Parties, Polarization, and Democracy in the United States

Book Info

  • Length: 256 pages
  • Trim size: 6" x 9"

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  • ISBN: 978-1-59451-668-9
  • Publish date: July 2010
  • List Price: $37.95
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  • ISBN: 978-1-59451-667-2
  • Publish date: December 2009
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As evidenced in the 2008 elections and the transition to a new era of Democratic governance, one of the most important developments in American politics in recent years has been the resurgence of political parties. Democrats and Republicans represent different world views and policies, citizens recognize these differences, and many of them use party labels to make sense of the political world. In short, party resurgence rooted in party differences has become one of the central themes in contemporary American politics.

Parties, Polarization and Democracy in the United States describes and analyzes the place of political parties in American politics today – both among elites and citizens at large. It also examines the effects of party polarization. Many scholars and pundits denounce political polarization; they view it as a symptom of a broken political system that provides unappealing choices for voters and that is frequently mired in deadlock. Baumer and Gold make a different argument – that party polarization offers the kind of choice and accountability to voters that was not always present in earlier periods of American political history. The book concludes with a discussion of the 2008 elections and a look toward the 2010 midterms, potentially a partisan watershed for Congress similar to 1994 and 2006. And in an analysis rarely found in works on American politics, Baumer and Gold examine partisan resurgence and polarization in the United States alongside the experiences of other Anglo-American countries. The book concludes with a discussion of the 2008 elections and a look toward the 2010 midterms, potentially another sea change steeped in the partisan divide.

Features of this Text:

  • Argues that polarized parties are on balance healthy for democracy.
  • Examines a sweep of survey data from the 1950s to the present to demonstrate that political parties are again highly relevant to Americans.
  • Analyzes the effects of social class and culture on the political choices that Americans make.
  • Examines the role of partisanship in Congressional elections and within Congress itself.
  • Analyzes party resurgence and polarization in the United States alongside the experiences of Australia, Canada, and Great Britain.
  • Summarizes vast amounts of data into tables and graphics that are clear and accessible to a wide audience, in particular undergraduate students.

Author Info

Donald C. Baumer is a professor of Government at Smith College. He is the co-author, with Carl E. Van Horn, of The Politics of Unemployment (CQ Press 1985) and three editions of Politics and Public Policy (CQ Press 1989, 1992, 2001), co-authored with Carl E. Van Horn and William T. Gormley, Jr., and several articles on employment policy, Democratic leadership in the Senate, and party images held by the electorate.

Howard Gold has been teaching Government at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts since 1988. He is the author of Hollow Mandates: American Public Opinon and the Conservative Shift (Westview, 1992) and several articles on partisanship, third parties, and voting behavior. He teaches courses on American political behavior, elections, the media, and statistics.


“The authors present their thesis convincingly. Recommended.”

“Donald C. Baumer and Howard J. Gold's Parties, Polarization, and Democracy in the United States provides a finely-grained and nuanced account of the evolution of popular partisanship in the United States through an exhaustive analysis of the full sequence of American National Election Studies from 1952 through 2008. It may not settle all the debates about partisan polarization and the ‘culture wars,’ but its data and analyses are required reading for anyone wanting to understand or participate in them.”
Gary C. Jacobson, University of California—San Diego

“Baumer and Gold have made an important contribution to the literature on political parties and their relationship to democratic performance in America. Among the many attractive features of their work are that they integrate electoral and governing performance exceedingly well; that they make a clear case for partisan and ideological sorting as the important dynamic at the voter level; and that the coherence of the two parties, the robust debate in which they engage, and their fealty to position and thus to their supporting coalition are positive signs for American democracy. I especially like their claim that American parties today stand at least as distinctively, and apparently actually more distinctively, as their peers in Australia, Britain, and Canada, and that in the 2004 and 2008 elections, ideology has come to rival partisanship as a determinant of vote choice in the public. All in all, they make a strong case for the centrality of political parties for democratic governance.”
—John Aldrich, Duke University

“It has always been fashionable to disparage the role of political parties in America. However, in spite of all the changes in American life—from television to the Internet— that were supposed to make them obsolete, political parties persist in having meaning for the voting public. Baumer and Gold have done a masterful job of assembling the data that prove, once again, that political parties matter.”
—Elaine C. Kamarck, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, author of Primary Politics: How Presidential Candidates Have Shaped the Modern Nominating System


Chapter 1 Political Parties in the 21st Century

Chapter 2 Parties and the Electorate: Take One

Chapter 3 Parties and the Electorate: Take Two

Chapter 4 The Midterm Elections of 1994 and 2006

Chapter 5 Parties in Power: Congress, Presidents, Partisanship and Gridlock

Chapter 6 Political Parties in Anglo-America

Chapter 7 Looking Backward and Forward: The Election of 2008 and the Future of American Politics

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