Party Politics in America
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Party Politics in America

Marjorie Randon Hershey

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eBook - ePub

Party Politics in America

Marjorie Randon Hershey

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About This Book

Considered the "gold standard" of political parties texts, this new, eighteenth edition of Party Politics in America moves its comprehensive and authoritative coverage into the age of deepened partisan conflict, expanded presidential power, and global health threats. Marjorie Randon Hershey builds on the book's three-pronged coverage of party organization, party in the electorate, and party in government and integrates important developments in racial politics, social media use, and battles over access to the vote. The book uses contemporary examples to bring to life the fascinating story of how parties shape our political system.

New to the eighteenth edition:

• Fully updated through the 2020 election, including changes in virtually all of the boxed materials, the chapters, and the data presented.

• Examines the impact of the Trump presidency on the Republican Party's supporting coalition and issue positions, changes in party and ideological polarization, and the return to the world of campaign finance of "interested money" from big (and often anonymous) donors.

• Explores political attitudes and voter turnout among college-age and other young voters in light of dramatic changes in American politics and the economy.

• Expanded online Instructor's Resources, including author-written test banks, essay questions, relevant websites with correlated sample assignments, the book's appendix, and links to a collection of course syllabi.

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Parties and Party Systems

The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump on December 18, 2019. Trump called the vote a “scam” and a “brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election.” The Democratic managers of the impeachment process replied, “The Framers deliberately drafted a Constitution that allows the Senate to remove Presidents who, like President Trump, abuse their power to cheat in elections, betray our national security, and ignore checks and balances.”1
Was this dramatic story simply “politics as usual”? Or was it evidence of a working two-party system, offering voters two alternative choices for governing? Just as the two major parties had different views of Trump’s impeachment, they also put forward contrasting policies on other matters that affect your daily life, from whether the beer or water you drink should be tested for contaminants to whether the electricity that powers your smartphone should come from coal or from wind energy. National, state, and local governments make decisions that bear on almost everything you do.
Because these governmental decisions have such great impact, large numbers of groups have mobilized to try to influence the men and women in public office who will make them. In a democracy, the political party is one of the oldest and most powerful of these groups. Parties have a lot of competition, however. Organized interests such as the National Rifle Association and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund also work to get the government policies they want, as do pro-life groups and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Even organizations whose main purpose is nonpolitical, such as universities, Walmart, and Facebook, try to influence the many government decisions that affect them.
These groups serve as intermediaries—links between citizens and the people in government who make the decisions that affect our lives (Figure I.1). They raise issues that they want the government to address. They tell people what the government is doing. By bringing together people with shared interests, they amplify these people’s voices in speaking to the government. They keep an eye on one another as well as on the actions of public officials. Different intermediaries specialize in different political activities. Parties focus on nominating candidates, helping to elect them, and organizing those who win. Most organized interests represent narrower groups; they are not likely to win majority support, so they try instead to influence the views of candidates who do win office—and of appointed officials, such as bureaucrats and judges. In other democracies, parties may behave differently. The American parties, for example, concentrate on election activities, whereas many parties in Europe have been more committed to keeping their elected officials faithful to the party’s program.
Parties compete fiercely with one another. They also vie with interest groups for money, expertise, and volunteer help and then, with those resources in hand, for the support of individual citizens and elected officials. Parties must even fight for a major role in political campaigns; the American parties are not nearly as dominant in the business of campaigning as they were a century ago. Yet most Americans continue to identify with either the Democrats or the Republicans. In fact, if we knew the party you feel closer to, and the party affiliation of your representatives in government, we could predict your and their votes about 90 percent of the time.
Therefore, political parties continue to be important features of the American political landscape. Even so, parties have always been viewed with suspicion in the U.S., since even before the American Revolution. Leaders ranging from Washington and Madison to the Progressive movement to current critics have equated parties with “boss rule” and tried to reform or weaken them. The resultant public hostility has led state legislatures to restrict what parties can do and how they can organize. Party leaders have coped with these challenges over time by adapting their organizations and activities, adopting conventions, primary elections, superdelegates, independent spending campaigns, data bases, Twitter feeds, and micro- and nano-targeting. Politicians who lived a century ago would hardly recognize the political parties of the 2020s, and the parties we know today will probably change dramatically in the coming decades as we create new information technology and move toward a more diverse society.
What will those changes look like? President Trump has set the Republican Party on a different path from the Republicans of half a century ago. His preference for tariffs (taxes) on imported goods differs from the traditional Republican commitment to free trade. His “America First” suspicion of the international alliances that Republicans once valued and his stands on such issues as immigration and deficit spending have posed a choice for many Republican elected officials: Should they accept these changes in the principles they used to campaign on, or alienate Trump’s base of support, which showed up in large numbers in 2016 and to a lesser extent in 2018 and 2020? Will the Republicans continue to be the Trump Party? And if so, how will the Democrats respond?
By the time you finish this book, you’ll be able to explain how the American parties developed, the many ways in which they affect your life, and what they are capable of contributing to a democratic politics. What you read will challenge your ideas about whether political parties are essential to the survival of a democracy, whether they benefit you as a citizen, and how you intend to act as a mover of a representative political system.


  1. 1 Jeremy Herb, “House Democrats Call Trump Filing on Impeachment ‘Dead Wrong’ in New Brief for Senate Trial,” January 20, 2020, (accessed August 12, 2020).


Twitter was bursting with political commentary as the 2020 election campaign started. Here is a sampling:
Democrats are the party of hate!!!—Ryan, 9/24/19
This Republican Party, the party of hate, greed, corruption and division…—Diane, 9/15/19
Democrat women don’t deserve respect. Look at the way they dress?—Linda, 9/16/19
Do I really hate myself enough to date a republican… hmmmm—Pate, 9/15/19
How America works? Republicans hate Democrats and Democrats hate Republicans—Camilo, 9/19/19
At the center of this storm of party conflict was Donald J. Trump. President Trump did not invent these conflicts, but his controversial statements calling African-American-dominated cities “a disaster” and “rat infested” and referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers” deepened the divisions among Americans that had been festering since even before the Constitution was drafted.
American politics is more deeply divided along party lines now than it has been in more than a century. Shortly after entering the White House, President Trump had a record 90 percent approval rating among Republicans but a record-low 14 percent approval among Democrats.1 Four years later, that remarkable level of partisan division had seeped into almost every corner of American life; Republican and Democratic identifiers differed markedly even on whether they considered the COVID-19 pandemic a major threat to their own personal health and whether they were willing to wear a face mask to protect themselves.2
Substantial proportions of Americans not only disagree with the other party’s policies, but even view them as “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”3 In a recent survey, most Republicans say that Democrats are more closed-minded and unpatriotic than other Americans, and smaller percentages of Democrats describe Republicans in the same terms. These proportions have been increasing even since 2016, as have the proportions of partisans viewing the other party as “immoral” and “lazy” (see Figure 1.1). In short, more and more Americans have come to believe that the other political party is the enemy, not just an alternative choice, and that government can’t be trusted when the other side holds power.4
Note: Bars show the percentage of respondents who say the other party is more likely to have these characteristics, compared with other Americans.
Source: Adapted from Pew Research Center, “Partisan Antipathy: More Intense, More Personal,” October 10, 2019,
Such striking partisan divisions are not unique to modern politics. Over time, the American parties have been polarized more often than not. Yet party polarization is unusually intense in the 2020s. One reason is that party lines have hardened as they have become reinforced by other societal differences. Younger people are more likely now to vote Democratic, and older people lean more Republican. Democrats tend to live in cities, while Republicans congregate in rural areas and churches. People of color vote Democratic much more than do white Americans. Consider the fact that African-Americans now support Democratic presidential candidates at rates higher than 90 percent, whereas a majority of white Americans last voted Democratic for president in 1964—more than half a century ago. (Chapter 7 explores the roots of this “partisan sorting.”)
These group differences in party loyalties are linked closely with attitudes toward major issues. Not only in Congress but also in state legislatures and even in courtrooms, Democrats typically hold different views from Republicans about guns, same-sex marriage, taxes, immigration, and other issues. The gulf between the parties in government has grown so dramatically wider that recent Congresses have been among the most polarized in U.S. history.5 Active Republicans in the larger population also differ from active Democrats in their views on issues.6 Perhaps because these group and...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Party Politics in America
APA 6 Citation
Hershey, M. R. (2021). Party Politics in America (18th ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)
Chicago Citation
Hershey, Marjorie Randon. (2021) 2021. Party Politics in America. 18th ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Hershey, M. R. (2021) Party Politics in America. 18th edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Hershey, Marjorie Randon. Party Politics in America. 18th ed. Taylor and Francis, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.