‘The theory of “party decline” is increasingly out of date.’ Discuss.
The theory of party decline can be considered out of date due to the growing evidence of renewal with in the political parties. Party renewal is evident as there have been more partisan votes, the midterms have been nationalised and the presidential candidates have continued to come from the main to parties. Although it can be argued that the US is still in a period of ‘party decline’ as the parties have lost control over the nominations, there has been increasing levels of interparty disagreement and the popularity of pressure groups has increased. Hence the theory of party decline is still relevant to this day.
It can be argued that party decline is no longer a relevant description of the state of the US political system as there is an increasing level of partisan voting within congress. For example, in the 2017 vote on the nomination of Gorsuch as a supreme court justice the senate was split directly on party lines. This shows that there is a strong level of party loyalty and party control as the members of the two political parties voted the same way on a highly crucial vote.
Another argument that suggests that party decline theory is not relevant is the recent nationalisation of mid-term elections. In the 2006 mid-term elections the Democrats ran a successful ‘six for 06’ campaign, in which they ran for congressional seats on a national party platform, similarly the Republicans ran the Pledge to America campaign in 2010. As mid-term elections are for congressional seats they tend to be run on individual basis, with the candidate defending their record or promoting what they will do for their constituency, though these campaigns have been run on a collective platform. This shows that there is party renewal as there has been a move away from candidate based elections towards the promotion of the party and its idea, it has also proven successful as the Republicans have picked up the idea, thus showing that the public are also becoming more concerned about the party than the candidate.
Further evidence to suggest that there is more party renewal than decline is the fact that the main two parties continue to hold all the power. In the 2016, presidential election the Republican and the Democrat candidate gained all the Electoral College Votes. This shows that the parties remain important as people are choosing to vote for them rather than third party or independent candidate which means that they are still reflective of the public.
On the other hand, the political parties have had limited control over their presidential candidates. In the 2016, presidential election the Donald Trump was elected to be the Republican party’s nominee. Trump was an outside candidate that campaigned as the non-Washington competitor and thus was not the Republican parties first choice candidate, hence the public voting for him to be their candidate shows that the party had limited influence over the nomination process and thus it can be considered that the public are less concerned with the political parties and more concerned about the individual candidates. Although in the 2016 election the Republicans managed to gain the House, Senate and presidency. The fact that the electorate voted for republicans in all areas suggests that they supported the party and not merely Donald Trump.
Party Decline can also fit the current political situation as there is evident disagreement within the main two political parties. Despite the growth in partisan voting there has also been significant disputes such as over Trump Care 2017. President Trumps health care policy aimed to replace Obama Care had to be pulled from congress before they voted on it as it had already been made clear that there was not enough support for it to pass. This shows that the party was divided as the Republicans hold a majority within congress thus for Trump to be unable to get his policy passed he must not have had the support of all his party, which shows that members of the republican party were not voting based on their parties standing on the matter making it clear that their party is not their most important consideration when voting. Hence the party leaders can be considered to have more control and the party be in a period of decline.
One other argument that suggests that party decline is still relevant is the growth in popularity of pressure groups. An example of a pressure group with growing membership is AARP who have 38 million members. As the main two parties are considered to be ‘umbrella parties’ there should be limited number of people that aren’t represented by political parties, hence the growth in people joining pressure groups (another form of representation) suggests that there is a certain degree of disenfranchisement with political parties with their influence declining. However, it can be argued that people may join pressure groups for benefits such as the materialist benefits of AARPs pharmaceutical discounts and not due to the failings of political parties, but the growth of pressure groups at such a rate does still suggest party decline.
In conclusion, though there is some revitalisation of political parties with shows of large support and solidarity on the whole they still appear to be in a state on decline. The lack of control the parties have and the interparty dispute suggests that the party’s leadership and power is relatively weak along with the publics favour of pressure groups which suggests that the political parties are on the whole weak. Hence, the theory of party decline is not irrelevant.
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