Working Paper No. 113. Gissur Erlingsson (2007). Notes on the ‘Freezing Hypothesis’

Abstract: It is now 40 years since Lipset and Rokkans heavily influential ‘Cleavage Structures…’ was first published. Current research has still made little effort to explain why the ‘freezing’ of party systems these authors observed actually took place. The purpose here is to contribute to this field by elucidating the individual-level mechanisms that make party system stability more intelligible. The argument put forward here is that three interrelated factors give us deeper insights into the mechanics of the so called ‘freezing process’. Firstly, the ‘problem of collective action among potential party-entrepreneurs’ makes it puzzling that new political parties emerge at all. Secondly, even if the original collective-action problem somehow is overcome, the ‘principal-agent problem’ and the ‘problem of voter coordination’ make it hard for new parties to attract voters. Finally, well-established and powerful competitors have the incentives and instruments to fight newcomers and steer them away from the political arena. I reach the conclusion that it is not surprising at all that Lipset and Rokkan made their empirical observations. Instead, what is really puzzling is why new political parties emerge and gain support at all.