Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America

By Paul Frymer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Competitive Parties and the “Invisibility”
of Captured Groups

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who
haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-
movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and
bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess
a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people
refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes
in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded
by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me
they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of
their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.

(Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man)

PARTY SCHOLARS contend that two-party competition ensures the representation of a wide variety of groups, both the “advantaged” and “disadvantaged,” in national politics. Not only does competition between the parties provide voters with the opportunity to alter the power balance, but the opposition party ought to have an incentive to incorporate groups that find themselves excluded or disaffected from the party in power. But competitive parties, under specific conditions, also have incentives to treat some groups as “invisible.” In particular, national party leaders have often followed perceived electoral incentives to “capture” and ignore African American voters, even when such votes had the clear, hort-term potential of proving the difference between victory and defeat in a given election. In this chapter, I explore this phenomenon further, and attempt to provide a more formal theoretical argument for the behavior of our nationalparties.al parties.

In doing so, I am claiming that race belongs at the center of our understanding of national party politics, even in periods of “normal” party competition, and even in periods when racial issues appear absent from the political agenda. This claim challenges the assumptions of most party scholars. To be sure, numerous scholars have focused on the impact of racial cleavage on African American representation in na-

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