Local Parties in Political and Organizational Perspective

By Martin Saiz; Hans Geser | Go to book overview
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7
Do Political Parties Matter
in U.S. Cities?

MARTIN SAIZ University of Notre Dame, United States

Editors' note: The United States is well known for the low ideological profile and high incoherence of its political parties. With two-thirds of all communities larger than 5,000 inhabitants having nonpartisan elections, the United States would seem to be the ideal case to assess the absence of parties. This weak party system may well be conditioned by the fact that national elections are nothing more than an aggregation of many local and regional campaigns, yet it seems that recently, parties are becoming politically more articulate and more polarized in their issue positions. As Saiz argues, it would be folly to assume that parties have no role in U.S. local politics. Not only do the largest of U.S. cities have partisan elections (and are consequential to the national parties), but like most democratic systems, parties provide access to higher political office. The local party system in the United States should then show many of the same characteristics as the other countries in this volume. Still, although the U.S. parties provide opportunities for political participation and training for future party elites, Saiz shows that the budget behavior of U.S. mayors is significantly determined by direct voter preferences. The mediating influence of political party organizations on actual policy is practically nil.

When the American electorate ended four decades of Democratic party dominance in the U.S. House of Representatives, journalists everywhere declared that the nation had lurched to the right. But the shifting fortune of the Democratic Party is neither new nor limited to the federal government. Since the late 1960s, the normal pattern of presidential elections has yielded a Republican majority. The elections of 1998 produced partisan turnovers in the governorships of twelve states, with the result that Republicans now control the governorships in eight of the ten largest

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