tutor2u | Party Decline (US)

Study Notes

Party Decline (US)

A Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

The theory was party decline was popular throughout the 1970s and 1980s in the US, and especially so after the publication of David Broder’s book, ‘The Party’s Over: The Failure of Politics in America’. The book was followed by a number of others all stating the end of the party system in the US, with perhaps the most devastating comment coming from Denis Borgan who stated that the Democrats and Republicans were ‘like two bottles with different labels, both empty’.

The theory of Party Decline can be divided into four factors.

1) Candidate Selection

Today, when presidential candidates are vying to be the party nominee they compete in primaries and amass delegates that can vote for them at the national nominating conventions. However, up to the 1960s, the nominees for President used to be decided in back room deals between the party officials. Therefore, now, the party have control over who can be the nominee for the party. A more contemporary example would be the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican 2016 race.

2) Parties as Communicators

Traditionally to get a message to the electorate a party rally would be organised and the two way communication process was set in motion. However in an age of television and opinion polls this function has been removed from parties

3) Candidate Centred Campaigns

Electoral races are now becoming more and more about the candidates or issues rather than the parties. If you take a look at the US Advert Round Up and count how many times you hear Democrat, Republican or associated terms mentioned, you will see that no mention is made by any candidates. In some adverts you’d be hard pressed to guess which party each candidate was from.

4) Split Ticket Voting

Split Ticket Voting, whereby a voter will vote one party for President and one party for another race reached its peak in the 1970s and 80s. This has been attributed to issue centred voting. This has also given way to the rise in the number of voters who classify themselves as independent voters.


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