not necessarily align with those of voters. A few scholars, however, point out the risks of viewing everything as a network. Noel 2011 (cited under Party Networks in Nominations), in particular, implores scholars to ask whether something is conceptually a network before analyzing it as such. Fowler, et al. 2011, meanwhile, describes some of the difficulty of dealing with causality and homophily in networks research, both of which can undermine findings.
Bawn, Kathleen, Marty Cohen, David Karol, Seth Masket, Hans Noel, and John Zaller. “A Theory of Political Parties.” Perspectives on Politics 10.3 (2012): 571–597.
Argues that parties are collections of intense policy demanders who advantage nominees through the strategic allocation of campaign resources. Proposes a “blind spot” in which voters cannot perceive ideological extremism of candidates and suggests that parties seek to nominate as extreme a candidate as possible while staying within the blind spot.
Bernstein, Jonathan. “Party Network Research, Factions, and the Next Agenda.” Paper presented at the 2005 State of the Parties Conference, Akron, OH, 5–7 October 2005.
Reviews the leading research on party networks as of 2005, focusing mainly on earlier versions of Cohen, et al. 2008; Masket 2009; Monroe 2001; Schwartz 1990 (cited under Party Networks in State Politics); and Dominguez 2005. Suggests a framework for understanding party networks and factions.
Cohen, Marty, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller. The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Finds that a small clique of party elites—including members of Congress, governors, major donors, and leading activists—determines presidential nominations in each of the major parties. They do so by endorsing candidates, and elite endorsements are found to predict each major party’s presidential nominee since 1980.
Dominguez, Casey Byrne Knudsen. “Before the Primary: Party Participation in Congressional Nominating Processes.” PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2005.
Demonstrates that elite networks of political actors help to determine the outcomes of congressional primary elections.
Fowler, James H., Michael T. Heaney, David W. Nickerson, John F. Padgett, and Betsy Sinclair. “Causality in Political Networks.” American Politics Research 39.2 (2011): 437–480.
Explores some of the methodological challenges associated with social networks research, particularly those affecting party networks. Topics included are causality and homophily, both of which need to be addressed by researchers before their findings can be taken seriously. Available online for purchase or by subscription.
Masket, Seth E. No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009.
Focuses on the California Assembly, which is one of the most partisan legislatures in the country despite a relative lack of strong formal party organizations in the state. Argues that informal party organizations—networks of donors, activists, and officeholders—conspire to advantage extreme candidates in primaries through deployment of endorsements, funding, and expertise and to deprive more moderate candidates of those resources.
Monroe, J. P. The Political Party Matrix: The Persistence of Organization. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.
Explores links between staffers and officeholders in California, finding a network of professional political employees that constitute a political machine even in the absence of patronage or elaborate bureaucracy.
Noel, Hans. “Toward a Theory of Parties as Networks.” Paper presented at the Conference on American Political Parties: Past, Present, and Future, Charlottesville, VA, 8 October 2012.
Attempts to compare the definitions of party and network and asks whether a party should properly be considered a network. Political actors united due to homophily of ideology or a shared political environment may be a network but are not necessarily a party. A party may involve the influence of one actor over another, but this influence is more difficult to demonstrate.
Schlesinger, Joseph A. “The New American Political Party.” American Political Science Review 79.4 (1985): 1152–1169.
Views parties as “office-seeking coalitions” and examines the institutional rules, party systems, and party organizations affecting these coalitions.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email email@example.com to express your interest.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- American Indian Politics
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Brazilian Political Development
- Business-State Relations in Europe
- Campaign Finance in the Era of Super-PACS
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Communist Party
- Chinese Economic Policy
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil Society in South Asia
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Consolidation
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Development of Survey Research
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- East Africa, Politics of
- Economic Voting
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Ethnic Politics
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender and International Relations
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hume’s Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Immigration and International Relations
- Immigration Politics and Policy in the United States
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups and Inequality in the United States
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Judiciaries and Politics in East Asia
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mass Incarceration and US Politics
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Media Politics in South Asia
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Negative Campaigning
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Plato's Political Thought
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Class Formation
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Postcolonialism and International Relations
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Private Governance
- Public Opinion in Advanced Industrial Democracies
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Public Presidency, US Elections, and the Permanent Campaig...
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Racial and Ethnic Descriptive Representation in the United...
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion in Contemporary Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau's Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Korea, Politics of
- Spectacle, The
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- Transitional Justice
- Transnational Private Regulation
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Presidency, The
- Voter Turnout
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- Worker Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics