The typical political party only lasts 43 years

It probably won’t last.
It probably won’t last.
Image: Reuters
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In April 2016, Emmanuel Macron founded the French political party En Marche. A year later, his party would win both the presidency and the most seats of any party in the National Assembly. It was a remarkable achievement. But it probably won’t last as long as you think.

En Marche is the 15th political party since 1900 to be among the top two in seats won in France. Of the 14 previous political parties to accomplish this, only three remain relevant today (as defined by having finished in the top five in the previous two elections). On average, parties remained relevant for 34 years.

In order to quantify the transience of political parties, Quartz analyzed data from the ParlGov database, an elections results database maintained by Holger Dorin and Philip Manow at the University of Bremen. The database contains election results for all EU countries and most OECD countries. For comparability, our analysis only looks at results from parliamentary elections. The US does not appear in the dataset because it is not a parliamentary system.

The following chart shows the number of parties that have placed in the top two in terms of seats since 1950. Only the 21 countries for which the database has data going back to 1950 are included. The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, and Australia are notable for their stability.

For people in the US and the UK, the fleeting nature of major political parties in many other countries can be hard to contemplate. The US has been dominated by the same two parties, Republicans and Democrats, for nearly 150 years. In the UK, the Conservative and Labour parties have won the most seats in parliament in every election since 1922. Both are outliers; most country’s political situations are much more fluid.

The Netherlands, a country which has had six different parties among the top two in terms of seats, is more typical. The following chart show the number of seats that each of these parties received in elections since 1945.

How long do parties usually last? To calculate this number, we used a statistical technique called survival analysis (pdf). It is a method for estimating a person or organization’s typical lifespan when some of the people or organizations that are part of an analysis are still in existence. We found that the median major political party lasts around 43 years, and one third of parties don’t even last 20 years. (These estimates are based on a statistical model, so not perfectly accurate, but they are likely correct to within 10 years.)

Our analysis suggests that, given France’s life expectancy of 82, there is a very good chance the 39-year-old Macron outlives his own political party.