It has been a fashion over the last two or three decades to claim that political party is in decline in the US politics, as ample evidence, the aforesaid argument goes, suggests believing so. According to the claimants in favor of party decline, political partyâs role has been diminishing in the political processes, including the presidential and congressional elections. Some even goes further, asserting that political party is over in the
Key words: Political party, Political action committee (PAC), US politics, Party decline, the effectiveness of political party, candidate-centered elections.
Son yirmi-otuz yıldır, Amerikan siyasetinde siyasi partinin rolünün Ă¶neminin azaldığı yaygın bir şekilde iddia edilmektedir. Bu iddiaya gĂ¶re, bĂ¶yle bir sonuca varmak için çok sayıda delil vardır. Partinin düşüşte olduğunu iddia edenlere gĂ¶re, siyasi partinin rolü, başkanlık ve yasama meclisleri seçimleri de dahil olmak üzere siyasi süreçlerde gitgide azalmaktadır. Bazıları daha da ileri gidip siyasi partinin artık Amerikan siyasetinde fonksiyonunu yitirdiğini bile iddia etmektedirler. Bu aşırı gĂ¶rüşe gĂ¶re siyasi parti artık Amerikan siyasetinde kullanışlı bir araç olmaktan çıkmıştır. Bu çerçevede, Siyasi Eylem Komiteleri (Political Action Committees), partileri demode ve gereksiz hale getirdiği ve partilerin yerine başarıyla geçtikleri iddia edilmektedir. Artık adaylar seçilebilmek için siyasi partilere bağımlı olmadıklarından siyasi partiler daha Ă¶nemsiz hale gelmektedir. Ancak nu çalışmanın amacı, siyasi partinin hala Amerikan siyasetinin birçok sürecinde çok Ă¶nemli roller üstlendiğini gĂ¶stermektir. Partinin düşüşte olduğuna işaret olarak gĂ¶sterilen deliller aslında ABDâde partinin düşüşte olduğunu değil dĂ¶nüştüğü anlamına gelmektedir. Dolayısıyla siyasi partiler ABDâde hala etkili ve fonksiyoneldirler. Ayrıca, yeni siyasi ortam, eskisine gĂ¶re daha aday merkezli olsa da bunun siyasi partilerin düşüşte olduğu anlamına gelmediği iddia edilmektedir.
Anahtar terimler: Siyasi parti, siyasi eylem komitesi, Amerikan siyaseti, partinin düşüşü, siyasi partinin etkinliği, aday-odaklı seçimler.
The issue of whether the political parties in the
The decline of political parties is mainly attributed to the rise of political action committees (PACs) in the elections in particular. A unique entity that is not likely to be found in the political systems other than that of the
The need to get financial support for their campaigns leads the political figures who are ambitious to get elected to rely on external resources. Conventionally, the political parties, aside from other functions, have performed this task. They have been the focal points for those who wish to make contributions to particular candidates. That is to say, one of the reasons for that candidates for political posts align themselves with a political party has been the fact that political parties have been successful in attracting monies coming from external resources.
However, with the rise of PACs, the political parties have been weakened in attracting financial contributions. This has been interpreted as the decline of political party in the American political landscape. It is quiet obvious that this kind of approach is missing the other roles and functions that political parties had been playing. Limiting the political partyâs sphere of influence to financial matters only would lead to the conclusion that it is gradually declining. However, given its prominence in many respects, it could be asserted that the party is not a political tool that could be easily abandoned.
Political Party and Its Place in a Democratic Society:
Central to the debate on the effectiveness and the future direction of the political party is the definition of the concept itself. The definition would suggest that the political party is the most significant invented mean for effective and fair political representation, and for a functional and legitimate electoral system. Even non-democratic regimes wield the magic of political party in order to maintain the legitimacy of the regime concerned. It has been a long-standing and widely used practice to use political parties, whether in a political competition or not, in order to ensure the viability of the political system in a particular country.
Political party can be defined as a social group which seeks to "wholly or partially take over the government of a country, usually by contesting electionsâ (Tansey, 1995: 174). While providing almost the same as the above definition, Daver (1994: 223) also adds another element. He emphasizes that political party is an organized group aiming at implementing its policy plans when acquiring the power. For Kapani (1995: 160), to be considered as a political party, the concerned social group should have a permanent organizational structure. In another definition made by Schlesinger (1985: 115), a political party is to be seen as the indication of "efforts to capture the offices of the state by the rules laid down by the stateâ. Therefore, a party is composed of office-seekers, and not of voters. Schlesinger asserts that the political party focuses on office-seekers, excluding "all those who see themselves primarily as choosers among parties, that is votersâ from the party. This strongly implies that office seeking rather than representing the public has a dominant place in the direction of a political party.
Nonetheless, in a way, political parties represent the masses. Political parties and pressure groups are "the agents of political mobilization. They are organizations through which individual members of society may participate in certain types of political activity involving the defense or promotion of particular ideas, positions, situations, persons or groups through the political systemâ (Rush, 1992:113). It should also be noted that the scope of pressure groups as the agents of political mobilization is narrower than that of political parties. While the objectives of a pressure group are limited, a political party is normally created to focus on major problems of the society (Rush, 1992:113-114).
Functions of political parties and democracy:
It is almost impossible to imagine a modern political life without political parties operating within it (Daver, 1994: 223). They are playing significant roles in all contemporary societies. Today, there are only a few traditional societies with non-party regimes. As such, it is essential to regard political parties as the necessary component of modern state (Kapani, 1995: 59).
Their significance is also associated with the fact that they are essential for an operational democracy. "[True democracies] have a parliamentary form of government and two or more parties competing in free electionsâ (Cockerham, 1995: 523). Over the time, "the idea that political parties are essential for practicing democracy in the modern state has become dominantâ (Muller, 2000: 309). As such, today "political parties are endemic to democracyâ (Stokes, 1999: 245). In this regard, a one-party political system cannot be regarded as truly democratic.
They are the most prominent institutions "linking citizens to the machinery of governmentâ (Brown, 1995: 23). It is often asserted that "political parties transmit popular preferences into policyâ (Stokes, 1999: 250). In addition, it has been proven that parties are important "in shaping how the electorate thinks and feels about those individuals who campaign under their bannersâ (Rahn, 1993: 493). Then, if they convey the preferences, opinions, and interests of the public to government, "the expression of societal interests or their suppression via the party system will critically influence the quality of democracyâ (Stokes, 1999: 246).
The existence of political parties in modern democracies helps to "reduce the transaction costs in the electoral, parliamentary and governmental arenasâ and "overcome the dilemma of collective actionâ (Muller, 2000: 309). They are also "reported to give order to legislative processes, reduce problems of multidimensionality of the issue space, and permit voters an object to hold to accountâ (Stokes, 1999: 244).
It might be asked why parties are so essential in a democratic society. Legislative politics may not be stable without political parties. Therefore, legislators who want to have something done and those who want their preferred policies to prevail will form parties. As a result, parties introduce effectiveness into the democratic institutions (Stokes, 1999: 245).
A political party performs several outstanding functions. It combines interests and demands, and transmits them into the appropriate channels. It also approximates masses to the government. Political leaders and personnel are elected through political parties. In the elections, party candidates "take advantage of their partyâs âbrand nameâ for reasons of information economization and strategic voting. The candidatesâ party label allows voters to make more informed judgments about how they will behave once elected. Once national parties have become the vehicles of political competition there is hardly a market left for individual candidates. Then voters vote for parties, rather than individual candidates, because they do not want to waste their votesâ (Muller, 2000: 313).
This is exactly what has been witnessed in the
In a democratic society, political parties recruit incumbents seeking office, help the formation of public opinion, invites the public to voting, control and criticize the government, assume the task of governing, and appoint and check the executives and officers (Daver, 1994: 229-230). Political parties make a strong and coherent collective action possible. They "solve the collective action problem by establishingâ a party organization "which allows the monitoring of the other party members in order to ensure that they indeed contribute to the collective actionâ (Muller, 2000: 316). The parties overcome the dilemma of collective action by leaders who internalize the collective interest of the party, and monitor the fellow partisans (Muller, 2000: 316). Therefore, this suggests that although attractive, party leadership positions are elective, meaning that "there is internal competition for these positions and that incumbents can be held accountable if they fail to act in the collective interestâ (Muller, 2000: 16).
Political parties are essential for a political system; in order to make the government accountable. Democracy requires the elected leaders to be held responsible and accountable to the electorate, for the actions they are taking during their office terms. "Government policy is determined by the collective actions of many individual office-holders. No one person either can or should be held accountable for actions taken by the House, Senate and president together. The political party as a collective enterprise, organizing competition for the full range of offices, provides the only means for holding elected officials responsible for what they do collectively" (Aldrich, 1995: 3). Probably, the most important function of a political party is to govern when acquiring the power, and to check and control the government when in opposition (Kapani, 1995: 165-168).
In that sense, the dominance of political parties in the democratic political system is inevitable.
Ambition theory, which briefly explains the motivation of a politician to get elected, stipulates the existence of political parties. "No collection of ambitious politicians has long been able to think of a way to achieve their goals in this democracy save in terms of political partiesâ (Aldrich, 1995: 296). To meet their goals, politicians need political parties.
Therefore, given the prominence of political parties, and their crucial place in a democratic society, Stokes (1999: 250) notes that "it is clear that parties are here to stay, an avoidable part of democracyâ. As seen above, political party is the sine qua non component of a democratic system. Consequently, the removal of the political party from the political system cannot be suggested, as long as that system is claimed to be democratic and participatory.
If we turn to our particular case, we see that " [t]he worldâs oldest continuous democracy is the
It should be noted that the founders of the
Political parties have existed and been active in the
The Claim That Political Parties Are in Decline in the
As noted earlier, political parties are inseparable elements of a democratic system. Therefore, given that the
The issue of whether the American political parties are in decline is so controversial that it is quite possible to find extremely different views on the matter. Debating the significance of the party in American politics, political pundits are mainly divided into three groups: opponents who assert the decline of party; proponents who admit the radical change of party, but defend that it is still very strong as it used to be in the past; and those who do not give too much importance to party (Valelly, 2000: 48). Herrnson (1986: 590-591) introduces some proponents and opponents of political party, along with their opinions pertinent to the decline of party. Opponents argue that the influence of political parties has decreased, and their role has been limited in the recruitment and nomination processes. There is a vast literature on party decline in the
Those who refuse the argument that party is in decline tend to regard the change that political parties have been undergoing for several decades as a transition rather than a decline. Some even claim that political parties are still alive and very strong in American politics (i.e., Pomper, 1996). It should also be noted that the debate over whether the political party is in decline is not peculiar to the American political system. Some scholars argue that political parties are losing power and strength in Western European political systems. Webb (1995: 292) argues that even though "the theme probably figured initially in the American literature in the mid-1960s and has continued to develop since that timeâŠ in a number of western democracies examples can be found of observers who perceive parties to be 'in decline', or at least under severe pressure in these or other senses.â
Those who deny the party decline thesis assert that political parties in the present political environment are perfectly adapting themselves to the contemporary needs and taking new functions and responsibilities. As Herrnson (1986: 594) points out, the developments occurring at various party committees provide support for the argument that "parties are capable of adapting to the changing political environmentâ. Another support for the argument that parties are adapting to major transformations comes from Dodson (1990: 119):
Americans mobilized by political causes have often found partisan campaigns attractive arenas in which to pursue their goals, for political parties and the public officials elected under their banners have considerable influence over governmental agenda setting and public policy. The attraction of new activists to partisan politics may be a sign that parties are responsive to societal change.
One of the most widely discussed topics in political science over the last decade, the decline of party has drawn substantial attention. In their study where they conduct a survey research among voters, Cotter and Bibby (1980) conclude that while party identification is declining, the national party committees are becoming more and more important and stronger. Furthermore, it is asserted that "increasing numbers of voters are declaring themselves political independents and splitting their ticketsâ (Wattenberg, 1981: 941). As a supporting argument, Hetherington (1999: 311) notes that "partisanship is increasingly less useful to voters in a candidate-centered eraâ. In the current state of affair, political campaigns are candidate-centered; thus, "the link between parties and candidates is substantially weakened, and that political parties are meaningless to the electorateâ (Wattenberg, 1981: 941). In their study on partisanship in the US Clarke and Stewart (1998: 358) state that "the most salient characteristic of partisanship since it was first measured in national election surveys in the 1950s has been its long-term erosion in what has become a protracted era of dealignment in the United Statesâ. As a consequence, "voters increasingly see fewer important differences between the Democrats and the Republicansâ (Wattenberg, 1981: 942). Although it is generally held among scholars that voters refrain from identifying themselves with a political party, this view should be critically evaluated. Surveys conducted among the voters suggest that most Americans align themselves with one of the two major American political parties. For instance, in 2003, nearly 31 percent of Americans identified themselves with the Democrats, and 30 percent with the Republicans (Greenblatt, 2004: 376).
Wattenberg (1981: 944-945) attributes the emergence of candidates as the focus of voters, and political partiesâ decline in importance in the elections to the growth of mass media and candidate-centered campaigns. In the presidential selection process, he argues, the importance of parties has been severely weakened. He asserts that while parties identify themselves by different ideological preferences and tendencies, "on the crucial short-run policy issues of the day it is the candidates which now matter mostâ.
As seen above, the argument that political party is in decline in the
According to the argument, this created a political environment in which "candidates no longer need the parties in order to win electionsâ (Wattenberg, 1981: 947). Consequently, these trends are read as "the end of parties, as we know themâ (Wattenberg, 1981: 941). In The American Prospect, an influential liberal publication, Amy Burke (1998) adopts the same path asserting that "parties have long been in decline, supplanted by media, money, interest groups, and candidate-centered politics. The party platform, once the fulcrum of great national debates, scarcely matters today. And, paradoxically, some of the very reforms that progressives designedâto clean up politics, empower ordinary people, and buffer the excesses of a market economyâhave weakened parties, thus making it harder to elect durable progressive governing coalitions.â
Assessing the Validity of the Argument:
Those who claim that political party is declining frequently refer to the proliferation of political action committees (PACs) over the last three and so decades. According to the claim, PACs are now more important than political parties in presidential campaigns. In that sense, PACs are replacing political parties. However, a detailed examination will reveal that PACs are performing new roles other than political parties have been playing. Therefore, political parties are not declining, rather; they are transforming. PACs, as the new actors in American politics, are playing their own roles, not those of the parties.
It is argued that political reform in the
The emergence of PACs as new actors in the
Elections managed by a professional campaign industry possessing the technology to frame issues and candidates' images cannot fulfill the same function as elections conducted through a party system. Media-based elections do not provide an opportunity for mediation and bargaining among elites, and they do not forge a link between the electorate and the elites that win government power. Failing to fulfill their historic political functions, elections in the
have become increasingly marginal to the governmental apparatus. They have become a part of United States 's television culture, peopled with media stars and contrived soap opera drama. America
The technological transformation has had the greatest impact on this new state of affair. Financing the presidential campaigns has significantly changed due to the great technological advance. This has led to the rise of concern about the adaptability of the political parties to the changing environment (Herrnson, 1986: 602). The underlying reason for the rise of concerns is that "the transformation of a âhigh-techâ, cash-oriented system of campaign politics has meant that the candidates of today need to raise substantially more money than did their predecessorsâ (Herrnson, 1992: 866). As a consequence, "new technology in the 1960s allowed politicians to gain nomination and office without strong reliance on a political party. Politicians now accept assistance from the party but not control by the party. The mass party dissolved in bargainâ (Coleman, 1996b: 1215).
It could be argued that the new conditions created an environment in which candidates might be at least partially independent of a political party. Those conditions brought the PACs into effect, as new actors specifically designed to alleviate the financial burden of the candidate in the presidential campaigns. This suggests that PACs are performing finance-related functions that reduce âtransaction costâ. However, it should be noted that PACs are not the only financial contributors to the candidates. In addition to PACs, political parties and individuals as well can make monetary contributions to the candidates. Furthermore, the candidate needs to create attractive campaigns in order to ensure the maximum benefit from the contributors:
Contemporary congressional elections require a candidate to assemble an organization that can conduct technologically sophisticated campaign activities and raise large amounts of money from political parties, political action committees (PACs), and individualsâ (Herrnson, 1992: 859).
This means that political parties are still playing -although limited in comparison to the past- their role in financing the campaigns. Besides, they do not go after every candidate. Instead, given their dominance in the system, and their recognition and acceptance as the leading mean of representation by the public, it is the candidate who seeks to ensure the support of the party. Therefore, the party selects the best candidate, and the candidate is to prove that he/she will be successful in the elections.
Political parties, PACs, and individuals who make large contributions seek to invest their money where it will have the greatest impact. One of the factors they use to evaluate the competitiveness of congressional races is the quality of the campaign organizations that candidates assemble (Herrnson, 1992: 860).
Therefore, it is quite obvious that candidates have to still rely on political parties, even for monetary reasons. Political parties are still central to the success of the candidates for political posts in that the financial contribution from the party helps the candidates win the elections. Contrary to the long-standing assumption that financial contributions from political parties to the candidates have little or no influence over the votersâ choices, Medvic (2001) concludes in his study that partyâs financial support can increase the candidateâs share of the electorate.
One of the remarkable issues, which lead us to ponder over the role of party in the politics, is whether American political system is experiencing realignment. Sundquist (1973: 559-567) is examining several election results to determine whether there is a steady tendency towards one of two major parties of American politics. Eventually, he reached the conclusion that there is no precise shift, which can be interpreted as realignment.
This might be an evidence for arguing that political parties do not matter for the voters. However, it could also be evidence for arguing that voters are loyal to their long-standing party attachments, no matter what their partyâs performance in the office is, and thus, that political parties really matter for them.
It should also be noted that the dominance of the two-party system in the US, the votersâ indifference to other parties, and the almost equal division of the total electorate between two parties in the major elections is a special case, and have nothing to do with partyâs diminishing or increasing role.
The basic explanation for the situation described above can be based on the ideological identities of political parties, operating in American political system. Although ideology is somehow important in American politics, it does not constitute the difference between two major parties in the system. Yet they are believed to have some basic characteristics, which can be seen as distinguishing factors. For instance, Democratic Party is believed to pursue policies in favor of working class, and the Republican Party is seen as the party of big business. According to
However, these so-called characteristics do not always come true. For instance, a survey conducted among white-collar workers in 1959 showed that thirty-four percent of the workers thought that the Republicans best represented their interest. However, thirty-two percent were in favor of Democratic Party. Moreover, there is no absolute coherence within even each of the parties. It is always seen that there are party members, who feel sympathy towards the opponent one in particular issues (Vile, 1976: 87-88). This suggests that there is no significant difference between the two major parties. They are not strictly ideology-oriented; do not have precise and strongly binding procedures that their members feel obligated to follow. They are in fact designed as "election winning machinesâ (Kapani, 1995: 182). Because American political parties do not have ideological or sociological bases, and do not adhere to guiding doctrines, they have become organizations aiming at gaining administrative and political offices, and most of the times, seeking to select the candidate in pre-elections (Duverger, 1986: 281). As Vile (1976: 58) notes on this matter, "the major function of American political parties is to provide candidates for office and to secure their election. The effective offices for which candidates have to be nominated are very numerous, particularly at State and local levels.â What this implies is that American political parties are quite different from their counterparts in
The lax differentiation of parties can be tied to the historical background of the
Political Action Committees (PACs) and Their Impact in the Elections:
What is a Political Action Committee?
Political Action Committee (PAC) is an organization that is unlikely to be found in a Western democracy other than the
PACs were first organized in the 1940s. It is generally contended that that PAC organized by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1943 was a model for later PACs. The limitations imposed on individual campaign contributions by the election reform of 1974 and the guidelines for PACs set by this reform caused a rapid increase in the number of PACs. Since then, their numbers grew rapidly from 600 in 1974 to more than 4,000 in 1988 and reached 5,000 in 2000 (Roskin et. al, 2000: 176). However, they now number about 3,800, an indication for the their relative decline in the electoral processes. According to the reports released by The Federal Election Commission, there has been a substantial increase in the number of PACs since 1977. However, this increase has slowed down beginning from 1988. Since then, the number of PACs started to decrease. It is also important to note that the only remarkable increase has been in the number of "corporateâ and "non-connectedâ PACs. While the number of corporate PACs was just below 600 in 1977, it made a peak of 1800 in 1988 and then dropped to below 1600 in 1998 (Federal Election Commission, 2005a).
Although the initial PACs were in form of labor unions, over the time business PACs have proliferated in number and today their number is far more than labor PACs (Roskin et, al, 2000: 176). While many represent special-interest groups, others represent large conservative or liberal coalitions, a fact suggesting that they are divided parallel to two major political partiesâ lines.
Most PACs have directed their contributions toward congressional elections, in which they can contribute up to $5,000 to a candidate for each campaign. "Some, however, have conducted independent negative campaigns against candidates they oppose. Increased campaign contributions by PACs have raised fears that legislators may accede to pressure from these groups and become less responsive to their constituents. Federal legislation enacted in 2002 forbids attacks on candidates by name immediately before an electionâ (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2005).
Do PACs Pose a Threat to the Primacy of Political Parties in American Politics?
Although the PACs have dramatically gained prominence over the time and become influential to some extent, it does not seem possible to suggest that this prominence will erode the political partyâs importance in the
Secondly, it seems that the role of PACs concerning monetary matters is extremely exaggerated. Although it is evident that PACs make financial contributions in huge amounts to the candidates they are in favor of, they are not the only financial sources for the candidates. In fact, the proportion of the PACsâ contributions in the whole campaign spending of the candidates is quite low. It is possible to claim that PACs are in a position to influence the decisions of the candidates they have made contributions to, given that their contribution is limited, it is also possible to say that PACs could not be determinative over the decisions taken by the politicians.
Statistics show that the candidates for political offices are increasingly spending more money. In each election period, American people witness a substantial increase in campaign spending in comparison to the prior one. As a consequence, the contributions made by PACs also increase, but so do the ones made by ordinary individuals. For instance, Democratic Partyâs presidential candidate Bill Clinton spent about $43 million in his campaigns for 1996 presidential elections. The Democrat subtotal was nearly $46 million in the same period. The total receipts of the Republicans neared $187 million. The contributions of political action committees to
For the presidential elections of 2004, Democratic Party candidate Al Gore received $133 million during the 1999-2000 cycle. While $45 million came from individuals, PACs made no contribution (Federal Election Commission, 2005b). Patrick Buchanan of Reform Party, one of the leading third parties that had the potential the outcome of the elections, received $57 million in total, of which only $1,000 came from PACs (Federal Election Commission, 2005c). In the same period, George W. Bush, the presidential candidate of the Republican Party received $193 million in total, of which only $2,229,056 came from PACs (Federal Election Commission, 2005d). Ralph Nader, a popular political figure who had no party affiliation in the presidential elections of 2000 raised $13,761,993, of which $390 came from PACs (Federal Election Commission, 2005e).
John F. Kerry, the Democratic Party candidate for the presidential elections of 2004 received $346 million in total, of which $224 million came from individuals and only $141,918 PACs (Federal Election Commission, 2005f). George W. Bush of the Republican Party received $374,659,453 in the 2003-2004 cycle. PACs made a contribution of $2,917,017 to Bushâs presidential campaign (Federal Election Commission, 2005g).
The substantial rise in campaign spending is not limited to presidential election only. Candidates for both the US Senate and the House of Representatives had to face difficulties pertinent to monetary matters. The need for political money has recently become so severe that while in 1960s and 1970s the House and Senate candidates had to raise money in election times only, by the mid-1980s, "many members had begun raising money early in the off-election year or soon after arriving in Washingtonâ (Corrado, 2000: 77). It is asserted that "rising campaign costs, changing political tactics, and shifting congressional mores have combined to enhance the significance of fund-raising and the role of money in the political processâ (Corrado, 2000: 76). Whatever the reason is for the tendency to raise more money than ever, what is worth noting is the outcome of this tendency. Now both candidates for the posts in the Congress and the members of Congress are engaged in permanent campaign in order to cover their financial needs. Hence, "the quest for campaign dollars has become so persistent and pervasive that members of Congress are commonly described as being entrenched in a âmoney chaseâ or a âfund-raising arms raceâ to which there is no end in sightâ (Corrado, 2000: 75).
As just noted, the total spending made by the candidates for legislative branches of the
Political Party in the
Even though parties are vital, they are weakening in current political environment, due to the effects of the ever-changing environment. But, this does not necessarily mean that parties are coming to an end. Instead, they are in transformation. Their roles have changed gradually, and now they are rapidly adapting themselves to the new conditions. "Instead of the traditional view of parties being more important than the candidate, parties are now in service to their candidates; they are structured to advance the needs and interests of ambitious politicians.â (Aldrich, 1995: 293). Now, candidates are at the center of the political process. Yet political parties are still the inseparable components of this process. Candidates still excessively need political parties in order to get elected. Therefore, although the traditional role the parties used to play is changing, they are successfully transforming.
It is true that political parties have changed remarkably since the inception of the American federalist system: "the parties are different from what they wereâ five or so decades ago (Schlesinger, 1985: 1152). Some even goes further, arguing that American political parties are constantly changing. McKay (2005: 80) is of the opinion that "in organization and function, the parties have changed quite dramatically over the past 230 years -and indeed have changed considerably over the past 30 years.â However, this could not be an evidence for arguing that political parties are in decline. To the quite contrary, they are assuming new roles. They "have departed the era of mass party and entered a new era of the service party. This new party provides electoral services that complement the candidate-centered campaigning of its members. Parties have not so much declinedâ as changed (Coleman, 1996b: 1216). What has happened is that the old mass parties simply did not survive the realignment that occurred in the late 1960s, and were replaced by new type of parties, which could be perfectly called as parties-in-service to candidates. Those new parties "have quite different activist cadres and supporters from the older onesâ (Burnham, 1997: 10).
However, in this study, it is claimed that imagining the absence of political parties in the system and political processes is impossible. There are mainly two reasons for this argument. First is theory-related: political theory suggests that a democratic regime is not sustainable, and even unimaginable without contesting political parties. Second is that the transformation of American parties is not an evidence for its decline. In fact, American parties have been changing since the very beginning. Therefore, the transformation that has strongly been felt over the last three decades is actually not a recent case. American political parties have consistently demonstrated that they are perfectly capable of adapting themselves to the contemporary needs of the changing environment, and have succeeded to undergo appropriate transformations. Therefore, that the parties are now in transition does not necessarily mean that they are seen as useless by the candidates who are more central than ever in political processes. It could be said that it is the candidates that matter most now; but it is equally true that they strongly need the parties in order to get elected. In that sense, too, political parties are still alive. One more point is worth noting: American political system is so different and unique that it is not reasonable to compare American political parties to their counterparts in advanced democracies.
Cenap Cakmak , firstname.lastname@example.org
Center for Global Change and Governance
Global Affairs Program, PhD Candidate
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