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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


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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?


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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


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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


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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


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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?


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Big Tent

  • Because all voters are theoretically represented by only two parties

  • Each party needs a “Big Tent” to hold all the guests


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Republicans

  • What voting blocks do Republicans typically “capture”?

  • Upper-Income

  • Whites

  • Married Men

  • Religious Right

  • Rural/Suburban


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Democrats

  • What blocks of voters do the Democrats typically “capture”?

  • Lower-Income

  • African-American

  • Single Women

  • Environmentalists

  • Urban

  • Religious Left


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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”


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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Congress

  • How close is the difference between parties in Congress?

  • Very tight

  • Every seat counts

  • Redistricting plan is closely watched by both parties