For most residents of democracies, political parties are the channel through which they most often relate to government and politics. Parties off er them competing sets of policies, encourage them to take part in the political process, and are the key determinant of who governs, and who does not. It is all the more ironic, then, that while parties are so central to the political process, they are not always well regarded by citizens. They are often seen less as a means for engaging citizens than as self-serving channels for the promotion of the interests of politicians; as a result, support for parties is declining as people seek other channels for political expression. In authoritarian regimes the story is even unhappier: parties have routinely been the means through which elites manipulate public opinion, and have been both the shields and the instruments of power.
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