The American Direct Primary: Party Institutionalization and Transformation in the North

By Alan Ware | Go to book overview

6
The Impact of Party Competition

It is widely acknowledged that political competition in a regime can affect which issues come to the forefront of the political agenda and how those issues are then resolved. For example, as was seen in Chapter 5, the threat of an increased Democratic challenge in Pennsylvania at the end of 1905 prompted the Republican governor to sponsor a number of legislative proposals at a special session of the state legislature, including, eventually, the direct primary. It would not be surprising, then, if political scientists had sought to link the rise of direct nominations to some aspects of electoral competition. However, what is remarkable is that far from arguing that competition (or the threat of it) facilitated the introduction of the direct primary as in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania some of them have sought to argue the opposite. That is, they argue that it was the absence of political competition that had this effect. Thus, V. O. Key claimed:

The spread of the direct primary is commonly attributed to its appeal as an instrument of popular rule, yet the probability is that the nature of the party structure in the areas of its origin stimulated its growth. In many states in the 1890s the party system had broken down in the sense that a single party dominated many states and localities.1

It is clear from the context that Key is referring not just to the South but also to Wisconsin and its surrounding states. Another expert on America's political parties to make a similar point was Frank J. Sorauf, and he made the argument an even more general one. He claimed:

The quick success of the direct primary movement happened during the years of the greatest one-partyism in American history. In the early years of the twentieth century sectionalism was rampant, and one party or another dominated the politics of many states. One-partyism made the nomination of the major party crucial. Although the

____________________
1
V. O. Key, Jr. Politics, Parties and Pressure Groups, Fourth Edition, New York, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1958, p. 412.

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