Sequencing of Early Elections: Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan argue that holding regional elections before national ones creates incentives for parties to organize themselves and define their platforms in more local than national terms thus, making it more difficult for voters to coordinate strategic voting at the national level. Gary Reich, in turn, found that the closer founding elections are held to the actual regime transition, the more salient the regime cleavage will be. The polarizing effects of such a cleavage, as opposed to less polarizing policy differences, will help voters coordinate their electoral expectations. (Reich 2001, 1245) By these criteria, Germany’s postwar party system was off to an unpromising start. The sequence of state and national elections was reverse so that fourteen state elections were held before the first federal election in August 1949. This reverse sequence created important incentives for politicians to focus their programs and organizational efforts at the regional rather than national level. Moreover, the founding election took place only four years after the collapse of the Nazi regime thus weakening any polarizing regime cleavage and its potential coordinating effect.
The Allies involved themselves very selectively in Germany’s return to democracy except when it came to licensing new parties.5 Party licensing plays a particularly important role in transitional party systems where voters have insufficient information about parties’ winning chances to cast effective strategic ballots. As a result, “the number of entrants is not limited by anticipation of strategic voting [and thus] everyone has an ex ante equal chance of suffering (or benefiting) from it.” (Cox 1997, 152) Through party licensing, the Allies decisively changed these odds, thus making it highly efficient but also highly undemocratic way to make votes count. It had a profound impact because it restricted the supply of parties contesting and gave the licensed parties a tremendous early mover advantage. I analyze first the proximate effects of party licensing by looking at how its varied application across the French, British and US occupation zones affected the ENEP going into the 1949 election. I then assess the licensing’s more distal effects on parties organizational institutionalization by following the affiliation choices that electoral candidates made after the 1949 election.
5 The EU played a very similar, albeit much more indirect, role in East Central Europe. (Vachudova 2005)