Political Parties – Class Notes and Outline
1. Define the term political party and contrast the structure of the European and American parties, paying particular attention to the federal structure of the American system and the concept of party identification.
2. Trace the development of the party system through its four periods. Explain why parties have been in decline since the New Deal.
3. Describe the structure of a major party and distinguish powerful from powerless party organs.
4. Indicate whether there are major differences between the parties. Describe some of the issue differences between delegates at Democratic and Republican conventions, and compare these differences with those of the party rank and file.
I. Parties-here and abroad
1. A party is a group that seeks to elect candidates to public office by supplying them with a label (party identification)
2. Arenas of politics in which parties exist:
a. In minds of the voters as label
b. Organization recruiting and campaigning for candidates
c. Set of leaders in government
3. American parties have become weaker in all three arenas
a. As label, more independents and more ticket-splitting
b. As set of leaders, organization of Congress less under their control
c. As organization, much weaker since 1960s
B. Reasons for differences with European parties
1. Federal system decentralizes power in U.S.
a. Early on, most people with political jobs worked for state and local government
b. National parties were then coalitions of local parties.
c. As political power becomes more centralized, parties did not do the same
2. Parties closely regulated by state and federal laws
3. Candidates chosen through primaries, not by party leaders, in U.S.
4. President elected separately from Congress
5. Political culture
a. Parties unimportant in life; Americans do not join or pay dues
b. Parties separate from other aspects of life
II. The rise and decline of the political party
A. The Founding (to 1820s)
1. Founders’ dislike of parties, viewing them as factions
2. Emergence of Republicans, Federalists: Jefferson vs. Hamilton
a. Loose caucuses of political notables
b. Republicans’ success and Federalists’ demise
3. No representation of homogeneous economic interests-parties always heterogeneous coalitions
B. The Jacksonians (to Civil War)
1. Political participation a mass phenomenon
a . More voters to reach; by 1932, presidential electors controlled mostly by popular vote
b. Party built from bottom up
c. Abandonment of presidential caucuses
d. Beginning of national party conventions to allow local control
C. The Civil War and sectionalism
1. Jacksonian system unable to survive slavery and sectionalism
2. New Republicans became dominant because of
a. Civil War-Republicans rely on Union pride
b. Bryan’s alienation of northern Democrats in 1896
3. Most states one-party
a . Factions emerge in each party
b. Republicans with professional politicians (Old Guard) and progressives (mugwumps)
c. Progressives moved from shifting between parties to attacking partisanship
D. The era of reform
1. Progressive push measures to curtail parties
a. Primary elections
b. Nonpartisan elections at city and (sometimes) state level
c. No party-business alliances-corrupting
d. Strict voter registration requirements
e. Civil service reform
f. Initiative and referendum
a. Reduction in worst form of political corruption
b. Weakening of all political parties
III. The national party structure today
A. Parties similar on paper
1. National convention ultimate power; nominate presidential candidate
2. National committee composed of delegates from states manages affairs between conventions
3. Congressional campaign committees
4. National chair manages daily work
B. Party structure diverges in late 1960s
1. RNC moves to bureaucratic structure; a well-financed party devoted to electing its candidates
2. Democrats move to factionalized structure to redistribute power
3. RNC uses computerized mailing lists to raise money
a. Money used to provide services to candidates
4. DNC adopted same techniques, with some success
5. DNC and RNC send money to state parties, to sidestep federal spending limits
6. RNC now tries to help state and local organizations
7. Democrats remain a collection of feuding factions
C. National conventions
1. National committee sets time and place; issues call setting number of delegates for each state
2. Formulas used to allocate delegates
a. Democrats shift formula away from South, to North and West
b. Republicans shift formula from East to South and Southwest
c. Result: Democrats move left, Republicans right
3. Democrat formula rewards large states; and Republican rewards loyal states
4. Democrats set new rules
a. In 1970s, rules changed to weaken local party leaders and increase influence of women, youth, minorities
b. Hunt Commission in 1981 increases influence of elected officials and makes convention more deliberative
5. Consequence of reforms: parties represent different sets of upper-middle class voters
a. Republicans represent traditional middle class-more conservative
b. Democrats represent new class-more liberal
c. Democrats hurt since traditional middle class closer in opinions to most citizens
6. To become more competitive, Democrats adopt rule changes
a. In 1988, number of superdelegates increased while special interest caucuses decreased
b. In 1992, three rules:
(1) Winner-reward system of delegate distribution banned
(2) Proportional representation implemented
(3) States that violate rules penalized
7. Conventions today only ratify choices made in primaries
IV. State and local parties
A. State-level structure
1. State central committee
2. County committee
3. Various local committees
4. Distribution of power varies with state
B . The machine
1. Recruitment via tangible incentives (money, jobs, political favors)
2. High degree of leadership control
a. Gradually controlled by reforms
b. Machines continued until voter demographics and federal programs changed
4. Machines both self-serving and public-regarding
5. New machines a blend of old machine and ideological party traits
C. Ideological parties–extreme opposite to machine
1. Principle above all else so contentious and factionalized
2. Usually outside Democratic and Republican parties-third parties
3. But some local reform clubs in 1950s and 1960s
4. Reform clubs replaced by social movements with specific demands
D. Solidary Groups
1. Most common form of party organization
2. Members motivated by solidarity incentives (companionship)
3. Advantage: neither corrupt nor inflexible
4. Disadvantage: not very hard working
E. Sponsored parties
1. Created or sustained by another organization
2. Example: Detroit Democrats controlled by United Auto Workers (UAW) union
3. Not very common in U.S.
F. Personal following
1. Examples: Kennedys (MA), Talmadges (GA), Longs (LA), Byrds (VA)
V. The two-party system
A. Rarity among nations today
B . Evenly balanced nationally, not locally
C. Why such a permanent feature?
1 . Electoral system-winner-take-all and plurality system
2. Opinions of voters-two broad coalitions work, although times of bitter dissent
3. State laws have made it very difficult for third parties to get on the ballot
VI. Minor parties
A. Ideological parties–comprehensive, radical view; most enduring
Examples: Socialist, Communist, Libertarian
B. One-issue parties-address one concern, avoid others
Examples: Free Soil, Know-Nothing, Prohibition
C. Economic protest parties-regional, protest economic conditions
Examples: Greenback, Populist
D. Factional parties-from split in a major party
Examples: Bull Moose, Henry Wallace, American Independent
E. Movements not producing parties; either slim chance of success or parties accommodate via direct primary and national party convention
Examples: civil rights, antiwar, labor
F. Factional parties have had greatest influence
G. Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996
VII. Nominating a president -By tradition, the party “out of power”-the one not holding the presidency-holds its convention first.
A. Two contrary forces: party’s desire to win motivates it to seek an appealing candidate, but its desire to keep dissidents in party forces a compromise with more extreme views
B . Are the delegates representative of the voters?
1. Democratic delegates much more liberal
2. Republican delegates much more conservative
3. Explanation of this disparity?
a. Not quota rules alone-women, youth, minorities have greater diversity of opinion than do the delegates
C. Who votes in primaries?
1. Primaries now more numerous and more decisive
a. Stevenson (1952) and Humphrey (1968) won the presidential nomination without entering any primaries
b. By 1992: forty primaries and twenty caucuses (some states with both)
2. Little ideological difference between primary voters and rank-and-file party voters
3. Caucus: meeting of party followers at which delegates are picked
a. Only most dedicated partisans attend
b. Often choose most ideological candidate: Jackson, Robertson in 1988
D. Who are the new delegates?
1. However chosen, today’s delegates are issue-oriented activists
2. Advantages of new system
a. Increased chance for activists within party
b. Decreased probability of their bolting the party
3. Disadvantage: may nominate presidential candidates unacceptable to voters or rank and file
VIII. Parties versus voters
A. Democrats: have won more congressional elections than presidential contests
1. Candidates are out of step with average voters on social and taxation issues (hmm.. rather strange assertion here! Clinton has a 70% approval rating!)
2. So are delegates … and there’s a connection
B. Republicans had same problem with Goldwater (1964)
C. Rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans differ on many political issues
1. But differences are usually small
D. Delegates from two parties differ widely on these same issues
1. Delegates (and candidates) need to correspond with views of average citizens
2. But candidates must often play to the ideological extremes to win delegate support.
caucus (nominating) – An alternative to a state primary in which party followers meet, often for many hours, to select party candidates.
congressional campaign committees – Separate committees in Congress for each political party to help members who are running for reelection or would-be members running for an open seat or challenging a candidate from the opposition party.
direct primary – A proposal originated by progressive reformers to open up political parties to their membership. It permits a vote of party members to select the party’s nominee in the general election.
economic-protest parties – Parties, usually based in a particular region, especially involving farmers, that protest against depressed economic conditions. These tend to disappear as conditions improve. An example would be the Greenback party.
factional parties – Parties that are created by a split in a major party, usually over the identity and philosophy of the major party’s presidential candidate. An example would be the “Bull Moose” Progressive party.
first party system – The original party structure in which political parties were loose caucuses of political notables in various locations. It was replaced around 1824.
ideological party – A political party organization that values principle above all else and spurns money incentives for members to participate.
initiative – A proposal favored by progressive reformers to curtail corruption. It allows a law to be enacted directly by vote of the people without approval of a legislative body.
mugwumps (or progressives) – One of two major factions largely within the Republican party who opposed the heavy emphasis on patronage and disliked the party machinery because it only permitted bland candidates to rise to the top, was fearful of immigrants, and wanted to see the party take unpopular stances on certain issues. They challenged the Old Guard from around 1896 to the 1930s.
national chairman – The person responsible for managing the day-to-day work of a national political
party. The person is given a full-time, paid position and is elected by the national committee.
national committee – Delegates from each state and territory who manage party affairs between national conventions. These exist at the national level for both major political parties.
national party convention – The ultimate authority in both major political parties in the United States. The conventions are held every four years to nominate each party’s candidate for the presidency.
Old Guard – One of two major factions largely within the Republican party, composed of the party regulars and professional politicians. They were preoccupied with building up the party machinery, developing party loyalty, and acquiring and dispensing patronage. They were challenged by progressives from around 1896 to the 1930s.
one-issue parties – Parties seeking a single policy, usually revealed by their names, and avoiding other issues. An example would be the Free Soil party.
personal following – A type of local party organization in which a candidate gets people to work for
him or her for a campaign and then the organization disbands until the next election. To run this type of campaign, a candidate needs an appealing personality, a lot of friends, or a large bank account.
plurality system – An electoral system in which the winner is that person who gets the most votes, even if they do not constitute a majority of the votes.
political machine – A political party organization that recruits its members by the use of tangible incentives and is characterized by a high degree of leadership control over members’ activities.
political party – A group that seeks to elect candidates to public office by supplying them with a
label by which they are known to the electorate.
second party system – The second party structure in the nation’s history that emerged when Andrew
Jackson first ran for the presidency in 1824. The system was built from the bottom up as political participation became a mass phenomenon.
solidarity group – A political party organization based on gregarious or game-loving instincts. It survives on the basis of a friendship network.
solidarity incentive – An inducement that attracts people out of gregarious or game loving instincts. It is one reason why people become involved in a state or local party organization.
special-interest caucus – A group within a political party united by a concern over a specific cause. The Democratic party has attempted to assure many special-interest groups representation at its national convention, although lately the party has moved away from this commitment.
sponsored party – A political party organization created or sponsored by another organization. This form of local party organization is rare in the United States.
superdelegates – Elected officials and party leaders represented at the national convention of the Democratic party. Such representation was provided for by a recent party reform to ensure that an electable presidential candidate is selected.
two-party system – An electoral system with two dominant parties that compete in state or national
elections. Third parties have little chance of winning.
unit rule – A requirement that all delegates representing a state at a national party convention vote with the majority of their state delegation.
winner-take-all system – An element of the electoral system used in the United States which requires that only one member of the House of Representatives can be elected from each congressional district.