Political Parties in America
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“By a faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” “Complaints are everywhere heard . . . That the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties . . .”
What are “political parties”?
Remember: “political participation” – –
Influence government policy by Affecting choice of government personnel and/or Affecting choices made by those personnel
Parties – –
Organized groups Affect choice of government personnel by fielding candidates Affect choices made by those personnel by creating norms of reciprocity and group identification
Three meanings of “parties”
Party organizations Parties in government Parties in the electorate
Parties as “linkage institutions” Govt. Officials Party Organization
Myth 1: Parties are monolithic
Reality: Party membership is quite diverse Example: 1850s, Republican party catered to anti-slavery interests and commercial interests (focus on transportation infrastructure, etc.) Example: Modern Republican party draws from socially conservative Christian population and economically conservative business interests
Myth 2: Parties are static
Reality: Parties vary over time, in terms of issue positions and membership Example: Democratic party dominated the white south until the middle of the 20th century, when civil rights issues drove white southerners to the Republican party Example: 19th century Democrats emphasized states’ rights, limited federal spending, and literal interpretation of Constitution
Origins of political parties
Madison’s fear of “factions” BUT, we’ve had parties from the beginning – why? – –
People naturally form groups (“The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man . . . .”) Parties are useful
To us To elites
What Do Parties Do?
Parties as “linkage institutions”
Act as a bridge between electorate and “elites” Provide benefits to both groups
Candidate Benefits From Party Organizations
Campaign resources Information – –
Candidate/Leader Benefits From “Parties in Government”
Signal of similarity Group loyalty/trust Shorthand for talking to voters Voting on issues: cue Issue support
What do we, the voters, get from parties?
Benefits to Voters
Cue to candidate positions: “heuristics” “Reliable” information about issues Easy way to give money Participation clearinghouse
What is “party identification”?
Individual voter’s psychological ties to one party (“I am a __________”) NOT the same as ideology Formed early (often inherited from parents), rarely changes in later life “Strength” of party identification – – –
Name only Loyal voter Party activists
Importance of party in the electorate
Parties draw their strength from mobilization of voters Shifts in electorate support (electoral realignment) – –
Identity of major parties Issue focus of major parties
Decline in party identification (dealignment) – –
may reduce government efficiency lead to “divided government”
In sum . . .
Parties and party labels provide information to candidates, politicians, and voters Not surprising, then, that parties have endured What has changed? – –
Identities and positions of parties Strength of parties
Party Strength and America’s Two Party System
Parties as Linkage Institutions: How Strong Is the Bond? Govt. Officials Party Organization
Have a lot of control over candidates and officials claiming the party identity – –
steering their policy positions fostering a sense of mutual obligation and unity among the party in the government
Directly and powerfully involved in mobilizing the electorate
Candidates who ally themselves with the party – –
do not necessarily share any common policy objectives or ideological values do not necessarily feel a sense of obligation and loyalty to one another
Political parties have very little influence over the electorate – –
unable to mobilize voters not able to get voters to vote down party lines
History of Party Strength
Late 1800s – Birth of “Political Machines” – –
Progressive Movement “Reforms” – –
Patronage Emphasis on strength of party organizations Literacy tests Direct primary
Civil Service –
Undermined patronage system
History of Party Strength
Mid 1900s – Decline of Party Organizations Party in electorate and parties in government still strong Parties divided along “natural” social cleavages
History of Party Strength
Modern era – Parties relatively weak Party organizations not as strong Party loyalties in government and electorate slipping, too –
More split-ticket voting
BUT maybe rallying – –
Finding a new niche Shifting emphasis from putting politicians and voters together, to putting politicians and money together
Arguments for a weak party system
Graft and corruption Censoring political agenda Party loyalties may detract from the job of representation
Arguments for a strong party system
Better voter heuristic Limit finger pointing => Group accountability Longer-term view of politics
America’s Two-Party System
Why do we have a “two party system” in the U.S.? If they cannot win national offices, what roles do third parties play in our system?
Why a two party system?
Sociological explanation – –
Parties reflect underlying social cleavages Not satisfactory
Why don’t U.S. parties reflect various combinations of social issues? Why don’t U.S. parties reflect diverse economic and ethnic interests?
Institutional explanation – –
Electoral laws determine how many parties can be viable Social cleavages only lead to splintering of parties when electoral laws are sufficiently permissive
Electoral laws: the geography of voting
Single-member districts – –
Electorate is divided up so that each seat in government is associated with a particular district That district elects only one representative
Multiple-member districts – –
Electorate may or may not be divided into districts Even if electorate is divided into districts, the districts elect more than one representative
Single-Member Districts in “Quadria”
Multiple-Member Districts in “Quadria”
Electoral laws: three systems for choosing winners in elections
Plurality system (also called “first past the post”) Run-off majority voting Proportional representation
Multiple-Member District w/ Proportional Representation
Four representatives for district Single election for parties Example: – – –
Greens win 50% of vote Communists win 25% of vote Socialists win 25% of vote
What we have in the U.S.
Single-member districts Plurality elections (first past the post)
Election systems that rely on single-member districts and plurality (or first past the post) voting systems favor a two party system Why? – –
People are strategic The real competition is between the top two candidates, so voting for anyone else is a “waste”
Spatial Model of Duverger’s Law
Election systems that rely on single-member districts and plurality (or first past the post) voting systems favor a two party system Election systems with multi-member districts and proportional representation allow for multiple parties to thrive
Some countries have single-member plurality electoral systems but multiple parties (Canada, India) Some countries have multi-member districts and proportional representation but very little party competition (Australia, Austria)
Melding Sociological and Institutional Explanations
Two party systems arise from either – –
Single-member plurality systems OR Homogenous population (like Australia and Austria)
Multi-party systems arise under these circumstances: – –
When the electoral system is multiple-member/proportional AND the populace is fragmented When the two parties become too removed from the electorate so people start voting in expressive ways When the heterogeneity in electorate is geographically defined, so you have a whole bunch of small two-party systems (Canada)
Social factors and election rules both matter Given our social structure (social cleavages not tied to geography) and our rules, U.S. tends to have a two-party system
But people still vote for third parties . . .
People who vote for third parties often “look like” people who don’t vote at all – –
Except that third-party voters have stronger sense of civic responsibility Third party voting is expressive
What do third parties do?
Win local and state office Force the major parties to move to capture the lost votes Get issues on the agenda through media coverage and public awareness