Surveying critical episodes in the development of American political parties—from their formation in the 1790s to the Civil War—Aldrich shows how they serve to combat three fundamental problems of democracy: how to regulate the number of people seeking public office, how to mobilize voters, and how to achieve and maintain the majorities needed to accomplish goals once in office. Aldrich brings this innovative account up to the present by looking at the profound changes in the character of political parties since World War II, especially in light of ongoing contemporary transformations, including the rise of the Republican Party in the South, and what those changes accomplish, such as the Obama Health Care plan. Finally, Why Parties? A Second Look offers a fuller consideration of party systems in general, especially the two-party system in the United States, and explains why this system is necessary for effective democracy.
John H. Aldrich is the Pfizer-Pratt University Professor of Political Science at Duke University. He is the author and coauthor of numerous books and articles, as well as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and recipient of the American Political Science Association’s Samuel J. Eldersveld Career Achievement Award.
Barbara Sinclair traces the current ideological divide to changes in the Republican party in the 1970s and 1980s, including the rise of neoconservativism and the Religious Right. Because of these historical developments, Democratic and Republican voters today differ substantially in what they consider good public policy, and so do the politicians they elect.
Polarization has produced institutional consequences in the House of Representatives and in the Senate—witness the majority party’s threat in 2004–2005 to use the “nuclear option” of abolishing the filibuster. The president’s strategies for dealing with Congress have also been affected, raising the price of compromise with the opposing party and allowing a Republican president to govern largely from the ideological right. Other players in the national policy community—interest groups, think tanks, and the media—have also joined one or the other partisan “team.”
Party Wars puts all the parts together to provide the first government-wide survey of the impact of polarization on national politics. Sinclair pinpoints weaknesses in the highly polarized system and offers several remedies.