One central question about modern democracies is, How much do partisan elections contribute to the effective representation of public opinion? In theory, programmatic parties provide the electorate with a clear choice of policy options, with election results followed by predictable policy consequences. But empirically, does it matter which party (or coalition) governs? Most recent cross-national comparisons of Western democracies answer affirmatively. Socialist or leftist party participation in national governments is associated with a high inflation to unemployment tradeoff (Hibbs, 1977), growth of the governmental sector (Cameron, 1978; Lange and Garrett, 1985), high public expenditure (Tufte, 1978; Castles, 1982), welfare spending (Castles, 1982; Hicks and Swank, 1984), quality-of-life (Moon and Dixon 1985), and income equality/ redistribution (Tufte, 1978; van Arnhem, Corina, and Schotsman, 1982; but see also, Jackman, 1975, 1980). In sum, nations where leftist parties are most influential also tend to have the kinds of policies and policy consequences with the greatest appeal to leftist constituencies. Time-series analyses for individual nations also show policy consequences resulting from party control (Hibbs, 1977, 1987; Alt, 1985). Party control does matter.
It may be the case, however, that party control matters only in terms of the sharp divisions between European socialist parties of the left and parties of the right. In the U.S. context, it is by no means clear that major policy differences flow from variation in Democratic versus Republican control. At the national level, while some time series find policy consequences from party control of the presidency and/or Congress (Hibbs, 1977, 1987; Kiewiet and McCubbins, 1985), the role of parties remains in some dispute (Beck, 1982; Browning, 1985; Lowery, 1985).