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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The seventeenth edition of Party Politics in America continues the comprehensive and authoritative coverage of political parties for which it is known while expanding and updating the treatment of key related topics including interest groups and elections. Marjorie Hershey builds on the book's three-pronged coverage of party organization, party in the electorate, and party in government and integrates contemporary examples—such as campaign finance reform, party polarization, and social media—to bring to life the fascinating story of how parties shape our political system.

New to the 17th Edition

  • Fully updated through the 2016 election, including changes in virtually all of the boxed materials, the chapter openings, and the data presented.
  • Explores increasing partisan hostility, the status of voter ID laws and other efforts to affect voter turnout, young voters' attitudes and participation, and the role of big givers such as the energy billionaire Koch brothers in the 2016 campaigns.
  • Critically examines the idea that Super PACs are replacing, or can replace, the party organizations in running campaigns.
  • New and 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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Part One
Parties and Party Systems

On a day in June 2016, 49 people were shot dead in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida by a gunman who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State. Later that day, the Democratic president condemned easy access to firearms and hate-filled terrorists. His Republican opponent instead raised questions about the president’s loyalties and his immigration policy.
Was this “politics as usual” in the face of unspeakable tragedy? Or was it evidence of a working two-party system, offering voters two alternative explanations for a major national challenge? Just as the two major parties have different answers to domestic terrorism, they also put forward contrasting policies on other matters that affect your life every day, from whether the beer or water you drink should be tested for contaminants to whether your housing should be powered by electricity from coal or from wind energy.
National, state, and local governments make decisions that bear on almost everything you do. Because these government 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 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 government to address. They tell people what government is doing. By bringing together people with shared interests, they amplify these people’s voices in speaking to 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.
Figure I.1 Parties and Other Intermediaries Between Citizens and Government
Figure I.1 Parties and Other Intermediaries Between Citizens and Government
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.
In spite of (or because of) their central role in government, parties provoke very mixed feelings. Large numbers of Americans claim to hate them. Leaders ranging from Washington and Madison to the Progressive movement to the present day have equated parties with “boss rule” and tried to reform or weaken them. This public hostility has led state legislatures to restrict what parties can do and how they can organize. Yet most Americans continue to consider themselves partisans, and parties have coped with these reforms over time by adapting their organizations and activities. The political parties of the 2010s would hardly be recognizable to politicians of a century ago, and the parties that we know today will probably change dramatically in the coming decades.
By the time you finish this book, you’ll be able to explain how the American parties developed, the many ways 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.

Chapter 1
What Are Political Parties?

It was a harrowing campaign. During the 2016 election season, presidential candidates referred to one another as “the devil,” “stupid,” and “unhinged.” A Republican Party office in North Carolina was firebombed. Staff members of the Arizona Republic were hit with death threats after the paper endorsed a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in its history.
American politics is more polarized now than it has been in more than a century. On a 0-to-100 scale of favorability, two-thirds of Democrats in 2016 gave Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump a rating of zero, and 59 percent of Republicans assigned that dismal rating to Democrat Hillary Clinton. Substantial proportions even view the other party’s policies as “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” as you can see in Figure 1.1.1
This political polarization does not stem just from bad manners or the influence of “reality TV.” It reflects the fact that although most Americans agree on such lofty goals as freedom and national security, we differ greatly on how to reach those goals. “The main reason it is so hard for Democrats and Republicans in Washington to cooperate,” one analyst argues, “is 
 that they disagree profoundly about the major issues facing the country.”2 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 that the U.S. House elected in 2014 was the most polarized in American history, and the picture is not likely to change in 2017 and 2018.
As a result, a shift from Democratic to Republican control of Congress and the White House can now lead to a major change in public policies, as is happening in 2017. In 2008 and 2009, the Democratic-majority House was the most liberal in the past three decades. Yet, just a year later, the Republican swing in the 2010 elections produced the most conservative House in that period.3 These party conflicts may be painful to watch, and they contribute to the rock-bottom levels of public confidence in Congress.4 However, they also help us to clarify our voting choices and hold elected officials accountable to the people. That benefits a democracy.
Figure 1.1 Partisans’ Hostility Toward the Other Party, 1994 and 2016
Figure 1.1 Partisans’ Hostility Toward the Other Party, 1994 and 2016
Note: The question asked in 1994 and 2016 was, “Would you say your overall opinion of the Republican/Democratic Party is very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?” In 2016, the survey added, “And [if very unfavorable,] would you say the Republican/Democratic Party’s policies are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being, or wouldn’t you go that far?” Those who answered “mostly” or “very” unfavorable are categorized as “unfavorable.”
Source: Adapted from Pew Research Center, “Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016,” June 23, 2016, at in-2016/ (accessed June 23, 2016).
Hostility between the parties is not new. Nor is hostility toward the parties themselves. George Washington declared in his Farewell Address that “the spirit of party” was the “worst enemy” of popular government. Parties, he feared, would encourage people to pursue their narrow self-interest at other people’s expense and cause jealousy, division, and revenge. Without parties, in his view, we’d be more likely to get noble and uncorrupted leaders who could speak for the nation as a whole. Washington’s dream of a government “above parties” has long been widely shared. Then, if so many are disgusted by partisan conflict, why is the American political system still driven by partisan conflict? Why do we still have political parties?
The main reason is simply that political parties do necessary things for us that wouldn’t get done otherwise. Most people are not very interested in politics, so how would they decide on a candidate without the guidance that party labels provide? Will they spend hours researching the backgrounds and issue stands of dozens of candidates? Would you?
Without parties, how would Americans choose a president? In the absence of party primaries and caucuses, who would have the power to winnow the thousands of presidential wannabes to the very few who will run in the general election? Could members of Congress make that decision? Not in a system designed to separate legislative from executive powers. How about nomination by the nation’s mayors and other elected officials, as happens in France? A new version of the television series Survivor?
Strong party organizations bring voters to the polls. Without political parties, would voter turnout, already lower in the United States than in most other industrialized democracies, drop even further? How would members of Congress elected as individuals, with no party loyalties to guide them, put together majorities to pass packages of legislation?
Who runs this political organization that is so needed and yet so distrusted? Does “the party” include only the politicians who share a party label when running for and holding public office? Does it also include activists who work on campaigns, citizens who vote for a party’s candidates, or interest groups that share a party’s aims? Or is a party any group that chooses to call itself a party, whether Democratic or Tea?

The Three Parts of Parties

Most scholars would agree that a party is a group organized to nominate candidates, to try to win political power through elections, and to promote ideas about public policies. For many analysts, the central figures in a political party are the candidates and elected officials who share a party’s label. Anthony Downs, for example, sees a political party as “a coalition 
 seeking to control the governing apparatus by legal means 
 [through] duly constituted elections or legitimate influence.”5 Many parties in democratic nations, including the United States, began as groups of political leaders who organized to advance certain policies by winning elections.
Most observers, however, see the American parties as including more than just candidates and officeholders. As John Aldrich points out, parties are organizations—institutions with a life and a set of rules of their own, beyond that of their candidates.6 Interested individuals can become active in political parties and help set their directions and strategies, just as one would do in a sports team or a student group. These activists and organizations are central parts of the party, too.
Some researchers urge us to define “party” even more broadly, to include other groups that ally with a party’s elected officials and organization, such as interest groups and even media organizations. The Republican Party, then, would be seen as encompassing small business lobbies, conservative Christian groups, and media people such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, whereas the Democratic Party’s umbrella would cover labor unions, environmental and feminist groups, and media outlets with a liberal slant. These groups are “policy demanders” who work in tandem ...

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