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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

Political Parties

POSC 121


political parties2
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
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
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 voting5
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 are not so ideologically distinct they must find other ways to differentiate themselves
  • This leads to an emphasis on image, scandal, and personal attacks rather than substantive political debate
two party system
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
Big Tent
  • Because all voters are theoretically represented by only two parties
  • Each party needs a “Big Tent” to hold all the guests
  • What voting blocks do Republicans typically “capture”?
  • Upper-Income
  • Whites
  • Married Men
  • Religious Right
  • Rural/Suburban
  • What blocks of voters do the Democrats typically “capture”?
  • Lower-Income
  • African-American
  • Single Women
  • Environmentalists
  • Urban
  • Religious Left
republican challenges
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
  • 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
  • How close is the difference between parties in Congress?
  • Very tight
  • Every seat counts
  • Redistricting plan is closely watched by both parties