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32 Working Paper

"Recasting Social Democracy in Europe: "Nested Games" and Rational choices in the Strategic Adjustment Process"

1991 – Thomas Koelble


The article is an attempt to solve a "rational choice" puzzle with a "nested games" answer. The data is drawn from four social democratic parties, all of which face a number of rather similar strategic dilemmas and I policy choices. While all four of these cases eventually found their way to a "vote-maximizing" strategy, each party undertook a rather different journey The Spanish PSOE and the Swedish SAP adjusted their policy positions and electoral strategy relatively smoothly and with little intra-party turmoil. Not so the British Labour Party and the German SPD. Both parties suffered internal strife, defections and electoral losses. Why such divergences? The nested games approach allows us to focus on the strategic choices of intra-party players and how their choices are shaped by institutional settings. The article suggests that the preferences and position of the unions representing workers in declining and uncompetitive industries inside these parties explains, to a large extent, the degree of difficulty in adjusting to new electoral conditions. The more entrenched representatives from such unions are in the party, the more resistance there will be to policy adjustments and strategic changes unfavorable to their members and union organizations.