Lecture #19 Parties: Why So Weak? Why So Few? I. Introduction: Two Questions

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Lecture #19
Parties: Why So Weak? Why So Few?
I. Introduction: Two Questions
A. Causes
1. Why does the U.S. have a two-party, weak party system?
B. Consequences
1. What effect does a two-party, weak-party system have on how Americans participate in politics (how “people rule” happens?

II. Characteristics of Strong versus Weak Party Systems (McDonalds versus Mexican Restaurants)
Responsible Party Model (Plebiscitary)
Common Platform
Candidates from party run as a team
Party discipline in legislatures
Party voting
Unified national party

Parties as loose coalitions of groups (Pluralist)
Diversity of views
Candidates run separately
Low level of discipline
Regional diversity

III. Pros and Cons of Strong and Weak (Consequences)
Advantages of strong:
1. Makes it easy for voters to choose—parties take clear stands (plebiscitary)
2. Voters know what they're getting—all party members stand together
3. More effectively mobilizes voters
4. Easier to hold government accountable
5. Coherent government program

B. Advantages of weak:

1. Voters get more choice by splitting tickets
2. Regional diversity is expressed (not like McDonalds)
3. Decentralizes power; party leaders aren't dominant

IV. Why So Weak? (Causes)
A. Separation of Powers
B. Federalism
C. Institutions>Incentives>Outcomes!

V. Getting Weaker? Not necessarily
A. PIE (Parties in the electorate)
--to what extent does the party label affect the decisions of voters? (Are voters loyal to their parties?)
B. PO (Parties as Organizations)
--how much influence do parties have over elections (through selecting candidates, fundraising, canvassing)?
C. PIG (Parties in government)
--to what extent do elected officials vote as a bloc with other members of their party? Is there party “discipline”?


VI. Why Only Two? (Causes)

A. Duverger's law
B. Other causes (Smith)

  1. Narrow political spectrum

  2. Lack of regionalism

  3. Separation of Powers

VII. Pros and Cons of Two Party System (Consequences)
A. Advantages:
1. Brings large nation together under one banner (big parties for big countries!)
2. More coherent government because elaborate multi-party coalitions unnecessary
3. Hinders political extremists
B. Disadvantages
1. Choice is sharply restricted
2. May reduce participation
3. Can't easily handle multiple issue dimensions
4. In theory, pushes parties toward fuzzy center
a. In practice, parties currently appear to be less centrist than Americans—apparently contradicting “median voter theory”

VIII. Conclusion

Two-Party, weak party system makes American politics distinctive, more candidate-centered, decentralized

But: recent trends are marking our two parties much more programmatic, more coherent—and more polarized

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