Political Culture of the Democratic
Shorter version published in the Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 101, No. 3, Fall 1986, pp. 327-356.
Although the Democratic and Republican Parties have similar aims and similar forms, there are different in some very important ways. These can be seen not so much in policy outcomes, which must pass through the filter of political reality, as in the mode by which internal politics is conducted. The difference is not one of politics, but of political culture.
Political culture is defined by the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences as
...the set of attitudes, beliefs and sentiments which give order and meaning to a political process and which provide the underlying assumptions and rules that govern behavior in the political system. It encompasses both the political ideals and operating norms of a polity. Political culture is thus the manifestation in aggregate form of the psychological and subjective dimensions of politics. A political culture is the product of both the collective history of a political system and the life histories of the members of the system and thus it is rooted equally in public events and private experience.1
In Ronald Reagan's acceptance speech at the 1984 Republican Convention
he declared that the Democrats' "government sees people only as a
members of groups. Ours serves all the people of America as individuals."
Although this characterization was intended as a stinging criticism of
the Democrats, and they would decry it as inaccurate, it does capture
an essential difference between the two parties (though not necessarily
their governments) which is a direct consequence of the direction of the
power flow. In a collectivity in which power flows downward separate and
distinct internal groups are potentially dangerous; they provide loci
for the development of competing loyalties and competing leadership. But
when power flows upward, it must do so through some mechanism. Unorganized
individuals without institutional authority or financial resources cannot
exercise power. They must organize into groups in order to develop an
agenda and act collectively in order to effect that agenda. Organization
is the creator of collective power; it is the means by which followers
Some of the Party's current constituencies had staff members of the Democratic
National Committee identified as their liaisons. In 1983 there were seven
such caucuses, five representing demographic groups (women, blacks, hispanics,
asians and gays) and two ideational ones (liberals and business people).
In May 1985 the DNC Executive Committee revoked official recognition of
these caucuses, to deflect attacks on the party as being run by "special
interests".2 Instead, an informal
understanding developed that one of each of the three Vice-Chairs will be
a member of and represent women, blacks, and hispanics. The largest and
most important constituency -- labor -- does not have such a person as union
leaders feel they should deal directly with the party chair without benefit
of a liaison. Instead, a majority of the 25 at-large seats on the DNC, as
well as seats on the Executive Committee and the Rules and Credentials Committees
at the conventions are reserved for union representatives.
Party constituencies generally meet as separate caucuses at the National Conventions. While caucuses are usually open to anyone, the people who attend (not all of whom are delegates) are generally those for whom that constituency is a primary reference group; i.e. a group with which they identify and which gives them a sense of purpose. Thus it is the most committed or identified constituency members who set the tone of the caucus. Not unexpectedly, most of those attending the women's caucus are committed feminists. Virtually all Black delegates attend the Black caucus but not all union members go to the labor caucus. When forced to choose between conflicting meetings of the Black and women's caucuses during the 1984 convention, Black women went to the former. They also held their own separate caucus for the first time, as did Asians and the handicapped.
Although the leaders of these caucuses are rarely chosen by the participants they nonetheless feel compelled to have their decisions ratified by them. With an occasional exception the power of group leaders derives from their ability to accurately reflect the interests of constituency members to the Party leaders. Ratification is the means by which their right to lead is renewed. The fact that caucus attendees may not perfectly reflect the interests of the constituency is usually overlooked. But when there is a conflict between claimants to leadership those who do not have caucus support will dismiss it as unrepresentative.
The Republican Party also has relevant components, but they are not as important as the Democratic Party's constituent groups because they are not mechanisms for exercising power and they are not primary reference groups. Frank Fahrenkopf, RNC chairman from 1983 to 1989 described the GOP as "clearly the homogenous political party" compared to the Democrats.3 The basic components of the Republican Party are geographic units and ideological factions. Unlike the Democratic groups, these entities exist only as internal party mechanisms. The geographic units -- state and local parties -- are primarily channels for mobilizing support and distributing information on what the Party leaders want. They are not separate and distinct levels of operation.
Ideological factions are also not power centers independent of their relationship to Party leaders. Unlike Democratic caucus leaders, Republican faction leaders do not feel themselves accountable to their followers. Sometimes there are no identifiable followers.4 Although faction leaders hold press conferences they rarely have meetings and when they do they too use them to mobilize support and distribute information, not debate issues. The purpose of ideological factions -- at least those that are organized -- is to generate new ideas and test their appeal. Initially these new ideas are for internal consumption. Their concept of success is not winning benefits, symbolic or otherwise, for their group, so much as being able to provide overall direction to the Party. If successful in attracting adherents these ideas will be adopted by the Party for external appeal.
The Republican Party does have several organized groups within it such as the National Federation of Republican Women, National Black Republican Council and the Jewish Coalition, but their purpose is not to represent the views of these groups to the party. Their function is to recruit and organize group members into the Republican Party as workers and contributors. They carry the party's message outward, not the group's message inward. Democratic constituency group members generally have a primary identification with their group, and only a secondary one with the Party. The primary identification of Republican activists is with the Republican Party. They view other strong group attachments as disloyal and unnecessary.
The difference in the flow of power can be seen in the operation of the
national conventions. When not in session, the time of delegates attending
the Democratic Convention is largely occupied with caucus meetings. In addition
to state caucus meetings there are caucus meetings for any group which wishes
to call one. Generally the DNC makes space available for these meetings,
but occasionally it declines when it feels the group making the request
is clearly operating contrary to the interest of an incumbent President.
Virtually all of these caucuses are open to whomever cares to attend, including
nonmembers. Competing candidates for the Presidential nominations acknowledge
the importance of the group by speaking to its caucus. Indeed the importance
of a particular group within the Democratic Party can be ascertained by
the number and status of the Party leaders who seek to address it.
Republicans do not attend caucuses apart from those of their states. They go to receptions. These receptions are usually closed -- by invitation only. Invitations may not always be hard to obtain, but they are required. Receptions are privately sponsored, with each group responsible for getting its own space. There may be some speeches, but they are perfunctory ones and no debate is asked for or expected.
Republican receptions do have one major characteristic in common with Democratic caucuses; they are both places for demonstrating the status of the group and individuals within it. Status at caucuses is conveyed on those individuals invited to sit at the speakers' platform as well as on the group by those who agree to speak. Status at receptions is conveyed on those introduced or acknowledged by the occasional speaker and on the sponsoring group by those prominent people attending the reception who are not part of it.
The kind of interaction between delegates at caucuses is very different from that at receptions. Caucuses have many speeches and frequently have debates. Occasionally votes will be taken even if only to give the "sense of the meeting." Caucus meetings are places for the groups' leadership to listen as well as to speak, though some leaders listen better than others. Discussion is public and it's quite permissible to be loud and demanding in one's behavior -- as long as one doesn't interfere with others' ability to listen to the speaker. Caucuses are supposed to be places where delegates debate, discuss, and decide on the relevant issues before the Convention. Thus even when the outcome of a particular question is forgone or there are no decisions to make, the illusion of participatory decision making is maintained. One exception to this are labor caucuses, which are less frequent and less vocal. Participants come to get their marching orders and find out who their floor leaders are, not to debate issues. Since the leaders of this caucus are established union leaders, their right to lead doesn't need to be ratified.
Despite the occasional speech at Republican receptions, discussionis largely private. Consequently, people usually talk to those they already know and who most likely agree with them. Even when participants of different views encounter each other the exchange is expected to be very civil, in keeping with the rules of polite society. Receptions are not places to exercise group influence. They are places to network; to be seen and to get information. If one wishes to exercise influence, it is best to arrange an introduction to a recognized leader by a mutual friend.
The different direction in the flow of power also creates different conceptions of legitimacy. In the Democratic Party, legitimacy is determined by who you represent, and in the Republican Party by whom you know and who you are. It is this difference which makes the Democratic Party so much more responsive to demands for reform within it and the Republican Party so much more responsive to changes in leadership.
Reform within the Democratic Party is usually traced to the 1968 Chicago convention which was marked by external strife and turmoil. Although few delegates and no leaders joined the demonstrators outside, reform Democrats nonetheless used these demonstrations to argue that the nominating system was closed to dissent and unrepresentative of popular opinion. The fact that there were 17 credentials challenges involving 15 states, some of which were successful, reinforced their claims. In the decade before the 1968 Convention many local Democratic Clubs had been taken over by reformers who believed that "management of the affairs of the party ought to be widespread and in accord with strictly democratic procedures."5 At the 1964 convention the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party had heightened the contradiction between the national Party's claim to be the party of civil rights and its traditional deference to State parties in the governance of their affairs by challenging the right of the regular Mississippi Party to seat an all-white delegation. Although the resulting compromise pleased no one (two MFDP delegates were seated as at-large delegates and the regulars were required to sign a loyalty oath) it opened pandora's box. The implicit threat of numerous credentials challenges at future conventions added force to the demands of reformers that the Party open up.
The Democratic Party is quiet conscious that it is a coalition party. The
groups which compose it have changed over time -- particularly in response
to the post-1968 reforms. But the fact that it is a coalition of groups
has not changed. Since party leaders are aware that the Democratic Party
must incorporate groups within it to remain the majority party, claims that
it is unrepresentative of a relevant bloc of voters is a serious challenge
to its legitimacy. This is why they agreed to a reform commission and responded
to the recommendations that it made to "open up the system" and
involve more groups in Party decision making. However, these changes did
not result in a consensus on the appropriate party structure. By the time
it made its report women had been added to minorities and youth as demographic
groups who felt unrepresented by geographic organization. Thus a key feature
of the reforms was an attempt to impose requirements for demographic representation
on the loose geographic structure of the Party. However, these changes did
not result in a consensus. Consequently, a new reform commission is appointed
after every convention.
Although the Republican Party has tinkered with reform, it is not very hospitable to it.6 Whereas the Democrats are receptive to changing the Party to make it more representative of the populace, Republicans are more concerned with packaging what the Party represents to make it more saleable to the populace. Those who successfully do so form the leadership pool.
Legitimacy within the Republican Party is dependent on having a personal connection to the leadership. Consequently, supporting the wrong candidate can have disastrous effects on one's ability to influence decisions. Republican Presidents exercise a monolithic power over their party that Democratic Presidents do not have. With the nomination of Ronald Reagan, many life long Republicans active on the national level who had supported Ford or Bush had to quickly change their views to conform to those of the winner or find themselves completely cut off. Mavericks, who do not have any personal attachments to identified leaders, may be able to operate as gadflies, but can rarely build an independent power base. Since legitimacy in the Democratic Party is based on the existence of just such a power base, real or imagined, one does not lose all of one's influence within the Party with a change in leaders as long as one can credibly argue that one represents a legitimate group. While the importance of personal connections works against those Republicans who have the wrong connections it rewards those who spend years toiling in the fields for the Party and its candidates. The longer one spends in any organization the more personal connections one has an opportunity to make. These aren't lost when one's Party or leaders are out of power, and thus can be "banked" for future use. Occasionally a dedicated party worker can develop sufficient ties even to competing leaders to assure continued access, if not always influence, regardless of who's in power. Those Democrats whose legitimacy derives from leadership of a coalition group find it is quite transitory when they can no longer credibly represent the group. The greater willingness of the Republican Party to reward loyalty and dedication to the Party in preference to any other group makes it is easier for the Party to discourage extra-Party attachments.
Leadership in both parties is more diffuse when the President is from the other party, but there is a significant difference in degree. Leadership in the Republican Party devolves onto a limited number of elected officials, usually key Senators and Governors. The Democratic Party leadership pool is broader, including a wider range of public officials and interest group leaders.
The different structure of the Parties has different consequences for the fate of activists within it. Since the Democratic Party is composed of groups, the success of individuals whose group identification is highly salient (e.g. blacks and women) is tied to that of the group as a whole. They succeed as the group succeeds. When the group obtains more power, individuals within that group get more positions. Thus social movements which promote members of particular groups can have much more of an impact on the Democratic Party than on the Republican Party. Since the party must legitimate itself by being representative, it promotes group members who are active within it to establish and retain that legitimacy. One consequence of this is that group leaders within the party (and sometimes outside of it) acquire enormous power over individuals that they may have no personal association with. They can initiate or veto the rise of party activists who are also group members because these activists will be assumed to represent the group even when they don't want to.
That is not the case within the Republican Party. It officially ignores
group characteristics, though it is obvious that it does pay attention
to them when it feels the need to cater to the interest of the voting
public in a particular group. In 1984 women were showcased as they had
never been before, though both Black and Hispanic speakers addressed the
convention. Generally, individuals succeed insofar as the leaders with
whom they are connected succeed. If those leaders are biased against people
with a salient group identity, or such individuals cannot overcome the
many informal social controls which limit access to a leader, those individuals
will not be very powerful. If leaders consciously seek to favor people
with a salient group identity, they will be. If the leader is neutral,
structural biases against an individual who possesses salient group characteristics
can sometimes be offset by other factors. Consequently group members who
are like Party leaders and their primary retainers in other important
characteristics (e.g. class, education, occupation) will be favored over
those who aren't. Another means of getting access is through sponsorship.
If a person who is already accepted passes favorably on someone new it
is a lot easier for that person to obtain recognition than if they must
make it on their own. Group members who are sponsored by someone who is
a leader or connected to a leader will be favored over those who lack
such sponsorship. Many of the influential women within the Republican
Party are related to influential men. These men are their sponsors.
New York Governor Mario Cuomo in his keynote address to the Democratic
convention accused the Republican Party of having policies which "divide
the nation -- into the lucky and the left-out, into the royalty and the
rabble." Whether the Party's policies are divisive is certainly debatable
but Cuomo did articulate a difference in perspective by the Parties that
shapes their way of dealing with the world. It has been argued that society
as a whole has a cultural and structural "center" about which
most members of the society are more or less peripheral."7
Republicans see themselves as representing the center while Democrats
view society from the periphery.
Guided by a more unitary conception of representation as meaning the correct
articulation of the national interest, Republicans feel the needs of minorities
will be met best by improving the economy. They believe that that which
most benefits the whole will most benefit each part. Although the Party
sometimes does offer discrete programs or benefits to discrete groups,
it does so reluctantly and only because it must meet Democratic criticisms
that it is ignoring the needs of such groups. Complaints such as Jackson's
might be voiced privately, but never publicly. To do so would be disloyal
as it would call into question the universal desirability of the Republican
It has often been noted that Democratic Party politics are open, loud and confrontational while those of the Republican Party are closed, quiet and consensual. These contrasting characteristics are consequences of the structural and attitudinal differences discussed earlier. They result in different styles of party organization even though there is a superficial similarity in the formal structure of both parties and they have the same ultimate goal of winning elections.
These contrasting styles were exemplified by a description of the battles
over replacing the Massachusetts State Party Chairs in 1956.
...In the Democratic party the affair could best be called a brawl all the way -- at least as the press reported it, no doubt with some gleeful exaggeration. Statements and counter-statements to the press, accusations of falsehood mutually tossed back and forth, gave the dispute most of the elements of an Irish donnybrook, minus only the swinging of fists. There were threats of that too. While the Democrats were having their fracas, the heir apparent for the Republican nomination was carrying on a quiet war against the incumbent Republican chairman, but with a very different tone and with very different procedures. A dispatch to the New York Times illustrated the differences of approach. It noted that the Democrats had allowed the reporters in to hear their showdown on replacing their chairman; it then went on to describe the Republican methods: "Following a brief exchange of statements in the newspapers, a characteristic hush fell over the Republican headquarters. It has been the experience of political reporters in Massachusetts for years that the Republicans promote publicity, and hire press agents to carry out the program so long as it is favorable. Anything unfavorable is carefully thrashed out behind the closed doors of private social and dining clubs. The participants then walk out smiling at each other, each trying to ignore political knife handles protruding from their backs. So it was Tuesday night. ... Reporters were barred from the meeting until after the balloting was finished. They were admitted in time to hear [the defeated chairman] make his valedictory."11
The Republican party sees itself as an organic whole whose parts are interdependent. Republican activists are expected to be "good soldiers" who respect leadership and whose only important political commitment is to the Republican Party. Since direction comes from the top, the manner by which one effects policy is by quietly building a consensus among key individuals, and then pleading one's case to the leadership as furthering the basic values of the party. Maneuvering is OK. Challenging is not. This approach acknowledges the leadership's right to make final decisions and reassures them that those preferring different policies do not have competing allegiances. On the other hand, open challenges or admissions of fundamental disagreements indicates that one might be too independent to be a reliable soldier who will always put the interests of the Party first. This cuts off access to the leadership and thus is quite risky -- unless the leadership changes to people more amenable to the challengers. While not risky like an open challenge, quietly building an internal consensus is nonetheless costly of one's political resources. Activists learn early to conserve their resources by only contesting issues of great importance to them.
Liberals in the Republican Party (former supporters of Rockefeller and Scranton) who repeatedly challenged the Reagan Administration have been virtually read out of the party. On the right, Rep. Newt Gingrich's (Ga.) attack on David Stockman for betraying the supply side "revolution" (not a Republican word) incurred very angry responses from the Republican leadership who dismissed his arguments as "ego-gratification."12 However, Gingrich has been more successful at being listened to than the liberals (who no longer even use the word "liberal", having retreated to "moderate" after Reagan came to power). His success and that of other vocal challengers from the right is based on their ability to demonstrate a public following. If Gingrich can translate this following into winning campaigns, whether for himself or people who support him, he will continue to be listened to and eventually join the leadership. If not, he not only won't join the leadership, he won't even have access to it. Reagan was not accepted by the Republican establishment until his electoral successes gave them no choice.
Liberal Republicans have largely failed to demonstrate a following and thus have lost power as their leaders have ceased to occupy major roles within the Party. They argue that the "yuppies" who voted for Hart ought to look favorably upon Republicans like them who have liberal social agendas and conservative economic policies. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the Ripon Society and more recently the Mainstream Republican Committee, they know how to talk but don't know how to organize. Thus their potential following is not really aware that they exist. Apart from the unlikely event of a spontaneous public uprising in their favor their position within the Party will continue to atrophy as individuals learn that the price of access to conservative leadership is keeping quiet.
In the Democratic Party, keeping quiet is the cause of atrophy and speaking out is a means of access. Although the Party continues to be one of multiple power centers with multiple access points, both the type and importance of powerful groups within it has changed over time. State and local parties have weakened in the last few decades and the influence of national constituency groups has grown. The process of change has resulted in a great deal of conflict as former participants resist declining influence (e.g. the South, Chicago's Mayor Daley) while newer ones jocky for position (women and blacks). Successfully picking fights is the primary way by which groups acquire clout within the Party.
Since the purpose of most of the conflict is to achieve acceptance and eventually power it does not matter whether the issues that are fought over are substantive or only symbolic. In the 1950s and 1960s these fights were usually over credentials as southern delegations were challenged because of their refusal to declare their loyalty to the national ticket and their inadequate representation of blacks. In the 1970s and 1980s, the fights have usually been over platform planks but some have concerned rules changes or designations of status. In 1976 Women's groups fought over the "equal division" rule to require that half of all delegates be women. Although they lost, they had to find another issue in 1980 because the DNC decided to adopt it 1978. Instead they focused on minority planks on abortion and denying Party support to opponents of the ERA. In 1984 the issue would have been a woman Vice Presidential candidate, but this was preempted by Walter Mondale's selection of Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate so there was nothing to fight over.
Jesse Jackson's entire campaign was a way for a new generation of Black leaders to establish clout both within the Party and within the Black community. The means by which Blacks have exercised power in the Party has been less through organizations than through elected officials and their individual followings. As there is no internal mechanism for selecting leaders among the many contenders, those Blacks who have exercised power within the Party have usually been those whom White party leaders chose to listen to. Jackson's candidacy challenged both the current Black political leadership and the right of Whites to decide which Blacks were legitimate leaders. By showing that Black voters would unite behind his candidacy in the primaries he established his legitimacy as a national Black spokesperson, independent of White approval. This gave him a claim to dictate the Black agenda in the Party, even though he had not previously been a Party activist and there were many competent Black leaders within the Party who were not supportive of this upstart.
Prior to the convention the issues on which the fight took place were the "second primary" and "expanding the base" of the Democratic Party through voter registration. However established local leaders have no reason to expand the base because newcomers may not support them, thus these efforts received only lip service.13 At the convention Blacks who supported Jesse Jackson had several minority platform planks over which to fight, but primarily directed their energies at status indicators, such as who was interviewed for Vice President and how many blacks had positions in the Mondale campaign. Because Jackson represented a generational split within the Black community, his demands for recognition presented the Mondale campaign with problems not presented by feminists. Among feminists, elected officials and organizational leaders were united on wanting a women Vice Presidential candidate, and even agreed on a particular individual. Since Blacks were not united, any recognition of Jackson and his followers threatened the position of established Black elected officials to speak for the Black community. If Jackson had subsequently refused to campaign for Mondale, his legitimacy as a Party leader, though not as a Black leader, would have been seriously undermined. Since he chose to play by the rules, he's still a contender.
Fights do not have to be won in order for those picking them to be successful.
They are opportunities for demonstrating political skills and establishing
territory. Feminist leaders didn't win the equal division fight in 1976,
and everyone knew that had it gone to a floor vote, they would have lost.
What they won was recognition. The Carter campaign negotiated with them
because they showed that there were a substantial number of women willing
and able to fight on the issue. This established the right of women to
be recognized as an important group within the Party. However, Carter
refused to negotiate with feminists in 1980, largely because he perceived
them as surrogates for his rival, Ted Kennedy, and not important in and
of themselves. This was changed by their success in getting the Convention
to adopt two minority planks that the Carter administration opposed. By
showing that they were both politically skilled and persistent feminists
successfully claimed the right to represent women within the Party. The
Jackson campaign did for a new generation of Black leaders what the equal
division fight did for feminists. They are now recognized as contenders,
but are not yet players. Many Party leaders, both Black and White, still
hope they will go away. Thus Jackson and his followers cannot take any
concessions for granted. It will be necessary to organize for 1988 in
order to demonstrate continuity.
...Democrats are relatively undisturbed by -- and often seem to thrive on -- the ad hocness of politics. Republicans embrace order; they try to impress it on the anarchy of politics. Democrats resist order or accept it only as a last resort. This difference may be, in part, no more than the prodigality of the majority party willing and able to waste some of its margin, and the frugality of the minority party aware that organization may compensate for numbers. Or it may be, as some have suggested, a psychological and temperamental difference between those who are attracted to one party and those attracted to the other.14
Lockard found a similar distinction in the two Massachusetts parties in the late 1950s, when the Republican Party was dominant in that state. He wrote that the Parties responded very differently to challenges by ethnics to advance within them.
The Republicans lay down the line in the pre-primary convention to assert some control over those who would disrupt the party organization in a primary. In the Democratic party the non-Irish, non-Boston candidate comes to the fore by using the free-for-all tactics of the primary; in the Republican party the leadership arranges to put some ethnic representative on the ticket.15
The difference in styles is partially a consequence of different resources.
Like corporations, or well-established interest groups, the Republican
Party relies heavily on money and professional expertise. Like social
movements and volunteer organizations, the Democratic Party relies more
on donations of time and commitment. The Republican Party raises and spends
several times the amount of money that the Democrats do, and has had a
larger permanent staff for decades. It approaches "the problem of
national party financing with businesslike matter-of-factness .... The
Democratic national finance machinery is decentralized, with each committee
doing what it damned well pleases .... In general, money-raising procedures
at the Democratic National Committee remain informal and largely oral."16
The Democratic Party relies heavily on volunteers in its national office,
and on the ability of its component constituency groups to recruit volunteers
for local campaigns. Like a corporation, the Republican Party seeks to
allocate its resources so as to maximize its success. Like social movements,
the Democratic Party puts great emphasis on expanding the number of participants.
Indeed it often views success and expansion as synonymous.
the chief resource the conservative brings to civic -- or to political -- action is economic: money, corporate power, and the personal contacts flowing from business position. The liberal, lacking money, brings numbers and personal contributions of time and effort. The conservative organization, to the extent that it is successful in mobilizing money and prestige, incapacitates itself for direct political action insofar as the people it recruits are successful in business or their careers; personal success leaves them little time for or interest in personal participation. The contributors are at a point where political action can offer little in status or recognition -- indeed such action is more likely to be considered harmful. This lack of personal involvement may produce an indifference to organizational forms and procedures and an emphasis on organizational goals. To say the same thing another way, whatever incentives a conservative club can offer will derive from its stated goals; direct participation itself is not an important reward to the member, and internal democracy is therefore not of crucial significance to him.17
Both parties have been strengthening their national organizations in the
last ten years and neither has completed this task. But they have gone
about it very differently. The Republican Party has focused outwardly.
After Watergate the Republican Party was very concerned both with rebuilding
the Party and with restoring its image. Thus it has placed considerable
emphasis on winning elections and on marketing itself. It's response to
any public distaste toward its programs is to change their image so as
to better sell the Party to the public rather than to change the programs
themselves. For example, the Party officially opposes the Equal Rights
Amendment, but argues that it is still for equal rights for women. It
encourages its candidates to present themselves to the voters as people
who care, in order to counter the Republican stereotype as a party of
people who only care about themselves.
One of the most common observations of the Democratic Party is how much
more fractious it is than the Republican Party. Although there are bounds
on dissent, one can say things about the Party's leaders and candidates,
publicly, that in the Republican Party would be deemed disloyal. Only
the Republican Party has an Eleventh Commandment -- thou shalt not criticize
a fellow Republican. Thus during the 1984 Conventions, such Republican
adversaries as liberal Sen. Lowell Weicker (Conn.) and conservative Rep.
Trent Lott (Miss.) curbed their criticism of each other in public while
leading figures in the Democratic Party whose mutual disagreements were
comparatively minor let their complaints be constantly quoted in the press.
Republicans do fight, sometimes viciously, but by and large their fights
are not public, and even in private take place on more limited terrain.
When they do occur the ill feelings they create last a lot longer. Democratic
sparring partners are more willing to kiss and make up.
Another consequence of the coalition structure is that multiple loyalties
are normal. While many Democrats are party people first and foremost,
many others are not. The idea that one should juggle competing loyalties
is unexceptional as is the possibility that one might seek to resolve
conflicting agendas by getting the Party to adopt the positions of non-party
groups. The Republican Party frowns on multiple loyalties. Indeed it looks
with great suspicion on anyone susceptible to having conflicting agendas
as potentially disloyal. A major reason Republican feminists have had
so much more trouble rehabilitating themselves into the Reagan Party than
others who did not initially support him is because they are assumed to
have a major or even primary loyalty to feminism and feminist organizations.
As feminism is not supported by the current leadership, and feminist organizations
are viewed as Democratic Party front groups, it is virtually impossible
to be both an accepted Republican activist and an outspoken supporter
of feminist goals. Since the Party discourages people from identifying
themselves as members of a group with a group agenda, it minimizes the
possibility of multiple loyalties. But should it succeed in recruiting
substantial numbers of potential party activists from other groups which
do have specific agendas (e.g. Jews), both will experience some discomfort.
Since dissent does exist in both parties, albeit to a different extent, there must also be some glue which holds them together. Obviously one source of cohesion is the desire to win, but this by itself is not sufficient to hold either party together between campaigns or after divisive primaries. Although the desire to win is mutual, the primary sources of cohesion are peculiar to each party.
Different factions of the Republican Party are held together by their common ideology, but this is not what holds the party as a whole together. The fact that the Party is not ideologically homogenous is a potential source of fragmentation. Instead the Party is held together by social homogeneity.18 Party activists share membership in common social strata, with common rules of behavior and a common definition of who is acceptable. These rules of behavior or acceptability create an informal language and style which is hard for outsiders to learn and thus operates as a barrier to their assimilation. Some aspects of this homogeneity are easily visible. A crowd of traditional Republicans can be identified by their common dress and their unspoken understanding that someone who dresses differently is not one of them. A crowd of Democrats cannot be identified by a common appearance; indeed they are so diverse that a few Republicans in their midst would not even be noticed.
The Republican strata are those of the upper and upwardly mobile classes.
Many Republicans felt that the "yuppies" who voted for Hart
should be "Ruppies". The polls which showed that Reagan was
their second choice only confirmed this view. While members of these strata
have much in common, their style and the rules of social acceptability
vary somewhat by geography. An "Eastern Establishment" Republican
is not the same as a "Midwestern Mainstreet" or "Western
conservative" Republican. Thus an active Republican in one part of
the country who relocates can have trouble being accepted as an active
Republican in another, as illustrated by George Bush's constant battle
to be viewed as a Texan rather than a scion of Connecticut.
The ultrasuedes...look down on the polyesters.... Some Ultrasuedes are feeling outnumbered by the polyesters this year as though their party has been taken over by people they would never allow to join the country club. Not the right sort.... As though someone had let some tacky girls into a Kappa chapter.
Democrats would not seriously accuse someone of not being a real Democrat. Mondale tried it during the 1984 primary in an attack on Hart, but reaction to this charge was so negative it was quickly dropped. A Democrat is anyone who claims to be one. As a party with neither a common ideology nor a common social base, there is no real basis for erecting standards. Indeed, an essential characteristic of the Democratic Party is its heterogeneity.
The greater sense of boundaries that Republicans have, of knowing who's acceptable and who's not, serves an important social function. It facilitates trust. People normally trust those who are like them to think like them and do what they would do. People understand others who are like themselves. Organizations or communities whose members trust each other function more smoothly and take direction more willingly than those where trust is more limited. Republicans trust their party, and their leaders, to do what they think is right more than Democrats do because they are socially homogenous.
Heterogeneity facilitates misunderstanding. People with different backgrounds, different values, different styles and different modes of expression, interpret the world differently and often misinterpret each other. A great deal of communication, clarification, and reassurance is necessary to maintain working relationships among diverse allies. In a highly heterogeneous organization people with one group identity are reluctant to trust those with another to act as their leaders or adequately represent their interests. Instead they demand consultation, representation and participation. The heterogenous nature of the Democratic Party requires that time and energy be devoted to intraparty relationships and that identifiable groups feel they have as much say as that want.
The glue which holds the Democratic Party together is pluralism. The fundamental principles of pluralist theory were spelled out by James Madison in Federalist No. 10. He argued that a large and diverse republic would best check majority passions and "factious combinations." Although Madison was more concerned with curbing power than with creating unity, diversity is the secret to cohesion under certain conditions. These conditions occur when individuals are members of many groups, no combination of which encompasses all of their members' primary interests. When there are many cross-cutting memberships, each of which have a claim on individual loyalties, the urge to put one issue or group ahead of all others at any cost is restrained. Face to face discussions and the need to ally with different people in one group or on one issue tempers the tendency to view them as "enemies" because there is disagreement on another.
The caucus structure of the Democratic Party facilitates pluralism. A delegate to the Conventions will attend numerous state caucuses, candidate caucuses, and often one or more group caucuses. The biennial miniconvention has increased the opportunities for these kind of contacts. The opportunity to both listen to and talk with different people from different parts of the country, who are members of different groups increases awareness and understanding of diverse positions. The need to work with other people to achieve common goals increases receptivity toward their particular concerns. Some political commentators have often marveled that a party so fractious, heterogeneous and seemingly disorganized can remain intact. As long as a particular group does not become insular, with its members having no participation in or concern for other caucuses, the diversity of the Democratic Party is its strength, not its weakness.
In order to survive and flourish, both parties must constantly renew themselves.
They must recruit new supporters while retaining the loyalty of old ones.
Society does not remain static. Different groups reflecting different
interests constantly appear, while old ones decline. New issues emerge,
along with new social realities. How the parties respond to these determines
their future. Both parties seek to build their base of reliable supporters
through attractive candidates. The Democrats strengthened themselves considerably
with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. The Republicans are
doing the same with Ronald Reagan. But it takes more than just an attractive
candidate to retain party loyalty. Personal charisma rarely outlives the
in this articles is primarily based on interviews with these activists
and observations made at the 1976, 1980 and 1984 national conventions
of the Republican Party, and every national nominating convention of the
Democratic Party since 1964. I also briefly attended the 1960 Democratic
and 1964 Republican national conventions, but my observations and memories
of those are very sketchy. In addition I conducted numerous interviews
with insightful participants of both parties on the national level in
the fall of 1984 and read newspaper accounts, party platforms, speeches
and other key documents. It is well established in the literature that
party elites and party masses (i.e. the voters) do not always think alike.
State parties may also differ from the national party in significant ways.
If the ideas posited in this paper are accurate they should be generally
applicable on the state level, but not necessarily on the mass level.
International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, New York:
Macmillen, 1968, Vol. 12, p. 218.
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Vol 43, No. 26, June
29, 1985, p. 1287.
Frank Fahrenkopf, "Campaign 84: The Contest for National Leadership,"
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Spring 1984, p. 176
When conservatives sought to start a Third Party after Reagan wasn't
nominated in 1976 they held meetings among themselves at the convention
but make no effort to contact delegates. Jeffrey Pressman, "Group
and Group Caucuses", Political Science Quarterly, 92:4 Winter
1977-78, p. 680.
The Amateur Democrat, James Q. Wilson, Chicago: The University
of Chicago Press, 1962, 1966, p. vii-viii.
William Crotty, Party Reform, New York: Longman, 1984, Part
Edward Shils, "Center and Periphery," Selected Essays
(Chicago: Center for Social Organization Studies, Department of Sociology,
University of Chicago, 1970).
Fahrenkopf, 1984, p. 174, states "[w]here we seek to build
coalitions, we build them on a commonality of interests which is greater
than a belief in special benefits legislated for special interests. Whether
we talk to white collar workers, Blacks, Hispanics, bank presidents, spot
welders or astronauts ... we concentrate on points in common rather than
why they, as a distinct group, should feel different and in need
of different treatment.
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, 43:10, March 9 1985,
pp. 457-59. However there is no evidence that the Party intends to institute
a major revolution in its structure or outlook and the main Democratic
"special interest", organized labor, is not among those groups
whose supposed influence is under internal attack.
See "The Democratic Party Credo" in Section 17, Article
11 of the Charter of the Democratic Party. "At the heart of our party
lies a fundamental conviction, that Americans must not only be free, but
they must live in a fair society."
New York Times May 27, 1956. Quoted in Duane Lockard, New
England State Politics, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press,
1959, pp. 138-139.
Helen Dewar, "Republicans Wage Verbal Civil War," The
Washington Post, No. 19, 1984, p. A1.
Thomas B. Edsall, "More Bad News for Mondale", Washington
Post, October 24, 1984, C-1.
Cornelius P. Cotter and Bernard C. Hennessy, Politics Without
Power: The National Party Committees, New York: Atherton, 1964, p.
Lockard, 1959, p. 147.
Cotter and Hennessy, 1964, pp. 177-179.
Wilson, 1962, 1966, pp. 186-88. See also Hugh A. Bone "New
Party Associations in the West," American Political Science Review,
Vol. 45 (December 1951), pp. 1115-25, and Frank J. Sorauf, "Extra-Legal
Political Parties in Wisconsin," APSR, Vol. 48 (September
1954), pp. 692-704.
Analyses of convention delegates and party officials have shown
that the Republican Party elite is heavily white, Protestant and of English
or Northern European stock. See Charles W. Wiggins and William L. Turk,
"State Party Chairman: A Profile," Western Political Quarterly
23 (1970), p. 332. Jeane Kirkpatrick, The New Presidential Elite: Men
and Women in National Politics, New York: The Russell Sage Foundation
and the Twentieth Century Fund, 1976, Chapter 3.
Molly Ivins, "The Fabrics that Define Republican Women",
San Francisco Chronicle, 27 August 1984. Ivins was a columnist
for the Dallas Times Herald.