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A dominant-party system, or one-party dominant system, is a system where there is "a category of parties/political organisations that have successively won election victories and whose future defeat cannot be envisaged or is unlikely for the foreseeable future." Usually, the dominant party consistently holds majority government, without the need for coalitions.
Critics of the "dominant party" theory argue that it views the meaning of democracy as given, and that it assumes that only a particular conception of representative democracy (in which different parties alternate frequently in power) is valid.Raymond Suttner argues that "the dominant party 'system' is deeply flawed as a mode of analysis and lacks explanatory capacity. But it is also a very conservative approach to politics. Its fundamental political assumptions are restricted to one form of democracy, electoral politics and hostile to popular politics. This is manifest in the obsession with the quality of electoral opposition and its sidelining or ignoring of popular political activity organised in other ways. The assumption in this approach is that other forms of organisation and opposition are of limited importance or a separate matter from the consolidation of their version of democracy."
One of the dangers of dominant parties is "the tendency of dominant parties to conflate party and state and to appoint party officials to senior positions irrespective of their having the required qualities." However, in some countries this is common practice even when there is no dominant party. In contrast to one-party systems, dominant-party systems can occur within a context of a democratic system. In a one-party system other parties are banned, but in dominant-party systems other political parties are tolerated, and (in democratic dominant-party systems) operate without overt legal impediment, but do not have a realistic chance of winning; the dominant party genuinely wins the votes of the vast majority of voters every time (or, in authoritarian systems, claims to). Under authoritarian dominant-party systems, which may be referred to as "electoralism" or "soft authoritarianism", opposition parties are legally allowed to operate, but are too weak or ineffective to seriously challenge power, perhaps through various forms of corruption, constitutional quirks that intentionally undermine the ability for an effective opposition to thrive, institutional and/or organizational conventions that support the status quo, occasional but not omnipresent political repression, or inherent cultural values averse to change.
In some states opposition parties are subject to varying degrees of official harassment and most often deal with restrictions on free speech (such as press laws), lawsuits against the opposition, and rules or electoral systems (such as gerrymandering of electoral districts) designed to put them at a disadvantage. In some cases outright electoral fraud keeps the opposition from power. On the other hand, some dominant-party systems occur, at least temporarily, in countries that are widely seen, both by their citizens and outside observers, to be textbook examples of democracy. An example of a genuine democratic dominant-party system would be the pre-Emergency India, which was almost universally viewed by all as being a democratic state, even though the only major national party at that time was the Indian National Congress. The reasons why a dominant-party system may form in such a country are often debated: supporters of the dominant party tend to argue that their party is simply doing a good job in government and the opposition continuously proposes unrealistic or unpopular changes, while supporters of the opposition tend to argue that the electoral system disfavors them (for example because it is based on the principle of first past the post), or that the dominant party receives a disproportionate amount of funding from various sources and is therefore able to mount more persuasive campaigns. In states with ethnic issues, one party may be seen as being the party for an ethnicity or race with the party for the majority ethnic, racial or religious group dominating, e.g., the African National Congress in South Africa (governing since 1994) has strong support amongst Black South Africans and the Ulster Unionist Party governed Northern Ireland from its creation in 1921 until 1972 with the support of the Protestant majority.
Sub-national entities are often dominated by one party due the area's demographic being on one end of the spectrum. For example, the current elected government of the District of Columbia has been governed by Democrats since its creation in the 1970s, Bavaria by the Christian Social Union since 1957, Madeira by the Social Democrats since 1976, and Alberta by Progressive Conservatives from 1971 to 2015. On the other hand, where the dominant party rules nationally on a genuinely democratic basis, the opposition may be strong in one or more subnational areas, possibly even constituting a dominant party locally; an example is South Africa, where although the African National Congress is dominant at the national level, the opposition Democratic Alliance is strong to dominant in the Province of Western Cape.
Current dominant-party systems
This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(July 2010)
Presidential election, 1992: dos Santos (MPLA-PT) won 49.6% of the vote. As this was not an absolute majority, a runoff against Jonas Savimbi (40.1%) was required, but did not take place. Dos Santos remained in office without democratic legitimacy.
New constitution, 2010: popular election of president abolished in favour of a rule that the top candidate of the most voted party in parliamentary elections becomes president.
The Liberal Party is often referred to as the "natural governing party of Canada", as it has been in power longer than any other party in a developed country - governing Canada for 70 years of the 20th century. The Liberal Party of Canada has dominated much of Canada's political and public policy throughout the 20th century, and, following the 2019 Canadian Federal Election has continued to govern Canada federally since 2015, and previously from 1993 to 2006 during the 21st century.
Until 2015, members of the Senate of Canada are appointed to their positions by the Governor General of Canada, on the advice of the Prime Minister. The majority of appointments recommended by the Prime Ministers were individuals affiliated with the Prime Minister's political party. However, several Prime Ministers have recommended the appointment of individuals from opposing political parties. In 2015, the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments was formed as a non-partisan body to review prospective Senate appointees, and forward its recommendation of independent candidates to the Prime Minister. However, members already in the Senate are permitted declare an affiliation to a political party.[note 1]
Several political parties also dominate the results of the federal elections in certain provinces and territories of Canada. The Conservative Party of Canada, or one of its institutional predecessors,[note 2] is the dominant party of Alberta for federal elections, with residents of the province voting for these political parties in every federal election since 1957.
In addition to the federal party system, several provinces also exhibited a dominant party within their provincial party systems. These provinces include:
Saskatchewan has seen the Saskatchewan Party win three consecutive elections in 2007, 2011, and 2016; with a majority government secured for the party in the three elections. The Saskatchewan Party won 51 of the 61 seats in the 2016 election.
As a whole, the nation has a two-party system, with the main parties since the mid-19th century being Democratic Party and the Republican Party. However, some states and cities have been dominated by one of these parties for up to several decades. Generally, the Democratic Party dominate in the urban metropolitan areas, while the Republican Party dominate in the rural areas. Following the 2018 elections, the Republican Party continued to hold a majority of State Legislatures and a majority of Governorships. However the Democratic Party won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, while the Republican Party increased their majority in the Senate, resulting in a split Congress. As a consequence of Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 elections, the Republican Party also controls the Presidency.
Dominated by the Democratic Party:
California had a Republican governor as late as 2011 but has voted for Democrats in national races and has a legislature dominated by the Democrats since the 1990s. Due to the top two primary election, many statewide and local races are contested by two members of the Democratic Party in the general election.
Illinois has been governed under a Democratic super-majority in both houses of the legislature and the governorship since the 2018 elections. Chicago, has been historically dominated by the Cook County Democratic Party - the office of mayor has been filled by a Democrat continuously since 1931.
Oregon, while once a heavily Republican state, has had only one Republican governor since 1975, has voted Democrat in every Presidential election since 1988, and had no Republican statewide elected officials from 2002 until the election of Dennis Richardson as Oregon Secretary of State in 2016.
Idaho has been dominated by Republicans for most of its existence, with no Democratic governors since 1994 and only two years in which the State Senate was tied evenly since 1960.
Kansas has been dominated by Republicans for most of its existence, with only four years of Democratic majorities in the State House of Representatives since 1915 and only Republican majorities in the same period. Since 1967, however, five of the last nine governors have been Democrats, although one of these Democrats only held office for two years.
Louisiana is dominated by the Republicans. New Orleans, however, has been dominated by the Democratic Party since the 19th century.
Nebraska has been dominated by Republicans for most of its existence, with a non-partisan legislature (where a de facto Republican majority has held since records began in 2007), mostly Republican governors and elected cabinet officials and only one Republican who changed party to Democrat in 2006 holding state-level partisan office since 1999.
South Dakota has been dominated by Republicans for most of its existence, aside from a few Democratic and Populist governments and coalitions with Republicans, with only three elected high officials and two years of State Senate dominance since 1979.
Wyoming has been dominated by Republicans for most of its existence, with only four years where a house of the legislature has been Democratic since 1939, and mostly Republican governors during that period.
Dominant-party systems can also exist on native reservations with republican forms of government. The Seneca Nation of Indians, a tribe with territory within the bounds of New York State, has had the Seneca Party as the dominant party in its political system for several decades.
In power since 1946, with a sole hiatus from 1954 to 1958. From 1966 to 2003 and 2013 to 2018, CSU ruled with an absolute majority. Its share of votes peaked in 1974 at 62%. From 2003 to 2008, CSU held a two-thirds supermajority in the Bavarian Landtag. Since the 2010s, the CSU's dominance has somewhat eroded (38.8% in the 2017 German federal election; 37.2% in the 2018 Bavarian state election), but it is still considered impossible to form a government led by another party in Bavaria.
In power since the establishment of the state in 1990. CDU ruled with an absolute majority until 2004, and even a two-thirds supermajority in the Landtag from 1994 to 2004. Its popularity peaked at 56,9% in the 1999 election. In the 2010s, CDU's dominance eroded significantly. In the 2017 German federal election, Saxony's CDU came in second place for the first time in the history of the state, reaching 26.9%, behind the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. Due to the irreconcilability of left-wing and right-wing opposition parties, it is still considered impossible to form a state government led by another party than CDU.
Canada: The Liberal Party of Canada was the dominant party in the federal government of Canada for so much of its history that it is sometimes given the moniker "Canada's natural governing party". The party ruled for most of the 20th century between 1935 and 1984 (the only exceptions being in 1957-1963 and 1979-1980), as well as 1896-1911, 1921-1930 (save a few months), and 1993-2006, with a total of 81 years governed in the past 120 years (as of 2019). After a decade in opposition, the Liberals have returned to power following the 2015 election.
Nova Scotia: The Nova Scotia Liberal Party, in the Province of Nova Scotia, held office in an unbroken period from 1882 to 1925. During the period from 1867 to 1956, the party was in power for 76 of 89 years, most of that time with fewer than 5 opposition members.
Ontario: Ontario's party system was once a dominant party system, with the Liberal Party of Ontario being the only political party to form government from 1871 to 1905; and having won the majority of the seats available in all twelve elections from 1871 to 1902. The turn of the 20th century saw a shift in party dominance from the Liberal Party of Ontario to the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario,[note 3] with the latter winning 22 of the 28 elections held in the 20th century. From 1943 to 1985, the Progressive Conservatives won 13 consecutive elections, forming the provincial government for 42 years. From 1945 to 1985, the party governed an uninterrupted majority government, with the party's dominance in that era referred to as the "Big Blue Machine". Although the Progressive Conservatives won the most seats in the 1985 election, the party was unable to form government for the first time in 42 years, with the Liberal Party forming a minority government with a confidence and supply arrangement with the New Democratic Party.
Quebec: The Union Nationale, in the Province of Quebec, held office uninterrupted from 1944 until 1960 with Quiet revolution. And nearly with the Quebec Liberal Party throughout province's political history with start from 1897 to 1935, then a second time in 1985 and 1989, and lastly third time in 2003 and 2008 periods.
The South (usually defined as coextensive with the former Confederacy) was known until the era of the civil rights movement as the "Solid South" due to its states' reliable support the Democratic Party, which at that time had a strong conservative wing. Several states had an unbroken succession of Democratic governors for half a century to over a century.
Nicaragua: The Partido Liberal Nacionalista of the Somoza family held effective control from the 1930s to 1979. It was never the sole legal party, but elections were often fraught with accusations of fraud and improbable results. Later the conservative government held effective control from 1990 to 2007.
Baden-Württemberg: The Christian Democratic Union of Germany ruled from 1953 to 2011 and was biggest party until 2016 (except in Württemberg-Baden for 1950-1952), but is still biggest party at German federal elections and European Parliament elections. And in Baden was the Centre Party in Weimar republic biggest party until 1930.
Bayern: The Christian Social Union in Bavaria held majority in the Landtag of Bavaria from 1966 to 2008 with the best vote share in 2003 (60.6% and 124 of 180 seats). The party lost its majority in the 2008 elections and governed in a coalition alongside the FDP before regaining its majority in 2013. However, this majority was once again lost in the 2018 state election. CSU is additional biggest party since 1946 (with one exception in 1950 by the similar Bavaria Party).
Saar(not part of Germany at this time): The Centre Party won every Landesrat election from 1922 to 1935.
Saarland: The Christian Democratic Union of Germany ruled from the return of the Saar to (West) Germany in 1959 to 1980. In Landtag elections, the CDU reached between 36.6% in 1955 and 49.1% in 1975, the CDU also dominated federal elections (except for 1972) and in the European election 1979 the CDU/CSU won 46.4%.
Luxembourg: The Christian Social People's Party (CSV), with its predecessor Party of the Right, governed Luxembourg continuously since 1915 until 2013, except for 1974-1979. However, Luxembourg has a coalition system, and the CSV has been in coalition with at least one of the two next two leading parties for all but four years. It has always won a plurality of seats in parliamentary elections, although it lost the popular vote in 1964 and 1974.
Portugal: The Portuguese Republican Party, during most of the Portuguese First Republic's existence (1910-1926): After the coup that put an end to Portugal's constitutional monarchy in 1910, the electoral system, which had always ensured victory to the party in government, was left unchanged. Before 1910, it had been the reigning monarch's responsibility to ensure that no one party remain too long in government, usually by disbanding Parliament and calling for new elections. The republic's constitution added no such proviso, and the Portuguese Republican Party was able to keep the other minor republican parties (monarchic parties had been declared illegal) from winning elections. On the rare occasions when it was ousted from power, it was overthrown by force and was again by the means of a counter-coup that it returned to power, until its final fall, with the republic itself, in 1926.
Sweden: The Swedish Social Democratic Party in Sweden from 1932 to 2006 except only for some months in 1936 (1936-1939 and 1951-1957 in coalition with the Farmers' League, 1939-1945 at the head of a government of national unity), 1976-1982 and 1991-1994. The party is still the largest party in Sweden and has been so in every general election since 1917 (hence the largest party even before the universal suffrage was introduces in 1921). The former Prime minister and party leader Tage Erlander led the Swedish government for an uninterrupted tenure of 23 years (1946-1969), the longest in any democracy so far. Since 2006 the party support has declined.
United Kingdom: The Conservative and Unionist Party held power alone or as the largest coalition partner from 1916 to 1923, from 1924 to 1929, from 1931 to 1945, from 1951 to 1964, from 1970 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1997 - in total 61 out of 81 years from 1916 to 1997.
Israel: Mapai in Israel was the dominant party from the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 (and before 1944 they won the Assembly of Representatives since 1925) until merging into present-day Israeli Labor Party in 1968. The Labor Party started losing influence in the 1970s, particularly following the Yom Kippur War, and eventually lost power in the 1977 election. The Labor Party continued to participate in several coalition governments until 2009.
Australia: The Liberal Party (generally in coalition with the National Party) held power federally from 1949 to 1972 and from 1975 to 1983 (31 out of 34 years). By the scheduled expiry of the 46th Parliament in 2022, the Liberal-National Coalition will have held power for 20 out of the 26 years between 1996 and 2022.
^Presently, the Conservative Party of Canada is the only party that has a formal affiliation with members of the Senate. In 2015, the Liberal Party of Canada expelled all Senate members from its party. Since 2016, Expelled Liberal senators, senators recommended through the Advisory Board, and other non-Conservative Party senators formed one of three parliamentary groups, the Canadian Senators Group, Independent Senators Group, and the Progressive Senate Group, or remain unaffiliated.
^Grétar Thor Eythórsson, Detlef Jahn (2009), "Das politische System Islands", Die Politischen Systeme Westeuropas (in German) (4., aktualisierte und überarbeitete ed.), Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, p. 200, ISBN978-3-531-16464-9