Perspectives on Politics

Research Article

The Cartel Party Thesis: A Restatement

Richard S. Katza1 and Peter Maira2a3

a1 The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. E-mail:

a2 European University Institute, Florence

a3 Leiden University


We restate and clarify the idea of the “cartel party,” a concept that has found considerable traction in studies of parties throughout the democratic world, including those far from the original research site and data on which the cartel model was based. The cartel party thesis holds that political parties increasingly function like cartels, employing the resources of the state to limit political competition and ensure their own electoral success. The thesis has been subject to varied empirical testing and to substantial theoretical evaluation and criticism. Against this background, we look again at the cartel party thesis in order to clarify ambiguities in and misinterpretations of the original argument. We also suggest further refinements, specifications and extensions of the argument. Following a background review of the original thesis, we break it down into its core components, and then clarify the terms in which it makes sense to speak of cartelization and collusion. We then go on to explore some of the implications of the thesis for our understanding of contemporary democracies and patterns of party organization and party competition and we identify a possible agenda for future research in party scholarship.

Richard Katz is Professor of Political Science at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (

Peter Mair is Professor of Comparative Politics at the European University Institute, Florence and at Leiden University.


The authors wish to thank Nicole Bolleyer, Florence Haegel, Michel Offerlé, and Alan Ware, as well as three anonymous referees, for their valuable comments. The authors are also grateful for the insightful comments from the participants at the numerous conferences at which we have presented these ideas over the years. Earlier versions of this particular paper were presented and discussed at a workshop on “Party Models” held at the European University Institute, Florence, in November 2006, and at a conference on “La cartellisation des parties politiques: usages et méusages” held in Paris in October 2007. An earlier version was also published in Danish as part of a festschrift for Lars Bille.