Interest aggregation

Interest aggregation

Week 11

Learning objectives:

  1. Understand the role of parties in an electoral system
  2. Differentiate between SMP and PR electoral systems
  3. Identify the processes in which interests are aggregated

Class coordinators

Team 1


In our schematic diagram, we are now concerned with the ways in which the interests of individual citizens, voters, and (the new vocabulary of choice) taxpayers, are aggregated and articulated as political preferences, to be converted into the machinery of democratic governance.

Notice how even the vocabulary of politics can inflate the importance of one group at the expense of another. When the rhetoric privileges taxpayers over citizens, the indigent are subtly degraded – they don’t pay taxes. Those who are paid from taxes – all public servants, teachers, emergency responders, soldiers – likewise are implicitly less important than those who “generate jobs” and “pay taxes.” As individuals coalesce into interest groups and parties, those groups and parties identify with particular interests and use language and metaphors to make their case.

We will briefly explore the role of interest groups (anomic, non-associational, associational, and institutionalized) in articulating and aggregating individual interests, and the role of mass media in priming, framing, and agenda-setting in national politics.

We will then consider alternative forms of party systems, and their roles in elections. Political parties are the vital link between civil society and governance in a democratic system, but as a link, they are also a battleground between the interests of ordinary people and those with wealth and power who wish to manage the direction in which governance moves. Political parties are private organizations with a public purpose, and the extent to which they operate within, or outside, public scrutiny can have a major impact on the quality of democracy as citizens experience it.

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the role of parties in an electoral system
  2. Differentiate between SMP and PR electoral systems
  3. Identify the process in which interests are aggregated


Required Reading

Tremblay, ch.11
Scott, ch.10

Suggested resources – comparative electoral issues

Kimuli Kasara and Isabela Mares, “Unfinished Business: The Democratization of Electoral Practices in Britain and Germany,” Comparative Political Studies, Sep 2016. (established democracies may be less democratic than we think – including Canada)

Svetlana Kosterina, “Why Vote for a Co-Opted Party? Endogenous Government Power Increases and Control of Opposition Politicians in Authoritarian Regimes” Comparative Political Studies, Sep 2016 (Opposition parties in authoritarian regimes

Charles Butcher and Benjamin E. Goldsmith, “Elections, Ethnicity, and Political Instability” Comparative Political Studies, Sep 2016

Snyder, J. L. (2000). From voting to violence: Democratization and nationalist conflict New York: Norton.

Wring, D. (1997). Reconciling marketing with political science: theories of political marketing. Journal of Marketing Management, 13(7), 651-663.

2016 US Election special

Although we are focused on Canadian politics and society, it’s impossible not to observe the US presidential election, and it can be instructive to do so, if we consider it’s impact on Canada and a comparison of Canadian and American party and electoral institutions. Here are some good quality resources on the subjectL

David Cole, “How Voting Rights are Being Rigged” NYRB, 27 Oct 2016.
Elizabeth Drew, “American Democracy Betrayed,” NYRB, 18 Aug 2016.
(For comparison, see above, does gerrymandering happen in Canada?)
Sampaio, A. (2016). Amanecer Latin@ Latin@ voters stand poised to reshape the US electoral map in the wake of Donald Trump’s racist presidential campaign. NACLA Report on the Americas, 48(3), 221-228.
Dunham, Y., Arechar, A. A., & Rand, D. G. (2016). Unity for Democrats But Not Republicans: The Temporal Dynamics of Intra-Party Bias in US Electoral Politics. Available at SSRN 2846915.


Submit assignment 2 through Turnitin.

Based on the Laakso and Taagepera (1979) equation in Tremblay, p. 247, develop formulae in the excel spreadsheet attached to generate a chart showing the effective parties and effective electoral parties in Canada over the period for which data are provided. [not required 2016]

Self-Assessment Questions

  1. what are political parties, how do they relate to ideologies, and why are they important in democratic systems?
  2. Some political systems, particularly at the municipal level, or in political units with relatively few voters like the Northwest Territories, work without political parties. What makes this possible? If it is possible in small polities, could it also work in larger ones? Is it possible that political parties are bad for democracy?
  3. Why doesn’t Duverger’s law describe the outcome of Canada’s single member plurality (FPTP) system? The text provides an example from 2004. Consider a longer pattern of voting (Excel spreadsheet – do the calculations) – what does this tell us about the effective number of parties?  What additional information do we want about voting patterns before we pronounce on the utility of alternative systems of voting? (Utility for who?)
  4. How have European voting systems evolved in ways that contrast with the Anglosphere (UK, US, Canada)?


Our seminar this week will devote some time to the numerical exercise in self-assessment question 3, but our main focus will be the connections between self-assessment questions 1, 2, and 4: why are parties necessary, how do they work, what are the alternatives to a functioning party system, and how do they evolve over time?


Weekly activities can be adjusted by class coordinators in consultation with the professor
[1] Introduction from class coordinator – time allocation
[2] Current events of political significance (domestic, international) [60s]
[3] Review/amend focus of learning objectives [5D]
[4] Key terms [5D, GLI]
[5] Mapping the Political Landscape [5D, GLI]
[6] External resources [class coordinator]
[7] Exam questions [5D, GLI]
[8] Looking ahead: next week’s class coordinator introduces (last 15 minutes)

Next up

Social cleavages (see Moodle)