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Political Participation (Part II ). In large scale society, direct democracy seems impossible In U.S., “the people” are divided into groups with unequal access to resources and power

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Political Participation (Part II )

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political participation part ii
Political Participation (Part II)
  • In large scale society, direct democracy seems impossible
  • In U.S., “the people” are divided into groups with unequal access to resources and power
  • Joseph Schumpeter criticized classical conception of democracy (citizen participation, “rule by the people”)
    • Political elites more competent than ordinary citizens to make decisions
    • Democracy should be thought of as a market; voters are political consumers who choose among competing elites
  • Authors stress importance of active citizenship and robust political participation
    • Should not be reserved for election day; should be broader and fuller
  • Chapter 4 = political parties and elections
  • Chapter 5 = interest groups and social movements
  • The most privileged (more time, money, and organization) tend to be most politically active; politicians tend to be more responsive to their demands
  • Political inequality not a foregone conclusion
    • When large numbers are mobilized at the polls, in interest groups, and through social movements, they can make their demands heard; when people go beyond procedural democracy to richer and fuller direct democracy
origins of two party system
Origins of Two-Party System
  • Schattschneider: “political parties created modern democracy and modern democracy unthinkable save in terms of political parties.”
  • Political parties organize and transmit will of majority to government – the heart of any democracy
    • Organizations committed to winning elections
    • Educate and mobilize voters
    • Recruit and nominate candidates
    • Advocate policies that link voters to candidates and connect elected officials from same party to each other
  • Parties emerged quickly in U.S. history
  • Proved to be a democratizing force
    • Expanded participation, mobilized voters, broke down deferential system where only socially privileged and wealthy could participate
    • Throughout 19th century, parties developed solid organizational bases and mass following
american parties in comparative perspective
American Parties in Comparative Perspective
  • Causes of two-party system (not natural nor inevitable)
    • Plurality system of voting – whoever gets the most votes wins (“winner-takes-all”)
      • Voters fear wasting vote on candidates from small parties; tend to choose candidate from two major parties; reinforced by socialization (young people adopting their parents’ party identification)
      • Major alternative is proportional representation (PR) where legislative seats are allotted to parties based on percentage of vote they receive in multimember districts (used in most democracies)
    • Winner-take-all procedure for electing the president
      • Parties have strong incentive to forge broad coalitions
    • Third parties must contend with strong media bias
    • Democratic and Republican parties form a tacit cartel to marginalize splinter parties (e.g., public finance difficult for third parties to get; presidential debates limited to major party candidates)
  • Multiparty systems encourage parties to highlight separate identities and appeal to distinctive segments of population; more ideologically sharp-edged
  • In two-party systems, tendency for each party to assemble a plurality by melding votes of centrist elements with those of its core supporters
    • Tend to foster moderation, stability, and predictability (while limiting innovation)
    • Tend to preference governance over representation
critical elections and party decay
Critical Elections and Party Decay
  • Two-party systems limit voter choices and encourage broad coalitions of diverse and sometimes conflicting groups
    • American parties tend to contain conflicts by being evasive on issues
    • They blur issues, ignore new demands, fail to adapt to new conditions
    • Result = demands build up, pressure increases, and dissatisfaction with lack of alternatives grows
  • Citizens seek answers outside existing party system through protests and social movements
  • Eventually, one party (usually the minority party) capitalizes on dissatisfaction by seeking to recruit those whose concerns are not adequately represented and champion issues they favor
    • Minority party may be rewarded by winning
    • The tidal shift is often referred to as a critical or realigning election
  • Critical or realigning elections are rare
    • Characterized by unusually high turnout and more intense ideological conflict
    • Winning party reshapes ideological agenda; party conflict reorganized around new set of issues
    • Voters are realigned and party coalitions shift
change in american party system
Change in American Party System
  • High point late 19th century
    • Parties powerful organizations, reached down into grass roots, communicated through partisan popular press, controlled nomination process and platforms, turnout was high, integrated immigrant waves
    • Depended on patronage and spoils to motivate activists and voters; urban political machines integrated workers and immigrants in way that insulated business from democratic challenge
    • High levels of turnout among low-income voters; little class bias evident in turnout patterns today (SES predictor)
  • Decline set in following 1896 election, pro-business Republican party took over
    • Turnout declined, class bias emerged in turnout
    • Demobilization caused by: party competition declined; business groups and middle class reformers weakened parties (feared machines and potential radicalism), cut off patronage by instituting merit-based civil service and nonpartisan local races, and erecting legal barriers to voting (in South poll taxes, literacy tests, “good character” tests, etc.) disenfranchising ¾ of all citizens in the south (especially blacks, and poor, uneducated whites), in the North, residency requirements, early registration deadlines, complicated voting and depressed turnout
  • Resulted in more candidate-centered, professionalized campaigns
    • Candidates today raise their own money; hire polling organizations and political consultants (focus groups; market research) to fine-tune message; reach voters through television and internet (relying less on party)
  • Party organizations have become consulting firms at service of candidates; shadows of the past
    • Primaries have undermined party control of nomination process; candidates raise their own money; personal ties drive appointments rather than party loyalty
  • Parties haven’t always been weak, but have been decentralized and fragmented (function of separation of powers and federalism)
    • Role of primaries = turnout is low; primary electorate less representative than general electorate (more ideological, educated, affluent)
    • Wealthy candidates and those with close ties to interest groups have clear advantage
turnout and american voters
Turnout and American Voters
  • U.S. ranks fourth lowest in turnout among over 34 democratic countries. Why?
    • Widespread popular cynicism
    • Generational replacement (younger generation less in the habit of voting; older generation developed habit of voting and confidence in electoral process because parties responded effectively to Depression and WWII); as parties become less effective, younger generation becomes skeptical and cynical
    • Casting a ballot is especially difficult: register in advance; voter identification requirements; restrictions on convicted felons
    • Elections on Tuesday (not a national holiday or weekend)
  • According to Burnham, this creates a hole in the American electorate where working-class, less educated, and low-income Americans should be
  • Wayne: “those who are most disadvantaged, who have the least education, and who need a change in conditions the most actually participate the least. Those who are the most advantaged, who benefit from existing conditions and presumably from public policy as it stands, vote more often”
  • Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy (APSA) (105-6)
    • Today, however, the voices of American citizens are raised and heard unequally. The privileged participate more than others and are increasingly well organized to press their demands on government. Public officials, in turn, are much more responsive to the privileged than to average citizens and the less affluent. The voices of citizens with lower or moderate incomes are lost on the ears of inattentive government officials, while the advantaged roar with a clarity and consistency that policymakers readily hear and routinely follow. [The result is a] growing concentration of the country’s wealth, income, and political influence in the hands of the few…We find that our governing institutions are much more responsive to the privileged and well-organized narrow interests than to other Americans.
  • Fraud and corruption
    • Extensive evidence that parties have engaged in dishonest means of rigging elections
    • E.g., hacking electronic voting machines (Diebold), voter suppression (id laws), etc.
money and elections
Money and Elections
  • Increase in importance of money a major trends in current American politics; political campaign spending has skyrocketed (each cycle eclipsing the previous record)
  • Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010)
    • Overturned limit on corporate and labor spending
    • Supreme Court ruled government cannot prevent corporations from spending their own funds to endorse and promote candidates
    • Previously, could run issue ads and contribute to political parties and political action groups, but could not directly endorse candidates and spending funds directly to help elect them
  • Business firms and wealthy individuals provide most contributions
    • Contributions as investments (rather than donations)
  • Campaigns last longer, cost more, are less regulated, and are financed by a higher proportion of private (rather than public ) funds than in any other Western democracy
    • (1971) Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) limited political contributions, controlled spending, and required public disclosure
    • Evaded through Political Action Committees (PACs) who can solicit from individuals and channel to candidates
    • Eliminated by Citizen’s United (2010)
    • Soft money (unregulated and unlimited) vs. hard money (contributed directly to campaigns, which is limited and subject to disclosure rules)
    • Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) (McCain-Feingold) (2002) aimed to close soft money loophole in FECA; increased hard money limits
  • One major effect of political money is to increase chances of better-financed candidates
  • A second is increasing public cynicism about politics (taints entire political system)
  • Those at top of income pyramid provide bulk of political contributions
    • Political finance connected to increasing economic inequalities
    • Increases in economic inequality and political spending go hand in hand; increase in one contributes to the increase in the other
  • Party system is not engine of democracy
    • Way parties are financed skews political system toward interests and preferences of affluent Americans and business interests
rise and fall of new deal and reagan coalitions
Rise and Fall of New Deal and Reagan Coalitions
  • Two durable coalitions dominated American politics and policy
  • New Deal coalition
    • Led by Democratic party (1932-1968)
  • Reagan Coalition
    • Led by Republican party (1980-2008)
  • Dominant party won presidential elections
  • Shaped political agenda: defined most pressing issues and policy responses
  • Policies designed to reward social base, cement power, and ensure reelection
  • Obama (2008): will this produce durable realignment?
new deal coalition
New Deal Coalition
  • 1932 election (FDR) ushered in decades of Democratic Party rule
  • New Deal coalition
    • Blacks (beneficiaries of programs for poor and unemployed); Southerners; immigrant Jewish and Catholic workers (from Southern and Eastern Europe); Irish (supporters of big city machines); financiers and corporate executives
  • Uneasy partnership (marriage of convenience) between Southern, white, segregationist wing (hostile to federal policies benefiting blacks and undermining South’s feudal structure) and Northern, liberal wing based in large urban areas with millions of first- and second-generation working-class immigrants
    • FDR administration and successors designed programs to distribute benefits to broad segments of population
  • Johnson’s reliance on Northern democrats and moderate Republicans to pass legislation outlawing discrimination (Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965)) caused Southerners to desert Democratic party
    • Southern realignment the single most important factor behind Republican party success
  • Coalition weakened by issues that created political and cultural conflict in Democratic party (Vietnam War, feminism, gay rights, abortion, crime, etc.)
    • Traditional working –class economically liberal but socially conservative (supported federal regulation of markets and welfare state programs but opposed gay marriage and abortion rights)
    • Wealthier, more educated supporters economically conservative but socially liberal supported challenging gender hierarchies and sexual stereotypes but opposed programs to redistribute wealth
    • Decline of labor unions further weakened party
    • Victim of policy failure
      • Conservative Keynesianism offered economic growth with little redistribution, fiscal fine-tuning instead of structural economic change
      • 1970s, economic growth faltered, inflation and unemployment increased; without economic growth, New Deal coalition couldn’t satisfy demands of constituents
reagan coalition
Reagan Coalition
  • New Deal faltered, conservatives and Republican Party launched a revolution
    • Nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964 (marked shift from Eastern Establishment of moderate conservatives to ultra-right conservatives from the South and West who were anti-government, anti-taxes, anti-union, anti-communist)
  • Funding PACs, conservative think tanks, and grassroots groups  Reagan elected (1980)
  • Factors driving Republican Party rise to power
    • White males became more Republican (as candidates played to fears of dismantling racial and gender hierarchies); built base among religious fundamentalists; business community united behind Republicans; population growth in suburbs and Sun Belt; Republican Party rebranded by network of highly conservative organizations working with Republican strategists (“political moderates and fiscal conservatives replaced by new generation of hard-line conservatives and radical tax cutters”)
  • Republican revival product of brilliant strategy and patient organizational effort by “ideological extremists” who moved party to the right
  • Re-centered party ideologically and geographically (secure base in South and Rocky Mountain states)
    • Traditional base wealthier voters
    • Conservative turn secured by white Protestants (especially evangelicals), Catholics, regular religious service attendees
    • White men, married couples, rural voters
  • Democratic supporters
    • Northeast and Pacific Coast
    • Low-income voters (especially labor union members)
    • African Americans and ethnic minorities
    • Unmarried people
    • Jews, youth, and less religious
    • Liberal and well-educated voters
2008 presidential election and challenge to republican dominance
2008 Presidential Election and Challenge to Republican Dominance
  • Table 4.1
  • Obama benefited from shift among women, youth, and unmarried voters
  • Pro-Democratic groups growing in size; pro-Republican groups shrinking as proportion of electorate
  • Strong support among racial and ethnic minorities, an increasingly significant proportion of the electorate
  • McCain supporters tended to be white, male, Protestant, religiously observant, married, from rural areas and small towns, and fairly affluent
  • Obama supporters tended to be ethnically and racially diverse, young, female, single, low or high income, and less religiously observant
  • Obama’s popular vote margin 53%-47%, majorities in 28 states, 2/3 electoral college delegates (365-173)
  • Regional voting patterns: Obama beat McCain in six traditionally Republican states (North Carolina, Virginia, Florida; Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada) and three Midwest states (Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio)
  • Democratic advances in House and Senate (at least for awhile)
  • Republicans increasingly split over hard-edged conservatives and pragmatic conservatives, but united in opposition to most Democratic initiatives
polarization and american politics
Polarization and American Politics
  • In presidential elections in most states, a majority of voters consistently support same party’s candidate (red and blue states)
  • Only a few change majorities (swing states)
  • Political polarization tied to ideological polarization
  • Two parties’ social bases reinforce their distinctive regional bases of support
  • Why different regions have developed relatively stable partisan loyalties
    • South switched to staunchly Republican  race, religious observance (especially evangelicals), conservative on economic issues
  • Fiorina = what has changed is ideological positions more closely aligned with partisan preferences; political parties are more ideologically homogeneous and more distinct from each other
    • Driven by elites and marginalizing moderates
  • Hacker and Pierson = Republican Party has moved further to right than Democratic Party to the left
    • Taken over by coalition of hard-right conservative groups, including Christian Right and free-market economic conservatives, organized in churches, interest groups, voluntary associations, and think tanks
new media and public opinion
New Media and Public Opinion
  • Milestones in 2008 election
    • election of African American president
    • effective use of new media (internet) by Obama campaign
  • Media (newspapers, radio, and TV) continue to play a role
  • New media (internet, email, blogs, instant messages, social media) increasingly important in fundraising, voter registration, mobilization
  • Political significance of new media
    • Some argue it produces more involved, informed public
    • Others that it increases gap between politically connected and uninterested
    • Hard to differentiate fact from fiction
    • May offset increased importance of money in politics
  • Fundamental idea of democracy = preference of citizens deserve equal consideration and citizens should have equal ability to influence outcomes
  • Political participation is slanted toward the rich in voter turnout, campaign contributions, and political activism
  • Participatory input tilted in the direction of more advantaged groups in society (in terms of economic and education, and race/ethnicity)
  • Republican dominance has been the result
  • Obama’s victory a result of weakening link between wealth and pro-Republican vote and because his campaign energized millions of voters who are typically less connected
    • Election demonstrates that despite unequal resources all adult citizens can potentially raise their political voice
    • When citizens are mobilized, political participation, which often reinforces privilege and inequality, can counteract advantages of class, race, and gender
  • Ben Franklin = “It’s a Republic if you can keep it.”
  • Political parties and elections potentially enable citizens to keep and deepen the republican and democratic forms of government
  • Requires citizens to mobilize, participate, and challenge the power of money and the tendencies for inequalities in political participation to parallel economic inequalities