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How Parties Win: Shaping the Irish Political ArenaMcGraw Explores Dominance of Irish Political Parties

Elizabeth Rankin • April 22, 2015

Why do voters keep coming back to political parties, even in times of massive social change? In recent decades, Ireland’s major parties have maintained over 80 percent of the vote in the face of rapidly shifting social divisions, political values, and controversial issues.

In his new book, How Parties Win: Shaping the Irish Political Arena (University of Michigan Press, 2015), Faculty Fellow Rev. Sean McGraw, CSC, explores this puzzle, explaining how Irish party leaders select—or purposely sideline—pressing political and social issues in order to keep voters coming back.

“It has been a privilege to study Ireland at a time of such dramatic social, political, and economic change—when virtually every aspect of society has been turned on its head—and to examine how political parties navigate this change,” says McGraw.

At a St. Patrick’s Day book launch, Faculty Fellow Scott Mainwaring praised how the book tackled hitherto unaddressed big questions with empirical rigor. He particularly liked the book’s emphasis on “parties and politicians as active shapers of politics,” he said.

“The book has revealed to me the time and place that I have lived through and showed me things I had not seen or recognized before,” said former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, who called it a “remarkable” scholarly achievement.

Starting at the local level, Irish politics is always a balance between local and national, she explained. Irish voters and politicians, like those everywhere, seldom have the opportunity to look at what they do with the objectivity of social scientists.

This book “will change our ways of looking at ourselves,” McAleese affirmed.

In mixed-method research partially funded by the Kellogg Institute, McGraw employed public opinion surveys, party manifestos, content analysis of media coverage, his own survey of nearly two-thirds of Irish parliamentarians in both 2010 and 2012, and personal interviews conducted over the course of six years.

“It will quickly become a definitive account of modern Irish politics,” said the University of British Columbia’s R. Kenneth Carty, a respected scholar of Irish democracy.




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