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Parties and Policies

Parties and Policies: How the American Government Works

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Parties and Policies
    Book Description:

    In this wide-ranging new volume, one of our most important and perceptive scholars of the workings of the American government investigates political parties, politicians, elections, and policymaking to discover why public policy emerges in the shape that it does. David R. Mayhew looks at two centuries of policy making-from the Civil War and Reconstruction era through the Progressive era, the New Deal, the Great Society, the Reagan years, and the aspirations of the Clinton and Bush administrations-and offers his original insights on the ever-evolving American policy experience.

    These fourteen essays were written over the past three decades and collectively showcase Mayhew's skepticism of the usefulness of political parties as an analytic window into American politics. These writings, which include a new introductory essay, probe beneath the parties to the essentials of the U.S. constitutional system and the impulses and idiosyncrasies of history.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15176-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Images and proper nouns arise in a jumble as we reflect on the history and underpinnings of American policy making—the New Deal era, the Bush tax cuts, gridlock, electoral realignments, the congressional pork barrel, long Senate debates, midterm earthquakes, the Reagan upsurge of 1980, the Great Society of the 1960s, the Iraq Resolution of 2002. A great deal of complicated history has taken place and continues to do so.

    Scholars try to bring order to jumbles like these. That can involvetheorizing, a term that implies a universalistic kind of explanation. ‘‘Rational actor’’–type accounts are one kind of...

  4. 1 The Electoral Incentive
    (pp. 19-53)

    What animates members of Congress? The discussion to come will hinge on the assumption that United States congressmen¹ are interested in getting reelected—indeed, in their role here as abstractions, interested in nothing else. Any such assumption necessarily does some violence to the facts, so it is important at the outset to root this one as firmly as possible in reality. A number of questions about that reality immediately arise.

    First, is it true that the United States Congress is a place where members wish to stay once they get there? Clearly there are representative assemblies that do not hold...

  5. 2 Congressional Elections: The Case of the Vanishing Marginals
    (pp. 54-72)

    Of the electoral instruments voters have used to influence American national government few have been more important than the biennial ‘‘net partisan swing’’ in United States House membership. Since Jacksonian times ups and downs in party seat holdings in the House have supplied an important form of party linkage.

    The seat swing is, in practice, a two-step phenomenon. For a party to register a net gain in House seats there must occur (a) a gain (over the last election) in the national proportion of popular votes cast for House candidates of the party in question. That is, the party must...

  6. 3 Why Did V. O. Key Draw Back from His ‘‘Have-Nots’’ Claim?
    (pp. 73-93)

    InSouthern Politicsin 1949, V. O. Key Jr. made one of his most interesting and influential claims: ‘‘Over the long run the have-nots lose in a disorganized politics.’’¹ That is, they do worse in a one-party factional politics like much of the South’s than in a setting where organized political parties compete closely in elections. Yet seven years later, in writingAmerican State Politics,a work also about states, parties, factions, organized vs. disorganized politics, and the favorable effects of party competition, Key entirely abandoned the ‘‘have-nots’’ claim.² Or at least he carefully refrained from restating it. What accounts...

  7. 4 Divided Party Control: Does It Make a Difference?
    (pp. 94-101)

    Since World War II, party control of the U.S. national government has been formally divided for twenty-six years and unified for eighteen. (That is the span between the elections of 1946 and 1990.) Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush have had to coexist—for at least a two-year stretch in each case—with opposite-party majorities in the Senate or House or both. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter have had—again, for at least a two-year stretch—House and Senate majorities of their own party.

    In other respects bearing on relations between the president and Congress, this postwar era...

  8. 5 Clinton, the 103d Congress, and Unified Party Control: What Are the Lessons?
    (pp. 102-136)

    ‘‘Divided government is not working,’’ David S. Broder wrote in the summer of 1992. ‘‘Only the voters can fix this mess.’’ In November of that year, the voters performed on cue by trading in George Bush for Bill Clinton, keeping solid Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and consequently opting for single-party control of the U.S. government for the first time since 1977–80, under Jimmy Carter. It was a ‘‘dramatic shift,’’ notes Richard E. Cohen, ‘‘from a divided government stuck in neutral to one in which a single party was operating the vehicle and had well-defined goals’’ (1994,...

  9. 6 U.S. Policy Waves in Comparative Context
    (pp. 137-152)

    During the twentieth century, the United States has seen three waves of particularly ambitious lawmaking—the Progressive era, the New Deal era, and the 1960s–70s.¹ (This ignores legislative activity during the two world wars.) The country has also seen a major retrenchment of state activity highlighted by Ronald Reagan’s program of 1981.

    Patterns of ‘‘public politics’’ have accompanied and largely caused, at least in a proximate sense, these lawmaking waves. By ‘‘public politics’’ I mean a wide range of activities through which people try to affect what governments do, that reach large audiences through media coverage, and that sometimes...

  10. 7 Presidential Elections and Policy Change: How Much of a Connection Is There?
    (pp. 153-179)

    In analyses of American politics, it would be hard to find a more basic claim or assumption than that major policy changes are owing to the outcomes of presidential elections. Old government policies are abandoned and new ones adopted because of election results. The idea is central to theories of ‘‘party government’’ and ‘‘electoral realignments,’’ as well as to more conventional accounts of political processes by historians, political scientists, and journalists.

    How true is the claim? Probably less than is commonly believed. Partly because most of us get excited by presidential elections, and partly because we see them as great...

  11. 8 Innovative Midterm Elections
    (pp. 180-197)

    For a party out of the White House, there is an age-old way to conduct midterm elections: Talk retrospective and make vague promises. The Republicans’ ‘‘Had Enough?’’ campaign against the Truman administration in 1946 is a classic instance. In midterms, a retrospective focus makes sense because it is so inviting to blame everything on an incumbent president’s two-year record. Vagueness helps along a ‘‘coalition-of-disaffected-minorities’’ strategy at a time when not having presidential candidates on the ballot lets House and Senate candidates run on local issues; what works in Alabama may not work in Rhode Island.

    All the more surprising, then,...

  12. 9 Electoral Realignments
    (pp. 198-226)

    The study of U.S. electoral realignments, which enjoyed its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, was one of the most creative, engaging, and influential intellectual enterprises undertaken by American political scientists during the past half century. It rivaled the Michigan election studies. It offered certifiable science, in the sense of a conceptual scheme, a theory, and quantitative analysis; breadth, in tackling large political questions associated with all of American national history; and even an eschatology, in the sense that it has induced generations of students and others, armed with a key to historical development, to keep asking, “Is an electoral...

  13. 10 Actions in the Public Sphere
    (pp. 227-272)

    What do members of the House and Senate do that is particularly conspicuous—that is, what kinds of actions performed by members of Congress are particularly likely to be noticed by the American public? The role of Congress in the American system hinges to a significant degree on the highly visible actions of its members, since actions performed by members in the American public sphere at a high level of prominence ensure a continuing connection between politicians and public.

    Members of Congress perform actions beyond just making laws. Yes, Congress is a lawmaking body, but its members take part in...

  14. 11 Supermajority Rule in the U.S. Senate
    (pp. 273-287)

    Fond as James Madison was of checks and balances, one feature of today’s institutional life would have surprised him and might have distressed him. That feature is supermajority rule in the U.S. Senate—the need to win more than a simple majority of senators to pass laws.

    In the early twenty-first century, filibusters, threatened filibusters, and the three-fifths cloture requirement, except on budgeting and a few other matters, dog the legislative process. The 60-votes barrier has become hard contextual fact for the press, as inWashington Postcoverage of recent efforts to repeal the inheritance tax and enact anti-cloning legislation:...

  15. 12 Wars and American Politics
    (pp. 288-327)

    Since its founding in 1789, the United States government has conducted hot wars for some 38 years,¹ occupied the South militarily for a decade, waged the cold war for several decades, and staged countless smaller actions against Indian tribes or foreign powers. The effects of these activities on American society (to say nothing of the rest of the world) have been immense.

    Yet, in general, political scientists who study American domestic politics have underappreciated these effects. That is true of ‘‘American political development’’ specialists as well as others.² In general, the study of elections, parties, issues, programs, ideologies, and policy...

  16. 13 Events as Causes: The Case of American Politics
    (pp. 328-357)

    In explaining American politics, political scientists tend to follow a path that is normal for social scientists: We reach for causes that are seen to be basic, underlying, or long-term rather than ones that are proximate, contingent, or short-term. Institutions, social forces, and enduring incentives tend to win attention as factors. Thus a good deal of scholarship assigns causal status to such phenomena as economic self-interest,¹ the interests of social classes,² party identification,³ electoral realignment coalitions,4the American liberal tradition,5long-lasting party ideologies,6social capital,7political decisions that are said to attain a kind of constitutional standing,8congressional folkways,9fixed...

  17. 14 Incumbency Advantage in U.S. Presidential Elections: The Historical Record
    (pp. 358-392)

    How can we illuminate the pattern of outcomes in American presidential elections? I argue here forincumbency advantageas an account, drawing on simple data and electoral history back through 1788. Familiar as it is in the congressional realm, incumbency advantage could perhaps use more emphasis in the presidential realm. It seems to be a major factor there. Plausibly considered, for example, in light of the historical record regarding incumbency and elections, incumbent-free contests like those of 2000 and 2008 loom as even up propositions in terms of either party’s likely success. From the 1790s through 2000, parties holding the...

  18. Index
    (pp. 393-401)