Saturday, April 28, 2007


On May 8th I will become a US Citizen. This has sparked some interesting feelings and thoughts. On my way to the interview last week, Brandon asked me what political party I would register to and I had no idea. So...when we got home, I checked the 2 main parties on line and was disappointed. They both sounded the same to me! I checked both of their platforms and thought...hmmm...aren't they both saying the same thing? I don't think that is what they want you to think...there must be SOMETHING to distinguish the two I ask you, what makes a Republican, Republican and a Democrat, Democrat? That may not have made sense!


Anonymous said...

Here is a cool site that shows how the representatives in Congress actually voted on different bills across time.

You have to scroll to the bottom of the page to see the animated graphs. The R stands for Republicans, the D stands for Democrat, and the S stands for Southern Democrat (During the 1960s-1970s the Southern Democrats would often vote with the Republicans who were more conservative on civil rights issues)

As you can see, there actually is a difference most of the time between the two parties in government. The Democrats vote together on bills making more liberal decisions and the Republicans vote together on bills making more conservative decisions.

Your arguement is that you don't see much of a difference between the parties based on their platforms. That is the same thing that Ralph Nader said about the two parties when he ran for the presidency in 2000 as a third-party candidate. I think he said "There's not a dime's worth of difference" between the two parties. I think that might be somewhat true when you look at parties in elections, but not when you examine how elected officials from different parties behave in Congress. Elections are strange situations where the candidates want to appeal to both the more extreme and differentiated activist base that composes the primary electorate and still appeal to the centrist, moderate electorate of the general election. Therefore parties tend to try to look as appealing as possible which probably results in rather fuzzy platforms.

Also, in the United States, elections are very candidate-centered. The candidates, not the parties, are responsible for raising the money and organizing campaigns. This gives rise to a lower emphasis on parties and larger emphasis on the candidate's personality and character traits in elections. However, parties are still important in helping the candidates win...they just do so indirectly and more behind the scenes. Since the 1960s, the parties as organizations have grown stronger, but partisan identification in the public has weakened (there was a huge jump in people identifing as Independents in the 1960s and 1970s). Some people have argued that this shows that parties have become more important, just in a more subtle manner.

So while parties may not always look too different at first glance, they do manage to act quite differently when voting on bills in Congress. Their divergence/polarization could be attributed to the fact that the candidates themselves come from from more extremist pools, their core supporters (the primary constituents) care deeply and are more extreme partisans, parties can indirectly influence who gets to win through resource and organizational help, etc.

Despite the more structrual reasons why parties differ, in terms of platform, the basic acknowledged difference between Republicans and Democrats is:

The biggest traditional spit is that Democrats favor economic solutions at the federal government level and favor a larger government while Republicans prefer more private market decisions, or devolved responsibility (they like the states to be empowered rather than the federal government). However with the rise of social issues, this government size split has been complicated. Republicans want more federal intervention and restriction of social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, while Demcrats prefer the federal goverment not restrict abortion or gay marriage.

For more specific issues, a lot of the time the parties do not differ on the outcome, they just differ on how they think it should be done.

Republicans tend to be well-educated, rich, white, male (evangical religions tend to be republican).

Democrats tend to attract more minority groups, females, younger people.

That is all for now.

Kent says that in comparison to other countries, the U.S. parties are very very weak.


Anonymous said...

In the United States, parties are super weak, so the best way to vote is by looking at the individuals - as Melanie pointed out, the best way to do this is by the way they have voted. Unfortunately, this is not possible with new candidates - usually they will attempt to appeal to the broadest electorate possible, so they will use plainly centrist rhetoric, and the result will be that both parties look the same. Where I think parties matter the most is in providing a "brand-name" that helps voters in choosing candidates, because it would be too time-consuming to fully research every single candidate - and not worth the cost. Sometimes this hurts candidates as well - Lincoln Chafee was a republican senator from Rhode Island who opposed the war in Iraq and was pro-choice, but was still defeated there probably only because he was Republican, and not because of his vote positions (which were largely in line with his electorate).

That said, there is not nearly as much electoral choice in the United States as there are in other countries. In Canada, you can vote from the right (Conservate) to Socialist (NDP). In France you can vote for the extreme right (Le Pen) to the Communists. Furthermore, in parliamentary democracies, parties are much stronger, and their platforms matter much more because MPs will usually be kicked out of the party for voting against a party policy. Censure doesn't really even exist in the United States.

I feel you need to know this.


Laura said...

I think that the best way to decided would be to look at actual pictures of every one in the two parties....the party with more attractive people is naturally the best one. Who wants to vote for someone ugly.

Jodie said... much information. I better get looking at pictures!