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Political Parties. POSC 121 Braunwarth. Political Parties. Groups of people who join together to win political office The U.S. has a Two-Party System Why is our electoral system dominated by only two parties?. Two, and only two, Parties.
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Political Parties POSC 121 Braunwarth
Political Parties • Groups of people who join together to win political office • The U.S. has a Two-Party System • Why is our electoral system dominated by only two parties?
Two, and only two, Parties • Both are well established so they have organization, leadership, and financial networks in place • Once in power, use resources to stay in power • Dominate media coverage and debates • Something of a self-fulfilling prophecy • But the primary reason we only have two viable parties is because of the way we add up votes
Plurality Voting • We elect representatives in “winner-take-all” races from single-member districts • “First-Past-the-Post” FPTP system • Subsequently, in order to win, a candidate needs to get more votes than anybody else (not necessarily a majority) • As more voters are centrist rather than ideologically extreme, parties move their ideological position to the center to capture more voters
Plurality Voting • What you will always end up with is: • Two parties clinging to centrist positions to maximize their appeal to voters in accordance with Duverger’s Law • As the two parties try to attract middle/ undecided voters they try to not appear to ideologically extreme • This leads to an emphasis on image, scandal, and personal attacks rather than substantive political debate
Asymmetrical Polarization • We have become more polarized • Especially the Republicans • Makes a sensible middle course more unlikely
Two-Party System • If you stumbled upon this game of tug-of-war and decided to play, would you help one of the two groups pictured or would you attach a rope of your own to the center and start pulling? • Many political scientist argue that the winner-take-all system encourages people to join existing parties if those parties are more likely to actually win elections. • Do you agree?
Big Tent • Because all voters are theoretically represented by only two parties • Each party needs a “Big Tent” to hold all the guests
Republicans • What voting blocks do Republicans typically “capture”? • Upper-Income • Whites • Married Men • Religious Right • Rural/Suburban
Democrats • What blocks of voters do the Democrats typically “capture”? • Lower-Income • African-American • Single Women • Environmentalists • Urban • Religious Left
Republican Challenges • Heart and Soul of the Republican party has been the “red state” voters who are afraid of terrorism and are concerned about “traditional values” • But economic program of the party continues to favor the economic elite – tax cuts, privatizing social security, etc. • These are not “natural” allies and is a potential source of dissatisfaction
Democrat Challenges • Democrats have their own internal divisions but have had more difficulty framing the political debate • Republicans have been successful with “tax relief,” the “death tax,” “stay the course” in the “war on terror” • Democrats need to move beyond defending their position in these terms • Need to “reframe” the debate; i.e. taxes as “dues” or “membership fees”, gay marriage as “government telling you who you can marry” • Challenge is getting people to change how people think about these things
Parties-in-the-Electorate • Just over 60% of Americans identify themselves as Democrat or Republican • Only 1/3 of Independents really are, the rest are “closet” Democrats or Republicans • In general, more people identify themselves as Democrats
Parties as Organizations • Parties: • Recruit and Train Candidates • Mobilize voters • Sponsor Platforms • Formal Statements of Party Principles and Issue Positions • Provide Cues to Voters on how to Vote
Parties-in-the-Government • Government is organized by parties • Allows rule by ideological blocs • Politicians are also dependent on ideological constituencies that demand total loyalty • Politicians increasing march in unison and “on message”
Partisan De-Alignment (U.S.) • How many of you are members of a political party? • Do you feel strongly about that party? • Elections have become more candidate-centered • Parties used to be more important • Used to provide services, shaped identities, etc. (like competing schools) • Parties are still important in the organization of government and the creation of policy
Historical Roots of CA Progressive Movement • Late 19th c. California politics dominated by the Southern Pacific Railroad • Characterized by political corruption and economic exploitation • Controlled the party nomination process • After particularly abusive election of 1906, sentiment against the SP grew • 1908 voters approved constitutional amendment permitting direct primary • Ushered in the Progressive Movement
CA Political Parties • Because CA parties were corrupted by the Southern Pacific Railroad • Progressive reforms targeted parties • Corrupt Party Politics often stood in way of the best, technical solution so progressives implemented a number of other reforms that had the overall effect of particularly weakening CA parties • Unintentionally strengthened the power of unaccountable interest groups who filled the power vacuum
Progressive Party Reforms • Nonpartisan local elections (is there a Republican technique to filling potholes?) • Civil Service instead of Party Patronage “Cronyism” • Implemented use of professionals: City Manager, City Planning Commission, etc. • Limited the power of parties to endorse candidates • Imposed fundraising restrictions
Redistricting • Boundaries of CA Assembly, CA Senate and US Congressional seats are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes • Who does it? • Each branch draws its own plan and collaborates on the Congressional plan • The Governor can veto (powerful) • Do Parties play a role? • Yes, very political process • Recently, essentially incumbent protection plans without competitive districts
Congress • How close is the difference between parties in Congress? • Very tight • Every seat counts • Redistricting plan is closely watched by both parties