Political Parties and Elections

1999 Midterm Examination, with Answers
You can earn a maximum of 25 points on this examination. You must write on each of the three Parts. I suggest that you apportion your time to the three Parts as indicated.

Part I:

Choose five terms from the following list and briefly (in 2 or 3 sentences) explain the meaning of each and its relevance to party politics. (Each correct answer counts 2 points for a maximum of 10 points for this Part.) Allow about 20 minutes to answer.

1. Republican Revolution of 1994

D: Republicans victory in the 1994 congressional elections, which resulted in their winning the House for the first time in 40 years and controlling both houses of congress.
R: The Republicans ran a party-centered campaign and then carried out much of their platform, The Contract with America, once in Congress.

2. delegate selection rules

D: Rules pioneered by the Democratic party that specified how states must select delegates to the presidential nominating convention.
R: Because the rules specified "openness" and demographic representation in delegate selection, most states adopted primary elections to select delegates.

3. Feeling thermometer

D: Measuring technique used in the national election studies to measure affect toward political figures and the political parties.
R: As Wattenberg reports, the public, which felt hot and cold to the parties in the 1950s, tended to become more lukewarm to parties by the 1990s.

4. FEC

D: The Federal Election Commission, created to oversee the campaign finance laws of the early 1970s.
R: The FEC collected and disseminated information on contributions to candidates and political parties involved in national elections. This provided reliable data on campaign financing for the first time.

5. Buckley v. Valeo

D: 1976 Supreme Court decision that struck down limits on campaign expenditures by a candidate for national office as a violation of freedom of expression.
R: By raising constitutional barriers, the Court made campaign finance very difficult to regulate.

6. party identification scale

D: The seven-point scale of psychological attachment to a party used in all national election studies.
R: Data collected on party identification since 1952 shows considerable stability, but some rise in Independents at the expense of Democrats.

7. interest aggregation v. articulation

D: Aggregation refers to the collection of different, even conflicting, interests, while articulation refers to the clear expression of interests.
R: Political parties are more likely to aggregate interests than interest groups, and American parties are especially aggregative.

8. parliamentary constituency selection committee

D: The body in British parties that interviews candidates for parliament and chooses one to contest the election for the constituency.
R: Demonstrates the centralization of power in a party, in contrast to the decentralized method of candidate selection in the U.S.

Part II:

1.Keefe argues that American parties can best be understood by determining the external factors which shape them. What are these external factors and what is their effect on the characters of the two major political parties?

Legal/Political factors: Federal structure of government. Separation of powers Divided legislative branch. In general, fragmented government authority.
Effect: facile answer: Not unified national parties, but 50+ parties. Thorough answer: Party organizations characterized by autonomy, lack of hierarchical chain of authority, NO central policy-making committee.
Election System factors: Direct primaries or caucus. Gerrymandering of districts. Staggered and varied terms for different offices. Single member districts. Plurality rules.
Effect: Third parties largely excluded. OR Representation by persons elected with only a minority/Non-proportional representation in legislatures. OR cube rule distortion of popular vote.
Political Culture factors: catchall term for: Political socialization. Habits/Custom of two-party thinking. Low expectations of politicians/ political institutions. Undercurrent of suspicion in American political culture.
Effect: Low turnout/parties represent their activists not general public. OR Candidates, no matter how Beltway in character, claim to be the "outsider" who will challenge the establishment. OR Demagogues/Rogues/true outsiders sometimes sweep into power or at least thresaten to: Wallace, Perot Buchanan, Ventura
Heterogeneity of USA factors: Religion. Race. Region. Nationality/ethnicity/immigrants. Rich/poor. Urban/suburban/rural or dense/sparse. Industrial/commercial/agricultural. Big/small states.
Effect: big tent parties that must, at least nomiallly, appeal to every demographic. OR Centrist parties/Downsian median-voter oriented parties. OR Comprehensive Parties that have a position on every possible political issue, not just a few issues that appeal to a narrow base (aggregative parties not articulative)

2.The nature of the quadrennial conventions of our two major parties has changed since World War II. Briefly describe how they had functioned and how they function now. State succinctly the circumstances that initiated the changes and how change impacted on both parties. Draw the implications of these changes for winning the parties' nomination for president in recent party politics.

Initiating circumstances: 1968 Democratic Convention, reaction to nominating Humphrey, who had not campaigned in a single primary, creation of the McGovern-Fraser Commission to revise delegate selection rules; state legislatures reacted by requiring primaries to select delegates, which affected both parties.
Functioning before and after 1972 (mention any three for credit):
from party-dominated to candidate-dominated
few primaries to many primaries
short campaigns to long campaigns
easy money to difficult fund raising
limited media coverage to media focused
late decisions to front-loaded decisions
open conventions to closed conventions
Implications for party politics: Some of the above points could go here, but I'm really looking for reducing the impact of party leaders in candidate selection.

3.Considerable time was spent in lecture on defining a political party and squaring different definitions with Wattenberg's book, The Decline of American Political Parties, 1952-1996. Select two different definitions to discuss and compare both definitions with V.O. Key's advice to view parties from three different aspects. What do the definitions and Key's views have to do with Wattenberg's thesis?

Competing definitions: Parties as like-minded people (Burke, Reagan); parties as organizations to contest and win elections (Schattschneider, Epstein, Schumpeter, Downs)
Key's three views: (1) party in the electorate, (2) party in government, (3) party as organization.
Implications for Wattenberg: He presents data on the decline of party in the electorate and interprets the data as the decline of political parties, but that would be problematic for the first definition and contrary to the second. The evidence from national party fund-raising is that parties have grown stronger since 1952.
Part III:

1.The nature of financing campaigns for election to national office has changed greatly since 1972. Name two laws or institutions created since 1972 that affect campaign finance today and describe how they have altered campaigning for national office.

Any of these can be named and discussed: Political Action Committees, Federal Election Commission, disclosure laws, public financing of presidential elections, limitations on direct contributions to federal election campaigns.

2.Low voter turnout in the United States is not just an unfathomable mystery. What factors help to explain why voter turnout is so low in the US? What are some factors that contribute to its variation from state to state?

1. US Low Turnout
a. US puts the burden of registering to vote on citizens themselves, as opposed to other industrialized states which automatically register citizens of voting age.
b. Multiplicity of elections/fatigue. US citizens don't just face a voting choice once every four or even two years, Rather several times a year, we are called to the polls for local and state primaries and elections for various boards, commissions judgeships and offices. And sometimes we face both candidates choices and referendum choices
d. Motor Voter bill has registered many people who previously were unregistered precisely becaus of their lack of interest: they don't show up to vote.
e. Weak linkage between parties and groups, Unlike in class-based European parties, big tent American parties not very good at turning out blocs.
d. In the past, restrictions on blacks in South, women everywhere and 18-21 years olds. But these barriers have fallen and inclusion of these factors should not be the main basis of answer

2 State -to- State variation

a. Some states have very liberal restriction laws, a few even allowing registration on election day, others much more strict about such things as residence requirements and closing dates long before election.
b. Primaries encourage higher turnout than caucuses. Closed Primaries discourage turnout, which is further influenced by closing date for party declaration. Open primaries encourage turnout.
c. States with lower education levels and lower SES aspects of whatever sort have lower turnout.
d. related to/similar to c. South had traditionally low turnout
e. One-party states may have lower turnout due to the lack of competition: competitive elections tend to draw higher turnout

3.Keefe opens chapter 3 with this statement: "It is probably that no nation has ever experimented as fully or as fitfully with mechanisms for making nominations as has the United States." He then discusses three principal methods that parties have used for nominating candidates to run for public office. Briefly describe each of these methods. Then identify which one dominates today in nominating candidates to run for congress and discuss the consequences for party politics of relying on this method.

The three methods: (1) caucus, (2) conventions, and (3) primaries.


Dominant today in nominations for congress: primaries, which tend to weaken the influence of political parties. To some extent, the weakening is related to whether the state holds open, closed, or blanket primaries.