Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America

By Paul Frymer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Party Education and Mobilization
and the Captured Group

ONE of the underlying arguments of this book is that the manner in which parties compete with each other in order to get their candidates elected affects how individuals and groups think about themselves as political actors. I dispute the contention that parties are little more than umbrella organizations that bring together diverse groups of society into broad, competitive electoral coalitions. Even if parties see themselves as umbrella organizations, they nonetheless communicate messages to the voters about who matters and who does not. When party leaders focus their appeals on white swing voters, those messages, with their valorization of whites, are communicated to the national electorate. Furthermore, when party leaders assume that messages focusing on black concerns will detract from their pursuit of the median white voter, the resulting silence regarding black concerns has significant consequences for national electoral behavior. Perceptions by party leaders, then, lead to certain types of behavior that in turn influence how voters think about policies and how they participate in the political arena.

One of the most important ways that parties create, mold, and often redefine people’s political identities, is campaign mobilization. According to the predominant scholarship on parties, campaign mobilization is a natural by-product of a party attempting to elect candidates to office. As long as there are two competitive parties, no voter will be neglected. The parties will always attempt to outdo each other in an effort to expand their electoral coalition to include a majority of voters. Since no group is discriminated against in the party’s quest to increase its electoral majority, mobilization efforts are politically neutral. Majoritarian parties will promote the interests of the many voters who are left out of a political system dominated by powerful interest groups.

As this chapter explains, competitive parties often fail to mobilize African American voters in the way that scholars have predicted. It is not surprising that one national party makes little effort to mobilize their votes. After all, why would a political party mobilize a group of potential voters who would most likely vote against the party come election time? What is surprising, however, is that despite the fact that African American voters since the mid-1960s have supported the Demo

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