The Making of Partisan Issues: Groups, Mass Publics and the Dynamics of Politics
Jochim, Ashley E
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Conventional depictions of political parties suggest conflicts, rooted in immovable ideological disagreements or long-term alliances within the parties' coalitions, are largely stable in the absence of major realignments. In this dissertation, I trace the evolution of partisanship in Congress across 18 issues from 1975 through 2004. I find variations in partisanship within issues over time, as well as significant differences across issues. Why do some issues divide political parties while others win bipartisan cooperation? Party conflicts have their foundation in the parties' competition for political support amongst mass publics and organized groups. Understanding why issues divide political parties requires we consider when party members privilege the interests of the disinterested and disorganized over the engaged and mobilized and with what effect. I argue that issue attention enhances the power of mass publics relative to groups by activating the electoral considerations of party members. As the electoral risks associated with partisan battles mount, bipartisanship emerges as a likely outcome as party members compromise their policy objectives to maintain their electoral bottom line. When mass publics are inattentive, party members have greater freedom to engage in conflicts. However, I find that they have few incentives to do so in the absence of mobilizations that bring competing interests to bear on a given issue. In this sense, partisan conflict and cooperation are similarly constrained by the activities of organized groups. Collectively, my findings reveal American politics to be a politics of issues. Without an understanding of issues - their advocates and political environments - we lack a full portrait of how parties evolve (and why). Put simply, viewing party conflicts through the lens of issues enables us to understand party strategy and congressional operation in ways not possible through aggregate depictions. It brings attention to the relevancy of policy specialists and issue advocates in shaping political parties and suggests that the high politics of parties and presidents are intimately connected with the pluralistic competition among groups. In so doing, this research challenges the centrality of ideology to congressional life and reinvigorates the study of policy substance in American politics.
- Political science