Understanding American Political Parties
Democratic Ideals, Political Uncertainty, and Strategic Positioning
How do parties respond to the electorate and craft winning strategies? In the abstract parties are the vehicles to make democracy work, but it is often difficult to see the process working as well as we think it might. Indeed, voters often struggle to see parties as the valuable vehicles of representation that so many academics describe. There is a clear discrepancy between the ideal expressed in many textbooks and the reality that we see playing out in politics.
Noted scholar Jeffrey Stonecash gives us a big picture analysis that helps us understand what is happening in contemporary party politics. He explains that parties behave the way they do because of existing political conditions and how parties adapt to those conditions as they prepare for the next election. Parties are unsure if realignment has stabilized and just what issues brought them their current base. Does a majority support their positions and how are they to react to ongoing social change? Is the electorate paying attention, and can parties get a clear message to those voters? This book focuses on the challenges parties face in preparing for future elections while seeking to cope with current conditions. This coping leads to indecisiveness of positioning, simplification of issues, repetition of messages, and efforts to disparage the reputation of the opposing party. Stonecash sheds much needed light on why parties engage in the practices that frustrate so many Americans.
Table of Contents
I: American Political Parties: Democratic Ideals and Doubts. 1. Democracy and the Ideal Role of Political Parties. 2. Enduring Doubts about Parties. II: Parties and Political Conditions. 3. Notions of Party and Conflict 4. Shifting Electoral Bases. 5. Conflicting Interpretations of Change 6. The Lack of a Majority. 7. Continuing Social Change and Events. 8. Voters and the Media. 9. Enduring Uncertainty and Troubling Behaviors. III: Pursuing Party Goals. 10. Pursuing Coalitions and an Identity: Long-Term Strategies. 11. Disparaging the Other Party: Short-Term Strategies. 12. Democracy and the Continuous Campaign
Jeffrey M. Stonecash is Maxwell Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University. His research focuses on political parties, realignment of their electoral bases, and the impact of changing alignments on the nature of policy debates.
"In Understanding American Political Parties Jeffrey Stonecash has combined a coherent theoretical presentation with a clear exposition of the party literature and a rare sense of the realities of practical politics. This is an excellent contribution to the discipline."
—Gerald M. Pomper, Board of Governors Professor of Political Science (Emeritus), Rutgers University
"Stonecash has collected the many and diverse developments in political science that relate to political parties and refocused them on what are probably the most basic questions that citizens have about parties: What are they good for? Couldn't they be better? Why not?"
—Hans Noel, Georgetown University
"Stonecash has done it again. In this sharp little book, he clearly explains why parties do what they do and why these actions are crucial to America's representative democracy."
—Mark D. Brewer, University of Maine
"This timely and readable book asks whether American political parties serve the interests of American democracy – and gives us an answer that explores American history, elections, and the American voter in a sweeping and engaging manner. Stonecash explains that parties do not make missteps on purpose, but rather because they cannot pinpoint the changing wishes and evolving views of attentive voters. Students of political parties, voters, elections, and democracy in America will love this book, as will anyone trying to make sense of the dynamics of the 2012 elections."
—Robin A. Kolodny, Temple University
"Too often, books about politics lack political science perspectives, and political science books lack real world perspectives. This book bridges that gap—theoretically and empirically sound, but grounded in the day-to-day realities of politics."
—Philip A. Klinkner, Hamilton College