On the Theory of Parties

Nolan McCarty, Eric Schickler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The theory of parties put forward by scholars associated with the University of California at Los Angeles argues that political parties are best viewed as coalitions of intense policy demanders. These policy demanders use their control of nomination processes to select candidates loyal to the groups' shared policy priorities. By highlighting the role of groups, this theory has made a major contribution to our understanding of party politics, breathing new life into important debates about the limitations of democratic responsiveness in the United States. The theory, however, leaves a number of theoretical and empirical issues unresolved. The "invisible primary" hypothesis has performed poorly in recent presidential elections. More importantly, we argue that the next generation of party theorizing needs to account for the distinctive roles and capacities of officeholders and voters, and to reengage the idea of formal parties as institutional intermediaries between groups, politicians, and voters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-193
Number of pages19
JournalAnnual Review of Political Science
StatePublished - May 11 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • invisible primary
  • partisan polarization
  • party theory
  • policy demanders
  • political parties


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