This chapter provides an overview of some of the scholarly examinations, the common folklore, and the amazing intricacies of America’s most enduring and exciting political institution, the election. Major topics include, but are not limited to, the debate over just how democratic elections are (given a very low voter turnout), the new personalistic nature of campaigning in the latter part of the twentieth century, the role that money plays in determining outcomes, the role of special interest groups, so-called realigning elections, and the elements of successful coalition building by Democrats and Republicans. After reading and reviewing the material in this chapter, you should be able to do each of the following:
1. Explain why elections in the United States are both more democratic and less democratic than elections of other countries.
2. Show how control of elections has shifted from the states to the federal government, while explaining what effect that shift has had on blacks, women, and youth.
3. Argue both sides of the debate over how much voter turnout has declined over the past century, as well as those factors that tend to hold down voter turnout.
4. Demonstrate the differences between the party-oriented campaigns of the nineteenth century and the candidate-oriented ones of today, explaining the major elements of a successful campaign for office today.
5. Discuss the partisan effects of campaigns, or why the party with the most registered voters does not always win the election.
6. Define the term realigning election and discuss the major examples of such elections in the past, as well as recent debates over whether realignment is again underway.
7. Describe what the Democrats and the Republicans, respectively, must do to put together a successful national coalition to achieve political power in any election.
8. Outline the major arguments on either side of the question of whether elections result in major changes in U.S. public policy.
9. Discuss the importance of campaign funding to election outcomes, and the major sources of such finding under current law. Consider how successful reform legislation has been in purifying U.S. elections of improper monetary influences.