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The Life of the Parties

The Life of the Parties: Activists in Presidential Politics

Ronald B. Rapoport
Alan I. Abramowitz
John McGlennon
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Life of the Parties
    Book Description:

    Commentators, especially since the Democratic party reforms following 1968, have expressed serious concerns about the role of party activists in the American political system. Have they become so concerned with ideological purity that they are unable to nominate strong candidates? Are activists loyal only to particular interest groups, with little concern for the parties as institutions? Are the reformed nominating procedures open to takeover by new activists, who exit the party immediately after the presidential nominations fight? With such an unrepresentative set of activists, can parties adjust to changing environments?

    Based on a survey of more than 17,000 delegates to state presidential nominating conventions in eleven states in 1980, this pathbreaking book addresses these questions in a comprehensive way for the first time. Heretofore most of the generalizations about party activists in the presidential nomination process have been based on studies of national convention delegates, in particular those attending the 1972 conventions. But those delegates were atypical activists, as this book shows. The state of the activist stratum of the parties differs from what many of the critics have suggested.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5640-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction and Methodology
    (pp. 1-8)

    Political scientists have traditionally focused their attention on the behavior of political elites—those in a society who occupy positions of authority in governmental institutions. Since the development of public opinion polling as a research tool during the 1940s, political scientists have also devoted considerable attention to the political beliefs and behavior of members of the general public in the United States and other industrial democracies. Much less attention has been paid to a group which occupies a crucial intermediate position between the political elite and the mass public, the informal political activists. These are people whose involvement in politics...

  6. Part One The 1980 Delegate Study:: Context and Overview

    • 1 The Underexplored Nomination Process
      (pp. 11-28)

      As the first comprehensive multistate survey of delegates to state party conventions, the highest echelon of state caucus-convention systems in the presidential nomination process, this book augments knowledge of the presidential nomination system in general and the 1980 nominations in particular, and provides sorely needed assistance to political scientists’ attempts to fathom this complex, multidimensional process. Such a description of nomination operations is emphatically not hyperbole, for the process is as complex in its systemic import as in its baroque operations. By “systemic import” I mean the various functions the process actually performs in the American political system, which will...

    • 2 Between Light and Shadow: The Political Context
      (pp. 29-43)

      The blood on the streets of Chicago, Mayor Daley gesturing ominously at Abraham Ribicoff, the frustration of those who worked within the political system to unseat Lyndon Johnson only to have his handpicked successor capture the presidential nomination—these are the indelible memories of the 1968 Democratic convention. But just as these events left an imprint on the political minds of all of those who participated in that troubled convention, so too did they leave a permanent mark on the way in which we nominate our presidential candidates. Nothing has been the same since 1968.

      When Nelson Polsby and Aaron...

    • 3 An Analysis of State Party Activists
      (pp. 44-58)

      The question of how best to study American state and local parties has long been in dispute. Some scholars (e.g., Burnham 1970) have relied heavily on aggregate election results; others (e.g., Gibson, Cotter, Bibby, and Huckshorn 1981) have sought information about the staffing, budgets, and other operating details of party organizations. In between are studies of county chairmen (Jackson and Hitlin 1981), and of state chairmen (Huckshorn 1976). Gibson et al. (1981) are clearly correct in their contention that organizations can be fruitfully studied in terms of “institutional party strength,” but it is also true that this party strength is,...

  7. Part Two Incentives and Motivations

    • 4 Incentives for Activism
      (pp. 61-74)

      One of the central tenets of organization theory is that the incentives that motivate individuals to participate in an organization have important consequences for the character of that organization (Clark and Wilson 1961). Many studies in recent years have pointed to a shift in the types of incentives that motivate individuals to participate in party politics in the United States. There is broad consensus among students of American political parties that material rewards and party loyalty have been declining in importance as incentives for activism while candidates and issues have become increasingly important as motivations for participation in party affairs...

    • 5 Ideology, Electability, and Candidate Choice
      (pp. 75-96)

      Since the 1960s, the American party system has undergone dramatic change in response to the emergence of new issues such as Vietnam, abortion, and women’s rights, and the involvement of growing numbers of issue-oriented activists in party affairs. Both parties have reformed their rules governing presidential candidate selection and these reforms have helped to increase the influence of issue-oriented activists in the presidential nominating process (Marshall 1981). The new activists frequently have seemed unwilling to compromise their ideological principles for the sake of appealing to a larger constituency in the general election. The presidential candidacies of Barry Goldwater, Eugene McCarthy,...

  8. Part Three Groups and Representation

    • 6 Issue Group Activists at the Conventions
      (pp. 99-125)

      The rise of the new single issue groups has presented the Republican and Democratic parties with a novel challenge to their historic roles as broad-based coalition parties. Both parties now confront groups within their ranks that demand of party nominees a strict commitment to the position held by the group on a specified issue. We will examine the extent to which party delegates who are active in the new issue groups are distinguished from other delegates in their party commitment, issue positions, and ideological orientation. In short, have state party conventions been penetrated by new issue group activists, lacking any...

    • 7 Migration and Activist Politics
      (pp. 126-142)

      That population movements have important implications for the political life of the nation has long been recognized by students of American politics. Early work by Arthur Holcombe (1933) demonstrated that the historic regional politics of the nineteenth century was giving way to urban-rural conflicts. And later works by Lou Harris (1954), Samuel Lubell (1952; 1956), Campbell, Converse, Miller, and Stokes (1960), Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg (1970), and Kevin Phillips (1969) have argued that population shifts in combination with social and economic changes have resulted in profound modifications of the American party system.

      In their landmark study, Campbell et al....

  9. Part Four Issues and Ideology

    • 8 Elite Attitudinal Constraint
      (pp. 145-163)

      The issue of attitudinal constraint levels among mass publics has been a major focus of substantive and methodological research in political behavior over the past twenty years (for a sampling see Butler and Stokes 1971; Bishop, Oldendick, and Tuchfarber 1978; Converse 1964; 1975; Field and Anderson 1969; and Nie, Verba, and Petrocik 1978). Articles concerned with the interpretation of averaged correlations among a set of issues as well as the empirical questions of what factors are associated with high or low levels of constraint are commonly found in a wide range of political journals. A corresponding interest in the constraint...

    • 9 Issue Constellations in 1980
      (pp. 164-187)

      According to Malcolm Jewell and David Olson, state party organizations exhibit many patterns of factionalism. Jewell and Olson (1982, 52) define factions as “any sign of disagreement within a political party . . . any divergence of opinion.” Based on the varying issue stances of groupings or factions present in the parties at the 1980 state presidential nominating conventions, this chapter examines such “divergence of opinion” within, rather than between, state parties.

      “Ideology is not supposed to have much importance in American political life,” Dwaine Marvick (1980, 72) once wrote in describing contemporary politics. Yet, as Marvick was aware, research...

    • 10 The Permeability of Parties
      (pp. 188-214)

      American political parties have traditionally been major links between the electorate and political officials. The primary way in which parties have performed that linkage function has been by making the electoral process more understandable to the voting public. While the public now may be less receptive to party cues than in the past, parties continue to try to simplify and guide the electoral choice of voters by reducing the number of alternatives, defining those alternatives, and providing stable symbols.

      As a byproduct of performing such electoral functions, parties assumed various social roles which augment the electoral linkage. As Clinton Rossiter...

    • 11 Extremist Delegates: Myth and Reality
      (pp. 215-226)

      Both major parties were “opened up” considerably after the tumultuous 1968 Democratic convention. State laws and party rules were changed to make primaries the dominant way we select delegates to state and national conventions. Even where primaries are not used, the caucus procedures were changed to give grassroots party members more influence.

      But the open party has also been the subject of much criticism, at least since the nomination and overwhelming defeat of Senator McGovern in 1972. Each party has enacted a wave of counter-reforms designed to cure the modern “mischief of faction” often attributed to the new, more open...

  10. Appendix: THE 1980 DELEGATE SURVEY
    (pp. 227-235)
  11. Contributors
    (pp. 236-236)
  12. Index
    (pp. 237-244)