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Placing Parties in American Politics: Organization, Electoral Settings, and Government Activity in the Twentieth Century

Placing Parties in American Politics: Organization, Electoral Settings, and Government Activity in the Twentieth Century

by David R. Mayhew

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This work on the structure of American parties combines the breadth that has been characteristic of voter analysis and the richness found in case studies of local party organizations. In a series of fifty sketches of the American states, David Mayhew maps local parties as of the late 1960's, from city and county machines and lesser patronage-based organizations to


This work on the structure of American parties combines the breadth that has been characteristic of voter analysis and the richness found in case studies of local party organizations. In a series of fifty sketches of the American states, David Mayhew maps local parties as of the late 1960's, from city and county machines and lesser patronage-based organizations to amateur club movements, municipal good government groups, and Minnesota's unusual Democratic-Farmer-Labor apparatus.

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Princeton University Press
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Princeton Legacy Library Series
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6.46(w) x 9.51(h) x 1.33(d)

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Placing Parties in American Politics

Organization, Electoral Settings, and Government Activity in the Twentieth Century

By David R. Mayhew


Copyright © 1986 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-07707-9


Forms of Organization

The objective of Part I is to identify and characterize party or partylike organizations that were operating consequentially in American nominating processes at lower levels in the late 1960s. "Traditional party organizations" will receive the most attention, but the net has been cast more widely in order to pick up scattered instances of other sorts. This is done to identify some nonstandard forms of organization worth discussing later in Part II, and also to complicate a bit, in the interest of accuracy and texture, the basic American twentieth-century dichotomy between having strong party organization (the traditional patronage variety) and, at least at the nominating level, having little or no organization at all in environments where candidates are supplied for the most part by uncontrolled primaries.

I should begin by defining some terms. In the case of organization it will be useful to start with a broader construction than "party" implies, then retreat back through forms I note only episodically in the state-by-state reports, and end with forms I try to track systematically. Let us say that an "organization" is a group of people who consciously coordinate their activities to achieve an end, and that the pertinent end in this case is the nomination of a candidate or candidates for public office. Entities meeting these requirements include, first of all, candidate organizations — groups devoted to the advancement of just one candidate — which are the most widespread form of organization specific to American electoral environments. Some of the more interesting of these will be noted, but for the most part I regard candidate organizations as unremarkable and leave them alone. Perhaps also meeting the requirements, strictly read, are organizations dealing chiefly in other things but incidentally in elections — in particular, newspapers, private corporations in general, and unions. I document some of the more obvious and consequential ventures into nominating politics by such organizations, but otherwise I pass them by.

Left over after this narrowing are organizations I do in principle try to track systematically — that is, organizations specific to the electoral sector and devoted to advancing a number of candidates for a number of offices (rather than a single candidate for one office). To these the label "party" or "partylike" reasonably applies. More precisely, I try to track such organizations in instances where they seem to exercise influence in nominating processes and in which the nominations at issue are worth winning — that is, in parties that are dominant or at least respectably competitive in local and district elections and hence are generators of public officials (Democrats in Brooklyn, both parties in Indianapolis, but not Republicans in Brooklyn). It will come as no surprise that getting a sure handle on organization in many of the country's nominating environments is close to a hopeless task even when good accounts are available: the softer forms of party or partylike organization, perceivable as nods, nudges, and rumors, are hard to distinguish from nothing at all and act as a minimal constraint on individual candidates. I pick up what I can of these. But a number of forms are fairly easy to follow, including traditional party organization.

By nominating processes, another general term that needs discussion, I mean primaries, caucuses, and conventions that confer official party nominations, but I include also the processes of nonpartisan elections — the familiar system used by most American cities and sometimes by other jurisdictions in which a first-round election is ordinarily followed by a runoff, the ballots have no party labels, and the vote is open to all, regardless of party registration. Nonpartisan elections are of course not a direct equivalent of partisan nominating processes, but they achieve the comparable effect of converting fields of potential candidates into small sets of real candidates. And, as a practical matter, nonpartisan elections offer the same sort of opportunity that standard partisan primaries do to organizations who wish to promote sets of candidates. In both cases a lack of widely available information that might be used to sort or identify either potential candidates or candidates appearing in an undifferentiated list on a ballot (in the nonpartisan instance, ballots at both stages) invites unofficial slating or endorsements. In fact some kinds of organizations confine their activities to one type of process or the other, but traditional party organizations have operated indiscriminately in both, promoting candidates wherever the opportunity arises.

Finally, the special term traditional party organization is needed since no other has quite the right meaning. This term, its shortened form "traditional organization," and its acronym "TPO" will be used interchangeably in the following chapters to refer to any organization at the level of county, city, city ward, township, or other local jurisdiction about which all five of the following statements can be made:

(1) It has substantial autonomy. It is not the creation of, nor does its maintenance depend on the internal incentive structure of, a separate organization that operates mostly outside electoral politics — in particular a corporation or a labor union. It may derive a significant part of its resources from public officials or party organizations at higher governmental levels (particularly the state level), but it nonetheless has the capacity to act as a substantially independent power base in dealing with such officials or organizations.

(2) It lasts a long time. Its life span is measurable in decades or generations rather than in months or years. It can survive leadership changes. A qualification here, to be elaborated later, is that in some environments what persists is a pattern of organization rather than a set of specifiable organizations.

(3) Its internal structure has an important element of hierarchy. Its leader or leaders exercise a good deal of influence in organization activities, including the promotion of candidates, and are widely recognized as party leaders in their locales. In fact, TPOs are commonly referred to by the names of their leaders, as in "the Smith organization," "the Smith-Jones organization," or sometimes even "the Smith-Jones-Brown organization."

(4) It regularly tries to bring about the nomination of candidates for a wide range of public offices. The range ordinarily includes county, state assembly, state senate, and (often nonpartisan) municipal offices; sometimes judgeships; sometimes congressional and statewide offices. The effort takes the form of at least "endorsing" candidates, and ordinarily in cases of local and district offices the stronger form of "slating" or "putting up a slate" of candidates. "Slating" carries an implication of generating or adding to an official field of candidates by inducing people to enter it, and perhaps also limiting it by inducing others to stay out.

(5) It relies substantially on "material" incentives, and not much on "purposive" incentives, in engaging people to do organization work or to supply organization support. This draws on James Q. Wilson's typology of incentive systems that organizations use to maintain themselves. TPOs have relied substantially on what Wilson calls "individual material" inducements — that is, "tangible rewards: money, or things and services readily priced in monetary terms," of kinds that can be assigned to particular individuals. These may include appointive or elective positions in government, contracts or other preferments supplied by government, economic opportunities that result from working in or around government, and exemptions from strict law enforcement on such matters as vice and taxes. Benefits may go to supporters outside the organization — for example, voters and contributors of money — as well as to workers within it, though the distinction between outsiders and insiders is blurry. Probably most TPOs have relied also to a substantial degree on "solidary" inducements, either of a "specific" kind — for example, honorary appointments conferring prestige — or of a "collective" kind — for example, the enjoyment that comes from working together with other people. But TPOs have not depended significantly on "purposive" inducements — that is, they have not counted very much on workers or supporters inspired to activity by issues, principles, causes, or ideologies.

Organizations that satisfy these five conditions routinely turn up in American settings of the late 1960s, which gives confidence that the five belong together in a definitional set. Still, the country's local environments have generated a lot of inventive organizational forms, and it will be important to try to take a close look at phenomena that meet the conditions ambiguously or meet some but not all of them. Ambiguity can arise, for example, on the matter of organizational autonomy: in rural plantation areas that support the practice of multiple-office slating, it is often hard to tell whether political organization operates independently of economic organization or as just another expression of it. And a number of settings support lavish patronage transactions but lack any trace of party or partylike organizations capable of boosting people into office; individual officeholders, once they somehow reach office on their own, use government jobs to build their own personal electoral bases. Near misses or anomalies of these and other sorts will be noted.

Is "traditional party organization" just another label for a "machine"? In the usage here the answer is no. "Machine" ordinarily refers to a party organization that exercises overall control over government at a city or county level. "Traditional party organization" has a broader reference. All "machines" at the local level are TPOs: the term "machine" will be used strictly hereafter (except in quotations) to refer to a TPO in control of a city or county government. But not all TPOs are machines. An organization might meet all five conditions set out above and thus be a TPO, yet not have overall control of a government. It might slate for a broad set of offices yet normally win nominations and elections in only one city ward or a set of wards. It might control a set of citywide or countywide offices but not the major executive offices. It might help put people in office yet lose control of them once they get there — losing access to the jobs, contracts, and other resources that officeholders can dispose of. This happens occasionally with mayors. Moreover, a TPO might control a central government sometimes but not usually or always — the old Tammany Hall pattern — thus at times adding up to a "machine," strictly speaking, and at times not. And a TPO might have to coexist in its city or county with one or more other TPOs. We shall come across instances of locales where Democrats and Republicans each field a TPO, and instances where one major party accommodates two or more TPOs by itself. These last cases, which stretch the terminology to its limits, will require special definitional attention.

In the ensuing sketches each state is given a score gauging the prominence of TPOs in its politics in the late 1960s on a 1-to-5 scale. In principle the score for each state is an average of scores for each of its lower political units (counties in most states) weighted appropriately according to population size, and each contributory score for a lower unit registers the incidence and influence of TPOs in its own electoral politics: minimal scores for locales with no TPOs at all, somewhat higher scores for locales where TPOs have exercised decisive influence in nominating processes for some lower-level offices some of the time (and where the TPO nominees have subsequently won election), and on up to maximal scores for locales where TPOs have exercised decisive influence in nominating processes for major and minor offices year after year (and again the nominees have won election). This is the plan in principle. In practice, given the evidence, it is impossible to be anywhere near so exact. My fallback procedure is to circumvent the arithmetic and make scoring judgments about states as wholes, basing them on whatever evidence there is but staying as close as possible to the logic of positing scores for locales and then weighting and averaging them. Scoring by state makes sense: states have in fact varied as states in the prominence of their TPOs. Of course many states have varied internally also, since TPOs as a rule have been more of a presence (if a presence at all) in metropolitan areas than in rural areas. But cities located in the same state almost always bear a family resemblance to each other in organizational forms, and most states with urban TPOs have had some rural TPOs also. The typical state assigned a 5 on the TPO scale for the late 1960s is a predominantly metropolitan state with influential TPOs operating in most or all of its metropolitan and some of its rural areas.

The fifty states will be discussed one by one, with each assigned a TPO score at the end of its sketch. They are grouped as follows (see map). Considered first, in Chapter 2, are eight "organization" states that run from Rhode Island west through Illinois (but skipping Indiana). Next are five "persistently factional" states that run from Maryland west through Missouri (Chapter 3), then the eleven ex-Confederate Southern states (Chapter 4), then a heterogeneous group of thirteen states that extend from northern New England west along the Canadian border and south through the Midwestern plains (Chapter 5), then finally the thirteen states of the mountain region and Pacific West (Chapter 6). The 1970 population of each state, county, and municipality will be given as it is introduced.


Regular Organization States

A traditional party organization that operates without sustained opposition inside its own party from any other organization of the same kind — the party may nonetheless contain a "reform" opposition — is often called a "regular" organization. Such "regular" apparatuses are the chief concern of this chapter. An efficient way to detect these, as well as other sorts of units that back candidates for nomination, is to look carefully at accounts of direct primaries — the process almost all states have used to nominate local and district officials since early in the twentieth century. Candidates in nearly all states today, once they pay fees or submit lists of petition signatures, can enter primaries and in principle compete as equals. But the exceptions include Rhode Island and Connecticut, the first two states to be discussed.

RHODE ISLAND (949,723)

Direct primaries date back only to 1947 in Rhode Island, and candidates officially endorsed by party committees receive first-place listing on the primary ballot and asterisks beside their names. This used to be a tight system; until the 1970s all but a handful of candidates for the state legislature won nomination without primary challenges, and in the dominant Democratic party only one challenger ever defeated an official endorsee in a primary for congressional or statewide office — Claiborne Pell in his first run for the Senate in 1960.

These rules and patterns do not reveal whether the state has supported "traditional party organizations," though they suggest an environment in which such enterprises might flourish. In fact they have flourished. Providence (179,116), the state's metropolis, has supported a Democratic machine equaling Chicago's in control over city affairs during most of the last half-century. From 1941 through 1974 only three people (including two strong party leaders) held the mayoralty and only two — each doubling as head of the Department of Public Works — served as Democratic city chairman. Providence had no civil service requirements in the 1960s; party leaders distributed some 2,800 jobs in the public sector more or less equally by ward, ensuring the allegiance of city councillors, ward committeemen, and other subordinates. Members of ward committees, according to a report on the city's Fox Point area, "were responsible for the orderly distribution of patronage jobs, of neighborhood improvements, [and] of a wide range of preferential treatments consisting of contract awards, ticket-fixing or protecting numbers running." Organization leaders used the endorsement system to exercise control over Democratic nominations. From 1948 through 1968, in 540 instances of nomination for mayor or city council, only four resulted in victories by challengers over organization endorsees (two occurred when a regular endorsee got mixed up in a scandal over a stolen car ring). This is an outstanding, perhaps unparalleled, record of slating effectiveness.


Excerpted from Placing Parties in American Politics by David R. Mayhew. Copyright © 1986 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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