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501 Readings Week 11

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Bibliographical info: Aldrich, John H. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1995.

Chapter 1: Political Parties in America

Purpose: Aldrich lays out the basic premise of the book; his theory is at base, one of ambitious politicians seeking to achieve their goals. Sometimes they do so through the agency of the party (when it is useful) and sometimes they utilize other means.

Content: Aldrich leads into his theoretical framework by discussing previous strains of scholarly discourse regarding parties’ functions and formation.

He begins with the assertion that the party is an endogenous institution- one shaped by political actors (4). “Whatever its strength or weakness, whatever its form and role, it is the ambitious politicians’ creation” (4). The fundamental goals of these “ambitious politicians” are reduced to: the basic desire to have long and successful political careers, as well as the achievement of policy ends and the attainment of power and prestige within the government (4).

From the combination of those features, along with the institutional arrangements effectively in place, Aldrich contends that the theory of political parties he is offering (based on rational choice-based new institutionalism) is thus: “political outcomes- here political parties- result from actors seeking to realize their goals, choosing within and possibly shaping a given set of institutional arrangements, and so choosing within a given historical context” (6).

Aldrich identifies the major previous approaches to the study of political parties. 1) Parties as diverse coalitions (V.O. Key, Beck, Eldersveld) (pg 8). 2) The responsible party thesis (Schattschneider) (pg 10). 3) and the view of parties and electoral competition ( Downs, Schlesinger) (pg 13).

He also addresses the contention that parties are in decline, citing the usual themes that appear in the literature to support this notion: fragmented, decentralized power, lack of coordination and control over what the government does and lack of collective responsibility, as well as weakened partisan loyalties in the electorate (16). He counters these assertions with the contention that party-in-government is actually strengthened, and that partisan identification may be a lagging indicator, not a leading one. In laying out his rational-choice account of political parties in America, Aldrich notes several problems that he discusses in depth in chapter 2: The problem of ambition and elective office seeking, the problem of making decisions for the party and the polity (social choice theory), and the problem of collective action.

Chapter 2: Why Parties Form

Parties form essentially because “in particular, a series of problems that necessarily arise in elections and in governance make it possible for politicians to win more of what they seek to win, more often, and over a longer period by creating political parties” (28).

Aldrich reminds us that the problem with collective action is the ever-present potential for Pareto-inferior outcomes, despite rational action on the part of all participants. As the provision of public goods requires collective action, this is a recurring theme for governments and parties. Aldrich shows that certain forms of institutional arrangements (parties chief amongst them) can prove useful for resolving collective action problems (pg32-37).

In addressing the social choice problem, Aldrich notes that “the same preferences that led to a collective action problem also lead to a social choice problem (39).” Knowing that preference-induced-equilibrium is (in voting behavior) is virtually nonexistent, scholars have attempted to identify structure-induced-equilibrium (a combination of preference and institutional arrangements) to better deal with the nature of the social choice problem (pg37-44). Aldrich puts it thusly: “there is no incentive to form a coalition when there is an equilibrium. Social choice theory tells us that most of the time we should expect there to be no voting equilibrium based solely on preferences, which returns us to the previous case where there were incentives to form a long coalition- a party- precisely because of the disequilibrium (44).”

Aldrich also discusses the nature of the ambitious politician and the electorate, justifying on several levels why an office seeker would choose to align with a party (pg 46-56). Among the reasons are that party affiliation reduces uncertainty in the electoral process, increases chances of election (through resources, etc.), and confers a ‘name-brand’ upon the candidate. “It is the reduction of uncertainty in repeated electoral contests, just as in repeated policymaking contests, that yields the great advantage of affiliation with, and even the creation of, a major party (57).”

Chapter 3: Founding the First Parties Through a very nice historical examination, Aldrich argues that the very first political parties formed as early as the Third Congress, and that the efforts that created them were driven by the consequences of majority instability (social choice problem p69).

Aldrich goes on to state that parties “eventually formed as institutional solutions to the instability of majority rule so that policies chosen or denied would reflect, in the main, just how strong and active the new national government was to be (72).” (Note that the aforementioned is the ‘great principle’)

The reason that long coalitions became necessary instead of informal coalitions being sufficient is because there was more than just the great principle to be decided in Congress which on its own could have resulted in a preference-induced equilibrium. Instead, there were also sectional and related interests to contend with which resulted in disequilibrium and the need for an institutional form to arise to help provide “ at least a first approximation to solving the great principle (93).” Hence the beginnings of political parties in the form of the Republicans (Jeffersonians and Madisonians), and Federalists (Hamiltonians).


Aldrich, John H. 1995. Why Parties?: The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Chapter 4: Jacksonian Democracy: The Mass Party and Collective Action

History: Since the election of 1800 up until 1828, the Jeffersonian Republicans held firm control of the legislature and executive. The Federalists, who had held power since Washington, were essentially eliminated as a contender in elections. If we consider the Jeffersonian Republicans and Federalists to be the first "parties in government" then, the Jeffersonian Republican's victory marked the demise of the Federalists Party. Martin Van Buren, after the election of 1824 in which Jackson won the popular vote for president but failed to achieve a majority of the electoral college votes, began efforts to revitalize the old party system in government that would mobilize resources and voters for elections. This organization would eventually lead to the Jackson's Democratic Party and the beginnings of the first mass based party. The election of 1828 and several successive elections brought about a large spike in voter turnout, effectively doubling the amount of eligible voters who made it out to the polls.

Aldrich sets up his argument by looking at the issue of the collective action dilemma and the calculus of voting model (R = PB + D -C) to demonstrate how making it out to an election to vote is a collective action problem of citizens. This equation shows voting to be a low cost low benefit transaction where the C (costs) are usually much larger than the expected benefit that comes from voting for your preferred candidate. Aldrich uses a modified version of the calculus of voting (R = PB + B + D -C) to show that the benefits to voting, especially during the 1800's, could easily increase by small change to each variable. Parties were the solution to changing the values of each of these variables, as parties are a mobilization tool that can pool resources to garner support for their candidate and mobilize that support to the polls on Election Day.

Hypotheses: Chapter "provides a theoretical account of how political parties could solve their major collective action problem, mobilization of the electorate. We should expect that turnout would be higher in those states in which the Democratic Party was organized, in which the differential benefits or the section would be higher, in which the costs of voting were relatively lower, and in which the contest was closest, whether that closeness affected decision making directly or influenced it indirectly through the actions of strategic parties." (104).

A previous author, McCormick (1960) proves that an increase in voter turnout was not caused by newly won suffrage, the democratizing influences of the western states, or the magnetism of Old Hickory as the common man. He instead points to heightened interests in presidential politics, greater competitiveness among parties, and increased structuring of parties as the mechanisms which produced greater voter turnout in the early/mid 1800's.

Aldrich outlines Van Buren's rationale for the formation of parties. Van Buren argues that the new Democratic Party will 1) "be a practical mode of concentrating the entire vote of the opposition", 2) combine Jackson's popularity with old party feeling, 3) draw anew party lines that would be perpetuated by new contests, 4) substitute party principle for personal preference, 5) would no longer differentiate North/South but rather party allegiance, 6) avoid the slavery issue (107-108). Party was formed on the basis of a loose alliance where policy could be ambiguous and personal charisma and magnetism defined the party, allowing for a more inclusive party that would reward supporters with spoils from the system.

Van Buren's Rationale defined on two organizational efforts: The Alliance and the Caucus

The Alliance Alliance among key state leaders opposed to government in power. Designed specifically to win the 1828 election by going after states and leaders that were either already Jackson supporters or could be swayed in his direction. Benefit of joining the system would be a collective one and a personal one (in terms of spoils and potential for help in one's own campaign). While appearing short term, Van Buren secured a larger commitment from the state leaders. Became more party in organization.

The Caucus Centered in Washington. Drawing from Jackson men in office. Caucus added leaders in other states not as likely to support him (i.e. Kentucky, Delaware, and New Jersey). This group oversaw fundraising, subsidized a chain of local papers, and determined where to focus efforts (111). Did not really take hold until 1840. Had to look for larger funders for resources (i.e. Banks). Caucuses rationally allocated resources according to the strategic parties hypothesis.

From the assumptions of this alliance and caucuses, Aldrich predicts that "the coalition should be large enough to win an electoral vote majority. Second, the coalition should be built on state that Jackson could expect to win, only when turning to states where victory was less certain. Third, coalition leaders should be drawn from those who already supported Jackson and who stood to benefit" (112). The Alliance did secure Jackson an Electoral College majority with the alliance states. The Alliance made up 71 percent of his electoral votes (made substantial victories in these states and most of his efforts were concentrated in these areas)(113). All three hypotheses are strongly supported with evidence.

Organizing the State Parties and Electoral Mobilization Division existed in states as many small factions often made up state politics. Democratic Party combined existing state and local parties to minimize collective action costs. Radical transformation of campaigns in this era to create contests of high interests, competitiveness, involvement and drama (118). More turnout in areas where organizing took place. Looks at regression estimates of the calculus of voting model to see if competitiveness and mobilizing efforts are in fact what spiked voter turnout. Each individual measure of model is significantly related to turnout in three presidential elections following 1828 (121).


Aldrich, John H. 1995. Why Parties?: The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. “Chapter Five: Whigs and Republicans: Institutions, Issue Agendas, and Ambition.”

Era of the Second Party System: Democrats and Whigs in close competition nationally and in states. The two parties were “intersectional alliances”, divided along economic lines. Sectional issues (esp. slavery) rarely came up, when they did, sought compromise “within and between themselves”. Second party system gone by 1854 (126). The era of the second party system had been characterized by equilibrium, with its end, Democrats are also “riven by sectional issues…”, intersectional alliances pretty much disappear, economic cleavage is transformed. Realignment created by: conflict over slavery, nativism, and temperance issues. Realignment results in restructured parties, and a new party system. The slavery issue: made compromise increasingly difficult, tore Democratic and Whig parties apart, destroyed Whig party, and served as a window of opportunity for the rise of the Republican Party (127).

Focus of the chapter: “interplay between ambition and the slavery issue.” Argument: to understand the era of the third party system, need to understand both (127).

First, need to understand how slavery had been kept off of the agenda during the second party system. The answer: “institutional arrangements of the government and the parties, especially those of the Democratic Party” (127). Understanding the Democratic Party during the era of the second party system: First, it was a party of disagreement. In order to overcome this Van Buren pursues a principle of organization: “the new political party was to be more important than the men in it”, which allows the Party to avoid becoming solely an instrument of dominant individuals → allows intersectional alliance between slave and non-slave interests (128). Institutional arrangements are also created to ensure compromise over slavery at the national level: the ‘balance rule’ for entrance of new states; parties use North-South balanced tickets (also symbolic politics: demonstrate commitment to intersectional alliance) (130). Both of these institutional arrangements ensured that slavery remained off of the agenda and did not divide the nation during the era of the second party system (132). Forbearance and commitment to alliance of Northern Democrats and Whigs also kept the issue from dividing the Parties (134).

The Rise of the Republican Party: “all but exclusively northern”. Party rises first at lower levels of government (shouldn’t focus on presidency) (135). Understanding the rise of the Republican Party: “necessarily due to slavery and (increasingly) related issues, but it was also necessarily due to the calculations of these midlevel, ambitious office seekers…” who calculate that capitalizing on antislavery sentiments and creating a new (sectional) Party is important for their career ambitions (135 – 136).

Ambition Theory and Party Affiliation: Ambition Theory (Joseph A. Schlesinger) holds that career ambition is important for tying elected officials to the interests of the citizenry. Ambition theory typically takes candidate’s party as given, but with the end of the second party system, part affiliation became an important consideration. Choice of party differs from choice of office in two ways: 1. Choice of office can be understood largely by looking at short-term considerations while choice of party involves both short- and long-term considerations. 2. During the death pangs of the second party system, the choice of party affiliation involved a calculus of the party likely to “attain or maintain major-party status”, which rests on the decisions of other politicians (136). During the end of the second party system, electoral success of Whigs declines and looked likely to continue to do so. Rather than all power shifting to Democrats, this period also saw agitation for a new party with new policies and interests (139).

Why couldn’t the Whigs adjust?: “The answer lies not so much in elections as in substantive politics” (140). Had no national electoral issues, so no strategy for gaining national support. Economic issues, which had distinguished Whigs and Democrats recede in salience while sectional issues (slavery, temperance, and nativism) rise (141). Rise of sectional issues makes maintaining appeal in both the North and the South difficult. Democrats are able to maintain their intersectional alliance through party initiative and institutional design. Economic cleavage also shifted (142). With rise of sectional issues, parties seeking to oppose Democrats need to take a side on these issues – very difficult for the intersectional Whigs. The result: electoral success of Whigs declines and appears likely that it will continue to do so → party affiliation of candidates becomes an “active choice” (144).

Emergence of the Republican Party: Part choice by 1854 involves a trade-off between policy and ambition (144). This question involves two more: local constituency and potential for major-party status. In order for the Republican Party to emerge as a potential major party, a tipping point of membership had to be achieved that would alter politicians’ preferred party choice to Republican which required “coordinated actions of many ambitious politicians” (145). Republican ascendancy differed in the northwest and in the northeast (146). The Northwest: “Midlevel ambitious politicians succeeded in coordinating their actions in Maine and seven northwestern states”. This was different from its major-party predecessors who had organized chiefly to contend for the presidency. Initial “converts” also avoided extremism re: slavery (147). “The transition from Whig to Republican as a dominant party in the northwest and Maine was rapid, effectively accomplished in 1854, the very year of their founding in these states” (148). The Northeast: This rapid transition was not the case in the 9 states of the northeast (148). First, the Whigs remained viable in 1854. Second, anti-slavery sentiments were less salient, nativism more salient. Third, an alternative party existed for ambitious politicians: The American Party. By 1855, Whig party has disappeared from three of the nine northeastern states (150). By 1856, Whigs have effectively disappeared from the north east, contests are between Republicans, Americanists, and Democrats. By 1857, the Americanists are largely gone (151). Why the difference? Whig party was stronger in the northeast → ambitious politicians could reasonably infer that it had better potential as a major-party. Both slavery and Nativism were salient, politicians can run on either issue, parties can be based on either (152). Emergence of key Republican leaders in northwest: typically followed House candidates to Republican affiliation. Emergence of key Republican leaders in northeast: conversions and often their candidacies come at about the same time as emergence of Republican party in their states. Appears that key leaders were instrumental in these states in forming the Republican party (154). By framing their party around antislavery sentiments, but not around extreme abolitionist sentiments, ambitious politicians sought to make their party broad enough to attract broad support in the North which would allow the Party to become a major-party (156).

Aldrich, John H. 1995. Why Parties?: The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. “Chapter Six: Party Activists and Partisan Cleavages in Contemporary Elections.”

To understand contemporary parties, you need to first understand the contemporary electorate. Why? Because the path to power still runs through them. V.O. Key Jr. argued that we can understand parties in three parts: party-in-electorate, party-in-government, and party-as-organization (164). Now, Aldrich argues, we should better understand party-in-electorate as party-in-elections (165).

Major question of the chapter: Why, given the potential for landslide defeats, do parties put up candidates that offer a choice, that differ on policy positions? Understanding this question allows us to understand the contemporary party (including activists, strategies, and eventual officeholders) as a different form than the parties before it (165).

The Party-In-Elections: First, reviews four prominent theories about what party means in the electorate: Party Identification. 1. Campbell, et al.: “affective orientation to an important group-object in [an individual’s] environment” (165). Not a direct determinant of the vote, but more central than other attitudes. 2. V.O. Key Jr.: durable guide for decisions. 3. Fiorina: “running tally of retrospective evaluations” (166). 4. Social cognitions / psychological theories: cognitive schemas. All four share: individual sees party as a thing distinct from himself (167). This distinctness means that the party is not really “in” the electorate. Rather it is a distinct group presenting an image or platform, candidates, and historical/current experiences of running government. Parties are somewhat less distinct when they are a significant part of a citizens’ daily experience / locale (party machines). That distance (individual – party) has grown, and this gap is despite any strong sense of partisan loyalty (168). “What then are the most distinctive characteristics of the party as a group object, with which partisans develop a sense of identification?” : goals and values of the party, goals party sees as appropriate for the nation; candidates and their records (168 – 169).

Perceptions and Realities of Party Differences: Beginning in 1964, the differences between the parties begin to be more clearly perceived (and articulated to survey researchers) by the electorate. Example: see clear distinction in terms of ideology (170). Also see differences in policy stances. Why is there increased perception of party differences? Public sees differences in policy stances of party standard-bearers: presidential candidates. Can also look at party loyalty within Congress (174 – 175). Parties in Congress most often vote in opposition to one another; presidents offer different policy proposals, and implementation of these is often successful along party lines (176 – 177). Also differences in convention delegates (177). Also see cleavages between R and D activists. “Thus there does seem to be a genuine division between Republican and Democratic parties at the levels of activists, candidates, and officeholders”. Perceptions (as reported in surveys) reflect realities. Then, we need to look at why there are differences between the parties. Answer: theory of parties-in-elections…”leads to the existence of party cleavages, in equilibrium, and to incentives for candidates to diverge along those lines of cleavage in spite of countervailing incentives to converge to the policy center…” (178).

The Spatial Model of Elections and the Policy Moderation Hypothesis: See: Ch. 2 Social choice theory, Downsian model of competition between candidates (178). What positions do rational candidates adopt? If equilibrium position available and if they are only concerned to win the current election → candidate adopts position of median voter. Or, if (as typically occurs) a multidimensional policy space exists, which prevents equilibrium → candidates will converge towards the center. Since, rational candidates in both models will converge to the center, does it matter “who governs”? (179). Perhaps moderation is good for democracy: desire for continued election ties candidates and officeholders to the electorate. But, the electorate and the evidence suggest divergence, not convergence. How do we explain this? (180).

Part Activists and the Spatial Model: Schlesinger: need to distinguish between goals of party candidates and party activists → office seekers and benefit seekers are distinct (180). Office seekers: want to win by a wide margin. Benefit seekers: also want their candidate to win (because they will benefit), but they don’t want the margin of victory to be wide, they want to be seen as crucial to the victory (so they can press their claims for deserved rewards) → they want close elections (180 – 181). Two types of benefit seekers: motivated by patronage vs. motivated by policy (181). Activists that are purists: stronger policy motivations, seek to constrain officeholders on policy positions and actions. Their existence in parties-in-elections: candidates are more constrained on policy because they depend on purists for access to office. Policy motivated activists: volunteers, act on issues and interests → candidate has to appeal to them in order for them to get on board (182).

Activists and Party Differences in Spatial Elections: Connects purists and theory (182). “what is missing from the classic spatial model is the party and campaign activist” (182 – 183). Adding political party (as organization) → we can understand partisan cleavages. In spatial theory, citizens are motivated by their policy preferences (183). Activism is like voting: citizens will engage with the party closer to them and for the same rational decision calculus, but because costs are higher, fewer citizens become activists. Activists are attracted to stance of party, not to specific candidates (184). Parties move in attempts to attract activists. There is also an equilibrium in the distribution of activists → the nature and location of these equilibriums result in cleavages: party activists are clustered on either side (right or left) of the center. Neither party needs to be extreme in this model. Adding party and activists allows us to explain cleavage in models that typically suggest convergence, and adding an equilibrium in the distribution of activists allows for an explanation of stability (185).

Evidence for the Spatial Theory of Partisan Cleavages Among Activists: Surveys of elite activists supports the theory (previous section). Supported also by surveys of activists at lower levels of the campaign (186).

The Impact of Diverging Partisan Activists on Office Seekers: “how might policy-cleaving parties shape elections, and especially the behavior of candidates?” Three possibilities: 1. Candidate recruitment: candidates enter politics first as activists (187). Because a major benefit of a successful political career is the ability to shape policy → expect those with strong policy concerns to self-select into politics. In two-party system, the two parties are the routes to office, need to self-select into one or the other, will self-select into the party closest to your concerns (see theory section 182 – 185) (188). 2. The route to office goes through parties and conventions. Conventions are composed of activists, delegates and activists tend to be more extreme in positions (D and R delegates and activists diverge more than plain old D and R voters). → policy preferences of those doing the nominating are different from those doing the electing, In order to get the nomination, a candidate must appeal to activists, but to get the office, they need to appeal to a more moderate electorate (190). So what is a (rational) candidate to do? They move towards a compromise position lying between the center of the electorate and the center of party activists. This position depends on several factors: the opposition candidate (within and outside of the party), activists’ assessment of electability, → the nomination process pulls candidates apart, creating cleavage in spite of predictions of convergence (190 – 191). 3. Parties are valuable to candidates during the general election because they pull candidates towards the party’s position. Because of the importance of party resources, and so long as the party remains important to the candidate, this pull to the center of the party occurs.

Bibliographic information: Aldrich, J.H. (1995). “Political Parties and Governance” (ch.7) in Why Parties?: The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Purpose: This chapter examines the role of political parties in government. Aldrich specifically looks at the role of parties in the House of Representatives. A particular focus is to show that “the organizations of the party-in-government are in fact consequential” (195).

Supporting Evidence:

Two types of party alignments exist in the House. The first is the conservative coalition. This coalition is that which “a majority of northern Democrats is opposed by a majority of southern Democrats and a majority of Republicans” (196). The second is a party coalition, where the party votes together. Consequently, using roll call votes to analyze these two coalitions allow for an understanding of “who voted with whom” (196). An inverse relationship was found between the two types of coalitions: “when party unity is relatively high the conservative coalition rarely forms, and vice versa” (196).

Institutional theories are important for understanding the role of parties in Congress. First are committee theories where committees experience deference—“committees possess substantial negative or ‘gatekeeping’ powers: they can, that is, keep legislation bottled up” (201). The power of committees, specifically that of rule making, can create a structure induced equilibrium (SIE) (202). In the difference between positive and negative powers, “we would expect that legislation they propose would reflect their more extreme concerns, and if they have negative power, the status quo should not change in ways harmful to those more extreme concerns” (202). Additional theories have suggested that party affiliation indicate preferences of Members, but do not “do not get in the way of reducing uncertainty and allowing the majority of the whole House to work its will” (204). Moreover, internalization of party values will marshal support of the Members, due to the incentives a party can offer Members (e.g. committee assignments) (205).

Collective interest in parties can be enacted under two conditions. First, the policy position must be desired by Members. Second, the desired position requires action (206). Thus party leaders are selected from the center as it “reduces the extent to which the collective interests of the party diverge from the personal preferences of such leaders” (211).

Under conditions of party induced equilibrium (PIE), and party cleavage, two events occur. In the first, the median voter is a member of the majority party (214). Second, the median preference of the majority party would be an inverse proportion of the floor. That is to say, “the smaller the majority held…the further its center would be from the center of the legislature as a whole” (214). Thus, when PIE exists, it is a SIE. Hence, “if the party ‘matters’ in this context, it requires that some rules, in combination with members’ preferences, determine the outcome” (215).

In the absence of PIE, a policy core never exists (216-217). When the majority holds a minimal majority for the win, a policy core will always exist (217). This curiosity is a result of no single policy outcome, and a particular “policy choice only when there is a PIE within the party” (217). The core is not an equilibrium, when adopted by the party, action will not be taken to change it (218).

Thus, parties are able to influence Members through “access to the benefits of office” (221), thereby serving a purpose that a Member would adhere to. Policy preferences in Congress are homogenous when change occurs—the status quo is far from the preferences of the new coalition. Thus, the new Members will seek to alter the status quo, creating homogeneity in the ranks (223). Overall, parties in Congress serve as an institution that guide Members toward action.

Bibliographic information: Aldrich, J.H. (1995).  “The Critical Era of the 1960s” (ch.8) in Why Parties?: The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Purpose: This chapter examines why parties seemingly declined in the United States during the sixties, but become more relevant. It is suggested that parties, like matter, do not disappear, but rather they change forms.

Supporting evidence:

Decline in the support of parties is not new (see earlier readings). More people began to identify with a “neutral” classification, in that they were neither positive nor negative toward a particular party (250). A reason for voters withdrawing from parties is “because they simply do not see the parties as relevant to their understanding of elections” (251). Hence, campaigns became more centered on the candidate.

Reform to parties were of two type. First, rules were nationalized. Second, resources of the party, and level of professionalization, increased (254). Hence, parties were more organized and uniform. These fundamental changes were “in the institutional bases of political parties, but there were also important elements of partisan realignment” (263).

Parties were focused more on the candidate, and were to be used for short and long term career oriented ambitions, during the 1960s when candidates were able to run successful campaigns without overt party support (272). Parties now are a basis of candidate resources (money and support), rather than being the guiding light of candidates (274).

Aldrich, John H. 1995. Why Parties?: The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. “Chapter Nine: Political Parties, Historical Dynamics, and Democratic Politics.”

Understand political parties as resulting from the choices of rational actors (benefit and office seekers). Not a narrow conception of self-interested rationality, general and narrow goals have impacts as revealed by an examination of the history of party dynamics (278).

Dynamics of Party History (“primarily the dynamics of the two-party system” (277). Understanding the history of American party dynamics through critical eras allows us to understand this history not as one of simple realignments but as punctuated equilibrium. Why? Because critical eras are not just eras of realignment, critical eras may also result in changes in partisan institutional arrangements, may result in both at once too. “In the three most studied critical eras, partisan realignments were the most striking aspects, while in three others the most important consequence was the change in partisan institutional forms”. The critical eras: First = 1790s, and this partisan form had two components: 1. Agreement within the party on principles, 2. Parties seen as a necessary evil. Result of these two components is that the party as institution is largely informal, tended to be “centered on the necessity of principle and the force of personality…” (279). Second = 1820s, Van Buren, party based on principle, sought to capitalize on mass-based democracy, party more important than its people (280). Third = 1850s, rise of the Republicans, dissolution of institutional arrangements that had maintained intersectional alliances and kept slavery off of the agenda and permit unity in the new nation (280-281). Fourth and Fifth = partisan realignments: Republican majority beginning 1890s; Democratic majority 1930s. New Deal: politicking removes one more component of mass political party, sets stage for its complete demise in 1960s (281). Sixth = 1960s, parties become service oriented, candidates responsible for their own destinies, candidate-centered. This may make realignment unlikely as realignments typically occur in response to perceptions about the party’s leading figures and the policies they symbolize. Party-as-electorate may be gone, but party-as-organization and party-in-government are still alive and stronger now (282).

Tie the Dynamics of Two-Party System to the Dynamics of the Major American Political Party: Political parties are endogenous institutions, created by ambitious politicians for the achievement of certain goals (283). Four conditions if ambitious politicians are to turn to parties: 1. Common interest around which politicians may coalesce. 2. Common interests, the problem they wish to solve needs to be perceived as something that will need to be solved over a long time period. 3. Current institutional arrangements must be perceived by these politicians to be insufficient for or obstacles to addressing these problems (284). 4. Opposition that puts winning in jeopardy must exist. The “fundamental equation” of new institutionalism applied to parties: parties are not uniform in form, rather their form is also dependent on institutional and historical context (285). No reason ambitious politicians have to turn to parties, but there are “more or less continual incentives” for them to do so. Why do we see punctuated equilibrium? Because parties are institutions designed to solve long term problems: they are stable and relatively permanent, when new problems emerge that they are no longer capable of addressing, a partisan crisis emerges and elites seek a new form for addressing new problems, then back to stability (286).

What Does the Theory (ch. 2) Tells Us About the Contemporary Party and Its Place in History? Why can we argue that today’s parties are “systematic and institutionalized”? 1. Candidates remain partisans, the brand name as an information short-cut remains important to voters → party remains important for solving the “collective action problem of information in the electorate. 2. Parties also solve the mobilization collective action problem by supplying resources (289 - 290). 3. Parties remain the gateways to nomination and office. 4. Allows coalition / majority building amongst office holders (292). How do we understand the theory, history, and parties together? There have been three basic forms of the major American party, defined by the major problem that was the focus. “all party forms must address the concerns of ambitious politicians, the necessity of mobilizing the electorate, and the need to forge governing majorities…collective action problems are found in all three aspects, as are social choice problems and problems attendant on the channeling of ambition…” (293). The Federalist and Jeffersonian Republican parties: parties of government “quintessentially governing parties seeking to yield coherent and durable social choices” (293 – 294). Jacksonian Democrats, Whigs, and Republicans: mass parties, concerned with mobilization → centered on problems of collective action. Contemporary parties: central problem is how to channel the ambitions of the office and benefit seekers into “orderly access to office and its use”. Parties are concerned to provide incentives for politicians to align with them. “the central defining problem of the contemporary party organization is the regulation of individual ambition to achieve desirable outcomes that those partisans collectively value” (294). To understand democracy, need to understand parties (295 – 296).


Abramowitz, Alan I and Kyle L. Saunders. 2008. “Is Polarization a Myth?” The Journal of Politics. Vol. 70(2): 542-555.

“American politics and the American electorate have changed dramatically since the 1950s in ways that might lead one to expect an increase in the prevalence of ideological thinking in the public…”. What are these ways? Overall increase in educational attainment, and increased intensity of ideological conflict among political elites (including political parties). Education level is associated with increased ideological awareness, so increased educational attainment may mean increased ideological polarization (542). Less consensus about the electoral behavior effects of ideological polarization among elites. Some argue it may influence increasing polarization among the masses, others (especially Fiorina et al) argue that ideological polarization has not changed. “The argument that polarization in America is almost entirely an elite phenomenon appears to be contradicted by a large body of research by political scientists on recent trends in American public opinion”. This research has found deepening political and cultural divisions (543).

•What? Test of The Five Major Claims Made by Fiorina, Abrams, and Pope in Culture War? and Findings of Abramowitz and Saunders: 1. Moderation: The American public is basically moderate: “the public is closely divided but not deeply divided”. (543). The Evidence: Since 1980 to 2004, ideological polarization among the electorate has increased. Ideological thinking is more prevalent now than in the past. Research drives an expectation that ideological thinking is more prevalent among those more politically informed and engaged, less prevalent among those least informed and engaged; and, the more informed and engaged voters are those whose opinions matter most (544-545). The evidence shows that ideological polarization is higher among the more informed and engaged and that the increase in polarization since 1980 has been most concentrated among these segments. Politically engaged segment of the electorate is “quite polarized” (545).

2. Partisan Polarization: largely an elite phenomenon, differences on issues between identifiers have increased, but only slightly over past differences (543). The Evidence: Partisan polarization is not confined to leaders and activists; ideological preferences of identifiers and leaners differ and have increased over the last three decades (546-547). Contrary to Fiorina et al’s claim that there have been only slight increases in partisan polarization, there has been a “dramatic increase in the correlation between party identification and ideological identification…”. Polarization on issues and on presidential approval has also increased among identifiers, and especially among politically engaged partisans (547-548).

3. Geographical Polarization: Political and cultural differences between red and blue states are outweighed by the similarities (543). The Evidence: Since the 1960s, states have become more divided along party lines, red states redder, blue states bluer (548). 2004 National Exit Poll also demonstrated that there were “large differences between the social characteristics and political attitudes of red state voters and blue state voters” (549).

4. Social Cleavages: For social characteristics, economic divisions remain the most important determinants of political behavior; divisions based on age, race, gender remain relatively unimportant; and divisions based on religion have increased but are largely unimportant for behavior (543-544). The Evidence: Largest difference between red state and blue state voters: religious differences. Biggest divide today is not Catholic versus Protestant, but religious voters versus secular voters – divide is related to frequency of observance. Especially among whites, political behavior and attitudes are “highly correlated” with observance, and observance rates and religious identification (evangelical) are more strongly correlated with party identification and vote choice than other social characteristics (income, education, sex, marital status, and union membership) (549).

5. Voter Engagement and Participation: Increased polarization among elites suppresses turnout (544). The Evidence: Especially in 2004, deep divisions drove people to the polls: turnout increased from 54% in 2000 to 61% in 2004. And, not only turnout was up, other forms of participation also increased (551-552). Citizens are more engaged when they perceive the stakes of an election to be higher, division over George W. Bush and perceptions of bigger differences drove people to participate in 2004. Increased engagement is part of a larger trend since the 1980s. “As the Democratic and Republican parties have become more polarized and party identification in the electorate has become more consistent with ideological identification and issue positions, voters have come to perceive a greater stake in the outcome of elections” (552).

Conclusion: “To a considerable extent, the divisions that exist among policymakers in Washington reflect real divisions among the American people” (554).


Fiorina, Morris P., Samuel J. Abrams, and Jeremy Pope. 2008. “Polarization in the American Public: Misconceptions and Misreadings.” he Journal of Politics. Vol. 70(2): 556-560.

What? Response to Abramowitz and Saunders (2008).

The data Abramowitz and Saunders (2008) use to contradict the findings in Culture War? cannot be used as evidence for or against polarization. Unchanging voters may just be responding to changes in candidate behavior (556).

Response to Five Criticisms of Abramowitz and Saunders (2008):

Criticism 1: “The American public is less moderate than we argue and has become even less so in recent years” (556). Response: Attitudinal polarization has been exaggerated by coding and aggregating procedures employed by Abramowitz and Saunders. Raw data shows different results: First, from 1970 to the present, there has been little change in liberal-conservative self-identification (556). Second, raw data (from NES) doesn’t show issue polarization (557).

Criticism 2: “Partisan polarization is greater and extends more deeply into the general public than we claim” (557). Response: Recently, some party polarization (or, ‘party sorting’) has occurred. While opinion distributions within the electorate have remained relatively stable, “party subpopulations” have sorted themselves: conservative identification declined among Democrats, liberal identification declined among Republicans. Little agreement about how deep this sorting has gone: Most agree sorting has occurred among elites, less certain about sorting within the general public (557). The story they tend to believe: it depends on the issue. Sorting has occurred more often around certain issues than for others and tends to be elites sorting (558).

Criticism 3: “‘Fiorina claims that there has been little increase in geographical polarization in recent decades and the differences between red states and blue states have been greatly exaggerated’” (558). Response: The media did over exaggerate the red state – blue state differences. On only one policy issue analyzed in the 2004 NES (“homosexual adoption”) were there disagreements between states. Correlations between such social characteristics as gun ownership, union membership, and Evangelical self-classification and political positions “are weaker than usually presumed”. Performance ratings and election returns cannot be used as evidence for or against polarization (contrary to Abramowitz and Saunders’ use of such). More evidence for lack of a deep divide: red states elect blue candidates and vice versa; divided party control of state governments (558).

Criticism 4: “Fiorina claims ‘that economic cleavages remain as important or more important than religious cleavages…Among white voters in the United States, the religious divide is now much deeper than the class divide’” (559). Response: We said we didn’t want to draw any firm conclusions about religion and income differences because it would require a more elaborate analysis. Abramowitz and Saunders’ analysis doesn’t provide for a determination of the relative importance of income and religion, and it ignores the possibility that an analysis of this type can reflect candidate not voter positions (559).

Criticism 5: “‘Americans were more engaged in the 2004 presidential election than in any presidential contest in the past 50 years’” (559). Response: Yes turnout, perceptions of party differences, concern over outcome, and engagement in low cost activities increased in 2004. But, by other measures, 2004 looks little different than past elections, engagement in time-intensive activities did rise; monetary donations rose only a little. Abramowitz and Saunders ignore an alternative hypothesis: mobilization. Will concede that polarized politics doesn’t seem to be turning off the electorate, but to assert that it does the opposite is hasty (559).

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