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Transcript of AP Government
The institutions that make authoritative decisions that apply to all of society are collectively known as government. In the United States these institutions include Congress, the president, the courts, and the federal administrative agencies. Two fundamental questions about governing are: how should we govern and what should government do? All modern governments have similar functions. These include:
(1) Governments maintain national defense.
(2) Governments provide public services.
(3) Governments have police powers to provide order.
(4) Governments socialize the young into the political culture.
(5) Governments collect taxes.
Politics determines whom we select as our governmental leaders and what policies they pursue. Harold Lasswell defined politics as “who gets what, when, and how.” The media focuses on the who of politics (voters, candidates, groups, and parties). How people play politics includes such actions as bargaining, supporting, compromising, and lobbying. The ways in which people get involved in politics make up their political participation. The what refers to the public policies that come from government, including the benefits and burdens.
Policy Making System
A. People Shape Policy
The policymaking system reveals the way our government responds to the priorities of the people. The policymaking system begins with people who have interests, problems, and concerns. These interests, problems, and concerns are expressed through linkage institutions, which are the political channels through which people’s concerns become political issues on the policy agenda. Parties, elections, interest groups, and the media are key linkage institutions between the preferences of citizens and the government’s policy agenda. The policy agenda consists of the issues that attract the serious attention of public officials and other people actually involved in politics at any given point in time. A political issue arises when people disagree about a problem or public policy choice made to combat a problem. Policymakers within the four policymaking institutions (Congress, the presidency, the courts, and the bureaucracy) make policies concerning issues on the agenda. Very few policies are made by a single institution. In policymaking, every political institution gets involved.
A. Defining Democracy
The writers of the Constitution were not fond of democracy. Most Americans define democracy as “government by the people.” This definition is misleading. Democracy can be defined as a means of selecting policymakers and of organizing government so that policy represents and responds to the people’s preferences.
B. Traditional Democratic Theory
Traditional democratic theory rests upon several principles on how a democratic government makes its decisions. The five cornerstones of an ideal democracy include: (1) equality in voting, (2) effective participation, (3) enlightened understanding, (4) citizen control of the agenda, and (5) inclusion. Democracies must also practice majority rule and preserve minority rights. In a large society a few will have to carry on the affairs of the many. The relationship between the few leaders and the many followers is one of representation. The closer the correspondence between representatives and their electoral majority, the closer the approximation to democracy.
C. Three Contemporary Theories of American Democracy
Theories of American democracy are about who has power and influence, “who really governs in our nation?” Pluralist theory contends that groups with shared interests influence public policy by pressing their concerns through organized efforts. Pluralists believe that through bargaining and compromise, group competition will reflect the public interest. Multiple access points to government allow groups that lose in one arena to take their case to another. Robert Putnam argues that many of the problems of American democracy today stem from a decline in group-based participation. The elite and class theory contends that our society is divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite rules. Wealth is the basis of this power and big business is the center of power. Hyperpluralism is a theory that claims that too many influential groups cripple government’s ability to govern. Many groups are so strong that government is unable to act. When policymakers try to placate so many single-issue groups the result is muddled and inconsistent policy.
D. Challenges to Democracy
There are many challenges to democracy in America and elsewhere. These include: (1) increased technical expertise held by only a few, (2) limited participation in government, (3) escalating campaign costs, and (4) diverse political interests that make it difficult for coalitions to form majorities and establish policy, often resulting in policy gridlock.
Scope of Government in America
A. How Active is American Government?
In terms of dollars spent, government in America is vast. Governments spend one out of every three dollars of our gross domestic product. About 18 million Americans work for one of our governments. National defense and social security are two big areas of government spending. When spending grows, taxes must also grow.
B. A Comparative Perspective
Compared to most other economically developed nations, the United States devotes a smaller percentage of its resources to government and has a smaller tax burden.
C. American Individualism
One of the primary reasons for the comparatively small scope of American government is the prominence of individualism in American political thought and practice. Many immigrants came to escape government interference and the bountiful American frontier allowed them to get away from government. The policy consequences of individualism are a strong preference for free markets and limited government.
D. Preview Questions About the Scope of Government
The scope of government is a key theme in the text. The goal is to explore the implications of the way politics, institutions, and policy in America affect the scope of government. Several key questions are raised regarding the scope of government in terms of the constitutional structure of American politics; those that make demands upon government (public, political parties, interest groups, and the media); elected governmental institutions (presidency and Congress); and the nonelected branches of government (courts and bureaucracy).
B. Policies Impact People
Public policy is a choice that government makes in response to a political issue. A policy is a course of action taken with regard to some problem. There are many types of public policies. Even doing nothing is a policy choice. Policy impacts are the effects a policy has on people and society’s problems. Analysts of policy impacts ask how well the policy achieves its goal.
Origins of the Constitution
A. The Road to Revolution
By eighteenth-century standards, life was not bad for most people in America at the time of the revolution. As a result of the French and Indian War, Britain passed a series of taxes on the colonists. These taxes resulted in colonial protests and economic pressure from the British.
B. Declaring Independence
The Continental Congress met through most of 1775 and 1776, adopting the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The Declaration was a polemic, announcing and justifying a revolution.
C. The English Heritage: The Power of Ideas
Many of the ideas in the Declaration were borrowed from the English philosopher John Locke, who argued that human beings have natural rights, not dependent on governments. Locke argued that government must be built on the consent of the governed and should be a limited government, with restrictions on what rulers can do. Two important limits on government are that governments must provide laws so that people know whether their acts are acceptable and that the government cannot take a man’s property without his consent.
D. Jefferson’s Handiwork: The American Creed
Locke’s thought and Jefferson’s language in the Declaration of Independence is very similar. Jefferson also borrowed from the well-established English opposition to the Crown. He placed great importance on the individual, who was “created equal”” and endowed with “unalienable rights,” and the consent of the governed.
E. Winning Independence
Although outnumbered and outmatched, the colonists eventually defeated the British.
F. The “Conservative” Revolution
The American Revolution did not drastically alter the colonists’’ way of life. The colonists did not feel the need for great social, economic, or political upheavals. The revolution did not create class conflicts that would have split society.
The Government That Failed: 1776-1787
A. The Articles of Confederation
In 1776, the Continental Congress adopted our first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. The Articles established a government dominated by the states. There was no president and the Congress had few powers outside of maintaining an army and navy. Congress could not levy a tax and depended on the states to send money. The national government was weak and ineffective while all power rested in the states. Thus the national government could not deal with the hard times that faced the new nation.
B. Changes in the States
The states were experiencing a dramatic increase in democracy and liberty. States adopted bills of rights and liberalized voting requirements. Expanded political participation brought a new middle class to power. State legislatures held most of the power and were more responsive to the people.
C. Economic Turmoil
Economic issues were at the top of the agenda after the revolution. A postwar depression left small farmers without the ability to pay their debts. State legislators were sympathetic to the debtors. Some printed tons of worthless paper money to help the debtors pay their debts.
D. Shays’ Rebellion
In 1786 a small band of farmers in Massachusetts rebelled at losing their land to creditors. Shays’ Rebellion was a series of attacks on courthouses to prevent judges from foreclosing. Neither Congress nor the states could stop the rebellion, which further illustrated the weakness of the Articles of Confederation.
E. The Aborted Annapolis Meeting
In 1786 continental leaders met in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss the Articles of Confederation. Although the meeting failed, they called for a meeting of the states to discuss the constitution. This resulted in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.
Making a Constitution: The Philadelphia Convention
A. Gentlemen in Philadelphia
The 55 men who attended the Convention were a select group of economic and political notables. They were wealthy, educated, and mostly coastal and urban residents.
B. Philosophy in Action
At the core, the delegates had a certain amount of agreement on some basic philosophical issues:
1. A cynical view of human nature
2. A belief that the primary source of political conflict was the unequal distribution of wealth, resulting in the growth of factions
3. A belief that the principal objective of government was the preservation of individual rights to acquire and hold wealth
4. The belief that government should be balanced with power set against power, and limited, to contain checks on its power
The Agenda in Philadelphia
A. The Equality Issues
Three major equality issues dominated the Convention. One was whether the Congress would be represented equally by state (New Jersey Plan) or according to population (Virginia Plan). The Connecticut Compromise established two houses; the Senate, with two members from each state; and the House of Representatives, based on population. In effect, the Connecticut Compromise gives more power to less populated states, especially when it comes to some of the crucial policy decisions reserved for the Senate.
A second equality issue concerned slavery. Slavery was not forbidden, but Congress could limit the importing of slaves. The issue of how to count slaves in determining representation in Congress was settled by the three-fifth compromise, which counted a slave as three-fifths of a person.
The delegates dodged the issue of political equality and who should have the right to vote. It was decided to leave this issue to the states.
B. The Economic Issues
The delegates felt the need to address the issues of tariffs against products from other states, paper money printed by the states, and how Congress can raise money. The delegates were an economic elite whose interests affected the decisions they made. The delegates made Congress the chief economic policymaker. Congress could obtain revenues through taxation and borrowing. It was given the power to help build the nation’s infrastructure. Congress was given means to protect property rights and to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. All these measures helped create the conditions within which markets could flourish. The delegates also prohibited the states from maintaining their own monetary systems and placing duties on imports from other states.
C. The Individual Rights Issues
The delegates believed that a limited government and checks and balances provided sufficient protection of individual rights. The Constitution says little about personal freedoms. It does prohibit the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the passing of bills of attainder and ex post facto laws, the imposition of religious qualifications for holding office, narrowly defines treason, and upholds the right to trial by jury in criminal cases.
The Madisonian Model
A. Thwarting Tyranny of the Majority
James Madison believed that to prevent the tyranny of the majority we must place as much of the government as possible beyond the direct control of the majority, separate the powers of different institutions, and construct a system of checks and balances. His plan placed only the House of Representatives within direct control of the majority. Separation of powers was accomplished by establishing three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) each relatively independent of one another. Each branch required the consent of the others for many of its actions, creating a system of checks and balances. The Founders also established a federal system of government that divided the power of government between a national government and the individual states.
B. The Constitutional Republic
The founders did not want the people to directly make all decisions. Their solution was to establish a republic, which is based on the consent of the governed in which representatives of the public exercise power. The system has a conservative bias, which favors the status quo since change usually requires a sizable majority and victory at many stages, while opposition to change must win only once.
C. The End of the Beginning
The final version of the Constitution was voted on and passed with no states voting against, but South Carolina’s delegates were divided.
Ratifying the Constitution
A. Federalists and Anti-Federalists
The Federalists supported the Constitution while the Anti-Federalists opposed it. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a series of articles known as the Federalist Papers in support of the Constitution. The Anti-Federalists objected that the Constitution was class-based and ensured that an economic elite would control government. They also objected to the lack of a Bill of Rights. In response, the Federalists promised to add amendments to protect individual liberties. The first ten amendments to the Constitution became known as the Bill of Rights.
The Federalists specified that the Constitution be ratified by special conventions in each of the states, rather than state legislatures where opposition was more likely. The Constitution was finally ratified and George Washington took office as the first president on April 30, 1789.
A. The Formal Amending Process
An amendment may be proposed either by a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress or by a national convention called by Congress at the request of two-thirds of the state legislatures. An amendment may be ratified either by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states or by special state conventions called in three-fourths of the states. Formal amendments have made the Constitution more egalitarian and democratic. Some amendments, like the Equal Rights Amendment, have been proposed but not ratified.
B. The Informal Process of Constitutional Change
There are several ways the Constitution changes informally. Through judicial interpretation the Supreme Court has the right to decide whether the actions of the legislative and executive branches of state and national governments are in accord with the Constitution. This power of judicial review was granted in the case of Marbury v. Madison (1803). The Constitution can also change through political practice. For example, political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution but have become an important part of how government is organized. Through practice, electors in the Electoral College have become nothing more than rubber stamps. Technology has also changed the Constitution. The media has facilitated the questioning of government policies and helped shape citizens’ opinions. Electronic communications and atomic weapons have given greater significance to presidential power. Increasing demands of policymakers has changed the Constitution by giving powers to the government and the president that were not seen by the founders.
D. The Importance of Flexibility
Changes reflect the flexibility of the Constitution. This flexibility has ensured the Constitution’s and the nation’s survival. The Constitution is a very short document. Many of our governing units are not mentioned in the Constitution. The framers allowed future generations to determine their needs within the constitutional framework.
Understanding the Constitution
A. The Constitution and Democracy
The Constitution itself is rarely described as democratic. The framers did not want to permit the majority’s preference to become policy. The Constitution did create a republic, which permitted substantial movement toward democracy. The Constitution has gradually been amended, both formally and informally, to expand voting rights and diminish the separation of the people from those who exercise power.
B. The Constitution and the Scope of Government
The Constitution created the rules of the game of politics and policymaking, many of which limit government action. Most of these limitations protect liberty and open the system to more participants. The Constitution reinforces individualism yet allows groups to flourish by giving them access to policymaking at many different points. The Constitution also encourages hyperpluralism by providing so many effective access points, thus making it difficult for government to act. Many scholars argue that so many checks have reduced the ability of government to reach effective policy decisions.
A. What Is Federalism?
Federalism is a way of organizing a nation so that two or more levels of government have formal authority over the same area and people. Power is shared between units of government. Most governments in the world, like Great Britain, are unitary governments, in which all power resides in the central government. The American states are unitary governments with respect to their local governments. A confederation is a governmental structure in which the national government is weak and most power is in the hands of its components, or states. The term intergovernmental relations refers to the interactions among national, state, and local governments.
B. Why Is Federalism So Important?
Federalism decentralizes our politics in many ways. For example, senators are elected to represent their state, not the nation. With more levels of government, more opportunities exist for political participation. Judicial power also is enhanced by federalism. Federalism also decentralizes our policies. The history of federalism demonstrates the tension between the states and the national government over who should control policy. The overlapping powers of the two levels of government mean that most debates over policy become debates over federalism. States are responsible for most public policies dealing with social, family, and moral issues. These become national issues when brought to the national government by an aggrieved group. The American states are also policy innovators, being responsible for many reforms, new ideas, and new policies.
The Constitutional Basis of Federalism
A. The Division of Power
The powers of state and national governments are carefully defined in the Constitution. States are guaranteed equal representation in the Senate, are responsible for elections, and cannot be abolished. The national government must protect states from violence and invasion. The supremacy clause states that the Constitution, laws of the national government, and treaties are the supreme law of the land. However, the Tenth Amendment states “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” This amendment has led to much controversy over the realm of the states’ powers. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Tenth Amendment did not give states power superior to that of the national government for activities not mentioned in the Constitution. The authority of the national government has been challenged by the states. Federal courts can order states to obey the Constitution or federal laws and treaties. The Eleventh Amendment prohibits individual damage suits against state officials and protects state governments from being sued against their consent by private parties in federal or state courts.
B. Establishing National Supremacy
Four key events have largely settled the issue of how national and state powers are related. In the Supreme Court case of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) Chief Justice John Marshall established two important constitutional principles. The first was the supremacy of the national government over the states, which suggests that federal laws preempt state laws and thus preclude their enforcement. The second was the principle that the national government has certain implied powers that go beyond enumerated powers. The Constitution states that Congress has the power to “make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.” Today implied powers are often stretched to the limit, referring to the necessary and proper clause as the elastic clause.
In Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) the Supreme Court increased the power of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce by broadly defining commerce to encompass virtually every form of commercial activity. However, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce has fluctuated. In recent years the Court has placed limitations on the national government’s commerce power.
The Civil War and the struggle for equality have also helped define the powers of the national and state governments. The Civil War was essentially a struggle between the power of the states and the power of the national government. The struggle for equality pitted states’ rights against national power. The conflict between states and the national government over equality issues was decided in favor of the national government.
C. States’ Obligations to Each Other
The Constitution outlines certain obligations that each state has to every other state. Article IV requires that states give full faith and credit to the public acts, records, and civil judicial proceedings of every other state. This is essential to the functioning of society and the economy. Usually full faith and credit is not an issue, although the recent issue over same-sex marriages has become controversial. Extradition is the constitutional requirement that states return a person charged with a crime in another state to that state for trial or imprisonment. The most complicated obligation among the states is the requirement that citizens of each state receive all the privileges and immunities of any other state in which they happen to be. There are many exceptions to this obligation; however the more fundamental the right, the less likely a state can discriminate against citizens of another state.
Intergovernmental Relations Today
A. From Dual to Cooperative Federalism
In dual federalism both the national government and the states remain supreme within their own spheres, each responsible for certain policies. Mingled responsibilities and blurred distinctions between the levels of government characterize cooperative federalism. Powers, policy, costs, administration, and blame are shared between the national government and the states. Before the national government began to assert its dominance over state governments, the American federal system leaned toward dual federalism. Gradually, the national role expanded until today the federal government’s presence is felt almost everywhere. Cooperative federalism rests on three standard operating procedures: shared costs, federal guidelines, and shared administration. The cooperation between the national and state governments is such an established feature that it persists even when the two levels of government are in conflict on certain matters. Most Americans see the national government as more capable of handling some issues and the state and local governments as better at others. The Republican majority that captured Congress in 1995 passed bills to give the states more authority over social and environmental programs once seen as the realm of the national government. However, Republicans also found the federal government was the most effective way to achieve many of their policy objectives.
B. Fiscal Federalism
Fiscal federalism is the pattern of spending, taxing, and providing grants in the federal system. There are two major types of federal aid to the states. Categorical grants are the main source of federal aid. They can be used only for one of several hundred specific purposes. Categorical grants often have strings attached, such as a nondiscrimination provision. The federal government may employ cross-over sanctions to use federal dollars in one program to influence state and local policy in another. Cross-cutting requirements occur when a condition on one federal grant is extended to all activities supported by federal funds regardless of their source. There are two types of categorical grants. Project grants are awarded on the basis of competitive applications. Formula grants are distributed according to a formula, often based on population, income, percentage of rural population, or other factors. The second major type of federal aid to the states is block grants, which are given more or less automatically to states or communities, which then have discretion in deciding how to spend the money. Block grants are now on the increase.
A general rule of federalism is that the more money there is at stake, the more fervently people will argue about its distribution. Consequently, states and localities often act as interest groups, competing with each other for federal dollars. On the whole, however, federal grant distribution tends to follow the principle of universalism, something for everybody.
Sometimes federal aid puts an unwanted burden on state governments. Most federal grants require the states to pay for a percentage of the costs; thus they have to budget funds for the project just to receive federal grant money. Requirements that direct states or local governments to comply with federal rules under threat of penalties or as a condition of receipt of a federal grant are called mandates. Unfunded mandates occur when Congress passes a law creating financial obligations for the states but provides no funds to meet these obligations. The Republican Congress has tried to limit the use of unfunded mandates, but federal courts and regulatory rules continue to impose financial burdens on the states.
A. Federalism and Democracy
The founders established a federal system in part to allay the fears of those who believed that a powerful and distant central government would tyrannize the states and limit their voice in government. Federalism has many advantages for democracy. It creates more opportunities for participation in politics. It increases access to government. Citizens and interest groups have more places to bring their grievances. Federalism allows the diversity of opinion within the country to be reflected in different public policies among the states. By handling most disputes over policy at the state and local level, federalism also reduces decision-making and conflict at the national level.
Federalism can also have disadvantages for democracy. States differ in the resources they can devote to services; thus, quality of services can vary widely between the states. Diversity in policy can also discourage states from providing services that would otherwise be available. Federalism may also have a negative effect on democracy insofar as local interests are able to thwart national majority support of certain policies, as occurred with civil rights policies. Finally, the sheer number of governments in the United States can be a burden to democracy.
B. Federalism and the Growth of the National Government
Throughout our history the national government has responded to needs and problems with new public policies, especially in the area of the economy. Relevant interests tend to turn to the national government for help. The states usually do not have the authority and resources to deal with most problems. Although it is constitutionally permissible for the states to handle a wide range of issues (except defense policy) it is usually not a sensible alternative. It would not be logical for the states, for example, to have their own space program, energy policy, retirement program, etc. Accordingly, the national government’s share of American governmental expenditures has grown rapidly since 1929. Although states have not been supplanted by the national government, the national government has taken on many new responsibilities.
Public Opinion and Political Action
The American People
The study of public opinion aims to understand the distribution of the population’s belief about politics and policy issues. Demography is the science of human populations. The most valuable tool for understanding demographic changes in America is the census, which is an actual enumeration of the population required by the Constitution to be taken every ten years.
The Immigrant Society
All Americans, except Native Americans, are descended from immigrants or are immigrants themselves. Recently, illegal immigrants have outnumbered legal immigrants. There have been three great waves of immigration: northwestern Europeans before the Civil War, southern and eastern Europeans after the Civil War, and Hispanics and Asians after World War II. Immigrants bring with them their aspirations and political beliefs.
The American Melting Pot
The United States is a melting pot of cultures, ideas, and peoples. The United States will soon become a minority majority society where minority groups outnumber the white Europeans. Until recently, African Americans were the largest minority group. Although suffering from economic disadvantage, African Americans have gained in political power. Hispanics now outnumber African Americans. The Simpson-Mazzoli Act requires that employers document the citizenship of their employees to discourage the employment of illegal immigrants, a particular concern to the Hispanic community. Most Asians immigrating to the United States have primarily been professional workers looking for greater opportunity. Asian Americans have often been considered high achievers. Native Americans are the worst off of all minority groups in the United States. They are the least healthy, poorest, and least educated of all minority groups. Americans live in a multicultural and multilingual society, but share a common political culture—an overall set of values widely shared within a society.
The Regional Shift
Before 1940 the most populous states have been concentrated north of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi River. Since then much of the population growth has been centered in the West and South. Reapportionment occurs after every census when the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are reallocated to the states based on population changes. Thus California has gained seats over the years, while New York has lost seats.
The Graying of America
The fastest growing age group in America is composed of citizens over sixty-five. By the year 2020 there will be just two working Americans for every person over the age of sixty-five. These statistics have made the Social Security system the second most costly public policy.
How Americans Learn About Politics: Political Socialization
A. The Process of Political Socialization
Political socialization is “the process through which an individual acquires his or her particular political orientations—his or her knowledge, feelings, and evaluations regarding his or her political world.” Formal political learning usually takes place in schools. Informal learning is more important and is usually accidental. The role of the family in political socialization is crucial because of the time and emotional commitments of the family. Most people vote the way their parents did. The mass media has considerable influence on political socialization, although young adults are less likely to watch television news and read newspapers. Governments throughout the world use schools to attempt to raise children committed to the basic values of the system. Education has become a very important public policy issue to most people.
B. Political Learning Over a Lifetime
Political learning is a lifelong activity. Political participation and party identification tends to increase with age.
Measuring Public Opinion and Political Information
A. How Polls are Conducted
Public opinion polling, first developed by George Gallup, is a sophisticated technology for measuring public opinion. Polls rely on a sample of the population—a relatively small proportion of people who are chosen as representative of the whole. The key to accuracy of polls is random sampling, which operates on the principle that everyone should have an equal probability of being selected. Sampling error, which depends on the size of the sample, is the level of confidence that the sample represents the total population. A good sampling error based on a sample of 1500 to 2000 people is plus or minus 3 percent. Most polling is now done on the telephone with samples selected through random digit dialing.
B. The Role of Polls in American Democracy
Polls help politicians detect public preferences and thus can be a tool for democracy. Critics of polling think it makes politicians more concerned with following than leading. Polls can also distort the election process. They are often accused of creating a bandwagon effect. The media often pays more attention to polls than the issues. The most criticized poll is the election-day exit poll, which often predicts the winner before all the polls are closed. This was particularly a problem in the close election Florida in 2000. Another problem with polls is that by altering the wording of a question, pollsters can get pretty much the results they want. Therefore, it is important to be an informed consumer of polls to recognize whether they are fair and unbiased.
C. What Polls Reveal About Americans’ Political Information
If public opinion analysts are agreed about anything, it is that the level of public knowledge about politics is dismally low. Americans are not very well informed about politics and cannot explain their opinion on important issues. Increased levels of education have not raised public knowledge about politics. According to Russell Neumann, the “paradox of mass politics” is that it works as well as it does given the discomforting lack of public knowledge about politics. This may be because people are clear about what basic values they want upheld even if they do not know the particulars of politics.
D. The Decline of Trust in Government
Over the last forty years Americans have become increasingly dissatisfied with government. Events such as the Vietnam War, Watergate, and economic troupes shook people’s confidence in the federal government. When people feel that government is not working according to their values, public opinion becomes more important.
What Americans Value: Political Ideologies
Who are the Liberals and Conservatives?
Political ideology is a coherent set of values and beliefs about public policy. More Americans consistently choose the ideological label of conservative over liberal. Liberals generally like the government to do more. Groups with political clout tend to be more conservative than groups whose members have often been shut out from the halls of political power. Ideological differences between men and women have led to the gender gap. Women are more likely to support Democratic candidates. The role of religion in influencing political ideology has changed greatly in recent years.
A. Do People Think in Ideological Terms?
The classic 1950s study, The American Voter discovered that Americans seem to care little about the differences between liberal and conservative politics. Most scholars believe that this has changed very little today. For most people the terms liberal and conservative are not as important as they are for the political elite. We have not seen major ideological shifts in the American population in recent years.
B. Has There Been a Turn toward Conservatism?
Ronald Reagan was clearly the most conservative president since the New Deal. However, analysts tend to conclude that his presidency did not represent a conservative shift in the population. Public opinion polls tend to show that people liked Reagan as a person, but did not necessarily agree with his policies. Nature of the times voters tend to be the swing voters rather than major ideological shifts.
How Americans Participate in Politics
Americans have many avenues of participation open to them. Political participation consists of the activities citizens use to influence the selection of political leaders or the policies they pursue. The United States is a participatory culture; however, voter turnout tends to be very low.
B. Conventional Participation
Conventional participation includes the widely accepted modes of influencing government: voting, persuading, running for office, and so on. Unconventional participation includes activities that are often dramatic, such as protesting, civil disobedience, and violence. The number of Americans who participate in politics daily is very low. Voting is the only activity that a majority of Americans engage in. Whereas voting is declining, other conventional activities have increased in recent years.
C. Protest as Participation
Protest is a form of political participation designed to achieve policy change through dramatic and unconventional tactics. Media coverage is important to the success of protest. The use of civil disobedience, consciously breaking a law though to be unjust, has been common throughout American history. Violence has also been a means of pressuring the government to change its policies throughout American history.
D. Class, Inequality, and Participation
Participation is unequal in American political life. Those who are advantaged in socioeconomic terms (higher education, income, and occupation) are more likely to be politically active. Those with poor education and income levels and minority groups tend to participate less. However, when African Americans, Hispanics, and whites of equal incomes and education are compared, the minorities tend to participate more. Those who participate are easy to listen to; nonparticipants are easy to ignore.
Understanding Public Opinion and Political Action
A. Public Attitudes Toward the Scope of Government
By 1980, 50 percent of the population thought the government was getting too powerful. However, for much of the population questions about the scope of government have consistently elicited no opinion. The public is not as concerned with political issues as would be ideal in a democratic society. They are also inconsistent. While more people think the government is too active, a plurality has consistently called for more spending on key social programs.
B. Democracy, Public Opinion, and Political Action
American democracy is representative, not direct. Americans often take for granted their opportunity to replace their leaders. If the public’s task is to choose who is to lead, it must be asked whether it can do so wisely given the public’s lack of political and policy knowledge. However, even if people only vote according to the nature of the times, their voices are clearly being heard—holding public officials accountable for their actions.
Mass Media and the Political Agenda
The Mass Media Today
An effective media strategy is crucial to any presidential campaign. A media event is a staged event designed primarily for the purpose of being covered. Candidates must get the right image on TV news and produce effective commercials. The media also are critical to day-to-day governing. Politicians’ images in the press are good indicators of their clout. The Reagan Administration was particularly concerned with media appearance.
The Development of Mass Media
The mass media age is a relatively recent phenomenon. Franklin Roosevelt practically invented media politics. He held two press conferences (presidential meetings with reporters) a week. He also effectively used the radio, both as a candidate and while in office. Roosevelt knew how to feed the right story to the right reporter and established a good relationship with the press. The events of the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal soured the press on government. The media now try to ferret out the truth about stories and no longer believe what politicians tell them. Investigative journalism, the use of detective-like reporting methods to unearth scandals, pits reporters against political leaders. There are two kinds of media, the print media (newspapers and magazines) and the broadcast media (television and radio).
B. The Print Media
The first American newspaper was printed in 1783, but newspapers expanded rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century with the “penny press.” The turn of the century was characterized by yellow journalism and many newspapers consolidated into chains during the early part of the twentieth century. Newspaper circulation rates have been declining since the rise of television. Although magazines are read widely, the political content of the leading magazines is slim.
C. The Broadcast Media
The broadcast media have replaced the print media as Americans’ principal source of news and information. The 1950s and early 1960s were the adolescent years for American television when the political career of Richard Nixon was made and unmade. The first televised presidential debate occurred in 1960 between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Kennedy’s television appearance had a big impact on the outcome of the debate. During the 1960s, television took the country to the war in Vietnam and had a tremendous impact on why Americans turned against the war. Cable television has had a great impact because it brings the news to the people and political leaders as it happens. More people rely on TV for the news than any other medium and tend to believe what they see on TV more than what they read in the newspapers.
D. Narrowcasting: Cable TV and the Internet
The future of political communication seems destined to bring more and more choices regarding what we can see about our government, particularly as an increasing number of people subscribe to cable TV and the Internet. Cable TV and the Internet tend to focus on a narrow particular interest rather than appealing to a general audience. Hence, their mission can be termed “narrowcasting,” rather than the traditional “broadcasting” practiced by the major networks.
Reporting The News
News is what is timely and different, not routine. In their pursuit of high ratings, news shows are tailored to a fairly low level of audience sophistication. News is, therefore, what is entertaining to the average viewer.
B. Finding the News
Most news organizations assign their best reporters to particular beatsóspecific locations where news frequently emanates from. Journalists rely almost exclusively on established sources to get their information. Sometimes those who make the news feed stories to reporters in the form of trial balloons, information leaked to the media to see what the political reaction will be. When reporters feel that their access to information is being impeded, they may complain of censorship. Despite reliance on established sources, enterprising reporters occasionally uncover their own stories.
C. Presenting the News
News coverage by the print and broadcast media tends to be superficial. TV news, in particular, is little more than a headline service. Little attention is given to the issues during a presidential campaign and even less when there is no campaign. Oddly, as technology has enabled the media to pass along information with greater speed, news coverage has become less complete. In place of speeches, Americans hear sound bites of fifteen seconds or less.
D. Bias in the News
It is a common belief that the news tends to be biased. However, the vast majority of social science studies have found that reporting is not systematically biased toward a particular ideology or party. Most stories present two opposing views and most reporters practice journalistic objectivity. The overriding bias is toward stories that will draw the largest audience, such as stories with conflict, violence, disaster, or scandal. Television is particularly biased toward stories that generate good pictures. Talking heads are boring; viewers want more interesting visual stimulation.
The News and Public Opinion
For many years scholars believed that the media had little more than a marginal effect on public opinion. However, when the focus turns to how the media affects what Americans think about, more positive results are uncovered. The media helps set the policy agenda. Television news can influence the criteria by which the public evaluates political leaders by how they cover issues and events. Studies have shown that news commentators have the strongest influence on public opinion changes. The media is a key political institution that affects what Americans think about.
The Media’s Agenda-Setting Function
The policy agenda is “the list of subjects or problems to which government officials, and people outside of government closely associated with those officials, are paying some serious attention at any given time.” Policy entrepreneurs are people who invest their political capital in an issue and often use the media to get their ideas placed high on the policy agenda.
The staging of political events to attract media attention has become a political art form used by all presidents. The poor and downtrodden also can use the media to publicize their cause. This was important to the civil rights movement. A long-term, positive image via the media is particularly important and policy entrepreneurs depend on good will and good images. Often they find the need to hire a public relations firm to help them with this.
Understanding the Mass Media
A. The Media and the Scope of Government
The watchdog function of the media helps to restrict politicians. When every new proposal is met with skepticism, regular constraints are placed on the scope of what government can do. The press is reformist-oriented. At the same time, once the media identifies a problem, they ask what the government is doing about it. Though skeptical of what politicians say and do, the media report on America’s social problems in a manner that encourages government to take on more and more tasks.
B. Individualism and the Media
The media furthers individualism in politics since politicians are much more capable of running for office on their own and appealing directly to the people through television. The American institutional agenda has changed because television finds it easier to focus on individuals than on groups. Political parties have thus declined.
C. Democracy and the Mass Media
Widespread access to information could be a great boon to democracy, yet this has not happened. The rise of the “information society” has not brought about the rise of the “informed society.” The media argues it gives the public what it wants. To make a profit it must appeal to the maximum number of people. People largely want their news to be entertaining and do not care to hear about complex political issues.
The Meaning of Party
Anthony Downs defined a political party as a “team of men and women seeking to control the governing apparatus by gaining office in a duly constituted election.” Political parties are like three-headed political giants. First, the party-in-the-electorate is the largest component of an American party. Americans join a party simply by identifying with it. Second, a party as an organization has a national office, a full-time staff, rules and bylaws, and budgets. Third, the party-in-government consists of elected officials who label themselves as members of the party.
B. Tasks of the Parties
Linkage institutions translate inputs from the public into outputs from the policymakers. In the United States the four main linkage institutions are parties, elections, interest groups, and the media. Political parties perform the following tasks: pick candidates, run campaigns, give cues to voters through party image (what people believe the party generally stands for), articulate policies, and coordinate policymaking.
C. Parties, Voters, and Policy: The Downs Model
Anthony Downs’ rational-choice theory “seeks to explain political processes and outcomes as consequences of purposive behavior. Political actors are assumed to have goals and to pursue those goals sensibly and efficiently.” In the American electorate a few voters are very liberal and a few very conservative, but most are in the middle; therefore, in order to survive, both parties must stay near the center. From a rational-choice perspective, one should expect the parties to differentiate themselves somewhat. Democrats and Republicans have to forge different identities to build voter loyalty. More people see major differences between the major parties than they used to.
The Party in the Electorate
For most people the party is a psychological concept. Party images help shape people’s party identification (the self-proclaimed preference for one party or the other). The clearest trend in party identification has been the decline of both parties and upsurge of independence. African Americans are the only major social group that has not moved toward a position of increased independence. The abandonment of either party for a nonpartisan stance is well advanced for many white Americans, especially younger voters. Those who still identify with a party are no longer as loyal in the voting booth. Ticket-splitting (voting with one party for one office and another for other offices) is on the rise.
The Party Organizations:
From Grass Roots to Washington
The Party Organizations: From the Grass Roots to Washington (241-245)
As organizations, American political parties are decentralized and fragmented. In America the formal party organizations have little power. Candidates in the United States can get elected on their own.
B. Local Parties
From the late nineteenth century through the 1930s, many cities were dominated by party machines (“party organization that depends crucially on inducements that are both specific and material”). Patronage is one of the most important inducements used by machines. Patronage jobs are given for political reasons rather than for merit or competence alone. Urban party organizations are no longer very active as a rule. There has been a revitalization of party organization at the county level.
C. The Fifty State Party Systems
American parties are a loose aggregation of fifty state parties, which are themselves a loose association of individuals, groups, and local organizations. States are allowed wide discretion in the regulation of party activities including primary elections. Some states give parties greater power than others to limit who can participate in their nomination contests by using closed, open, or blanket primaries. In terms of headquarters and budgets, state parties are better organized than they used to be, but still pale when compared to other national interest groups.
D. The National Party Organizations
The supreme power within each of the parties is its national convention that meets every four years to write the party’s platform and nominate its candidates for president and vice president. The national committee keeps the party operating between conventions. The day-to-day activities of the national party are the responsibility of the national chairperson.
The Party in Government:
Promises and Policy
Party control matters because each party and the elected officials who represent it try to turn campaign promises into policy. Voters are usually attracted to different parties because of their performance and policies. What the party does in office greatly influences who will join its coalition. Contrary to popular impression, research shows that parties and presidents usually try to keep their promises. Party platforms are excellent predictors of a party’s actual policy performance once in office.
Party Eras in American History
Party eras consist of long periods of time when one party has been the dominant majority party. Party eras are punctuated by a critical election that is characterized by an electoral upheaval resulting in new coalitions formed for each party. This process is called party realignment.
B. 1796-1824: The First Party System
America’s first and shortest-lived major party was the Federalist Party. During this time, most party leaders did not regard themselves as professional politicians. The Federalists were defeated by the Democratic-Republicans (also known as the Jeffersonians). The Democratic-Republican Party was a coalition of agrarian interests rather than industrialists who supported the Federalists.
C. 1828-1856: Jackson and the Democrats versus the Whigs
General Andrew Jackson founded the modern American political party, changing the Democratic-Republican Party to the Democratic Party and forging a new coalition that included westerners as well as southerners, new immigrants as well as settled Americans. Martin Van Buren was the behind-the-scenes architect of the Democratic Party. The Whigs composed of northern industrialists and southern planters provided opposition.
D. 1860-1932: The Two Republican Eras
The slavery issue split the Democrats and Whigs in the 1850s, leading to the first Republican era. The Republicans rose as the antislavery party, forging a coalition that put them in ascendancy for more than sixty years. A second Republican era was initiated with the watershed election of 1896 over the issue of the gold standard, a realigning election that shifted the party coalitions and entrenched the Republicans for another generation.
E. 1932-1968: The New Deal Coalition
The Republican Party declined with President Herbert Hoover’s handling of the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt defeated Hoover in 1932, promising a New Deal. Democrats forged a New Deal coalition of urban dwellers, labor unions, Catholics and Jews, the poor, southerners, African Americans, and intellectuals. The Democratic Party remained the clear majority for decades. Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War policies tore the Democratic Party apart in 1968.
F. 1968-Present: The Era of Divided Government
The first time in the twentieth century that a newly elected present did not have his party in control of both houses of Congress was when Nixon won the 1968 election. Since then, with few exceptions, voters have opted to continue divided-party government. Divided government is also common at the state level. In realignment people change from one party to another; in a party dealignment citizens gradually move away from both. The recent dealignment has been characterized by growing party neutrality. It is the independent-minded voters who will determine the ups and downs of party fortunes in the twenty-first century.
Their Impact on American Politics
Third parties occasionally attract the public’s attention. There are three varieties of third parties: parties that promote certain causes or ideologies, splinter parties that are offshoots of a major party, and parties that are extensions of a popular individual with presidential aspirations. Third parties have brought new groups into the electorate and have served as safety valves for popular discontent. The most obvious consequence of two-party governance is the moderation of political conflict. With only two parties, both parties follow a centrist position in order to maximize their appeal to voters. The result is often political ambiguity.
Understanding Political Parties
A. Democracy and Responsible Party GovernmentIn an ideal democracy candidates should say what they mean to do if elected and be able to do what they promised once elected. According to the responsible party model, parties should 1) present distinct, comprehensive programs, 2) each party candidate must be committed to the program, 3) the majority party must implement its program, and 4) the majority party must accept responsibility for the performance of government. American political parties fall short of these conditions because they are too decentralized to take a national position and enforce it and most candidates are self-selected. There is no mechanism for a party to discipline their officeholders and ensure cohesion. Critics of the responsible party model argue that American society is too complex and diverse to capture such a simple model. Local differences need an outlet for expression. Decentralized parties are appropriate for a limited government.
B. Individualism and Gridlock
The founding fathers were concerned that political parties would violate individual rights and wanted to preserve individual freedom of action by elected officials. A consequence of allowing individualism is gridlock in American policymaking. The lack of a strong party structure makes it easier for politicians to pass the buck. When one party controls both the executive and legislative branches there is less open conflict. Nevertheless, the party in control typically has a hard time maintaining sufficient unity to accomplish major changes.
C. American Political Parties and the Scope of Government
The lack of disciplined parties in America helps explain why the scope of governmental activity is narrower in the United States than in other established democracies. Substantially increasing the scope of government in America is not something that can be accomplished through the disciplined actions of one party’s members, as is the case in other democracies. On the other hand, because no single party in the United States can ever be said to have firm control over the government, the hard choices necessary to cut back on existing government spending are rarely addressed.D. Is the Party Over?The key problem of American political parties today is that they are no longer the main source of political information, attention, and affection. The media and interest groups, for example, are major rivals to political parties. There are indications that parties are trying to adapt to the high-tech age. State and national party organizations have become more visible and active than ever. Political parties will probably continue to play an important, but significantly diminished, role in American politics.
Nominations and Campaigns
The Nomination Game
A nomination is a party’s official endorsement of a candidate for office. Success in the nomination game requires money, media attention, and momentum. These elements are manipulated through a campaign strategy.
B. Deciding to Run
Campaigns are more taxing than ever. They seem endless, usually requiring at least a full year before the election for presidential candidates. Those who aspire to the presidency need an electoral base from which to begin. The offices of U.S. senator, U.S. representative, and state governor have been the most common electoral bases from which to run for president.
C. Competing for Delegates
The goal of the nomination game is to win the majority of delegates’ votes at the national party convention. State parties choose their delegates either through caucuses or primaries. Caucuses consist of a meeting of state party leaders to choose delegates. At one time, party bosses ran caucuses. Today, caucuses are more open and adhere to strict complex rules of representation. Caucuses usually are organized like a pyramid, starting at the neighborhood, precinct-level and ending at the state convention where delegates are finally chosen to go to the national convention.
Most delegates today are selected in presidential primaries, in which voters in a state go to the polls and vote for a candidate. Presidential primaries are a product of turn-of-the-century reformers. As a result of the 1968 Democratic Party Convention and the McGovern-Fraser Commission reforms, many states switched to primaries in order to ensure a more representative group of delegates. Superdelegates, composed of officeholders and party leaders, were added later. The proliferation of presidential primaries has transformed American politics. The first primary is held in New Hampshire. Many states have moved their primary earlier in the season (frontloading) to capitalize on media attention. State legislatures and state parties make laws determining the way in which the primaries are set up and the delegates are allocated. Primaries serve as elimination contests and are proving grounds for candidates.
Critics of the primary and caucus system cite the following: 1) disproportionate attention goes to the early caucuses and primaries, 2) prominent politicians find it difficult to take time out from their duties to run, 3) money plays too big a role in the caucuses and primaries, states that vote late in the process are often irrelevant, 4) participation in the primaries and caucuses is low and unrepresentative, and 5) the system gives too much power to the media. The present system has powerful defenders, most notably the candidates themselves.
D. The Convention Send-off
Party conventions used to provide great drama in American politics when the outcome was often in doubt. With the advent of presidential primaries, the drama has been reduced, although television has shown us some dramatic convention events. Today, most of the drama is gone. The parties have learned that high drama is not in their best interest. The networks have also scaled back their coverage. The purpose of conventions today is to orchestrate a massive send-off for the candidates, develop the parties’ policy positions through the party platform, and promote political representation.
The Campaign Game
A. The High-Tech Media Campaign
Technology has made it possible for candidates to speak directly to the American people in the comfort of their living rooms, or in front of their computer monitors. The most important use of computer technology in campaigns has been the use of targeted mailings to prospective supporters (direct mail). The most important goal of any media campaign is simply to get attention. Media coverage is determined by advertising and free attention as newsmakers. About half the total budget for a presidential or senatorial campaign is used for television advertising. Research has shown that campaign advertising can be a source of information about issues as well as about images. Getting positions across to voters is as important as persuading them that a candidate is honest, competent, and able to lead. The news media largely determine for themselves what is happening in a campaign. They tend to focus more on the campaign itself and less on policy issues.
B. Organizing the Campaign
To effectively organize their campaigns candidates must do the following: line up a campaign manager, get a fund raiser, get a campaign counsel, hire media and campaign consultants, assemble a campaign staff, plan the logistics, get a research staff and policy advisors, hire a pollster, and get a good press secretary.
Money and Campaigning
A. The Maze of Campaign Finance Reforms
Campaigns are expensive. Money is also controversial because of the perception that money buys votes and influence. The 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act was meant to tighten reporting requirements for contributions and limit overall expenditures. The act created the Federal Election Commission, provided public financing for presidential primaries and general elections, limited presidential campaign spending, required disclosure, and limited contributions. In 1976 the Supreme Court struck down the portion of the act that had limited the amount individuals could contribute to their own campaigns as a violation of free speech. In 1979 the act was amended to make it easier for political parties to raise money for voter registration drives and the distribution of campaign material at the grass-roots level. This is known as soft money and is not subject to any contribution limits. Critics, such as Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold, argue that big-money contributors of soft money have been given political appointments. Campaign spending reforms have made campaigns more open and honest.
B. The Proliferation of PACs
Campaign reforms also encouraged the spread of political action committees (PACs). Any interest group can form its own PAC to channel contributions of up to $5,000 per candidate. They can spend unlimited amounts indirectly if not coordinated with the campaign. The number of PACs has grown rapidly. Candidates need PACs to pay for high-tech campaigning. Candidates need money and PACs want access to officeholders. Critics argue that PAC money leads to PAC control over what the winners do once in office. On some issues, PAC money may make a difference. However, most PACs give money to candidates who agree with them in the first place. The impact of PAC money on presidents is doubtful since presidential campaigns are less dependent on PACs.
C. Are Campaigns Too Expensive?
Every four years Americans spend over $2 billion on national, state, and local elections. Compared with the amount of money spent on items of far less importance, this is very little. Fund raising has come to take up much of politicians’ precious time. Some lawmakers support some sort of public financing reform, but it is difficult to get members of Congress to agree to finance people who are challenging them for their seats.
D. Does Money Buy Victory?
The most basic complaint about money and politics is that there may be a direct link between dollars spent and votes received. Incumbents who face a tough opponent must raise more money to meet the challenge, but when the challenger is not a serious threat, incumbents need less money. More important than having “more” money is having “enough.” Enough money is needed to get your message across effectively.
The Impact of Campaigning
Campaigns can have three effects on voters: reinforcement, activation, and conversion. Research has shown that campaigns mostly reinforce and activate; only rarely do they convert. Most people pay relatively little attention to campaigns in the first place, relying on selective perception. Party identification and other factors still have a strong influence on voting behavior. Finally, incumbents always start with a substantial advantage.
Understanding Nominations and Campaigns
A. Are Nominations and Campaigns Too Democratic?
American campaigns are much more open than elections in other countries. However, this openness creates a situation where campaigns seem to last forever. Citizens become overwhelmed by the process and may stay on the sidelines. Campaigns may also discourage good candidates from running. Campaigns promote individualism in American politics.
B. Do Campaigns Lead to Increases in the Scope of Government?
Because states are key battlegrounds of presidential campaigns, candidates tailor their appeals to the interests of each major state. Thus, as the campaign goes on, more promises are made in different states. Promises add up to new government programs and money. It is hard for politicians to promise that the scope of government will be limited through specific cuts.
Elections and Voting Behavior
How American Elections Work
Elections institutionalize political activity and provide regular access to political power. The United States has three general kinds of elections: primary elections in which voters select party nominees, general elections which are contested between the nominees of the parties, and elections on specific policy questions in which voters engage in making or ratifying legislation. Procedures allowing the public to pass legislation directly exist in many American states. These include the referendum whereby voters are given the chance to approve or disapprove some legislative act and the initiative petition, which typically requires gaining signatures on a proposed law equaling 10 percent of the voters in the previous election.
A Tale of Three Elections
A. 1800: The First Electoral Transition of Power
In 1800, state and local organizations promoted the cause of the two candidates (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson). Newspapers were highly partisan and the campaign focused on state legislatures, which had the responsibility for choosing members of the electoral college. 1800 was significant because in order to avoid the situation where the vice president came from the opposing party, Jefferson had his electors also vote for his vice-presidential choice, Aaron Burr. This meant that Jefferson and Burr were tied for first and several ballots were cast in the House. A constitutional crisis was avoided and this election became the first peaceful transfer of power between parties via election in history.
B. 1896: A Bitter Fight over Economic Interests
The major issue in the 1896 election was economics. The Republicans, led by William McKinley, supported the gold standard and high tariffs. The Democrats, led by William Jennings Bryan, favored unlimited coinage of silver. Bryan broke with tradition and took to the stump in person while McKinley ran a front-porch campaign. McKinley won with the support of eastern manufacturers in the industrial Northeast and Midwest, firmly entrenching the Republican Party as the majority for several decades.
C. 2000: What a Mess!
The 2000 presidential election represents one of the most memorable finishes in the history of democracy. The election came down to the state of Florida, which was too close to call and required a recount. A controversy developed over whether or not undervotes would be examined by hand or not in counties that used punch-card systems. The courts were forced to play a pivotal role in a presidential election for the first time ever. Litigation involved whether there would be hand recounts of ballots, the standards to be used in evaluating ballots, the time allowed for recounts, the acceptability of the design of the butterfly ballot, and a host of related questions. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of Vice President Gore’s request for a hand recount. However the U.S. Supreme Court overturned this decision ultimately assuring that George W. Bush would emerge the winner. Although most experts predicted early that Al Gore would win the election, the 2000 election showed that how candidates present themselves to the American people really matters. Gore made the mistake of not focusing on past performance while Bush successfully took advantage of character concerns and big government issues. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader raised issues neglected by the major parties, arguing that the major parties were dominated by corporate interests and called for policies that place the protection of jobs above the interests of big corporations. The 2000 election represents the first time since 1888 that the winner of the popular vote lost the Electoral College count.
Whether to Vote:
A Citizen's First Choice
American electoral history has experienced an expansion of suffrage, the right to vote. Interestingly, as the right to vote has been extended, proportionately fewer of those eligible have chose to exercise that right.
B. Deciding Whether to Vote
Usually your vote probably will make no difference to the outcome. Furthermore, voting is somewhat costly. Anthony Downs argues that rational people vote if they believe that the policies of one party will bring more benefits than the policies of the other party. People who see policy differences between the parties are more likely to vote, but if you see no difference, the rational choice is not to vote. You may decide to vote out of a sense of civic duty.
C. Registering to Vote
States adopted voter registration, requiring citizens to register in advance of Election Day, around the turn of the century. Registration procedures differ from state to state. The Motor Voter Act (1993) made voter registration easier by allowing eligible voters to check a box on their driver’s license application or renewal form. The impact of this law has been limited. In fact, turnout has steadily declined though registration procedures have become easier. Research suggests that the drop in turnout may be related to a decline in Americans’ social and political connectedness.
D. Who Votes?
Studies of nonvoting have come to several conclusions: 1) education makes participation more likely, 2) young people have the lowest turnout rate, 3) whites vote with greater frequency than members of minority groups, 4) women have slightly higher voting rates than men, 5) married people are more likely to vote than unmarried people, 6) people who have lived at the same address for a long time are more likely to vote, and 7) union members and families are more likely to vote.
E. The Political Consequences of Turnout Bias
Does turnout influence election outcomes? The consensus seems to be that election outcomes are not likely to be effected unless they are very close. In the close congressional election of 1994 studies have shown that if turnout rates had been equal among all education categories, the Democrats would have controlled the House of Representatives.
How Americans Vote:
Explaining Citizens' Decisions
Journalists and politicians like to believe that Americans vote because they agree more with the policy views of Candidate A than with those of Candidate B. This is often called the mandate theory of elections. Political scientists tend to focus on three other explanations: party identification, candidate evaluation, and policy voting.
B. Party Identification
Parties tend to rely on groups that lean heavily in their favor to form their basic coalition. With the emergence of television and candidate-centered politics, the hold of the party on the voter eroded substantially during the 1960s and 1970s, stabilizing at a new and lower level. Voting along party lines is still quite common, but considerably less so than it was several decades ago. Voters feel they no longer need the parties to guide their choices. They have become increasingly individualistic.
C. Candidate Evaluations: How Americans See the Candidates
All candidates try to present a favorable image. Studies have shown that the three most important dimensions of candidate image are integrity, reliability, and competence, and voters most often mention competence as the most important. Evaluations of candidates’ personalities are sometimes seen as superficial and irrational judgments; but if a candidate is too incompetent to carry out policy promises, or too dishonest to be trusted, it makes perfect sense for a voter to pay more attention to personality than policies.
D. Policy Voting
Policy voting occurs when people base their choices in an election on their own issue preferences. Policy voting requires voters to have a clear view of their own policy positions, understand the candidates’ policy positions, and vote for the candidate whose policies match their own. Policy voting is not always easy since candidates’ positions are not always clear and the media do not focus on the issues. Policy voting has become somewhat easier today as candidates are more forced to take clear stands to appeal to their own party’s primary voters.
The Last Battle:
The Electoral College
The electoral college, not the popular vote, determines the president of the United States. The founders wanted the president to be selected by the nation’s elite, not by the people. The electoral college is a body of electors who vote for the president and vice president. Each state has as many electoral votes as it has U.S. senators and representatives. All but two states have a winner-take-all system. Electors meet in their states in December, following the November election, and mail their votes to the vice president. If no candidate receives an electoral college majority, then the election is thrown into the House of Representatives, which chooses from among the top three electoral vote winners. The electoral college introduces bias into the campaign and electoral process by giving extra clout to big states and cities.
Understanding Elections and Voting Behavior
A. Democracy and Elections
The greater the policy differences between candidates, the more likely voters will be able to steer government policies by their choices. However, the candidates do not always do their best to clarify the issues, often sidestepping controversial questions. When individual candidates do offer a plain choice to the voters, voters are more able to guide the government’s policy direction. Those who feel better off as a result of certain policies are likely to support candidates who pledge to continue those policies. This is called retrospective voting. In presidential elections, people unhappy with the state of the economy tend to blame the incumbents.
B. Elections and the Scope of Government
Elections increase generalized support for government and its powers. Voters like to feel that they are sending a message to the government to accomplish something. Thus, as democracy has spread, government has come to do more and more, and its scope has grown.
The Role and Reputation of Interest Groups
A. Defining Interest Groups
An interest group is an organization of people with similar policy goals who enter the political process to try to achieve those aims. Interest groups pursue their goals in many arenas. Interest groups differ from political parties in that they do not run their own slate of candidates. Furthermore, interest groups are often policy specialists, whereas parties are policy generalists.
B. Why Interest Groups Get Bad Press
James Madison used the derogatory term faction to describe interest groups. Americans generally have an unfavorable view of interest groups. Defenders counter that the relationship between public officials and lobbyists is probably more free of out-and-out bribery than ever before in American history.
Theory of Interest Group Politics
A. Pluralism and Group Theory
The pluralist theory argues that interest group activity brings representation to all by competing in the political marketplace. The group theory of politics argues: 1) groups provide a key linkage between people and government, 2) groups compete, 3) no one group is likely to become too dominant, 4) groups usually play by the “rules of the game,” and 5) groups weak in one resource can use another. Pluralists argue that lobbying is open to all and is therefore not a problem.
B. Elites and the Denial of Pluralism
Elite theory claims that real power is held by relatively few people, key groups, and institutions looking out for themselves. Elite theory argues the following: 1) groups are extremely unequal in power, 2) awesome power is controlled by the largest corporations, 3) the power of a few is fortified by an extensive system of interlocking directorates, and 4) other groups may win minor policy battles, but the corporate elites prevail when it comes to the big decisions.
C. Hyperpluralism and Interest Group Liberalism
Hyperpluralism argues that the pluralist system is out of control. Interest group liberalism refers to the government’s excessive deference to groups. In an effort to please and appease every interest, agencies proliferate, conflicting regulations expand, programs multiply, and budgets skyrocket. Hyperpluralists argue that: 1) groups have become too powerful in the political process as government tries to aid every conceivable interest, 2) interest group liberalism is aggravated by numerous subgovernments (the comfortable relationships among a government agency, the interest group it deals with, and congressional subcommittees), and 3) trying to please every group results in contradictory and confusing policy.
What Makes an Interest Group Successful?
A. The Surprising Ineffectiveness of Large Groups
Small groups have organizational advantages over large groups. A potential group is composed of all people who might be group members because they share some common interest. An actual group is composed of those in the potential group who chooses to join. Mancur Olson points out that all groups are in the business of providing collective goods (something of value, such as clean air, that cannot be withheld from a potential group member). The problem is why should potential members work for something if they can get it for free? This is known as the free-rider problem. The bigger the group, the more serious the free-rider problem. Olson’s law of large groups states, “the larger the group, the further it will fall short of providing an optimal amount of a collective good.” Large potential groups can overcome Olson’s law by providing attractive benefits. Selective benefits are goods that a group can restrict to those who pay their yearly dues.
A large potential group may be mobilized through an issue that people feel intensely about, such as abortion. A single-issue group can be defined as a group that has a narrow interest, dislikes compromise, and single-mindedly pursues its goal.
C. Financial Resources
One of the major indictments of the American interest group system is that it is biased toward the wealthy. Critics charge that PACs distort the governmental process in favor of those that can raise the most money. Even on some of the most important issues, however, the big interests do not always win.
The Interest Group Explosion
The number of interest groups in the United States has been increasing rapidly over the last several decades. One of the reasons for the increase in the number of groups has been the development of sophisticated technology that makes it easier for groups to make their voices heard in Washington.
How Groups Try to Shape Policy
Lobbyists are political persuaders who represent organized groups. They may be paid employees of the group or hired on a temporary basis. Lobbyists are primarily out to influence members of Congress but can be of help to them as well. Lobbyists help members of Congress in five ways: 1) they are an important source of information, 2) they can help a member with political strategy, 3) they can help formulate campaign strategy, and 4) they are a source of ideas and innovations. Evidence suggests that lobbyists’ power over policy is often exaggerated, but there is evidence to suggest that sometimes lobbying can persuade legislators to support a certain policy. Lobbying clearly works best on people already committed to the lobbyist’s policy position.
Electioneering consists of aiding candidates financially and getting group members out to support them. Political Action Committees (PACs) have provided a means for groups to participate in electioneering. The number of PACs has grown rapidly. No major interest group seeking to influence the electoral process can pass up the opportunity to honestly and openly funnel money into the campaigns of their supporters. Only a handful of candidates have resisted the lure of PAC money in recent years.
If interest groups fail in Congress, the next step is to go to court in the hope of getting specific rulings. Environmental groups and civil rights groups have been particularly successful in litigation. Groups employ amicus curiae briefs (briefs submitted to the courts in support of one side of a case) to influence court decisions. A more direct judicial strategy employed by interest groups is the filing of class action lawsuits, which enables a group of similarly situated plaintiffs to combine similar grievances into a single suit.
D. Going Public
Groups are interested in the opinions of the public. Because public opinion ultimately makes its way to policymakers, interest groups carefully cultivate their public image. The practice of interest groups’ appealing to the public for support has a long tradition in American politics. Recently, an increased number of organizations have undertaken expensive public relations efforts.
Types of Interest Groups
A. Economic Interests
All economic interests are ultimately concerned with wages, prices, and profits. Business executives, factory workers, and farmers seek to influence government because regulations, taxes, subsidies, and international economic policy all affect their economic livelihoods. Labor has more affiliated members than any other interest group aside from the AARP. American unions press for policies to ensure better working conditions and higher wages. Unions have fought to establish the union shop, which requires new employees to join the union representing them. Business groups have supported right-to-work laws, which outlaw union membership as a condition of employment. The American labor movement reached its peak in 1956 and has declined since due to foreign competition and the decline of blue-collar industries.
Only 3 percent of Americans make their living as farmers. There are several broad-based agricultural groups and commodity associations that represent farmers. Policymakers, bureaucrats, and commodity associations often provide classic examples of subgovernments.
Business is well organized for political action. Business PACs have increased more dramatically than any other category of PACs. The National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Congress speak for general business interests while hundreds of trade and product associations pursue policy goals for their members.
B. Environmental Interests
Environmental groups are among the newest political interest groups. There are over ten thousand environmental groups. They have promoted pollution-control policies, wilderness protection, and population control. The concerns of environmentalists often come into direct conflict with energy goals.
C. Equality Interests
Interest groups representing women and minorities have made equal rights their main policy goal. Equality at the polls, in housing, on the job, in education, and in all other facets of life has been the dominant goal of African-American groups. One of the largest is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Women’s rights groups, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW), have lobbied for an end to gender discrimination.
D. Consumer and Public Interest Lobbies
Today there are over two thousand public interest groups. Public interest lobbies can be defined as organizations that seek “a collective good, the achievement of which will not selectively and materially benefit the membership or activists of the organization.” Consumer groups have won many legislative victories. There are many different types of public interest groups.
Understanding Interest Groups
A. Interest Groups and Democracy
James Madison’s solution to the problems posed by interest groups was to create a wide-open system in which many groups would be able to participate so that groups with opposing interests would counterbalance one another. One analyst concludes that the increase in lobbying activity has resulted in less clout overall for interest groups, and better democracy. Elite theorists argue that PACs, the source of money in elections, distort the process. Wealthier interests are greatly advantaged by the PAC system. Hyperpluralists argue that it has been increasingly difficult to accomplish major policy change in Washington because of the formation of so many groups.
B. Interest Groups and the Scope of Government
Though individualistic, Americans are also associational. By joining a number of political associations, Americans are able to politicize a variety of aspects of their own individualism. Individual interest groups fight to sustain government programs that are important to them, thereby making it hard for politicians to ever reduce the scope of government. However, one can also argue that the growth in the scope of government in recent decades accounts for a good portion of the proliferation of interest groups. The more areas in which the federal government has become involved, the more interest groups have developed to attempt to influence policy.
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