Grass Roots Politics: Parties, Issues, and Voters, 1854-1983

Grass Roots Politics: Parties, Issues, and Voters, 1854-1983

Grass Roots Politics: Parties, Issues, and Voters, 1854-1983

Grass Roots Politics: Parties, Issues, and Voters, 1854-1983

Synopsis

Richard Jensen offers a new interpretation of the last 180 years of American political history--one seen from the grass roots perspective. He is concerned with the individual voter's relationship to the party, the issues, and the campaigns. He explores the evolution of American political parties in terms of their appeal to individual voters, of the issues selected, and campaign strategies. He examines different voter coalitions that formed and dissolved during the past 175 years and explains the dynamics of group affiliation with one or the other party. He demonstrates how the electorate has modernized over time and assesses the issues raised, and the values challenged by the process of political modernization. Jensen offers his own theory of campaign strategy, sketching its evolution from army-like organization to modern advertising. The second half of the book is a collection of documents describing important political issues and political coalitions through the years. These readings reveal how politicians at the grass roots level thought, what tactics they used, and how the average voter responded to their appeals.

Excerpt

Why do individuals vote the way they do? An adequate explanation must take into account the relatively permanent disposition of the voter toward public affairs (itself a product of many social, cultural, and psychological factors); the alternatives offered by the parties in terms of candidates, issues, and promises; and the short-term impact of specific factors, like energetic campaigning or even the weather on election day. This chapter will focus on the predispositions of the voters. Party organizations and issues will be discussed in chapter two. We will ignore the weather.

Before discussing the causes of voter dispositions, it would be helpful to jump ahead a bit and explain how these dispositions determine behavior. The reader is reminded that we use the concepts "traditional" and "modern" in a special way, as a shorthand for two different psychological types of voters. It is important to keep in mind that "traditional" does not necessarily refer to past time, nor "modern" necessarily to recent years. At all times in the last century there have been modern and traditional voters living side by side. The "traditional" voter, as we shall define him, is loyal to his family, friends, neighbors, ethnic group, community, and most important, to his party. Whether Republican or Democrat, he supports his party like a spirited alumnus supports his alma mater. In politics this loyalty greatly simplifies decisions about how to vote, and it permits even poorly educated persons to make sense out of public events. "My party is right, deserves my trust, and will get my vote; the other guys are bums, or, at best, misled." The traditional voter, as we shall see in the next chapter, is like a soldier in an army: obedient to orders, exalting in victory regardless of the "causes" of the war.

The "modern" voter, on the other hand, is like a careful shopper deciding which products -- candidates and issues -- to buy. He has transcended blind partisanship and votes on the basis of his own evaluation of the issues and candidates. Although he probably agrees with his family, friends, and . . .

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