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POP Celebration Volume -- The APSA Responsible Parties Project, 1950-2000


John C. Green and Paul S. Herrnson, editors

Chapter 1. "Introduction." John C. Green and Paul S. Herrnson

Chapter 2. "In the Spirit of Their Times: The 1950 Committee on Political Parties Report in the Academy and the Nation." John K. White and Jerome Mileur

The 1950 Report of the APSA Committee on Political Parties is rightly understood as an attempt to institutionalize a national party system. In the early years of the 20th century, Progressive reformers, claiming a "true democracy," attacked the party system of their day--the bosses and their "machines"--through a combination of civil service reform of the federal bureaucracy and direct-democracy reform of the electoral system. Their success, rhetorically and institutionally, fractured a party system that, for all its localism, parochialism, and corruption, had given both structure and direction to popular politics in America. The authors of the APSA report, many of them veterans of the FDR presidency and all of them Progressives, sought to reconstitute a party system, grounded in programmatic differences, that would provide an institutionalized political capacity adequate to sustain the new national governmental system that arose with the New Deal. That their plan was flawed and failed of adoption is not surprising; that it continues to engage students of American politics a half century later is, however remarkable and suggests that the Report tapped into a question about democracy in America that remains as poignant today as it was in the 1950s and before. This paper locates the APSA Report in its time, tracing its antecedents and framing its context, and also measures both its failures and successes.

Chapter 3. "Election Laws and Party Rules: Contributions to a Stronger Party Role?" L. Sandy Maisel and John F. Bibby

The authors of the 1950 Report would be surprised by the fact that movement toward strengthening of the party system in recent years have been the result of changes in electoral processes and party rules that have little to do with their recommendations. On balance, election law changes in the past 50 years have been more conducive to candidate-centered campaigns than they have been to party-centered campaigns, though these changes are not all of one type. They have been countered by other alternations in electoral procedures, by FEC and judicial rulings, and by changes in party rules and practices that allow for a stronger role of party, a role more conducive to the responsible party model. This chapter examines trends in both directions and suggests future directions.

Chapter 4. "Strength Through Financial Wizardry: Problems and Dilemmas for the Major American Parties." Frank J. Sorauf

By 2000 the American parties have regained much of the role in funding campaigns that they were beginning to lose at the very time the authors of "Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System" were preparing their report. By the end of the century they are the ideal political organizations to exploit all of the new opportunities of the end-of-century system of funding campaigns. One need only mention their ability to move funds within the federal system, their skill in raising soft money, their ability to fund both issue ads and independent expenditures. But their enhanced role in campaigns has fostered and accompanied fundamental changes in the parties--their nationalization and rise of legislative parties as funders, for example. And so the question: what price for and what consequences from the new financial success? Has new strength brought the "responsibility" the reformers in 1950 sought? Or is that the wrong question for the new millennium?

Chapter 5. "Party Development in the Twentieth Century: Laying the Foundations for Responsible Party Government?" John C. Green and Paul S. Herrnson

This chapter explores the development of major party organizations between 1900 and 2000 from the perspective of the responsible party model. First, we abstract a set of criteria from the APSA Report's recommendations and then apply them to party organizations in the early, middle, and late Twentieth Century--periods that roughly coincide with the implementation of Progressive reforms, the rise of candidate-centered politics, and the strengthening of national parties. By the end of the Twentieth Century, the major party organizations have met many but not all of the recommendations of the APSA Report, contributing to party responsibility. This process was slow, incremental, and more incidental than planned. We conclude that developments in party organizations alone are not sufficient to sustain responsible party government on a permanent basis. A century of party developments may have laid the foundations for responsible party government, but much remains to be done if this ideal is to become a reality.

Chapter 6. "Competitors or Companions? Parties, Consultants, and the Control of Elections in the 21st Century." David B. Magleby, James A. Thurber, and Kelly D. Patterson

Until relatively late in the 20th century, political parties controlled many of the resources and expertise candidates needed to operate their campaigns. However, political consultants have recently assumed control over many of the activities traditionally performed by political parties. This paper examines the increasingly important role that political consultants play in the conduct of campaigns and elections. It looks at the attitudes held by political consultants, how they interact with the political parties, and the tasks they perform in campaigns. Traditional democratic theory relies on political parties to organize choices for the electorate and to link citizens to the campaigns. However, we argue that the rise of consultants will undermine these functions. Indeed, the industry of political consulting will only accelerate the current trend toward parties as service organizations. Political consultants, because of their professional norms and competitive industry, will continue to compete with parties as the main actors to provide those services that candidates need most. The 21st century will dawn with a more competitive and professional political system, one where parties broker decisions increasingly outside of their traditional areas of expertise.

Chapter 7. "The Party in the Electorate as a Basis for More Responsible Parties." Herbert Weisberg

The importance of "the party in the electorate" was recognized by the time of the 1950 APSA Report "Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System." Yet the authors of the Report did not recognize the tension between ideological parties and party divergence that Downs pointed out a few years later. This paper will discuss this tension, while tracing changes in partisanship trends and ideological polarization of parties at the mass level. The decades since the APSA Report was written have seen dealignment, some realignment, and a few important independent candidacies for the presidency, but the party in the electorate has provided a stable base for our party system. Yet the movement to more ideological consistency within our parties at the level of the mass public may provide a foundation for more programmatic parties.

Chapter 8. "Presidential Leadership in a Government of Parties." Charles O. Jones

A leading premise of the APSA Committee Report on Political Parties is that responsibility or accountability can and should be realized in a system of separated powers. "The party system that is needed must be democratic, responsible, and effective." (p. 1) Diagnosis is provided as to why this goal has not been achieved and proposals are offered for integrating what is separated so as to realize this goal. Diagnosis on leadership? "Party organization does not vest leadership of the party as a whole in either a single person or a committee." (p. 3) Proposals for vesting leadership? A Party Council (p. 5); "tightening up the congressional party organization" (p. 8); changes in nominations and elections. Oddly little attention is directed to the presidency itself as a source of leadership, other than to point out that the president "can probably be more influential than any other single individual in attaining a better organized majority party." (p. 13) Indeed, the Report warns that failure to act on the Committee's proposals could result in an overextended presidency. "When the president's program actually is the sole program, either his party becomes a flock of sheep or the party falls apart." The Report specifies a need for responsible leadership in a person or committee but fails to clarify how that should happen.

There are many advantages of the separated system. Alas, focused accountability is not one of them. As it happens, and as is illustrated by the Report itself, the separation of institutions is unlikely to produce party government. Rather it fosters a government of parties. Responsibility is not focused, it is diffused, by design. The House of Representatives has two political parties, as does the Senate (with several internal structures). Presidents are elected through a party organization, mostly unrelated to congressional parties. There are national party headquarters. State and local party organizations abound, as electoral and governmental structures. Where then does the presidency fit within this elaborated and highly articulated separated and federalized government of parties? This paper directs attention to presidential leadership in a government of parties. Not only must the president seek to manage within the separated and federalized system, he must, in addition, often cope with split party government. Party leadership and accountability, in the APSA Report preferred manner, are unlikely to occur when there is neither a majority nor an opposition party, as such. Therefore the principal purpose of this paper is to propose what the APSA Report failed to clarify: presidential leadership in a separated system that is unlikely ever to produce party government

Chapter 9. "The Dream Fulfilled? Congressional Parties 50 Years After the APSA Report." Barbara Sinclair

In their 1950 APSA Report "Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System," a group of eminent political scientists advocated stronger and more disciplined congressional parties. They argued that a democratic, responsible and effective party system requires such congressional parties and that such congressional parties would go a long way toward making our party system more democratic, responsible and effective. In this essay, I trace and attempt to explain the changes in the congressional parties since 1950; I show that since the mid?1980s, they have, in fact, become stronger and more disciplined. I then assess whether these changes have contributed to a more democratic, responsible and effective party system.

Chapter 10. "Responsible Parties in Comparative Perspective" Matthew Shugart

The notion of "responsible parties" implies disciplined and programmatically coherent parties that gain control of the entire policy-making apparatus, and thus can be held accountable at the next election for their performance. This concept has long appealed to critics of the slow-moving American policy process and its relatively uncohesive parties and its tendency to promote divided government or "gridlock." Promoters of responsible parties for the US have sought to emulated the British model; however, comparative consideration of institutional and other factors suggests that the model may not be feasible for the US. Moreover, the experience of other presidential systems with parties that are highly disciplined has generally not been favorable.

Chapter 11. "Party Cohesion, Democratic Accountability, and Responsiveness." Herbert Kitschelt

The dominant general theoretical models of party competition in electoral democracies assume that parties announce programmatic platforms. These, in turn, allow voters to  assess the extent to which their own ideal policy preferences agree with those of the competing parties. The analytical literature realizes that the value of a party's platform is a function of how credibly the party can make its claims that it will actually pursue the advertised programs. This credibility, in turn, is a function of the party's programmatic cohesiveness and legislative discipline, two rather different concepts whose values vary considerably across polities and individual parties. Drawing on the experience of not just well-entrenched democracies in advanced post-industrial countries, but also the new postcommunist, Latin American, and Southeastasian democracies emerging since the 1980s, the paper will assess what we have learned about the conditions (institutional, economic, etc.) that allow parties to advance credible programmatic platforms. Moreover, the paper explores the conditions under which parties pursue other mechanisms of linkage to vote constituencies than programmatic appeals. Those alternatives, such as clientelist inducements, also establish circuits of democratic accountability and responsiveness that, under specific circumstances, may yield rather robust, durable democracies.

Chapter 12. " A Persistent Quest: Reflections on Responsible Parties." Leon D. Epstein

As far back as the late nineteenth century, when our academic field first developed, American political scientists sought more responsible political parties. The APSA Report of 1950 was an institutionalized expression of long-standing professional preferences for stronger and more programmatic parties. Although these preferences were not universal among political scientists, they may have been especially popular in the immediate postwar years partly because of frustrated New Deal and Fair Deal policymaking. Rather than advocating constitutional changes as a means to coherent policymaking, the authors of the Report sought to achieve their purpose by strengthening the two major political parties. Writing when effective party organizations were mainly local, they wanted stronger national parties, especially in Congress. During the last few decades, both Republicans and Democrats have strengthened their national organizations despite evidently diminished party loyalty among voters. Significantly, however, as congressional parties have become more cohesive, a critic of the responsible party doctrine can argue that policymaking has become more rather than less difficult given the frequency of divided government under our separation-of-powers system.