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Michelle Hale Williams. "Catch-all in the Twenty-first Century? Revisiting Kirchheimer's Thesis 40 years Later: An Introduction," Party Politics, 15 (September 2009), 539-541.

First paragraph:
Otto Kirchheimer's concept of the catch-all party (1966) is one of the more often cited ideas structuring the contemporary understanding of political parties. Searches of Social Science Citation Index reveal that this particular work has been cited in at least 245 different journal articles beginning in 1972, with 90 citations since 2000 suggesting its continued relevance for the twenty-first century. The thesis contends that mass integration parties formerly held together by economic class or religious denomination transformed themselves into a new party type, the catch-all party. This occurred in response to changing social conditions following World War II and what has been labelled post-industrial change. Following Kirchheimer, catch-all parties can be identified by their size as larger mainstream parties, by their pursuit of votes at the expense of ideology, by their centrist and often inconsistent party platforms designed to appeal to ever wider audiences, and by their organizational style that is elite driven. These elements provide the core criteria used by the contributors to this special issue to delineate a catchall party. Kirchheimer was profoundly pessimistic about the rise of catch-all parties. His thesis gloomily expects that this then new party type would produce a climate of unstructured interests confusing both to voters and to parties who have lost their guiding marks. He projected the decline of meaningful political opposition and of ideology.

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Second Paragraph:
The contributions to this special issue review the catch-all thesis after 40 years have elapsed, applying it to contemporary cases across West European party systems. The volume begins with a reflection of a dissertation student of Kirchheimer's shedding light on his life, his style as a mentor and in the classroom, and commenting on the thesis and its implications (Safran). Each research article that then follows assesses the extent to which Kirchheimer's predictions in the mid-1960s regarding the proliferation of catch-all parties and their implications can be confirmed over time. Some of the articles take a more holistic approach considering whether the entire set of propositions and implications has been realized (Williams). Others focus on specific aspects, such as campaigning and elections (Smith), party strategy and decision-making (Forestiere and Allen), or small party decline (Spoon).

Last updated October 2009