Julia Maynard

Usurping the Leader: A Comparative Analysis of Party Leadership Changes

Co-authored with Christine Sylvester (University of Binghamton)

Party leaders are seen as the face and central control of a political party’s agenda (also possibly the legislature). This asks the question, with all this power why would a leader ever relinquish their position? Little work has looked comparatively at why leaders step down from office due to data limitations. We contribute to the literature on party politics and leader tenure by providing a new dataset of leadership changes in advanced industrial democracies from 1960-2017. This dataset includes approximately 1,400 party leaders, and it codes why leaders step down using primary and secondary sources. With these original data, we investigate the drivers of leadership change across time and space. We find that electoral loss and intra-party ousting are the most common forms of leadership change, suggesting that voters and party members have effective power to check leaders. Even though we analyze cases with different party systems and institutions our findings suggest similar outcomes. A leader’s survival is contingent on party member and voter support. We test the relationship between vote loss, incumbency status, and leadership change to understand the role of external drivers on party organization. This new data provides a unique tool for understanding party organization more broadly.

Download the paper here (U-M only)