Big tent

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For the big top tent, see Big Top.

In politics, a big tent or catch-all party is a political party seeking to attract people with diverse viewpoints and thus appeal to more of the electorate. The big tent approach is opposed to single-issue litmus tests and ideological rigidity, conversely advocating multiple ideologies and views within a party.


In the United States, during the latter half of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, the Republican Party boasted membership of big business interests, laborers (both of whom supported the GOP's tariff strategy) as well as many African-Americans, due to Republican Abraham Lincoln's abolition of slavery and the party's stance on civil rights.

Also, in the United States, a very good example of this approach was the New Deal coalition, which formed in support of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies since 1930s. This coalition brought together labor unions, southern Dixiecrats, progressives, and others in support of FDR's economic program, even though these groups strongly disagreed on other issues.

In Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada is not strongly ideological or regional, but is instead open to members with a wide range of views. While some criticize the party for lacking in conviction, supporters argue that compromise is an essential feature of democracy.

The Indian National Congress and Italy's now defunct Christian Democracy both attracted such a broad range of support as to make them catch all parties.

When Gordon Brown became British Prime Minister in 2007, he invited several members from outside the Labour Party into his government. These included former CBI Director-General Digby Jones who became a Minister of State, and former Liberal Democrats leader Paddy Ashdown who was offered the position of Northern Ireland Secretary (Ashdown turned down the offer).[1][2] The media often refer to Brown's Ministry as "a government of all the talents" or simply "Brown's big tent".[3]

There are also those within each party who would like to make certain issues litmus tests for party membership even though there is substantial disagreement on those issues within the parties themselves. Tax cuts, abortion, and gun policy are three examples. For example, Grover Norquist chaired the Republican National Committee session presenting the candidates for Chairman. Norquist gave the candidates a catechism on these issues before they spoke.[4]

The Libertarian Party of the United States, following the 1974 Dallas Accord, embraced the big tent idea to the extent it ensured that the anarchist-capitalist views would not be excluded from the majority minarchist party.[5][6][7] The Republican Liberty Caucus and similar groups aim to shift the US Republican Party's "center of the tent" towards Goldwater-Reagan ideals and those of libertarian Ron Paul.

Historically in the United States, political parties adopting a big tent approach have performed well at the polls. Parties promoting only one narrow ideology have attracted marginal support at best, or have seen their issues adopted by one or both of the major parties in a big tent effort, effectively co-opting the issues and putting an end to the minor party; this happened to the Prohibition Party and the Populist Party.

Other examples[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "In full: Brown's government". BBC News. June 29, 2007. 
  2. ^ "The fallout from Brown's job offer". BBC News. June 21, 2007. 
  3. ^ "First 100 days: Gordon Brown". BBC News. October 5, 2007. 
  4. ^ ATR debate page, with link to archived footage
  5. ^ Mike Hihn, "The Dallas Accord, Minarchists, and why our members sign a pledge", Washington State Libertarian Party, August 2009.
  6. ^ Paul Gottfried, The conservative movement: Social movements past and present , Twayne Publishers, 1993, p. 46.
  7. ^ Less Antman, The Dallas Accord is Dead, Lew, May 12, 2008.
  8. ^ a b Sarah Elise Wiliarty (16 August 2010). The CDU and the Politics of Gender in Germany: Bringing Women to the Party. Cambridge University Press. pp. 218–221. ISBN 978-1-139-49116-7. 
  9. ^ Matteo Renzi e il 'partito della nazione': sarà una "Big tent". Con o senza voto anticipato
  10. ^ James L. Newell; James Newell (28 January 2010). The Politics of Italy: Governance in a Normal Country. Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-521-84070-5. 
  11. ^ Günther Pallaver (2008). "South Tyrol's Consociational Democracy: Between Political Claim and Social Reality". In Jens Woelk; Francesco Palermo; Joseph Marko. Tolerance Through Law: Self Governance and Group Rights In South Tyrol. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 305, 309. ISBN 978-90-04-16302-7. 
  12. ^ David Lublin (2014). Minority Rules: Electoral Systems, Decentralization, and Ethnoregional Party Success. Oxford University Press. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-19-994884-0. 
  13. ^ Maria Maguire (1986). "Ireland". In Peter Flora. Growth to Limits: Germany, United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy. Walter de Gruyter. p. 333. ISBN 978-3-11-011131-6. 
  14. ^ Eoin O'Malley (2011). Contemporary Ireland. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-230-34382-5. 
  15. ^ Lowell Barrington (2009). Comparative Politics: Structures and Choices. Cengage Learning. p. 379. ISBN 0-618-49319-0. 
  16. ^ Tom Gallagher; Allan M. Williams (1989). "Southern European socialism in the 1990s". In Tom Gallagher; Allan M. Williams. Southern European Socialism: Parties, Elections, and the Challenge of Government. Manchester University Press. pp. 271–. ISBN 978-0-7190-2500-6. . Page 271.
  17. ^ Glenn D. Hook; Julie Gilson; Christopher W. Hughes; Hugo Dobson (2001). Japan's International Relations: Politics, Economics and Security. Routledge. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-134-32806-2. 
  18. ^ Sigrid Baringhorst; Veronika Kneip; Johanna Niesyto (2009). Political Campaigning on the Web. transcript Verlag. p. 236. ISBN 978-3-8376-1047-5. 
  19. ^ William Cross (2015). "Party Membership in Quebec". In Emilie van Haute; Anika Gauja. Party Members and Activists. Routledge. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-317-52432-8.