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The Political Culture of the Democratic
and Republican Parties

by Jo Freeman

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, they 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

There are two fundamental differences between the parties in which all others are rooted. The first one is structural: In the Democratic Party power flows upward and in the Republican Party power flows downward. The second is attitudinal: Republicans perceive themselves as insiders even when they are out of power and Democrats perceive themselves as outsiders even when they are in power.


Party Structure and the Flow of Power

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 influence leaders.
The Democratic Party is composed of constituencies. These constituencies are ones which identify themselves as having a salient characteristic creating a common agenda which they feel the party must respond to. Virtually all of these groups exist in organized form independent of the Party and seek to act on the elected officials of both parties. They are recognized by Democratic Party officials as representing the interests of important blocs of voters which the Party must respond to as a Party. Some groups have been recognized parts of the Democratic coalition since the New Deal (e.g. blacks and labor); others are relatively new (e.g. women and gays). Still others which participated in State and local Democratic politics when those were the only significant Party units have not been active as organized groups in the Party on the national level (e.g. ethnics).

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.

Convention Activities

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.

Career Paths

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.


World View

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.
The Republican center does not include the State, i.e. the major organs of the national government. Republicans have always felt a tension between the State and society, and have viewed the former with suspicion even when in power (at least the Presidency). Since Republicans (as individuals) control most of the major private institutions, particularly economic ones, a strong central government is seen as a threat to their power. The Democratic periphery feels a strong government is necessary in order to counterbalance private economic domination. Indeed they feel that the State's primary function ought to be a check on private economic power. Nonetheless, Democrats, like typical outsiders, are ambivalent toward the State. Their ambivalence derives not from a suspicion of strength, but from concern that the State will not act as they feel it should. Indeed, until Reagan began to redirect the national government, most Democrats did not appreciate how valuable the federal government was to them or even how thoroughly they had captured its main components.
Although Republicans do not want to increase State power, they nonetheless feel that what they are and their conception of the American dream is inherently desirable. They are insiders who represent the core of American society and are the carriers of its fundamental values. What they have achieved in life, and wish to achieve, is what every true American wishes to achieve. The traditions they represent are what has worked for America and the policies they pursue are ones that ultimately will be best for everyone. They argue that the Republican Party, and Republican policies, represent the national interest, unlike the Democrats, who only serve the "special interests" that are powerful within it.8 Their concept of representation is as a "trustee" who pursues the long range best interests of the represented.
The Democrats have a very different world view and a different concept of the meaning of representation. To them, representation means not the articulation of a single coherent program for the betterment of the nation but the inclusion of all relevant groups and viewpoints. Their concept of representation is "delegatory," in which accurate reflection of the parts is necessary to the welfare of the whole. Ironically, this requires a "free market" view of the political arena as one in which the most collective good comes from maximizing properly represented individual goods. Because there is no common agenda there is no common conception of a national interest independent of the total interests of the parts. Instead groups seek to maximize what each gets through bargaining and building coalitions on the assumption that everyone should get something. This expectation lay behind Jesse Jackson's statement at the 1984 Democratic convention that Blacks had received nothing from the Democrats, unlike women and Southerners, who had. Thus Blacks had a legitimate reason to be angry and Democrats should not expect their undivided loyalty without giving them something in return.


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 program.
Democrats do not have an integrated conception of a national interest in part because they do not view themselves as the center of society. The Party's components think of themselves as outsiders pounding on the door who seek programs which will facilitate entry into the mainstream. Thus the Party is very responsive to any group, including such social pariahs as gays and lesbians, that claims it is left out. As is typical of outsiders, Democrats are predisposed toward "change" and "experimentation" in the belief that what is is not inherently desirable, and something new might lead to something better. At the extreme, this attitude results in the assumption that anything new is inherently better. Since the Party feels it should respond to group desires for representation and the articulation of group interests it does not find the label "special interest" to be particularly galling except insofar as it is effective electoral propaganda. Indeed Democrats would claim that the Republicans confuse the "national interest" with the special interests of the upper and upper middle classes which its policies would favor. Nonetheless, after the 1984 election saw the Democrats wounded by the accusation that it was a "captive of the special interests" several Democratic Governors and Senators set up an independent Democratic Leadership Council with the goal of capturing the loyalty of Democrats who supposedly left the Party because of this capture.9
Insofar as the Republican idea of a national interest can be summed up in a single phrase, it would be the promotion of individual success. Insiders generally view their achievements as due to their own merit and efforts rather than to aspects of the social structure or plain luck. Success is its own justification. Thus what's worked for them, or what they acknowledge as having worked for them, should work for everyone. For government to interfere, other than to remove barriers to individual action, is undesirable.
The word that would most aptly characterize what Democrats want is fairness.10 This is a common goal of outsiders who do not accept their fate as caused by their own failure. They are rather skeptical that there is a linear relationship between individual effort, ability and reward and feel that a major function of government is to make life more fair. Exactly what is fair, however is rarely debated. Thus potential conflicts between groups which might have contradictory goals are avoided. Although Democrats are outsiders seeking to get in, they do not acknowledge the values and life style typical of Republicans as the mainstream they are trying to enter. Pluralism, or the right of each group to maintain a distinct identity while still being accepted as part of the whole, is more the Democratic ideal. Democratic outsiders for whom a group identity is important are quite ambivalent about exactly what they do want. In its own way, each different group experiences a great deal of tension between a desire for self-affirmation and one for assimilation. This ambivalence is typical of immigrants -- classic outsiders -- and fades after a couple generations. However, most immigrants at least know what assimilation means even if they are not certain that they want all -- the bad as well as the good -- that it offers, whereas groups active within the Democratic Party aren't so sure.


Organizational Style

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.
The open confrontations that occur in the Democratic Party do not take place within the Republican Party because it is a very different kind of organization. The many different forms of collectivities can be placed on a spectrum. At one end would be groups exhibiting a great deal of spontaneity which are easy to join and have minimal structure, such as fads and crowds. At the other are organizations which have well developed divisions of labor, hierarchical layers of authority, are selective in their membership and relatively impervious to spontaneous impulses, such as corporations or at the extreme end, military bodies. In the middle are most social movements, which, however diverse they may be, exhibit both noticeable spontaneity and a describable structure. Parties and campaigns lie on the more organized end of the spectrum, but because they must mobilize voters, raise money from contributors rather than by selling a product, and recruit volunteers to accomplish their goals they exhibit many properties of social movements.
The national Republican Party has more characteristics of the corporate style and fewer typical of social movements than does the national Democratic Party.
This has been a continuing attribute; the semi-organized chaos seen in the Democratic Party today is not a consequence of contemporary reforms. Cotter and Hennessy wrote in their book on the national party committees in the early 1960s that the

...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.
This resource analysis was used by Wilson to explain some of the differences he found between amateur Democratic and Republican clubs in the 1950s. He found that Democratic clubs were mass based and stressed intra-party democracy and participation while Republican groups were "leadership-oriented organizations." While he found some explanation for this in the different political philosophies and professions of the typical Republican and Democratic amateur activist he also noted that

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

The nature of the Democratic resource base requires it to devote more time and energy to organizational maintenance -- keeping the troops satisfied. Thus it has less available for external programs. This places a greater burden on the staff of the Democratic National Committee compared to the RNC. Senior staff of both, especially the chairs, must be good managers but DNC officials in addition bear responsibility for creating and keeping a consensus among the party's many constituencies.
This pattern is not necessarily repeated on the local level where party organizations are much more diverse. Indeed of all party organizations, past and present, few have been more hierarchical, exclusive and hostile to spontaneity than the big city Democratic machines. However, these machines relied on patronage, not volunteers. Where state Civil Service Acts undermined the material basis of their power they became vulnerable to challenge by reformist volunteers whose political commitment was greater than theirs.
Even where staff and the money to pay them are plentiful, many party functions are accessible to or require volunteers, and groups which can mobilize volunteers can be very influential. These groups are often dedicated to specific causes, and like social movements, rely on the time and commitment of their members to attain their goals. In particular the delegate selection processes of both parties are vulnerable to adherents of specific causes (sometimes called special interests) who can engage in intensive short-term efforts. This is especially true in caucus states because so few people are willing to attend and participate for the hours or even days necessary to elect delegates. However, even in primary states the voters usually only determine how many delegates a given candidate will get. Other mechanisms determine who these delegates are. Ideological groups whose members see being a delegate as a way to pursue their issue concerns can frequently have an impact far greater than their proportion of the voters would warrant. Observers of the last three Republican conventions have noted that the delegates are disproportionately to the right of typical Republican activists. As one disgruntled Ford supporter explained his near loss at the 1976 Convention, "They're willing to get up at 6:00 am and go to caucus meetings and we're not."
Groups operating on the social movement model can also be very effective in campaigns, at least those for which heavy media attention is not key. If group members are geographically concentrated and willing to contribute large amounts of time and energy to a particular campaign they can be very important to its success and consequently very influential. Right wing organizations have found this approach more appealing than those on the left who are usually either poorly organized on the local level or disdainful of electoral politics. An exception to this are Gay Democratic Clubs who have used heavy campaign activity to win support from many public officials who might not otherwise favor their causes.


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.
The RNC has drawn upon modern technology to create a highly sophisticated direct mail operation and used the money raised to implement candidate recruitment and training programs and provide resources to their campaigns. It also channeled money and staff to the state party organizations to develop voter registration efforts, a solid financial base and a permanent staff. These resources have enabled the RNC to build up the state parties and solidify their loyalty while the Democrats are still wrestling with a collection of independent and diverse entities.
It is not just the resources the national Republican Party has to offer that make the state parties willing to listen. In most states the Republican Party is a minority party. Thus the state parties have nothing to lose by accepting national guidance, and when it works, everything to gain. Democratic state parties in states in which they control the executive and/or the legislature would most likely not have been as receptive to national guidance even if it had come sweetcoated with cash and consultation. Why give up the right to determine your own affairs if you've been successful so far?
The Democratic Party's drive toward nationalization has focused inwardly. It has been less concerned with what the Party looks like than with what it is. Although it has developed some support programs for local parties and candidates, much of its energy, and money, has gone into reform commissions to rewrite the party rules. This wasn't totally by choice. The Republican Party had a head start in nationalization and centralization. The RNC established a permanent headquarters in 1919 and made its chair a full-time paid position in 1936. The Democrats didn't do so until 1928 and 1944 respectively. The Republicans established the authority of the national Party over the State and local parties in the two decades after the Bull Moose faction split off in 1912 and threw the Presidential election to the Democrats. The Democrats remained decentralized, with State and local organizations relatively independent of the national party. This precipitated a crisis in 1948 when four Southern states refused to put Truman's name on the ballot and almost caused his defeat. Subsequently, delegates to the national conventions and members of the DNC were asked to declare their loyalty to the national ticket as a precondition to being seated, which they did not always do.
The crisis reemerged in 1964 when the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenged the right of the regular delegation to represent Mississippi Democrats, and in 1968 when the Mississippi delegation was replaced by the insurgents and the Georgia delegation was forced to share its votes. The question of local autonomy versus party loyalty was not resolved until 1975 when the Supreme Court held in Cousins v. Wigoda that national party rules prevailed over state law. Even with this decision and a subsequent one which reaffirmed this ruling, Democratic Party v. LaFollette, many state and local party organizations remain recalcitrant. They feel that the national party has nothing to offer them but rules on how to conduct their activities.
The Republican Party offers its state parties a lot more than rules. In turn, it gets much more central control than the Democratic Party has ever contemplated. A spin off of its efforts has been the creation of a community of professional political managers who rotate among state party staff positions, national party staff positions, campaigns and other political jobs. People in this community generally know each other and rely on their mutual connections through the national party to promote their careers. They have developed a cosmopolitan attitude and a loyalty to the national Republican Party greater than to any state organization. This in turn makes those in this community who are in state staff jobs more amenable to national party direction. As this community becomes self sustaining the strings the national party attaches to its state aid become less important because the state staff in effect become agents of the national party.
Although the Democrats also have many professional political organizers, they aren't part of a self-identified community and don't look to national party networks for job assistance. Each state has its own cadre of political activists and there is very little exchange between them, except during Presidential campaigns (which are separate from party work). Campaign and party work is less likely to be a career than an occasional diversion. Those for whom it is a career often work their way up to a position in Washington, but once no longer employed by a national party or campaign organization, return to their own states or, occasionally, become political directors of interest groups. The consequence is a more parochial attitude in which staff are the agents of their employers and not the national party.
The Democrats are trying to strengthen the national party, particularly its financial base, and one day may have the same material resources as the Republicans. But even with the same resources it will still be a very different party with a different organizational style. Any organization, regardless of whether it's major resources are money and expertise or personal time and commitment, which has multiple power centers, is composed of groups whose interests are not always congruent, and in which power flows upward, will require greater attention to internal matters and be more contentious than one which is hierarchical, unitary and in which power flows downward. The latter will be able to use more of its resources for attaining its goals and direct them more efficiently.
Nonetheless, it does not follow that the Democratic style lacks any advantages over that of the Republicans. In the short run it appears disruptive, but in the long run it is more stable. Once a consensus develops about the desirability of a particular course of action, whether it be programmatic or procedural, it is accepted as right and proper and is not easily thwarted by party leaders, even when one of them is the President. Except for its core values, the Republican Party is more likely to change directions when it changes leaders. If it were to change directions too drastically, it could undermine both its credibility and its programs. Thus the contest for the 1988 Republican nomination for President may send reverberations throughout the party, while that for the Democratic nomination will reflect in part what has happened in the Party.

Dissent and Disloyalty


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.
The difference in the bounds of dissent can be seen in the different ways the Parties have treated those who had fundamental disagreements with their Party's Presidential candidates. In 1980 NOW voted not to endorse Jimmy Carter and at the convention led a floor fight for a minority plank strongly disliked by the candidate. Despite this opposition in an election year and the fact that no one thought NOW would possibly defect to the Republicans, NOW President Ellie Smeal was invited to meet with President Carter that fall, and was subsequently (after Carter's defeat) hired as a consultant to the DNC. Indeed, the refusal to toe the line and leadership of a successful floor fight strengthened NOW within the Party because it had demonstrated clout. Similarly, Jesse Jackson's thinly veiled threats not to support the 1984 ticket appear to have strengthened his hand.
In the Republican Party many, though certainly not all, prominent Ford supporters, found themselves eased out after Reagan was elected, including ones who professed loyalty to the President but disagreed with some aspects of his program. Feminists who criticized Reagan for his opposition to the ERA have been virtually read out of the Republican Party. Although George Bush was selected to be Reagan's running mate despite many well known disagreements it was a practical decision which was not completely accepted by Reagan's own supporters. The opposition to Bush was much greater and runs much deeper than that of Democrats to Johnson as Kennedy's running mate or to Humphrey as Johnson's. This exclusionary attitude is not restricted to the Reagan Administration. After Goldwater's devastating defeat in 1964 his supporters were blamed and found themselves ostracized by the then influential liberal wing of the Party. In contrast, although McGovern's supporters were blamed for the Democrats' 1972 loss, and there was some retrenchment in the delegate selection rules which made his nomination possible, they were not cut out.
Another illustration is the attitude toward delegates in 1984 who voted for someone other than the expected victors for President and Vice President. The delegate who refused to vote for Reagan and the two who refused to vote for Bush were treated by their own delegations as apostates even though there was no crisis mandating a loyalty test. Illinois Delegate Susan Catania, a former State Representative, was asked by liberal Gov. Jim Thompson, to give up her vote to an alternate rather than vote an abstention in the nomination tally. In contrast, the Democrats don't expect all their delegates to vote for the expected winner, as long as it doesn't deprive the candidate of a first ballot victory. Even Jesse Jackson's appeal to his supporters to deny Mondale a first ballot victory was tolerated, if not appreciated. Nor is the Vice Presidential vote the loyalty test it is for the Republicans; rather it is an opportunity for delegates to express themselves. At the 1972 Democratic Convention over 70 people, six of whom were formally nominated, received Vice Presidential votes (including three for Mao Zedong).
The extensive contentiousness of the Democrats can be traced to their different structure. Coalitions are inevitably more conflict ridden than unitary organizations because group leaders are accountable to their members as much or even more than to the coalition. Furthermore, the more people who can legitimately claim consideration of their views, the more legitimate viewpoints there are. This in turn legitimates expression of different views even by participants who are not powerful enough to merit consideration on their own. This situation is exacerbated for the Democrats because they tend to value change and experimentation in and of themselves. Thus each new idea has to be discussed and fought out on every level and in every power center of the party until a consensus is finally achieved. As a party more enamored of tradition than change, the Republican Party would have fewer issues to fight over even if it had as many places in which to fight them. The self perception of the Democrats' constituency groups as perennial outsiders adds another twist. Winners are expected to concern themselves with the welfare of the losers. Republicans have more of a "winner take all" attitude. If you support the wrong candidate, you have no claim on the spoils. Access to the leaders, appointments or other indicia of inclusion, are commodities whose value is increased through scarcity. The Democrats view access as much more of a right which everyone, including the losers, are entitled to. Leaders should represent, and listen to, all the people in the Party, not just those who supported them.
This attitude makes it more difficult for party leaders to punish those who disagree. Since coalitions generally involve shifting alliances, the relatively powerless may combine with others to become relatively powerful at some future date. Thus it is unwise to completely shut anyone off, or out. Even Party leaders who would like to ignore those whose opinions they find obnoxious rarely find it worthwhile to do so. Since legitimate power flows upward, personal connections with and access to the leadership don't have the same value they have in the Republican Party. Severing access doesn't so much punish dissidents as it portrays the leaders who do so as unwilling to listen. Those subunits of the Democratic Party which have had bosses, e.g. the Chicago Democratic Party under Mayor Daley, have not been noted for their tolerant attitude toward dissidents. Local Democratic Party leaders who are powerful enough to command obedience, generally do so.


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.
The Republican Party's concern with exclusive loyalty is partially a consequence of its having been a minority party for so long. To a limited extent it exhibits the "siege mentality" typical of minority factions or groups engaged in constant struggle (e.g. labor unions). Groups which have an analysis of the world's ills whose fundamental premises are not widely accepted are reluctant to allow doubts to be expressed externally, and sometimes internally. If partisans appear to have doubts, why should others be convinced? Groups which view themselves as the underdog in a crucial ongoing struggle are similarly reluctant to expose any vulnerabilities. Serious dissent is portrayed as a luxury which should not be allowed to destroy the unity necessary for victory. This siege mentality was exacerbated by the Watergate scandal which put Party members in the uncomfortable position of having to justify their retention of the Republican label. The commitment to the Party which this required raised their expectations of the loyalty others should exhibit.
The Party's emphasis on being a team player does not mean that there can be no debate. When the Party is out of power, different factions or different candidates with different visions to sell will back them vigorously. Even when it is in power not all issues are decided by the President and his staff. But he, and other party leaders, have the power to decide them if he chooses. When the leadership puts its stamp of approval on a particular position, public criticism must cease.
Conversely, room for disagreement in the Democratic Party is not unlimited. Indeed, there are certain issues and attitudes which constitute a "party line." These "protected issues" are ones which are important to powerful groups within the party. Once a group has been accepted as a legitimate player it acquires a certain amount of sovereignty over a policy territory and can usually designate those issues and positions within it which are to be part of the party line. If there is disagreement within a group, or there is no recognized group representing a particular issue, it can be debated within the party. But otherwise a recognized group has sovereignty over issues within its territory.
This does not give it sovereignty over issues outside its territory. For example, women's organizations would not be able to dictate the party's position on the nuclear freeze; establishing a party line on this issue would require a consensus of all concerned groups. Sometimes there are disputes between groups over territory. Disagreements between Blacks and Jews over the party's positions on affirmative action and the Mideast are in this category. The argument is as much over which group has the right to determine Party policy on these issues as it is over what that policy should be.


Cohesion and Commitment

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.
Similarly, entire groups seeking to become Republican activists who do not share the common style find acceptance difficult because their presence threatens the social homogeneity that holds the Party together. A frequent reaction by traditional Republicans to the New Right supporters of Reagan is to assert that they are "not real Republicans" and thus do not deserve to exercise power within the Party. This claim was first made at the 1976 convention. When Reagan delegates dominated the 1980 convention it was muted, but still there. Reagan's political success curbed the expression of this sentiment, but not its existence. The 1984 Convention saw many traditional Republicans present as Reagan delegates, but in eight years their opinion of the newcomers there with them had not really changed. Molly Ivins described the women delegates as coming "in two main flavors: Ultrasuede and polyester."

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.

I guess it is a simple class distinction, but along with having more money, the Ultrasuedes tend to be more sophisticated and also more liberal on social issues than the polyesters. They are frankly embarrassed, if not mortified, by the party's Jerry Falwell connection, but only in a social sense.19

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.


The Future


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 person.
In the last few decades the political landscape has changed considerably. The role of local political parties in selecting candidates, mobilizing voters and articulating sentiments has declined. Instead, media bring the message of parties and candidates directly to the voters and organized interest groups bring the message of the voters to public officials. Campaign finance laws have also altered the relationships between political bodies, candidates and voters, usually in ways not predicted by their proponents. These changes are still in process and neither party has fully adjusted but their approaches have been very different.
The Democratic and Republican parties have different recruiting styles. By and large the Democratic approach is pragmatic; it looks at the country as it really is -- composed of diverse, self-interested groups each of whom has its own agenda and all of whom want a piece of the political pie. Republicans are more idealistic and ideological. They base their appeal on what Americans ought to want -- a coherent program enhancing the national interest.
In the last twenty years neither of these strategies have been strikingly successful, though success is hard to define. Party registration and identification have been declining for over a decade, but until the most recent election Republican decline was greater than that for the Democrats. The 1984 Reagan landslide brought many voters into the Republican fold, but the extent of ticket splitting confounded expectations of permanent party realignment. It is often noted that the Republican candidate has won four of the last five Presidential elections, but that really doesn't say anything meaningful about either party. There have been 17 Republican Presidents since the first one was elected in 1860, but only seven Democratic Presidents. The national party committees were originally created to run the party's presidential campaign, but they are now quite independent of it. Many things affect the outcome of Presidential elections, but the activities of national party bodies are not among the more important ones.
Party institutions are more important in the election of other candidates, even though most campaigns are run by the candidates and not by the parties. There are no readily available measures of party impact, but some trends can be noted. The Democrats have been the majority party in Congress and most states for the last thirty years. They lost control of the Senate in 1984 and their numbers in other legislative bodies have been declining, albeit slowly. This has coincided with a decline in local Party machines, most of which were Democratic, and an increase in the role of national party bodies, mostly those of the Republicans. Only the national Republican committees, the RNC and those for each house of Congress, have developed extensive financing and support mechanisms for their federal and state candidates. Democratic efforts are still embryonic.
Along with the decline of local party organisms it appears that party activism has declined, though measures are quite inadequate and don't separate party activists from those who only work in occasional campaigns. Since political activism has not declined, indeed has increased significantly in the last two decades, the implication is that people no longer find the parties to be appropriate vehicles for pursuing their political concerns. One reason for this is increased mobility of precisely those people who are most likely to be politically active -- the educated middle-class. Party political clubs are based on geographic units whose primary concern is the election of local candidates. Moving out of a club's territory usually requires that one leave the organization and start anew someplace else. Since political clubs generally favor those who have "paid their dues" through many years of work, activists lose their seniority when they leave. Their other assets, local contacts and knowledge of local politics, are also not transferable. Thus the incentives to participate in a political club decline as ones mobility or potential mobility increases. This is less true in those areas where there have been major demographic changes or which do not have established party machinery or clubs. Newcomers can always have a greater impact in virgin territory. Since the Republican Party is weaker in or absent from more localities than the Democratic Party, its potential party activists find fewer barriers to participation.
The opposite is true for local chapters of interest group organizations. Because these groups are focused on changing state and national policies, not on electing candidates, seniority, contacts and political knowledge are geographically transferable. Indeed mobility enhances participation by increasing one's network of political activists. Thus people who are politically concerned, especially those moving into areas with established Democratic Party organizations, find it more rational to be issue activists than Party activists. This may be one reason why legislative bodies find themselves barraged by proliferating interest groups. Local parties can no longer serve as mediating institutions between citizens and their government because politically concerned people find them personally inaccessible.
The Democratic style of party building is congruent with these changes on the national level but not on the local level. The Democratic Party co-opts groups. It has done this partially through reform efforts to change the delegate selection rules, and partially by supporting programs geared to the interests of identifiable groups. The party has changed the rules to make it more "open", has formally recognized seven caucuses, set up advisory bodies in which constituent groups can participate, and consults their leaders on its programs. In turn it expects these groups' leaders to support Democratic candidates and the programs of other groups active in the Party, and not to be unreasonable in their demands. Obviously, no explicit bargain is made. Instead there is an understanding about the trade-offs necessary to build a winning coalition. Everyone gets something. No one gets everything. Understanding and playing by the rules is the price of admission.
If the national Democratic Party is successful in creating an effective coalition it may become the mediating institution that local party bodies were supposed to be. Major party components would bargain among themselves to establish a joint legislative agenda and relieve Congress from the need to cope with multiple pressures from competing (though not opposing) groups. However, they would still have to elect sufficient Democrats to have legislators to hear their agenda. Since the coalition developing on the national level is not really replicated on the state and local level, and of all the coalition partners only labor unions have much local campaign experience, it remains to be see whether nationally organized interest groups can raise money and mobilize volunteers for local campaigns adequate to compete with the Republican Party.
Although the Republican Party relies heavily on raising money to pay for media and professional expertise it still needs to recruit volunteers. It seeks to do this on a one-to-one basis rather than through groups, and primarily by the force of their ideas rather than by supporting programs with specific benefits. As students of social movements know, individual recruiting is more difficult than bloc recruiting. The latter can utilize pre-existing networks of likeminded people, who reinforce each others changing beliefs. Individual recruiting requires a heavy expenditure of time and energy for each recruit. Furthermore, Americans are pragmatic, not ideological. Ideas by themselves are usually not effective recruiting devices except in certain limited sectors of the population, who, until recently, have not found Republican philosophy attractive.
These difficulties can be partially overcome through heavy use of the media and direct mail. Most incipient social movements don't have the money to do this, but the Republican Party does. Impersonal media recruitment is most effective when what is wanted is not actual participation but superficial indicia of support (voting), and monetary donations. That's exactly what the party wants from its followers. As long as the party can recruit and market attractive candidates, it should increase its base.
However, the Party will face problems should its new recruits want to do more than contribute money and vote. The social homogeneity of the party's primary base has served as a barrier to full participation by people from other social strata. The we/they attitude of traditional Republicans toward the New Right reflects a tension in the Party that may seriously divide it in 1988. Since social homogeneity is the basis for cohesion, it is extremely difficult for the Party to absorb a large group of newcomers sufficiently different from the traditional Party activists such that they threaten this homogeneity. The newcomers in turn pick up this hostility and reflect it back. The Republican Party by and large is not receptive to new groups. It may work with them, albeit uncomfortably, and it may even assimilate them. But the price of assimilation is similarity, and that is hard to achieve.
Should the Republican Party strengthen itself to the point of becoming the majority party it will attract many newcomers, including organized groups, who have not previously thought it worth their time to join. It will discover that the price of success is that everyone wants a share even when they have not made a contribution. Coping with increased demands, rapid expansion and inadequate assimilation have destroyed many developing organizations. Styles and approaches to problems that are compatible with being a minority faction or underdog are not appropriate to being a majority party. Whether the Party can anticipate and prepare for these problems sufficiently to preclude them, remains to be seen.
As the majority party the Democrats face different prospects. The reformation of the coalition from one of independent state and local parties each with its own ethnic balance to a national coalition of constituency groups has created constant turmoil and diverted resources from technological modernization. Furthermore, party activists who do not clearly fit into one of those groups feel left out. Jews are forming a Hillel caucus so they can play the caucus game. Black women have formed their own political association and may apply to be an official Party caucus. White males are complaining that they no longer feel they belong in the party even though over 90 percent of all Democratic candidates are white men and white men dominate two important constituency groups with special set-asides: labor and elected officials. Some want to abolish all official caucuses to avoid the appearance of balkanization even though that would not effect the Party's coalition structure. The Democrats could well learn from the Republicans that they can create and project a positive image without necessarily changing their essential characteristics. They can remain a coalition party without being labeled the party of the special interests.
Nonetheless, there is not just one route to political success. Each party, for reasons peculiar to its own tradition and the social base from which is draws, has a different organizational style uniquely adapted to its particular circumstances. While each party must bend with the political winds, particularly in times of rapid change, an attempt to deny their differences will deprive them of the opportunity to recognize and build upon their strengths.


Information 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.


1 International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, New York: Macmillen, 1968, Vol. 12, p. 218.

2 Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Vol 43, No. 26, June 29, 1985, p. 1287.

3 Frank Fahrenkopf, "Campaign 84: The Contest for National Leadership," Presidential Studies Quarterly, Spring 1984, p. 176

4 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.

5 The Amateur Democrat, James Q. Wilson, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962, 1966, p. vii-viii.

6 William Crotty, Party Reform, New York: Longman, 1984, Part IV.

7 Edward Shils, "Center and Periphery," Selected Essays (Chicago: Center for Social Organization Studies, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago, 1970).

8 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.

9 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.

10 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."

11 New York Times May 27, 1956. Quoted in Duane Lockard, New England State Politics, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959, pp. 138-139.

12 Helen Dewar, "Republicans Wage Verbal Civil War," The Washington Post, No. 19, 1984, p. A1.

13 Thomas B. Edsall, "More Bad News for Mondale", Washington Post, October 24, 1984, C-1.

14 Cornelius P. Cotter and Bernard C. Hennessy, Politics Without Power: The National Party Committees, New York: Atherton, 1964, p. 183.

15 Lockard, 1959, p. 147.

16 Cotter and Hennessy, 1964, pp. 177-179.

17 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.

18 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.

19 Molly Ivins, "The Fabrics that Define Republican Women", San Francisco Chronicle, 27 August 1984. Ivins was a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald.