° PS103 Syllabus - Fall 2000
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Student Essays - U.S. Political Systems
Professor Russell Renka
Fall 2000
Southeast Missouri State University

Fall 2000 - Current Semester Essays
Essay No. 1 - September 22-23
    °Elizabeth Skaer
    °Anne Hays

Essay No. 3 - November 13-14
    °Anne Hays

Spring 2000 - Archive Essays
Essay No. 1 -
    °Essay No. 1c - Adam Baker
Essay No. 2 - 
    °Essay No. 2a - Adam Baker

Fall 1999 - Archive Essays
Essay No. 1

    °Essay No. 1a - Chris Manning
    °Essay No. 1b
Essay No. 2
    °Essay No. 2a - Katie Vandagriff
    °Essay No. 2b -
Edwards Essays
    °Amanda Crabtree
    ° Shelly Kofsky
Essay No. 3
    °Essay No. 3a - Katie Vandagriff
    °Essay No. 3b - Marisa Banasik


Fall 2000 Essay 1 - Question 1. John Roche said the Framers of the Constitution were pragmatic democrats, but Richard Hofstadter raised serious doubts about that, labeling them as economic upper-class defenders who feared the aggressive urban mobs and small dirt farmers—men whom Jack Rakove says were habitually voting their own into office in the states of the 1780s.  James Madison in Federalist No. 10 and No. 51 put forth the framers’ views on human nature as self-interested and inclined to form into factions that sought power for their own selfish ends.  Yet Madison in No. 10 also says voters will be inclined to elect their betters in a republic with powers conferred on elected officials.  I chipped in that elected officials are much kinder on taxation to their own citizens than they are to outsiders and nonvoters.
    What was democratic about the things the Framers did in Philadelphia?  What was undemocratic about the things they did?  On balance, were they more democratic than undemocratic?

Elizabeth Skaer - PS103, Section 03

The Great American Myth

            In two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, Americans fought and died so that democracy would prevail around the world.  In the minds of many Americans, America is the bastion of democracy.  But how democratic is America?  Today’s America was “born” with the signing of the constitution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  There, it was determined how democratic America would be.  And every American should ask himself how democratic America was made at that constitutional convention in Philadelphia.

            Before pondering the extent of democracy one must determine what the term “democracy” means.  Democracy is a “means of selecting policymakers and of organizing government so that policy represents and responds to citizens’ preferences.”[i]  The traditional democratic theory further explains the ideas behind democracy.  The five aspects of this theory are that one man equals one vote, there is good voter-turnout, citizens can obtain knowledge through free speech and press, the general public controls government agenda, and an extension of all rights to all citizens.[ii]  From this, one could say a true democracy would submit every bill to the public for a popular vote, like the traditional town meetings of old New England where all eligible voters met to have their say in governmental agenda.[iii]  One could also say that democracy implies protection of rights and equal rights for all.  Or, as Abraham Lincoln said, a democracy is “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”[iv]  The people make the government, they have a say in the agenda, and the government governs by the people’s consent.  This is democracy.  The question is whether the nation created by the framers of America’s constitution was democratic and then whether democracy is really what the framers had in mind.

            According to Hofstadter, the framers did not want a democracy; to them, a democracy would destroy the liberty that they had fought for.[v]  However, one must bear in mind that the framers ideas of what liberty differed from today’s idea of liberty.  To them, liberty was the right to have property and the right to a stable economy.[vi]  So, a direct democracy could take away their liberties.  A direct democracy would give votes to all citizens and they could in turn vote to divide all property equally among the citizens.[vii]  The framers were the upper class and this was in their mind as they wrote the law of the land; they only wanted propertied men like themselves voting in election to protect their own property.[viii]  Madison himself said that democracy was evil in Federalist Number10.[ix]  Roger Sherman, another framer, also added that people “should have as little to do as may be with the government.”[x]  With these ideas of democracy, the framers were not inclined to provide democracy in the constitution.

            Actually, when considering the traditional theory, the constitution is far from democratic.  The aspect of one-person equals one vote isn’t completely provided for in the constitution.  The senate members are chosen by their state legislatures and electors elect the president.[xi]  So, the people are voting for the president indirectly.  While this is representatively democratic in that the people are able to vote for those who vote for them, this is not truly democratic, but more republican.  In addition, the constitution only protected the peoples’ rights of Habeas Corpus and protected them from Bills of Attainder and ex post facto laws.[xii]  Neither did the original constitution include a bill of rights.[xiii]  This violates the aspect of the democratic theory that states that rights are protected.  The few rights that were protected were not extended toe everyone either:  the constitution allows slavery.  Furthermore, the constitution does not grant the right to vote to anyone: they leave that decision to the states.[xiv]   While this does not deny the vote to anyone, it also doe not ensure the vote for anyone.  So, the myth of democracy is disproved.

            However, this should not discourage anyone.  There are quite a few democratic aspects to the actions of the framers in Philadelphia.  The main democratic accomplishment of the framers was their compromise. Roche stated that the framers were willing to listen to different views and compromise.[xv]  That is a very democratic idea; letting everyone speak his mind before deciding on the best solution.  Also, the framers were elected by people from their states to represent them in the writing, and the framers worked to make the constitution a document they could take back t o the people and get approved.[xvi]  Their agenda was to do what the people wanted, an aspect of the traditional democratic theory.  Not to mention that the constitution provided for the direct election of the House of Representatives by the people[xvii] and the constitution had to be approved by the people before it could be law.[xviii]  Democracy was not completely missing from the constitutional convention.  It simply had to be searched for.

            Considering all these observations of the framers, one can conclude two things.  The actual constitution that the framers created did not have many democratic traits to boast, mostly due to the low opinion the framers had of true democracy.  However, the framers’ actions in compromise and working in the interest of constituents were democratic (democratic in that the people’s agenda was the representatives agenda; the act of representing the constituents is a republican idea).  So, when it comes to concluding whether the things the framers did in Philadelphia were democratic or undemocratic, it comes down to questioning the result or the actions that created the result are more important.  I would say the result is more important.  I do not feel that the framers were democratic.  I see them as an elite group of the nation writing a constitution that protected them from the less elite, and less wealthy, masses.  Not only did they look down on democracy and unpropertied people, but they also failed to protect rights and kept the general public from having a direct vote in the choice of their senators and president.  Most importantly, the constitution permitted slavery!  While America may have been founded on democratic ideals, it is governed by republican theories of representatives that disallow the fundamental democratic idea of one-person equals one vote.  I do not, however, find this a tragedy.  With America’s size and diversity, a true democracy would have been a catastrophe.  That is the “Great American Myth”:  America was designed by the framers to be a republic.  It is the amendments and actions of the American constitution and government that make it democratic and the framers in Philadelphia had little or nothing to do with that.[1]


[1] The Bill of Rights was added during the 1st session of congress (Rakove, Jack, “A Tradition Born of Strife,” American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 19) and the American government has become more democratic since the writing of the constitution (Edwards, George C. III, Robert L. Lineberry, & Martin P. Wattenberg, Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy  (New York:  Addison-Wesley educational Publishers Incorporation, 1999), 49).

 

[i] Edwards, George C. III, Robert L. Lineberry, & Martin P. Wattenberg, Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy  (New York:  Addison-Wesley educational Publishers Incorporation, 1999), 10.

[ii] Edwards, George C. III, Robert L. Lineberry, & Martin P. Wattenberg, Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy  (New York:  Addison-Wesley educational Publishers Incorporation, 1999), 10.

[iii] Edwards, George C. III, Robert L. Lineberry, & Martin P. Wattenberg, Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy  (New York:  Addison-Wesley educational Publishers Incorporation, 1999), 541.

[iv] Edwards, George C. III, Robert L. Lineberry, & Martin P. Wattenberg, Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy  (New York:  Addison-Wesley educational Publishers Incorporation, 1999), 18.

[v] Hoftstadter, Richard, “The Founding Fathers:  An Age of Realism,”  American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings  (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 22.

[vi] Hoftstadter, Richard, “The Founding Fathers:  An Age of Realism,”  American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings  (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 22-23.

[vii] Hoftstadter, Richard, “The Founding Fathers:  An Age of Realism,”  American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings  (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 22-23.

[viii] Hoftstadter, Richard, “The Founding Fathers:  An Age of Realism,”  American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings  (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 23-25.

[ix] Madison, James, “The Federalist, No. 10,”  American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 296.

[x] Edwards, George C. III, Robert L. Lineberry, & Martin P. Wattenberg, Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy  (New York:  Addison-Wesley educational Publishers Incorporation, 1999), 10.

[xi] “The Constitution of the United States of America” from American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999) pgs 566-572.  Article I, Section 3, Clause 1 and Article II, Section 1, Clause 3.

[xii] “The Constitution of the United States of America” from American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999) pgs 566-572. Article I, Section 9, Clauses 2 &3.

[xiii] Rakove, Jack, “A Tradition Born of Strife,” American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 7.

[xiv] Roche, John P., “The Founding Fathers:  A Reform Caucus in Action,” American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 18.

[xv] Roche, John P., “The Founding Fathers:  A Reform Caucus in Action,” American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 10 & 12.

[xvi] Roche, John P., “The Founding Fathers:  A Reform Caucus in Action,” American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 14.

[xvii] “The Constitution of the United States of America” from American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999) pgs 566-572. Article I, Section 2, Clause 1.

[xviii] Rakove, Jack, “A Tradition Born of Strife,” American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 6.

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Fall 2000 Essay 1 - Question 3.  The readings on Macks Creek and the West Virginia tax on river traffic, the class and text description of constraint on trade by states in the 1780s, the taxation of the national bank by Maryland before 1819, and the dependence of states and other federal grant recipients on grant money from Washington, all have a certain common element about them.  What do these things say about the nature and behavior of politicians in a democracy such as the U.S.?  Also, if you can, cite one or more additional examples to highlight this same kind of behavior.

Anne Hays

PS 103-03

9-22-00

A Politician’s Re-election Scheme

       The United States is one of the most democratic nations in the world.  However, for our elected representatives, government is also a business, and these officials want to do anything they can to stay employed, or get re-elected.  There are several ways they can do this, but one way has been used repeatedly since the American Revolution.  It has been used in many examples, including the trade wars between the states of the 1780’s, the taxation of the federal bank by Maryland until 1819, the speed trap in Macks Creek, MO in the 1990’s, West Virginia’s current tax on river traffic, increased taxes for hotels and rental cars, and finally in the states’ dependency on federal grant money.  All of these are examples in which the politicians are taxing people outside of their voting district, in hopes of staying in office.

      The idea behind all of these schemes is that the people paying the taxes and fines are not the people that vote for the local or state politicians creating these laws.  Therefore, the people in the politician’s district receive the benefits of this increased revenue, but don't have any of the cost, causing the elected official to look more favorable.  Furthermore, the visitors to the area rarely have an easy way to fight these taxes or fines.  They can't vote the officials out of office, and they usually can't avoid the situation.  The only choice they have is to comply with the fine or tax, or spend a lot of time and money to fight it in court.  The following examples were all devised by politicians who wanted nothing more than to stay in office, and they were created under the same line of thinking – take advantage of people who have no way of protesting.  These examples all have this common theme, only the implementation and the legality of them differ. 

      This process of taxing others began before the Constitution was even written.  Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government had no control of commerce between the states.  Because of this, the states taxed each other’s goods, creating trade wars.  Although they were hurting commerce in the process, the politicians knew they were gaining revenue without alienating their own voters. This practice was resolved by the ratification of the Constitution, which states in Article 1, Section 8, “No tax or duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State” (U.S. Constitution). 

       Another example of politicians using this means of staying in office was the taxation of the federal bank by Maryland.  Although this had some other issues involved, such as Congress’s power to start a bank and the struggle of power between the federal government and the states, this is still an example of elected officials gaining revenue by a means other than taxing their own constituents.  This law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1819.  In the ruling, Chief Justice John Marshall stated that the states don’t have the power by any means, to retard laws enacted by Congress (McCulloch v. Maryland).  So in this case, the tax was declared unconstitutional because it taxed the federal government, not because it taxed someone other than the voters in Maryland.

      A more recent example took place in Macks Creek, MO in the 1990's.  This example really was highway robbery, as the mayor set up a police force of five in a town of 272 to enforce a speed trap on US highway 54 that runs through the town.  The police force raised about $165,000 a year, more than three-fourths of the town’s revenue simply by writing speeding tickets (Town Goes Broke).  However, the mayor’s grand scheme was flawed, because he had to spend the majority of the money just to keep the police force running.  Therefore, although the voters were not taxed, they did not see any benefits and did not fully support his practices.  Missouri legislature stopped Macks Creek’s scheme by enacting a law that stated that only 45 percent of a town’s revenue could come from traffic violations.  This law was proposed by a legislator who had been stopped in Macks Creek (Town Goes Broke).  In this case, it took years before someone who had the authority to do something about the practice, to finally get it stopped.

      Another recent example is a tax West Virginia imposes on the river traffic that passes by, on the Ohio River.  In this case the revenue collected is used for West Virginia’s highway fund.  Although this law has been upheld in West Virginia’s courts, reporter George Will feels that it should be challenged in the Supreme Court, as he says this interferes with the mobility of commerce (Wills).  However, until this law is contested, the politicians will continue to bring in money for doing virtually nothing.  Most importantly they are not increasing taxes for the West Virginians who have the ability to vote them out of office, and people who are paying the tax would have to face a lengthy court battle to do something about it.

      Another example is the exuberant hotel and auto rental taxes that almost all cities have.  What these extra taxes are used for vary from city to city.  Some cities reasonable use the taxes for keeping up any tourist attractions.  However some cities allow for the revenue to be used for almost anything.  For example, SEMO wanted to use a hotel tax to help fund its River Campus.  Another example is found the Texan cities of San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston, where under House Bill 92, communities are authorized to levy hotel and car rental taxes to finance construction of sports arenas (Weiss).  In both of these cases, the politicians are finding ways to finance projects which are good for their town, but which many voters do not support enough to help finance themselves through their own taxes.

      A final example, although somewhat different, is the state's dependence on grant money from the federal government.  To the elected officials this is really getting something for nothing.  Of course, they could decline this grant money and simply increase state taxes to cover the difference, but there is not a politician, who wants to remain in office, who would propose such a law.  The typical politician knows that the state needs that money, but he also knows that his re-election prospects stand a much better chance if the federal government takes a larger portion of people's income than the state does. 

      In conclusion, elected officials in a democratic country will do a lot of things to stay in office, including sucking money out of anyone who can't vote them out of office.  This practice of politicians is older than the Constitution itself.  It has been implemented in many different ways, including state officials in the 1780's taxing other state's goods, Maryland taxing the federal bank, a small town in Missouri ridiculously enforcing a speed trap, West Virginia taxing river traffic, high hotel and car rental taxes found all over the country, and finally in the states’ dependence on federal grant money.  Although all of these examples used a different way of getting the money, the idea was the same.  The politicians who enacted these practices all wanted to do as much as they could for their voters, without putting the cost on them, in hopes of staying in office.
Works Cited

“McCulloch v. Maryland”. (1819). Rpt. in American Politics: Classic andContemporary Readings. Allan J. Cigler. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999. 48-54.

“The Constitution of the United States of America”. (1787). Rpt. in Government in America. George C. Edwards III. United States: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc, 1999. 566-576.

“Town goes broke when speed trap ends”. Southeast Missourian 15 July 1998: 11A.

Weiss, Sebastian. “City Staff Will Draft Funding Plan for Arena.” EBSCOhost. Retrieved 19 Sept. 2000 <ebsco.more.net>.

Will, George. “West Virginia’s river tax”. Southeast Missourian 2 Feb. 1997: 15A.

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PS103 – Fall 2000 Exam 3 – Essay Section                                                                        M and T, November 13-14, 2000                     
Professor Renka

Answer only one of the following essays, in a paper of approximately 2 ½ to 3 honest pages, either typewritten or word processed.  Due:  by Friday, Nov. 17, at 5:00 p.m. in person, or by e-mail to rdrenka@semo.edu


     Please note:  When you cite the text, cite the page or pages of your source material instead of just saying “text” and leaving your reader to wonder where among 600 pages that material might be.  When you use the reader’s sources, cite the specific writer, article and pages; do not attribute something written by Thomas Patterson to editors Cigler and Loomis.  If you cite a website, first cite the author (if one is given), then file name (title of the article or piece to which you refer), then the URL, and finally the date you accessed it.  For APA style users, just cite website file name in full or part instead of using the full URL.  If in doubt about how to do citations, check Kent Library’s main floor information desk for how-to handouts.  Or ask me for assistance.

1.  Some say term limitations ought to be applied to the current U.S. House and Senate elections.  Others say it’s better to do nothing.  Still others advocate use of public funding of elections for all major-party House and Senate candidates in the general election.  Finally some advocate free public air time for advertising and public exposure of the major party candidates during the fall general election campaign.  What position do you take on this?   What’s the basis for your position?   Be sure to provide documented source support for your answers.

2.  Interest groups have found ways to do two things effectively.   These are: a) solve the free riding problem, and b) influence the U.S. Congress.  How do these groups accomplish each of these objectives?  Be sure to provide documented source support for your answers.

Anne Hays - Exam 3
PS 103-03
11-17-00
Exam 3 - Essay Question 1 on  term limitations

A Call for Reform

             Elections for the United States Congress have become increasingly biased in favor of the incumbents.  The problem is especially prevalent in the House of Representatives, which is designed to be the legislature closest to the people, and therefore most reflective of the people’s views.  However, unlike elections for governors or presidents, the congressional races are generally not competitive races.  While an incumbent president does have some advantages over a challenger, they are not guaranteed the win.  In fact, two of the last four presidents lost their bid for re-election, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George Bush in 1992.  However, in the last four House elections, on average, 92.7% of the incumbents seeking re-election won (Vital Statistics on Congress).  There are many reasons for this trend in the House, and just as many possible solutions, but most are likely to fail.  However, if the House is to remain truly representative of the people and of the changing times, clearly something must be done.

            It is at first surprising that incumbents don’t always win in the Senate also.  But this is not the case.  The incumbent success rate since World War II is only 75% in the Senate, a much more reasonable number.  Because the Senate carries more prestige than the House, it is not surprising that Senate races would be more hotly contested.  Most people who run for the Senate already hold a public office of some kind, or for some other reason have good name recognition.  These two things explain the competition in the Senate, both candidates are generally competent representatives, and people are already familiar with them.  However, most candidates running for a House seat do not have a prestigious political background.  Because of this, a candidate must either have some other form of name recognition or have a lot of money to get it.  Unfortunately, most people don’t have either of these, and this is why the House incumbents win 93% of the time. 

            One possible solution to this problem, the one Americans are currently enacting, is to do nothing.  While the incumbent success rate for re-election is extraordinarily high, there is still turnover in the House due to retirement for various reasons and losses in campaigns.  For example, in the 1994 elections, 48 people retired and 38 incumbents were defeated in the election.  This led to 86 new members of the 435 member House.  Yet the incumbent success rate was still 90.2% (Vital Statistics).  However, I feel that the lack of competition in the elections is a problem in that it is not giving voters a fair chance to choose the best candidate.  In the 1998 elections, 98% of those seeking re-election won.  I will not believe that 98% of those people holding office were better representatives than any other potential candidate in their respective districts. 

            A second solution that is gaining support is term limits for congressmen.  Almost half of the states currently have term limits on their governors or state legislatures.  Most people in support of term limits feel that career politicians are bad for Americans, and enacting term limits would allow new, citizen based, ideas into Congress.  However, the problem with term limits is demonstrated in Fenno’s essay, “Learning to Govern.”  In it, he shows the problems the 1994 Republican majority, with 73 newcomers, created for themselves as they held the majority for the first time in forty years.  He believes that these problems such as their revolutionary Contract with America and the government shutdown of 1995 were caused by nothing more than inexperience in governing and interpreting an electoral victory. As an expert on Congress, Fenno believes that inexperience in Congress is not beneficial to anyone (Fenno).  By enacting term limits, this is exactly what we would be doing, increasing the amount of inexperience in Congress.  While the idea of ordinary people being able to govern sounds good, in practice I feel it is better to have an experienced person making some of the most important decisions of the nation. 

            The final two proposed solutions are the ones, when used together, that I feel would be most beneficial.  These are public financing of campaigns and free air time for candidates.  Currently the only candidates that have a chance of beating an incumbent are those with independent wealth or name recognition.  Unfortunately, because it takes a lot of money to get name recognition, most people do not stand a fair chance of winning the election.  Most contributors to campaigns, such as PAC’s, always give their money to the incumbent because they are the ones most likely to hold the power of the office in the future.  So competing candidates don’t even have a fair shot at raising money.  This is why I feel that a combination of free air time and public financing should be provided to both candidates.  The least amount of money needed to win a campaign by an unknown person is around $500,000.  If Missouri taxpayers were to fund just the House races for Missouri, this would cost at least 9 million dollars if there were just two candidates running in each of the nine districts.  However, according to the Alliance for Better Campaigns, more than half of the campaign costs in competitive races for Congress was spent on television (Free Air Time).  If these television channels were required to offer free air time for candidates, their campaign costs could be cut in half.  Then, for instance, the state of Missouri would only have to guarantee each candidate $250,000 and still be assured of more competitive campaigns.  Further, also according to the Alliance for Better Campaigns, providing free air time to candidates would cost broadcasters “less than one percent of gross annual ad revenues” (Free Air Time).  This would hardly bankrupt the companies, and they would be performing a civic duty by providing people with the information needed to make educated votes for the candidate who truly is the best.

            America is currently facing the problem of biased elections for the House of Representatives.  The current trend is that incumbents almost always, 93% of the time, win re-election.  Unfortunately without government intercession I don’t see any way of this trend reversing.  While some people advocate doing nothing or imposing term limits, I feel these are the wrong solutions.  I support that broadcast companies provide free air time to candidates and that the state governments ensure the financing of the major parties’ campaigns.  In doing so, extraordinary people, with ordinary incomes and lives, will once again have an honest chance of representing the people of their district.  That is, after all, what the House of Representatives was designed to do.   

Works Cited

Alliance for Better Campaigns. “Free Air Time”.     URL: www.bettercampaigns.org/documents/freetime.htm  .  Accessed 15 November, 2000.

Fenno, Richard F. “Learning to Govern”. In American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings, eds. Allan J. Cigler and Burdett A. Loomis.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999. 362-367.

Vital Statistics on Congress.  1999-2000, Table   , p. 57.

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 PS103 – Spring 2000 Exam No. 1 – Essay Questions                                                              February 11, 2000
Professor Renka

1.  John Roche said the Framers of the Constitution were pragmatic democrats, but Richard Hofstadter raised serious doubts about that, labeling them as economic upper-class defenders who feared the aggressive urban mobs and small dirt farmers—men whom Jack Rakove says were habitually voting their own into office in the states of the 1780s.  James Madison in Federalist No. 10 and No. 51 put forth the framers’ views on human nature as self-interested and inclined to form into factions that sought power for their own selfish ends.  Yet Madison in No. 10 also says voters will be inclined to elect their betters in a republic with powers conferred on elected officials.  I chipped in that elected officials are much kinder on taxation to their own citizens than they are to outsiders and nonvoters.
    What was democratic about the things the Framers did in Philadelphia?  What was undemocratic about the things they did?  On balance, were they more democratic than undemocratic?

2.  Federalism is in dispute today, with some arguing for greater state and local governmental powers and others for retaining federal or central powers.  Donahue cites one side of this, and Dunlap another.  Based on evidence such as theirs, make your best argument for increasing the power of the states (against the central government) or for increasing central power against the states.

3. 
Federalism is rare, while unitary government is common among the contemporary nations of the world.  In your readings on the American system, some argue there is too much power in the central government, others that the states have acquired powers they will not use wisely or well.  Based on your readings, what are the primary benefits of U.S. federalism?  And what are the primary liabilities or shortcomings?  Is the balance of power between nation and states about right, or not?  Answer these queries as if you were obliged to defend these claims.

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Essay No. 1c
- Question no. 2
Adam Baker, PS103, Section 14:

        The ratification of the U.S. Constitution signaled the dawn of federalism in America.  Federalism, as defined in the textbook, is “a way of organizing a nation so that two or more levels of government have formal authority over the same area and people.” (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 56).  The framers of the Constitution laid out two levels of government—state governments and a national, or federal, government.  At the heart of the controversy that both created and surrounded this Constitution was the question of how power should be divided between these two levels of government.

The Constitution has within it careful definitions of how governmental powers should be divided.  Among these divisions are the national government’s sole authority to regulate interstate/intrastate commerce, coin money, make treaties with foreign nations, provide defense, declare war, and make all laws “necessary and proper to carry out the foregoing powers” (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 60).  Powers specifically delineated to the states include the power to ratify Constitutional amendments, conduct elections, set up local governments, provide for public health and safety, and the authority to assume powers not given to the national government nor forbidden to the states (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 60).  Despite these built-in definitions, the issue of power distribution is still being debated today. 

The overall trend in the 20th Century is that of expanding national government power.  This expansion of power is largely due to the increase of federal grants paid to state and local governments.  In order for states and local governments to receive these grants, they must meet certain conditions decided upon by the federal government.  A good example of one of these conditions is the requirement that “aid may not be used for purposes that discriminate against minorities, women, or other groups” (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 67).  The power of the federal government increases through the use of stipulations such as this.   

Despite the overall trend of federal expansion, recent years show a decline in federal power and a return of power to the states.  This surrendering of authority and responsibility is referred to as “devolution” (Cigler and Loomis 54).  The support for this recent turn towards “devolution” can be traced to all three branches of the federal government.  The president, congress, and the courts are currently “aligned in favor of increasing state authority” (Ladenheim, Kala).  An example of “devolution” at work can be seen by the increased highway speed limits in the state of Missouri and elsewhere.  The authority to set speed limits was surrendered by the federal government and left up to the discretion of the state governments.

While many “devolution” efforts are worthy and beneficial for America, one must look at these power shifts with a wary eye.  Increasing state and local government power at the expense of national government power can be both a hindrance and a danger.  Giving states the power to choose their course and their own policies can lead to variations and even contradictions of different states’ laws.  “Devolution” can also lead to harmful rivalries as states will “pursue their narrow interests by passing on significant policy costs to other states” (Cigler and Loomis 54).

In opposition to the recent trend in politics, I believe the power of the central government should either be kept the same or expanded.  While keeping federal power the same will preserve the status quo (something America is quite fond of), it should be noted that expanding federal power could enhance the equality and accessibility of certain programs and could eliminate some of the hindrances involved with state and local government control.   

For example, licensing for teachers, nurses, counselors, social workers, and others is state specific.  If licensing power was given to the national government, these people could be licensed for their job nationally.  This would eliminate the need to obtain a different license in each state in order to get a job.  In addition, a significant amount of red tape involved with the administering of state licensing would be eliminated.

Another instance in which the national government should exert power is in developing a national public health care system.  Most of the other industrialized countries of the world provide some type of public health care.  Such a health care system would provide the universal access that the current Medicaid systems cannot match.  This increase in federal power would result in an increase in the American standard of living.

            One more example of expanding the central power would be to establish a uniform education curriculum for the United States as a whole.  Providing a quality, education for our young should be a top priority, as they will one day be the leaders of this country.  With the education system divided up amongst the states, the quality of elementary and secondary education is quite varied from state to state.  This lack of unity puts the U.S. at risk of falling behind internationally.  

In 1998, the National Center for Education Statistics conducted a study of math and science skills for 12th graders in 21 major countries of the world.  In mathematics skills, 12th grade students in 14 other countries outperformed U.S. students.  In science skills, U.S. 12th grade students were again among the lowest scoring, being outperformed by students in 11 other countries (International Comparisons of Education).  This should set off the alarms for some type of national standard to be developed and implemented in order for America to maintain its world leader status.   

The above suggestions for increasing federal power primarily involve the transfer of state power to the national government.  However, it is important to remember that increasing federal power can be as simple as issuing a categorical grant in exchange for adherence to a stipulation or the Supreme Court ruling one way or another on the constitutionality of some piece of legislation.  No matter how federal power is expanded, the delicate balance between state and national power must be preserved.

References

Cigler, Allan and Loomis, Burdett.  “The Devil in Devolution.”  American Politics:  Classic and Contemporary Readings.  4th ed.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999.

 Edwards, George and Lineberry, Robert and Wattenberg, Martin.  Government in America: People, Politics and Policy.  8th ed.  Election Update.  New York:  Addison Wesley Longman.  1999.

“International Comparisons of Education.”  The Digest of Education Statistics, 1998. Online.  Internet.  14 Feb. 2000. Available: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs99/digest98/chapter6.html

Ladenheim, Kala.  “Federalism and Devolution.”  U.S. Federalism Web Site.  Online.  Internet.  14 Feb. 2000.  Available:  http://www.min.net/~kala/fed/devo.htm


PS103 Examination No. 2 –Essay – Spring 2000

 Essay Section:  Answer one of the following questions in an essay of approximately 2 ½ to 3 honest pages, typewritten or word-processed.  Due date:  by or before class time Monday after Spring Break (March 20).  Value is 100 points.

Cite sources properly by checking how text or reader articles do citations--or let Kent Library’s handouts demonstrate how it’s done.  The key is to fully cite all sources.  When you cite the text, cite the page or pages of your source material instead of just saying “text” and leaving your reader to wonder where among 600 pages that material might be.  When you use the reader’s sources, cite the specific writer, article and pages; do not attribute something written by Michael Schudson to the reader editors Ciglar and Loomis.  If you cite a website, first cite the author (if one is given), then file name (title of the article or piece to which you refer), then the URL, and finally the date you accessed it.  For APA style users, just cite website file name in full or part instead of using the full URL.

Use both the text and Reader as source material.  Some writers simply recite whatever is in text that apparently addresses the question.  Often that misses crucial material in one or more of the readings.  It also customarily means throwing in material of little or no value in answering the specific question.  Think about what’s directly pertinent to the question and what isn’t, and include only the former material.  And do the readings, lest you entirely miss important material.
 
1.  Why is the American political system distinguished by having only two parties with a serious chance to win national offices?  What current features of American public opinion and voting behavior suggest that the two-party system’s hold on Americans has weakened?

2.  Why is American voter turnout so low in comparison to other countries?  Why is turnout lower in the 1990s than it was in the 1960s?  On the latter, what are some defensible means of reversing this trend?

3.  In class I contended that much of what happened in the 2000 primaries was induced by structure, such as open v. closed primaries, and winner-take-all v. proportional representation rules for allotting delegates.  How were these factors expressed in the recently completed presidential primary season?

Essay No.3

Structural Weaknesses

Adam Baker

             Ever since the election season of 1972, presidential primaries have become “the dominant means of selecting the two major party candidates.”[i]  The primary system is one in which the eligible voters of each state do one of the following: 1) Vote for a presidential candidate to run for their party in the general election.  2) Vote for a delegate pledged to vote for a certain candidate at the party’s national convention.  As intended, this process would bring the candidate selection processes out into the open and “let the people vote for the candidate of their choice.”[ii]  On the surface, this may look very democratic (and admittedly, in some instances it was/is), but upon closer examination, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that the candidates are chosen long before the people cast their vote.  The culprit: the structure of the presidential primary system.

          The most influential structural element of the new primary system is the newfound practice of the political parties choosing a favored candidate before the primary season.  The parties then throw all their support and financial backing behind this candidate and instantly make him/her a front-runner.  While this element is standard among the two parties, the remaining structure of the primary system differs between the two main political parties.  While both the Democratic and Republican parties hold open and closed primaries, the two parties hold many of their state primaries on separate dates.  Additionally, the two parties have different rules that determine how each state’s delegates are allotted.  The Democrats practice the proportional representation method of delegate allocation.  The Republicans, on the other hand, practice the winner-take-all method of delegate allocation. 

 Open vs. Closed Primaries

            Democrats and Republicans alike, hold open and closed primaries in the various states.  Each state decides whether its primary will be open or closed.  An open primary is one in which the party ballot is open to voters outside the party.  This means, for example, that a Democrat or Independent may vote in the Republican primary.  A closed primary, however, is one in which only self-identified party members may vote in a particular party’s primary. 

In 2000, a heavily front-loaded primary season forced the two parties to choose, in advance, a candidate to support and fund in the primaries.  For the Democrats, Al Gore was the candidate of choice by virtue of his vice-presidential (“next-in-line”) status.  The Republicans chose George W. Bush, Governor of Texas and son of former President George Bush. 

With a compressed primary season and party favorites in place, the consequences of open or closed primaries were quite evident in the 2000 primary season.  Closed primaries gave a distinct advantage to the candidates with the backing of the party, while open primaries were potentially dangerous to establishment candidates.

Democrats

            Vice-President Al Gore faced competition in the form of Bill Bradley, former senator from New Jersey.  Al Gore’s overwhelming support from the Democratic Party and the endorsements of almost every elected Democrat in America pushed him to the forefront of this race before it even began.  On the Democrat’s side, the issue of open vs. closed primaries was virtually non-existent.  The early support and funding by the Democratic establishment, along with Gore’s “birthright” to the nomination effectively eliminated any serious competition.

Republicans

            The Republican primary, however, was more dramatic as the issue of open vs. closed primaries was extremely important.  George W. Bush, the chosen party favorite, was primarily challenged by Arizona Senator, John McCain.  With Bush’s financial and political backing from the party establishment, John McCain was starting the race at a grave disadvantage. 

McCain’s only chance was to gain momentum with early primary victories.  In order to combat Bush’s support from the party loyal (traditional Republicans), McCain would have to draw heavily from independents while still trying to win over traditional Republicans.  Standing in his way was the fact that only one of the early primary states had a true open primary—Michigan.  Both New Hampshire and South Carolina were considered “modified open primaries”[iii] that tended to discourage Independent voting.  In addition, Delaware and Arizona were closed primaries that would not allow Independents or  Democrats to vote.  However, despite the closed primary, McCain’s home state of Arizona was essentially a lock.

Due to heavy campaigning, McCain was able to win New Hampshire by a “48% to 30%”[iv] margin.  George W. Bush emphatically won the closed Delaware primary by a “51% to 25%”[v] margin.   Bush then went on to win in South Carolina’s modified open primary by a “53% to 42%”[vi] margin, thus robbing McCain’s hopes of gaining momentum.  Despite this, McCain did get back on the winning track with wins in Michigan’s open primary and in Arizona’s closed primary.

            Victories aside, McCain was still going against the mainstream Republicans who were backing Bush.  The structure of the primaries early in the season allowed McCain to make a name for himself, but the fact that closed primaries worked and would continue to work against him made winning the nomination extremely difficult.

 Proportional Representation vs. Winner-Take-All

            Proportional representation is a system used by the Democrats that allows delegates to be awarded to a candidate according to the proportion of the popular vote that candidate received.  The Republicans also use proportional representation in a few states (mainly when required by state law), but otherwise the winner-take-all method of delegate selection.  The winner-take-all method awards all the delegates of a state to the candidate that receives a plurality of the popular vote.  To win a plurality, it is not necessary to win a majority; it is only necessary to win more votes than any other candidate. 

Democrats

            For the 2000 primary season, the proportional representation method used by the Democrats did little to tighten up the race between Al Gore and Bill Bradley.  The current delegate count, as of March 18, 2000, showed Al Gore had already obtained the “2170.0 delegates required to win.  Al Gore had 2406.5 delegates to Bill Bradley’s 327.5 delegates.”[vii]  

Republicans

            The Republican winner-take-all method of delegate selection used by most states arguably had a significant effect on the campaign.  The states in the early part of the primary season, which represented McCain’s best chance for victory, accounted for very few delegates when compared to the bigger states that came on “Titanic Tuesday” and “Super Tuesday.”  McCain’s early momentum wins were just that, for momentum.  His hope was that these momentum wins would lead him to victories in states with larger delegate prizes.  The momentum did not hold, however, as he did not win the delegate rich “super-states” that came on “Titanic” and “Super Tuesday”, thus ending his campaign. 

Combined Effect of Weak Structural Elements

            Despite the drawbacks of the 2000 primary system, for the Democrats, the structural elements of open and closed primaries and proportional representation had little effect on the democratic process of candidate selection.  The structural element that did have an effect on the Democratic primaries was the seemingly endless support (with exception to Michael Jordan) for Al Gore.  Bradley, regardless of the campaign he ran, had almost no chance of beating Gore, essentially the incumbent, for the nomination.

The weaknesses of the primary system really shined through on the Republican side of the 2000 primary season.  With the amount of support from Independents and Democrats that McCain commanded, it was questionable whether the Republican process chose the candidate with the greatest chance of winning the general election in November.

Would the use of all open primaries have swayed Republican support away from Bush and to McCain?  Maybe, or maybe not, but one thing is for sure—no barriers would exist, alienating voters from the primary election of their choice.  Also, would the practice of proportional representation have prolonged the campaign, thus diminishing Bush’s advantage?  Once again, maybe or maybe not.  It is rather clear, however, that the use of proportional representation in all states would better reflect the will of the people, allowing each vote for a candidate to count for something.

Can the current primary system be changed?  Is Change Even Necessary?

The system was challenged in the 2000 primary season, largely in the Republican Party.  Was this challenge necessary?  The results from the general election may affirm the need for change and even foreshadow a future primary restructuring in one or both of the political parties.  On the other hand, these results may refute the necessity of change and act to tighten the current primary system’s grip on U.S. politics.  Only time will tell as the answers to these questions and many more will be given on November 7, 2000.

Endnotes


[i] Renka, Russell.  “The Pre-Primary in Election 2000.”  Online.  Internet.  18 Mar. 2000. Available: http://www4.semo.edu/polisci/Renka1-26.html.

[ii] Edwards, George and Lineberry, Robert and Wattenberg, Martin.  Government in America: People, Politics and Policy.  8th ed.  Election Update.  New York: Addison Wesley Longman.  1999. p220.

[iii] “The Green Papers Election 2000 Glossary.”  The Green Papers: Election 2000.  25 Feb. 2000.  Online.  Internet.  18 Mar. 2000.  Available: http://www.thegreenpapers.com/Definitions.html#Prop.

[iv] “New Hampshire Republican Delegation 2000.”  The Green Papers: Election 2000.  1 Mar. 2000.  Online.  Internet.  18 Mar. 2000.  Available: http://www.thegreenpapers.com/PCC/NH-R.html.

[v] “Delaware Republican Delegation 2000.”  The Green Papers: Election 2000.  9 Feb. 2000.  Online.Internet.  18 Mar. 2000.  Available: http://www.thegreenpapers.com/PCC/DE-R.html.

[vi] “South Carolina Republican Delegation 2000.”  The Green Papers: Election 2000.  4 Mar. 2000.  Online.  Internet.  18 Mar. 2000.  Available: http://www.thegreenpapers.com/PCC/SC-R.html.

[vii] “The Green Papers: Election 2000 Presidential Primary Season.”  The Green Papers: Election 2000. 18 Mar. 2000.  Online.  Internet.  18 Mar. 2000.  Available: http://www.thegreenpapers.com/.

 

Fall 1999 - PS103 Essays

PS103 – Fall 1999 Exam No. 1 – Essay Section                                                    Return to Top
September 20-21, 1999
Professor Renka

Answer only one of the following essays, in a paper of approximately 2 ½ to 3 honest pages, either typewritten or word processed.  Due:  Monday morning, September 27, by 10:00 a.m. You may turn in the exam in person, or by sending a physical copy to my mailbox at Social Science 211-L.  If you cannot be there in person, send by email attachment to rdrenka@semovm.semo.edu or by FAX to 573/651-2695.

1.  Roche said the Framers of the Constitution were pragmatic democrats, but Hofstadter raised serious doubts about that, labeling them as economic upper-class defenders who feared the aggressive urban mobs and small dirt farmers—men whom Rakove says were habitually voting their own into office in the states of the 1780s.  Madison in Federalist No. 10 and No. 51 put forth the framers’ views on human nature as self-interested and inclined to form into factions that sought power for their own selfish ends.  Yet Madison in No. 10 also says voters will be inclined to elect their betters in a republic with powers conferred on elected officials.  I chipped in that elected officials are much kinder on taxation to their own citizens than they are to outsiders and nonvoters.
    What was democratic about the things the Framers did in Philadelphia?  What was undemocratic about the things they did?  On balance, were they more democratic than undemocratic?

2.  Federalism is rare, while unitary government is common among the contemporary nations of the world.  In your readings on the American system, some argue there is too much power in the central government, others that the states have acquired powers they will not use wisely or well.  Based on your readings, what are the primary benefits of U.S. federalism?  And what are the primary liabilities or shortcomings?  Is the balance of power between nation and states about right, or not?  Answer these queries as if you were obliged to defend these claims.


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Essay No. 1a - Chris Manning

PS103-04 H, MWF 10:00 AM

Dr. Renka

Take-Home Essay, Test #1

             In the early days of the United States, it was obvious to many that a system combining both federalism and representative democracy was needed.  According to the textbook, “the people were too widely dispersed, and the country’s transportation and communication systems too primitive to be governed [solely] from a central location” (pg. 58).  Although today both communication and transportation are highly advanced, America still maintains a federal system.  The driving force behind that system is our increasingly expanding diversity.  The United States ranks fourth in the world in size (www.stats.demon.nl/chart.area25.htm) and third in population (www.census.gov/ipc/www/idbrank.html).  There are 213 languages spoken in America (www.sil.org/ethnologue/countries/USA.html)  and probably just as many religions practiced.  Federalism is the method by which this diverse population is better represented in the democracy of the United States.

            The national government makes many important decisions that impact our daily lives; however, there are some issues on which the opinion of the American public varies widely.  In our federal system, the states are usually responsible for making policies that involve social, family, and moral/religious issues.  This is one of the most important advantages of a federal system.  The decentralization of the government allows the desires and needs of smaller groups of people to be acknowledged and fulfilled at the local level.  Californians differ in many ways from residents of Arkansas who differ greatly from Alaskans.  Variations in culture and lifestyle create needs for different political policies.  A large, single, centralized government would be unable to make efficient social policies that were compatible with the convictions of a majority of America’s diverse groups.  However, the national government still has enough power, through a system of checks and balances, to obliterate local policies that infringe upon the human rights of smaller factions.

            Federalism is not, of course, without disadvantages.  To begin with, more levels of government equal a larger bureaucracy with many more people involved in the decision-making process.  This provides more opportunities for corrupt government officials.  Federalism also means that a complex tax system must exist so that each level of government receives funds from those in its jurisdiction in order to carry out laws and policies.  Another major disadvantage of federalism is slow response to crises.  Because so many people are involved in the decision-making process, it takes longer for the necessary authority to be alerted and for action to be taken.

            Under the American system of federalism, a delicate balance of power has been established.  Some believe that the states have too much power, and others believe that it is the national government that possesses too much control.  One thing is for certain, though, and that is that a strong national government is necessary for the survival of the United States.  The earliest American leaders understood this.  Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government was weak and unable to control small factions: a perfect example being Shay’s Rebellion.  It was obvious to all that the national government must have a certain level of authority or the new nation would not live long.  The fact that our current government system has lasted now for over 200 years is testimony that something is being done correctly.

            Although in most cases the states or other local governments (county, city, school district) enact policies involving moral and social issues, the federal government does indeed get involved.  In the past, the Supreme Court has made decisions on issues such as drinking age, speed limits, suffrage, and abortion.  Some of these decisions have been overturned and the power to decide them given back to the local governments.  Usually, when the Supreme Court acts as the American conscience, it does so under the blanket of the Bill of Rights.  Nearly every person in the country believes that murder is immoral and wrong, and policies involving such human rights are not questionable.  Therefore, the national government can make laws concerning such rights without fear of infringing upon the moral convictions of most secular groups.  But some issues are not so clear-cut.

            Abortion is one example of such an issue.  As I mentioned before, nearly every American (for that matter, almost every person in the world) believes murder of another human being in wrong.  In the matter of abortion, the big question is: “When is a human fetus considered a human being?”  The answer to this question is what various religious and cultural groups disagree on.  I believe that the issue of abortion should be given to the states to decide upon, because they represent a more homogenous collection of voters and citizens than the national government does, and therefore are more likely to better represent the moral convictions of the citizens.

            There are several advantages to the federal system in the United States, and there are also quite a few disadvantages; however, I believe that the diversity of the nation demands that the system remain.  Americans will probably always disagree on balance of power between national and local governments, though it is hoped that as we continue to grow as a nation, our political system will remain as adaptive and flexible as it has in the past.  In the words of W.H. Seward, “The circumstances of the world are so variable, that an irrevocable purpose or opinion is almost synonymous with a foolish one.”  

 

PS103 - Fall 1999 Exam No. 2 - U.S. Political Systems                                          Return to Top
October 18-19, 1999
Professor Russell Renka

 PS103 Examination No. 2 - Fall 1999

 Essay Section:  Answer one of the following questions in an essay of approximately 2 ½ to 3 honest pages, typewritten or word-processed.  Due:  in class on Friday for PS103-04; at my office by or before 4:30 p.m. Friday afternoon for PS103-06. 

Please note:  To get anything better than a low C grade in university courses, one must learn how to use sources and cite them properly.  I recommend you do so by checking how the text does its own citations.  You don’t have to exactly follow their practice, but you do have to fully cite all sources.  When you cite the text, cite the page or pages of your source material instead of just saying “text” and leaving your reader to wonder where among 600 pages that material might be.  When you use the reader’s sources, cite the specific writer, article and pages; do not attribute something written by Thomas Patterson to editors Cigler and Loomis.  If you cite a website, first cite the author (if one is given), then file name (title of the article or piece to which you refer), then the URL, and finally the date you accessed it.  For APA style users, just cite website file name in full or part instead of using the full URL.  If in doubt about how to do citations, check Kent Library’s main floor information desk for how-to handouts.  Or ask me for assistance.

1.  What is the source of controversy about affirmative action policies based on race or gender?  What evidence exists that federal courts may more against affirmative action policies?  If the courts do so, what is the likely impact upon institutions (such as universities) that use affirmative action policies now?

2.   Polling has been both blessed and damned by a variety of commentators.  What is the difference between a properly done scientific poll (one that’s “good”) and all other types?  What are the major complaints against the widespread use of polls in the political realm?  And what are the reasons that citizens should learn to understand polls?  

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 Essay No. 2a--Katie Vandagriff

    Public opinion is defined in the text as “the distribution of the population’s beliefs about politics and policy issues” (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 150).  On paper, it sounds so simple; in reality it is much more difficult to determine.  The most common method for ascertaining and consolidating public opinion has been through the widespread use of polls.  Their popularity has steadily increased over the years.  One reason is that they provide an accurate, reliable representation of the opinions of an entire population and supply decision-makers with valuable insight that may be used to determine a future course of action.  However, not all polls are created equal.  Polls are conducted by various organizations, businesses, corporations and public officials in an effort to determine the public’s stand on issues ranging from the terribly controversial to the completely trivial.  Regardless of subject matter, there are basic principles of polling that greatly affect their quality and reliability. 

“Commandment #1” on everyone’s list states the necessity of a randomly selected sample of a population.  This ensures that all those whose opinion the poll attempts to represent shall have an exactly equal chance of being interviewed.  Telephone interviews conducted on a sample size of 1,000 – 2,000 people called from a list of random, computer-generated phone numbers are all typical components of a good poll.  Some of these components can be altered without critically affecting the overall quality of the poll.  For example, good polls can be conducted on a sampling as small as 700 – 1,000 people; the decrease in size causes an increase in error margin, but not by much.  But the selection process should not be changed; random selection is essential to the goal of polling, which is to “come up with the same results that would nave been obtained had every single member of a population been interviewed” (Gallup 1).  Without a randomly selected sample, the results can only be applied to the specific persons questioned (Blake 1). This is why results from polls that allow self-selection, such as those found on the web, or in your mailbox, automatically demand a higher level of scrutiny and skepticism. 

Wording and ordering of interview questions is another area that demands major attention.  Words, terms and phrases should be stated and ordered in such a way as to create as little room for bias as possible, and should be presented, in full, with the polling results (Blake 2).  Question wording has been called the “biggest source of bias and error in data”, and is therefore an aspect of polling that will always leave room for criticism (Gallup 4).  Occasional ill-wording of questions is tolerable, if not unavoidable, as long as it is not obviously meant to tilt the results or prompt a certain response.

However, it is not unheard of nor is it uncommon for such polling practices to occur.  Some attempts to persuade are definitely more malicious in nature than others.  This is the subject of the article “When Push Comes to Poll”, by Larry Sabato and Glenn Simpson.  They outline several types of sneaky polling practices.  But, by far, Sabato and Simpson agree that “negative persuasive” polls are the worst!  These polls target a specific population, in a thinly veiled attempt to inflame, provoke and persuade so that they can “push” the responses in the direction that they want them to move (140).

    Other common complaints and criticisms that arise from the use of polls have to do with the ways in which they seem to alter the fundamental nature and impact of public opinion.  Benjamin Ginsberg, author of “Polling and the Transformation of Public Opinion” says that “polls interact with opinion, producing changes in the character and identity of the views receiving public expression” (124).  Before polling, citizens had to invest time and thought into making an opinion heard; only the people who knew and cared about an issue were likely to make the effort.  This ensured that public opinion was obtained from sources of stronger, more informed opinions.  Now citizens don’t have to put forth their opinion; they are constantly being asked for it.  In this sense, the identity of opinion has been changed from “active behavior to passive attitude”, which tends to drown those persons with strongly held views in a massive sea of ill-informed or apathetic people (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 151).  This expressed public neutrality can fool politicians into thinking that policy, as it stands, is adequate and generally supported.  Ginsberg also says that polling makes opinion safer for government by removing the impact of the “spontaneous natural assertion of strong opinion” (137).

    The availability of opinion not only makes it a less threatening force, but some say that it makes it easy for politicians to follow rather than lead; knowing what the public wants at any given moment makes it easy for an official to always take the popular stand. Cynics, critics and skeptics tend to doubt the effectiveness of polls, claiming that a politician need do no more than “use the results to tailor a course of action”.  However, popular opinion can change like the weather; a political official who is constantly jumping from one side of the fence to the other won’t make it far in today’s demanding political realm (Kenney 121). 

    Yet another concern that poll results presented via the media contribute to the “bandwagon effect”, which is the tendency for voters with no real opinion to simply jump on board with the apparent majority (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 152).  This is one of the big complaints regarding “exit polls”, which are polls that predict and broadcast the so-called results of an election before the election is even over!  This means that in a national election, people on the West coast, who still have hours of voting time available to them are bombarded with talk of the presumed winner (151).  This can cause voters to feel that they are too late to make a difference, and so contribute to the bandwagon effect.

    Aside from the cynical views of polls, they can be very useful in determining the general will of the people.  Polls can show where the public’s angst lies, hint at probable future problems, and so give government a chance to come up with possible solutions.  Good pollsters, who have a firm handle on theories of math and probability, and can decipher the raw data obtained from interviews, make good polls that can provide constructive insight into the opinions of a population.   Advances in media and communications technology have led to “faster, fresher, more reliable” polls (Kenney 115).  However, the speed and ease with which a poll may be compiled leaves the market wide open for people who are completely clueless when it comes to basic knowledge, principles and theories associated with scientific polling.  It is almost too easy for someone to make a fast buck creating useless, unscientific, “ugly” polls, that still retain an air and appearance of importance and professionalism.

    In order for citizens to be well-informed “consumers of politics” it is essential that they not only pay attention to polls, but fully understand them as well.  It is far too easy, upon encountering an interesting, entertaining poll, to be led astray because it has its own website, looks attractive, sounds scientific, and appears to be professional (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 152).  All these components add to a poll’s marketability, but there are certain criteria that it must also meet in order to be considered reliable.  All polls should indicate the method for obtaining the sample, the sample size, the error margin, the question verbatim, who conducted the poll and who paid for the poll (Blake 1 – 2).  Inclusion or easy access to previous polls conducted on the same subject, or comparisons of results gathered over time is definitely a plus (Gallup 7).  Because of the prevalence, pervasiveness and possible perfidy of polls, general principles and standards that distinguish between good and bad polls must be understood by the public so that they can be used to interpret results as legitimate or ludicrous.

References

Ken Blake, “The Ten Commandments of Polling”, UNC – Chapel Hill, 1996, http://metalab.unc.edu/journalism/pollcomd.txt, pp. 1 – 2.

 George C. Edwards, III, Martin P. Wattenberg, and Robert L. Lineberry, Government in America: People, Politics and Policy, 8th ed.  New York: Longman, Inc, 1999.  Section: “The Role of Polls in American Democracy” – pp. 150 - 152.

 The Gallup Organization, Princeton, “How Polls are Conducted”, http://www.gallup.com/poll/faq.asp, pp. 1 – 7.  (The Gallup article is a secondary source cited from: Frank Newport, Lydia Saad, and David Moore, Where America Stands, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997).

 Benjamin Ginsberg, “Polling and the Transformation of Public Opinion”.  Allan Cigler and Burdett Loomis, American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings, 4th ed.  Boston: Houghton Miflin Company, 1999, pp. 124 – 137.

 Charles Kenney, “They’ve Got Your Number”.  Allan Cigler and Burdett Loomis, American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings, 4th ed.  Boston: Houghton Miflin Company, 1999, pp. 114 – 123.

 Larry Sabato and Glenn Simpson, “When Push Comes to Poll”.  Allan Cigler and Burdett Loomis, American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings, 4th ed.  Boston: Houghton Miflin Company, 1999, pp. 139 – 145.

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Edwards Essays

Amanda Crabtree

PS 103-06  TR 11-12:15

Professor Russell Renka

 

WHAT WE SHOULD EXPECT OF PRESIDENTS

GEORGE C. EDWARDS III

Wednesday, October 20, 1999

 

            George Edwards III visited SEMO Wednesday, October 20, to discuss public standards for judging a president.  Edwards is originally from New York and has written many books and articles on American politics.  He is a professor of Political Science at Texas A & M and one of the most important scholars on the American presidency. 

            Edwards began by declaring himself a "president watcher."  We as Americans want to know if a president will be an effective leader.  Edwards stated two central questions we should ask to evaluate a president's effectiveness: "Has the president identified adequate possibilities in his environment?" and "Has the president adopted effective strategy to accomplish his goals?"  The rest of his speech revolved around these two standards, and he applied these standards to Bill Clinton. 

            Bill Clinton first ran for the presidency in 1992 as a democrat, up against George Busch and Ross Perot.  Clinton won with 43% of the votes.  During his first tenure he had many new ideas for policy change, but he overestimated the extent of change.  Clinton developed health care reform as the centerpiece of his administration.  By developing a left end strategy rather than center out, his plans failed.  Clinton couldn't even get Congress to vote on health care reform.  This was a major failure.  He didn't understand his political environment, which is one of the two central standards used to judge a president's effectiveness.  Greater complexity of policy change equates to more opposition.  According to Edwards, Clinton should have expected a loss.   With a lack of financial resources, he had small employers pay for political action.  These employers were not pleased.  Health care accounted for 1/7 of the American economy financially.  The government paid for a large portion of health care, and Clinton controlled the costs through complex regulations.  However, people did not want their income controlled as he did.  With added political costs, he misunderstood the political environment.  Once again, this was a failure on his part. 

            Edwards then proceeded to evaluate Clinton's governing style.  During Clinton's first two years, he governed as a conservative but campaigned as a liberal.  Many citizens felt misled by his actions.  He said one thing and did another.  A president's governing style is created by his own skills and views of requirements for effective leadership.  Clinton had a distinct governing style.  Clinton has stated, "The role of the president of the United States is a messenger."  Two questions should be considered when evaluating a president's governing style: "Did the president set the country's agenda?" and "Did the president use limited resources on the highest priority item?"   Clinton was not successful with either of these.  He did not use his resources wisely.  For example, he waited eight months before speaking on health care reform (his highest priority item).  Instead of bringing up this issue during the honeymoon period, he waited a year into his presidency.  Edwards stated, "Part of the problem was the president himself."  Clinton has been described as energetic, desired to please many sides, and held a large and diverse agenda.  However, he became his own enemy in the effort.  By wanting to do so many things, it is very difficult to focus on priority issues.  As a result, Clinton did not clearly set the agenda his first two years. 

            Edwards then covered another aspect of Clinton's ineffectiveness.  Clinton didn't define himself and his administration didn't define themselves, so the Republicans defined the issues.  In Clinton's opinion, 1994 ruined him.  He overestimated the public's acceptance on his agenda and often went to the public for support.  He frequently used the veto to defend moderation after his first term.  Clinton's new goal was to block the Republicans, a defensive rather than offensive strategy.  Clinton was successful and as a result he was reelected in 1996.  This was an easy victory.

            To conclude his speech, Edwards stated that we are at the core of successful presidency.  Clinton is a prime example of how difficult it is to establish a central vision with a large agenda. 

            Edwards made many valid points in his speech. He is obviously a Republican from the statements he made regarding standards for presidency effectiveness.  Edwards seemed to focus his speech on the downfalls of President Clinton.  Though Edwards claimed not to be a "Clinton-basher", he certainly pointed out more of Clinton's weaknesses than strengths as president.  Rather than use examples of effective leadership in presidents, he focused on the ineffectiveness of President Clinton as a leader.  I feel as though only one side of the coin was presented.  Yes, Clinton did not have a narrowly focused agenda.  Yes, Clinton waited eight months before speaking on health care reform.  However, Edwards referred to "Clinton's success story" only at the end of his speech, and even this was without much elaboration.  If Clinton was such an ineffective leader in the past, what could have been done to change this?  Edwards seemed to relate ineffectiveness as a president with liberal viewpoints.  Liberals are known for wanting to change many things in the world.  Does this mean they always fail at defining narrow political agendas?  If so, their political nature can itself be labeled ineffective, according to Edwards.   Edwards' standards for effective presidency lean towards conservative standards.  However, he failed to elaborate on effective presidents.  From his speech one can conclude that if a president has identified adequate possibilities in his environment and adopted effective strategy to accomplish his goals, he is thus an effective president.  This is not always the case.  Many factors contribute to a president being an effective leader, many which were not mentioned in the 60 minutes Edwards spoke.  However, Edwards gave insightful information regarding presidential ineffectiveness.
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Shelly Kofsky 
PS103-06
Professor Renka
October 20, 1999
"What Should We Expect of Presidents?"

    George C. Edwards III spoke about whether or not it made a
difference if we had a President or a Prime Minister. He gave a
roundabout answer right off the bat, of yes and no. Mr. Edwards
started to discuss the fundamental functions of a President, one of
which is building coalitions in the public as well as in Congress. He
said that President Clinton spent $18 million to promote himself in
1995, a non presidential election year. A president, according to Mr.
Edwards, can go to the public and "bully pulpit" or ask for support and
succeed. However, it is hard for Congress to counteract it. Getting
the public's support, according to the speaker is very elusive to all.
Mr. Edwards brought up Ronald Reagan to illustrate his point that even
the best communicators don't always get what they want. In the eight
years of Reagan's presidency, public opinion didn't change in his
direction. Reagan had to offer a dramatic tax cut of 25% to the public
in order to get support.
    Clinton & Reagan are two different Presidents 
beyond the party difference. According to Edwards, Clinton has based
his style on rhetoric, and every time he has asked for the public's
support in something, he has failed. In order to see if life without
having a President would be different, we need to ask ourselves how
Prime Ministers do, and what obstacles are in the public official's way.
He compared our Presidents to Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of
England around Reagan's years as President. While Ms. Thatcher has
relatively the same views as Reagan, but was more articulate than her
American counterpart, she "had no more success than Reagan in moving
public opinion," (Edwards). Some of the obstacles in the public
official's way include the public's attentiveness to the Presidential
messages, the public's understanding of those messages, and the public's
acceptance of the presidential message. Americans have short attention
spans, have a low interest in politics, and political predispositions
are hard to change and mediate the message. According to Edwards, if
our nation's government wants to see more interest from the people it
represents than it needs to accommodate the limited attention span by
making things simple. Elected officials need to start using "black and
white" terms so that John and Jane Q. Public can attempt to understand
what's happening in Washington D.C. Of all the Presidential initiatives
that a president tries to get support for, only 41% of the initiatives
became law. Lastly, Edwards pointed out that our governing system was
"inefficient" but wondered how we should alter it.
    Overall, I was generally impressed with the material that he
presented and could see his points on most of the ideas that he brought
up. I was however sometimes left hanging, due to the time constraint,
as to how he was tying it all together. A lot of the stuff we have
discussed in class so it wasn't new to me. I was convinced that both
the President's office and the American public need a lot of work before
we can have a truly people friendly democratic government. I realize
that there wasn't a lot of time for him to express his feelings, but
even in the time that he did have, he made a strong case for his side
while also addressing what his opponents or critics would say. It is
hard to speak to college students about politics because we are the true
decision makers of this country and some students don't even attempt
to make their voice heard in our nation's capital.  Mr. Edwards did a
great job of working with what he had and using the time as well as the
materials to the best of his ability. I was convinced that he wanted to
educate the college population about the presidency and how difficult a
job it really is. I think if the title of the speech was changed to
"What should we expect of Presidents?" would more suit his case.
Overall, he was aware of he topic at hand and presented his material
very well. Mr. Edwards did a really good job convincing this non-
political science major about the expectations of the office of
United States President.

  

PS103 - Fall 1999 Exam No. 3 - U.S. Political Systems                                          Return to Top
October 18-19, 1999
Professor Russell Renka

 PS103 Examination No. 3 - Fall 1999

 

 

Essay No. 3a - Katie Vandagriff


Title

We may live in a country that encourages voting in political elections, yet the level of voter turnout in America is relatively small and continues to decline.  Compared to other countries with democratic governments, the United States falls very near the bottom of the list with its percentage of voter participation.  One explanation for this disturbing phenomenon states that the American system requires more effort from voters, asking them to participate in “more elections for more levels of government with more elective offices at each level than any other country in the world” (Schudson 159).  In most other democracies, the citizens may be asked to vote only 2 or 3 times over a 4-year period (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 246).

 American voters feel overwhelmed by all that is asked of them.  The diverse and numerous elections held in the United States, especially at the state and local levels try the attention spans of voters and decrease their willingness or desire to participate.  Reading the local election ballot and trying to determine the actual function of the various obscure local offices such as county clerk, court clerk or register of deeds can be a daunting task.  Extracting real meaning from the political jargon used in wording local propositions can also be a challenge and source of discouragement (Schudson 156).  Dr. Bill Lyons, of the University of Tennessee, said this of Tennessee state and local elections:  “In Tennessee, we also have a very long ballot with a lot of constitutional offices and we have an awful lot of elections.  I think that’s bad because it unnecessarily splits the time and attention of voters” (Flessner 2).

Americans also lack the same sort of political stimulus as exists in other countries.  Many European governments operate under a proportional system of representation, which allows the percentage of the popular vote obtained by a party to determine the percentage of seats that party occupies in the legislature.  This encourages the formation of several parties to represent specific interests and generally, the wider the selection, the higher the turnout rate (Edwards, Wattenber, and Lineberry 208).  For example, the American presidential election of 1992, when Ross Perot ran as the candidate for the Reform Party, turnout levels increased (Teixeira 149).

The threat of large, influential socialist parties in many European democracies increase their incentive to vote.  When the decision has to be made between conservative or socialist control of the government, the “consequences for redistribution of income and the scope of government are far greater than the ordinary American voter can conceive of” (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 246).

Some countries manufacture incentives by imposing fines on those eligible voters who do not show up at the polls.  Most Americans would consider an imposition of this sort extremely undemocratic.  If such a thing were attempted in America, I believe that we would see the highest levels of turnout ever in an election, but only long enough to vote that proposition down, and exercise the power of recall on every elected official that supported it in the first place! 

Another explanation for the differences between American turnout and that of other democracies addresses our system of registration.  It is the sole responsibility of each American citizen to make sure that they are registered to vote.  No other nation requires that citizens register themselves.  Indeed, registration procedures have been labeled as one of the main reasons for low turnout.  Before 1993, these procedures were determined entirely by state and local elected officials (ABC 1).  Some states made the process easy, while others, especially in the South, made registration burdensome, complicated and inconvenient (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 245).  Not surprisingly, these states averaged lower levels of turnout.  Therefore, it was believed that easing registration procedures would increase the number of those able to vote, which would logically lead to increases in overall turnout.  The National Voter Registration Act or “motor voter” law of 1993, was a reform law that mandated all states to allow registration at the time of application for a driver’s license or renewal.  The law succeeded, increasing the number of registered voters in the U.S. by an estimated 11 million (ABC 2).  However, it did nothing for the levels of turnout, which continued to decline.

Possible explanations for continued lack of participation are as plentiful as the sources that profess them.  Some propose that citizens are contented with the way things are, and so possess no compelling desire to vote (Gilbert 1).  Others argue that it is, in fact, dissatisfaction and cynicism toward government that deters people from voting (ABC 2).  Still, others contest that political efficacy, affected by education or income can be used to accurately predict and explain the disparaging levels of turnout.  Observations indicate that college graduates are more likely to vote than high school dropouts, and wealthy people are more likely to participate than their poorer counterparts.  Many sources even lay blame on the political parties, claiming that people would be more likely to vote if they could see significant differences between party policies and candidates (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 245). 

However, Ruy Teixeira labels many of these so-called “reasons” as merely “myths” that need to be dispelled before real reasons can be defined and handled properly.  He purports that contentment and cynicism are merely characteristics of the population and do not distinguish between those who vote and those who do not.  He also says that while the poor are dropping out of the voting process at a slightly higher rate, “declining turnout has been a ‘team’ effort, with all strata of society making a fair contribution”.  Nor does he accept the notion that the public cannot determine differences between the parties; as it turns out, more people today see more significant differences now than they did three decades ago (Teixeira 150).

Lack of motivation seems to be the real culprit in American society.  A survey conducted by the Census Bureau, entitled “Why People Don’t Vote”, found that 30 percent of non-voters said they either “didn’t like the candidates” or that they “just don’t care” about government or politics.  Schudson suggests that this collective lack of motivation could be due to the fact that citizens find it more difficult today than they did in 1960 to place their trust in the in the traditional linkage institutions of government (163).  It is common for citizens to think of elected officials as dishonest, political parties as ineffective, lobbyists and interest groups as corrupt and self-serving, and the media “alternately as heroes and scoundrels” (Schudson 164). 

Still others contend that the problem runs much deeper than just desertion of the voting booths and that low turnout is the inevitable effect of widespread citizen disengagement from all civic involvement.  A survey conducted by the Roper Organization, found that the number of Americans who reported that within the past year they had “attended a public meeting on town or school affairs” has decreased by over a third.  People are withdrawing from their communities and “direct engagement in politics and government has fallen steadily and sharply over the last generation” (Putnam 167).

So where does that leave us for the future?  Unless improvements are made, the diagnosis will only get worse.  The election system must be made more voter-friendly, by removing unnecessary obstructions.  A step in the right direction would be to do away with voter registration altogether.  “Our current system of voter registration was established during an era of mass political upheaval where fraud was rampant” (CTD 1).  But times have changed since those days fraught with corruption.  Doing away with the process now is not likely to send our political system spiraling out of control.  The rule should be that when you turn 18, the government automatically registers you, lifting the responsibility from potential voters.  Changing election days from Tuesdays to a more convenient day, like Sunday, would also go a long way toward reviving voter participation.  There seems to be no clear, definitive reason why elections are held on Tuesdays, considering that most eligible voters are also full-time workers.  Changing to Sundays would increase the likelihood that people would take the time to show up, without the hassle of major governmental readjustments (CTD 1).

Real campaign finance reform is another proposed solution that would do much to ensure the public that government is not being run by special interests and their bottomless wallets.  Removing “big money” as the major factor in campaigns would lead to increased diversity among candidates competing for office, decrease chances for political manipulation, and help dispel the public view of politicians as corrupt and insincere (CTD 1).  Reforming the campaign process in general, by regulating television campaign commercials, or providing free, issue-based media coverage during elections, would help raise the public’s awareness of the issues, creating a more informed, perhaps less disillusioned electorate (Teixeira 150). 

Several other possible solutions exist, such as abolishing the Electoral College (CTD 1), making it possible for people to register (if they must) through E-mail and vote over the Internet (Edwards, Wattenberg and Lineberry 241).  Whatever the reason, whatever the solution, one thing is certain – we need to do something, and we need to do it now.  Voting is a privilege, but one that only a relatively small percentage of the population chooses to exercise.  Many people feel that one, little vote will not make a difference anyway.  But if over half of the population believes the same thing, it adds up to a gap in representation 100 million people wide and growing!

References

Alliance for Better Campaigns (ABC), “Issue Brief: Voter Turnout”, http://www.bettercampaigns.org/documents/turnout.htm, 1998, pp. 1-3.

 Census Bureau Survey, “Why People Don’t Vote”, NCPA Government and Politics Issue, http://www.ncpa.org/pd/govern/aug98g.html, 1998, p. 1.

 Citizens for True Democracy, “…And What To Do About It”, http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Congress/2417/fedleg1.html, 1999, pp. 1-2.

 Craig Gilbert, “Low Voter Turnout is a Biennial Worry”.  Journal Sentinel Washington Bureau, http://www.jsonline.com/archive/july98/news/editorials/0712gilbert.stm, July 1998, p. 1.

 Dave Flessner, “Why is Voter Turnout so Low?”  The Chattanooga Times, http://www.chattimes.com/news, May 9, 1998, pp. 1-2.

 George C. Edwards, III, Martin P. Wattenberg, and Robert L. Lineberry, Government in America: People, Politics and Policy, 8th ed.  New York: Longman, Inc, 1999.

            Chapter 10: Elections and Voting Behavior – pp. 244-248.

            America in Perspective Sections on pages 208 and 245.

 Michael Schudson, “Voting Rites: Why We Need a New Concept of Citizenship”.  Allan Cigler and Burdett Loomis, American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings, 4th ed.  Boston: Houghton Miflin Company, 1999, pp. 156-164.

 Project Vote Smart, “PVS General Population and Youth Survey”, Department of Political Science at OSU, http://www.vote-smart.org/youthsurvey.phtml?checking=/, 1999, p. 5.

 Robert D. Putnam, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”.  Allan Cigler and Burdett Loomis, American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings, 4th ed.  Boston: Houghton Miflin Company, 1999, pp. 165-175.

 Ruy Teixeira, “Voter Turnout in America: Ten Myths”.  Allan Cigler and Burdett Loomis, American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings, 4th ed.  Boston: Houghton Miflin Company, 1999, pp. 149-155.

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Exam No. 3 - Essay No. 3b - Marisa Banasik
PS103-04
Dr. Renka
Exam 3 Essay
Question 1 - 

    In most democratic nations, an important component of the political system
is the prevalence of political parties. A party, according to Anthony Downs,
is broadly defined as "a team of men and women seeking to control the governing
apparatus by gaining office in a duly constituted election" (Edwards et al, p
188). This definition is further summarized in to the statement that parties
want to win elections (Edwards et al, p 188). In the United States there are
two main political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. America is
unique compared to other democratic nations because of the generalized lack of
parties. However, there is a growing trend among the American public that
implies that the two-party system that has dominated American politics is
rapidly being weakened..

    America is unusual compared to most democratic nations because of the lack
of political parties. Most European democracies have multiple party systems
that allow for more than two parties to be represented in their national
government (Edwards et al, p 197, 199)Even though Americans prefer diversity in
almost everything else, ever since the beginnings of the current political
system there have only been two parties. On occasion a third party may appear
to challenge the status quo, but most of these minor parties fade within a few
years. Sometimes one of these third parties may eclipse one of the two main
parties, but this has not happened since the Republicans first appeared during
the Civil War.
 
    Why then has the two-party system in the United States survived so long?
One explanation is that the system moderates political conflict. If there were
multiple political parties, each party would have to distinguish itself in some
way to appeal to voters (Edwards et al, p 207). In the European multi-party
system, parties must take strong stands on issues to be elected, and after
election they must be willing to compromise in order to make coalitions that
could thwart other, smaller groups of legislators (Edwards et al, p 208). The
two-party system of the United States also helps maintain political ambiguity.
Extreme and unconventional views on issues are smothered before they can be
given any real voice (Edwards et al, p 208). Perhaps the strongest argument
for the continuity of the two-party system is the winner-take-all system of
voting. In the United States, the candidate that achieves a plurality of votes
gets elected, and the other candidate or candidates get nothing for their work.
 
   This essentially weakens the chance that a small party could gain any political benefit
from running for an office because they are not likely to gain a plurality of
votes. Therefore, these small parties are not likely to be elected into a
political office (Edwards et al, p 208). Though some third party candidates
like Governor Jessie Ventura do get elected, this is a rare occurrence. Most
European systems employ a proportional representation style of election
(Edwards et al, p 208). This allows small parties the chance to place their
candidates into a political office of some sort without having a massive base
of support. Once elected, these parties may chose to use their power for their
personal benefit, or they may chose to form a coalition with a larger party to
gain control of more than fifty percent of the seats in a legislature (Edwards
et al, p 208). Because of the proportional representation that the European
system of democracy uses, it is easier for a new party in the European
multi-party system to become an active force in the country's policy making.
Even though the two-system has reigned supreme since almost the inception
of the democratic government the United States uses, current trends among
public opinion and voting behavior suggest that this empire is weakening. In
current American politics, neither party has been able to assert itself as the
dominant party for over thirty years. A divided party government has become
the norm instead of the oddity that it once was. A divided party government is
defined as when the presidential and legislative branches of the American
government are controlled by two different parties. Since 1969, there have
been only six years where a unified government was present (Edwards et al, p
202). The American public is regularly voting in different parties into these
two different branches of the government. Everett Carll Ladd states that the
"loss of party loyalty and the dominance of televison" contribute greatly to
this lack of a majority party (b, p 231). This difference becomes more
apparent when one considers that all throughout America's political history one party has dominated for
long periods of time (Edwards et al, p 199).

    Acording to George Edwards, American politics seems to be undergoing party
dealignment. The voting public is gradually moving away from both political
parties (Edwards et al, p 202). There is a decline in party loyalty in the
United States (Edwards et al, p 202). American voters are now far more likely
to split their ticket, meaning they will vote for multiple parties on one
ticket, rather than voting for the same party constantly (Edwards et al, p
192). Those people who still identify with a party do so because of ideology
compatibility instead of simple loyalty. Finally, George Edwards states that
"even though party loyalty has lagged, party organizations have become more
energetic and effective" (p 204). This implies that despite the rebirth that
the two political parties are undergoing, the American public wants nothing
more to do with these outdated constraints. As Kay Lawson mentions, "parties
in the United States today have little or no reality for most American
citizens" (p 182).
 
   Several other pieces of information also point to the weakening of the two
party system. According to a 1975 study by Jack Dennis, sixty-six percent of
the public want party labels removed from the ballot, and a full eighty five
percent belief that the parties create conflict. Years later, the numbers
continue to worsen (Lawson, p 187). Lawson states that there is strong support
for direct democracy (p 188). Everett Carll Ladd also adds that the support
for term limits and the backing of Perot's third party are also indications of
the American public's deposing of the two party system (a, p 201).
The two-party system has dominated the American democracy. Its golden age,
however, appears to be fading. Voters are far more inclined to vote according
to their own beliefs rather than for the party that they had supported in the
past. In the past half century, the American government has undergone
restructuring to help modernize it with the rest of the country. It is
becoming more apparent with the introduction of such influential and
controversial issues such as AIDS and abortion that, perhaps, the two-party
system that the United States has clung to needs to be restructured as well.
To do so would give voters more of a choice on a wide range of issues if one
agrees with a party on one issue but dissents from their view point on a
second.

 References


Edwards, George C. III, Martin P. Wattenberg, and Robert L. Lineberry.
Government in America: People Politics and Policy. New York: Addison Wesley
Educational Publishers Inc., 1998. p 188-208.

Ladd, Everett Carll (a). "Of Political Parties Great and Strong."
American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings. ed. Allan J.
Cigler and Burdett A. Loomis. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999. p
193-205.

Ladd, Everett Carll (b). "1996 Vote: The "No Majority" Realignment
Continues." American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings. ed.
Allan J. Cigler and Burdett A. Loomis. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,
1999. p 229-242.

Lawson, Kay. "Why We Still Need Real Political Parties." American
Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings
. ed. Allan J. Cigler and
Burdett A. Loomis. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999. p 181-193.

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