Political Parties and Elections

Reading Assignments

Observations on the readings and reading assignments




Sept. 22


Organizational Meeting: Discussion of course objectives, teaching methods, student responsibilities

Sept. 24







The reading in Keefe discusses the role of political parties in democratic government. Most scholars in the field regard political parties as essential to democracy, yet many citizens believe that parties interfere with democracy. What is a "political party"? Keefe offers several definitions in a box, and you should be prepared to discuss them. Yet another definition by the famous political scientist V.O. Key says that parties have three parts: there is (1) the party in the electorate, (2) the party in government, and (3) the party as organization. Be prepared to critique these definitions. The well-known book by Wattenberg argues that political parties are in decline. About which conception of party is he talking?

  • Keefe, Ch.1: "Political Parties and the Political System," 1-39
  • Wattenberg, "Introduction," 1-6.




Sept. 27










How can you "measure" a person's party identification with a political party? The most common measure of party identification is the 7-point scale developed at the University of Michigan iin the late 1940s. Although Wattenberg relies heavily on this measure, he never really defines it. Before reading Wattenberg, read "The SRC Party ID Scale, on the c24 Web site at janda.org/c24

  • The SRC Party ID Scale
  • Wattenberg, Ch. 1: "Concept of Political Partisanship," 7-28.
  • _______, Ch. 2: "The Stability of Partisan Attitudes," 29-35.
  • _______, Ch. 3: "Independent or No Preference?" 36-49.
Sept. 29




Wattenberg argues that Americans are more likely to think parties are irrelevant, than to dislike parties. What evidence does he present to support this argument? What can party leaders do about that, if anything?

Oct. 1




If American parties are really "in decline," as Wattenberg contends, what or whom is to blame?

  • Wattenberg, Ch. 6: "The Role of the Media," 90-112.
  • _______, Ch. 7: "Demographic Trends," 113-124.
  • _______, Ch. 8: "The Public as an Echo Chamber," 125-131.




Oct. 4






Be prepared to discuss the role of party identification in the presidential elections of 1984, 1998, and 1992.

  • Wattenberg, Ch. 9: ""The Elections of 1984 and 1988: Realignment without Revitalization," 132-167.
  • ______, Ch. 10: "The 1992 Election: Ross Perot and the Independent Voter," 168-198.
Oct. 6




Extend your analysis to the 1994 congressional and 1998 presidential elections. What about the 2000 election?

  • Wattenberg, Ch. 11: "The 1994 Election: Perot Voters and the Republican Shift," 199-216.
  • _______, Ch. 12: "The 1996 Election: Missed Opportunities for the Parties," 217-242.
Oct. 8




Now we move from the study of "party in the electorate" to "party as organization." The term "party organization" has a negative connotation for the American public. Why do you think that is so? What does Keefe see as the primary characteristic of American political parties? What evidence does he offer? What evidence would convince you of his claim?

  • Keefe, Ch. 2: "The Characteristics of American Parties," 40-79.




Oct. 11












American parties differ greatly from parties in other countries in the way they go about nominating candidates to run under the party banner. In the U.S., candidates usually must win an election within the party before they are entitled to compete for election between parties. Such a "primary" election is peculiar to our system. What implications does this have for party politics in America? How else could parties nominate candidates? Zeigler offers a case study of candidate selection within the British Conservative Party.

Oct. 13






In Buckley v. Valeo (1976), the Supreme Court ruled that spending money to elect a candidate is a form of freedom of speech. Why has this decision, described in Keefe, complicated campaign finance reform? What is this"soft money" that reformers want to ban from campaign finance? Can you make a case for preferring "soft money" over "hard money"?

  • Keefe, Ch. 4: "Political Parties and the Electoral Process: Campaigns and Campaign Finance," 128-171.

Oct. 15





Keefe examines the role of party identification in the functioning of our party system and its several effects on political behavior. Despite many citizens' claims that they vote for the person, not the party, voters' party identification is the most salient factor in explaining voting choice for president.

  • Keefe, Ch. 5: "Political Parties and the Electorate,"172-217.




Oct. 18

Midterm examination: Identification of terms and two short essay questions

Oct. 20







As Keefe explains, the party organization in Congress comes into play in the making of public policy. Weak as the party organization is compared with party organizations in other national legislatures, it has a significant impact on congressional voting. Despite the late George Wallace's statement --"there's not a dime's worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats"--the two parties do stand for different policies.

  • Keefe, Ch. 6: "The Congressional Party and the Formation of Public Policy," 218-261.

Oct. 22


"Responsible party government" is an important phrase in political science literature. Keefe describes and analyzes the concept in this chapter. Be sure to understand that concept and be prepared to take a position on whether the Republicans' "Contract with America" in the 1994 congressional elections conformed to the responsible party government model. Finally, we are in a position to evaluate the role of political parties in democratic politics in general and in American government in particular. Have our parties served us well? What's the evidence either way?

  • Keefe, Ch. 7: "The American Party System: Problems and Perspectives," 262 315.




Oct. 25












For almost 150 years, the U.S. has maintained a two-party system , which itself is rather unique among democratic party systems--as Jean Blondel shows in his classification of electoral systems. Why have we had only two dominant parties for so long when most other nations have a multiparty system? Our electoral system is the leading suspect. The French political scientist, Maurice Duverger, explained the influence of electoral laws on party systems in the late 1940s. One of his articles appears on our web site.

Oct. 27





In the 1998 congressional elections, all seats in the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate seats were won by candidates who came in "first past the post" in their election races. This quaint British phrase aptly describes Britain's electoral system--and ours too. Use our web site to find out the party composition of the British House of Commons after the 1998 election. Is the composition consistent with Duverger's theorizing of "first past the post" electoral systems?

Oct. 29




Politicians have been perversely creative in their design of electoral systems. Farrell takes up each of the major forms in turn. What's the essential distinction between the "second ballot" and "alternative vote" systems? Use our web site to find out the party composition of the Russian Duma. Does it appear that Russia uses the "first past the post " system?










The type of electoral system affects not only the number of parties elected to the legislature but also the nature of parties as they operate in the legislature. The list system of proportional representation supposedly promotes the centralization of power. What's the explanation for that?

Nov. 3




In their quest for obtaining some measure of proportional representation without promoting centralized parties, electoral engineers came up with a "two-vote" system (to be distinguished from a two-ballot system) for electing legislative candidates from single member districts. What type of party system does it encourage?

Nov. 5




In their quest for the ultimate form of proportional representation, electoral purists came up with the very complicated single-transferable-vote (STV) system. Would your grandma understand this voting system? Do you?




Nov. 8

My friend and co-editor, David Farrell, would not end his book without rendering an opinion on which electoral system is best for good government. What does he propose, and what do you think of his choice?

Nov. 10







More needs to be said about the "social bases" of party systems. In a seminal work, Lipset and Rokkan argued that historical developments generated the social bases for the emergence of parties in western Europe. Moreover, these social bases of party support changed little over time and became essentially "frozen" prior to World War II. After the war, more or less the same parties reappeared, reflecting their pre-war bases of support. Our web site contains their analysis and a later work that builds on Lipset and Rokkan.

Nov. 12







In contrast to the historical stability of our two party system, Britain has experienced a shift from Liberal- Conservative competition in the 19th century to Labour-Conservative politics in the 1990s--with the Liberal Party reducing to a nettling third party and other parties showing unexpected strength. Although the German party system has shifted from three to four parties during the past four decades, it has shown a good deal more stability than the French party system. How can we summarize and account for these changes in party systems? The second reading on our web site proposes a"volatility index" for measuring the stability of any party system.




Nov. 15







"Stability" is only one characteristic of a party system. Lane and Ersson study fourteen measures proposed by scholars (like Pederson) and find that these measures essentially tap only five different dimensions of variation.

  • Jan-Erik Lane and Svante Ersson,"Party Systems," in Politics and Society in Western Europe (London: Sage Publications, 1987), pp. 154-179.
Nov. 17




What effects do parties have on government in general? I'll review the cross-national evidence and address the question, "Do parties make a difference"?

Nov. 19





Now that you are an expert on the topic, would you favor changing the electoral system used to elect the U.S. Congress? How about the U.S. President? If so, how and why? If not, why not?




Nov. 22




There are no reading assignments this week, which should give you some time to polish your research papers. However, class will be held to answer questions about the papers.

Nov. 24



Research papers are due in class. We will have a general discussion of the things you learned from the research and the problems you encountered.

Nov. 25


Thanksgiving Holiday





Reading Week starts for WCAS; no classes

Dec. 10



Final Examination: multiple choice, will cover the entire term, but weighted toward the second half

Two hours are scheduled for the examination, from 9:00 to 11:00 am