Parties in Crisis


This are the notes from the second book that I have been reading about the decline in American political parties.

  • Parties have increasingly seen their major campaign services slip away one by one as historical eras and the nation’s needs have changed. Party services have also been severely curtailed because of modern technology. Candidates are relying increasingly on the mass media, public opinions polls, and public relations experts instead of the parties. The parties thus being challenged by non-party political actors for the delivery of campaign services.


  • The function of the American political party can be summarised in six points:
    1. Educating the public.
    2. Mobilising and structuring the vote.
    3. Aggregating and articulating interests.
    4. Formulating policy
    5. Organising the government
    6. Recruiting leadership and providing campaign support for candidates.
  • A number of changes in the parties’ environment have helped to bring about their decline. These changes have occurred since World War I and may be summarised as follows:
    1. Changes in the party-clientele relationship: The replacement of patronage systems with merit appointment programs.
    2. Changes in the electorate: The increasing education and political sophistication of the voter.
    3. Development of the “new politics”: The replacement of the candidate’s traditional campaign techniques with the political management firm’s use of public opinion polls, advertising techniques, and mass media.
    4. Changes in the government-electorate relationship: The increasing role of government in dispensing social and economic aid to its clientele.
    5. Changes in the relationship of parties to other political organisations: The proliferation and growth of alternative political and interest groups.
    6. Changes in finance: The new legislation limits parties in their acquisition and expenditures of campaign funds.
  • Contemporary parties have lost their historical role of socialising Americans into the political system.
  • Absentee ballots are available to those who cannot vote in their districts on election day. The complexity of the process, the need for far sighted planning, and the tendency of businessmen and travellers (often Republicans) to cast absentee votes leads to a majority of absentee votes being cast for Republican party candidates.
  • Since the 1960s voters have shown their disdain for parties and candidates either by crossing party lines or by staying at home. In 1974 only about one in three Americans of voting age bothered to vote.Among those who did, ticket-spiting was at an all-time high.
  • Parties perform several basic functions that are aimed at either promoting or blocking legislation:
    1. They  select leaders who are responsible for advancing the business of the chamber.
    2. Party leasers help choose those who will fill subsidiary leadership positions.
    3. The leaders appoint members to the various committees.
    4. The leaders control the legislative agenda.
    5. The leaders serve as liaison between Congress and the executive branch.


  • The image below explains some reasons for incumbent advantage (click for larger image)