Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies

By Paul Webb; David Farrell et al. | Go to book overview

11 Still Functional After All These Years

Parties in the United States, 1960-2000

John C. Green

There is no doubt that the American party system has experienced considerable change since 1960. The meaning of this change is, however, the subject of much debate, at the core of which is a basic question: how functional is the American party system after four turbulent decades? Depending on the evidence considered, scholars offer different answers to this question, ranging from a loss of functionality due to party 'decline' to potential gains from party 'revival.' This disagreement occurs in the context of considerable nostalgia for previous eras, either the 'golden age' of partisanship in the 1950s or the 'golden age' of party organization at the turn of the century.

This chapter reviews these arguments and assesses changes in key aspects of the American party system between 1960 and 1996. We find some merit to both the 'declinist' and 'revivalist' points of view. Popular support for, and participation in, the party system has declined since 1960, weakening but not replacing the two-party context for American politics and government. During the same period, the major party organizations have become stronger and more ideological, increasing but not recasting the coherence of American politics and government. This mixed pattern of change has not altered the basic features of the party system—for good and for ill. On balance, the major parties are still functional, serving now, as in the past, as organizers of the context politics and government. However, the major parties exercise little direct control over politicians or policy, and thus are not a consistent source of cohesion in politics and government. Put another way, the United States has highly partisan government, but very little party government. Many scholars wish for the latter, of course, under the assumption that the system would then function better than it does (White and Mileur 1992).


The American 'Two-Party' System

There is a contradiction at the heart of the American party system and the debate over its functionality. On the one hand, the 'two-party' system is nearly

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Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Comparative Politics ii
  • Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies iii
  • Acknowledgements v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Figures ix
  • List of Tables x
  • Notes on Contributors xiv
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • References 14
  • 2: Political Parties in Britain 16
  • References 42
  • 3: Italian Parties 46
  • Appendix: Glossary of Party Acronyms 73
  • 4: Party Decline in the Parties State? the Changing Environment of German Politics 77
  • References 103
  • 5: France 107
  • References 147
  • 6: The Colour Purple 151
  • 7: The Scandinavian Party Model at the Crossroads 181
  • References 210
  • 9: Spain 248
  • References 276
  • 10: Parties at the European Level 280
  • References 306
  • 11: Still Functional After All These Years 310
  • 12: Canada's Nineteenth-Century Cadre Parties at the Millennium 345
  • References 377
  • 13: Political Parties in Australia 379
  • References 406
  • 14: Parties and Society in New Zealand 409
  • References 434
  • 15: Conclusion 438
  • Index 461
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