Similarities Between The Two Political Parties – Political Science Essay
The way our nation mourned the death of Ronald Reagan has not been seen since Kennedy’s untimely death. The number of people which paid their respects was astonishing and
unforeseen. When we reflect on Reagan’s time in office, one word comes to mind. That word is “conviction”. It does not matter to us today if we agreed with Reagan’s policies. What mattered was he was the last president that stood for something. This is what we remember and respect. Since his tenure, we have had a president that wanted Americans to read his lips not his actions. Then he lost to a man which won the election with less than fifty percent of the vote and four years later, the man was re-elected with less than fifty percent. Then there was the 2000 election. Most people saw Florida as a fiasco, but the real fiasco was the candidates themselves. We had a compassionate conservative running against a moderate liberal, and their shared indecisiveness made Florida and the general election a fiasco. The Democrats and the Republicans presented candidates to entice moderates and the outcome was indecisive voting. Americans do not want to admit it, but most of us are moderate. People lean to the left on some issues and to the right on other issues. Any excessive opinions are usually rhetoric that is used to get attention. Even though Democrats and Republicans have many differences, they do not act their differences for fear of alienating voters resulting in indistinguishable candidates and a low voter turnout.
There are vast differences between Democrats and Republicans in ideology, but they both lack confidence to act. In the article, “Public Participation and the Erosion of Democracy” Ralph Nader writes, “ In eight years under Clinton/Gore, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration didn’t issue one chemical toxin control standard….They gave a free ride to the nuclear industry, including not proposing any fuel efficiency standards improvements in eight years” (Public). The lack of toxin control, a free ride to the nuclear industry, and no fuel standards are what a Republican would do. The Democratic platform is pro-environment and pro-labor, but Clinton did not have the fortitude to enforce his party’s platform. The possibility of alienating a section of the voting public fueled his reluctance. In an interview with Steve Kopp, a reporter for The Plain Dealer’s Washington Bureau, he talks about tort reform and how Republicans in the House got a bill on tort reform passed. Unfortunately, the Senate Republicans will not push this bill instead they have their own bill that has a lot of extras tacked on giving it no chance of passing. They do not want to upset any of their colleagues in the private sector which might be able to sue McDonalds when people spill coffee on their lap. Tort reform laws have been a major issue for the Republican Party; in addition, labor and the environment issues has been the same for Democrats, but their lack of action is a self-preserving tactic for re-election.
In an attempt to expand their electorate, candidates modify their positions. Merill J. Adams writes, “As the Democratic candidate moves in the positive direction (to the right), he draws support away from the Republican candidate in the region near the midpoint between the two candidates” (Journal).This approach is used on both sides to centralize a candidate. According to Martin P. Wattenberg’s findings in his book The Decline of American Political Parties, from 1952- 1980, “The proportion of voters reporting that hey have voted for different parties in presidential elections has risen from 29 to 57 percent” (20). This strategy works, but the title of his book hints at the result. Wattenberg writes, “The growth in proportion of the ‘no preference’ response can be most plausibly interpreted as another indication of the declining salience of political parties in the American political process…” (Decline 49). When a candidate centralizes his or her views, he or she loses distinction. Consequentially, voters are left with candidates with no conviction towards any issue, and voters have less enthusiasm for voting.
Because candidates are indecisive in their political idealism, the outcome is a lower voter turnout. In his book, Where Have All the Voters Gone? Wattenberg writes, “The psychological approach has further identified the problem to be primarily one of a lack of motivation to vote, particularly stemming from party decline” (67). When political incumbents and challengers centralize their message, potential voters see this as voting for the lesser of two evils. Our recent presidential elections show that the candidates’ indecisiveness was reflected on the election results. When Bob Dole spoke at the 1996 Republican convention, he only mentioned his party twice, he did not mention the Democrats, and he made only a slight reference to his career as a Republican Senator. When Bill Clinton spoke at the Democrat’s convention, he used a similar strategy (Decline 221). Dole and Clinton down-played their party affiliations to further their centralized message, and as a result, a low turnout and minority vote won the election for Clinton. The first two presidential elections in 1960 had a turnout percentage of 62.4 percent; conversely, the two most recent elections had a turnout of 50.1 percent (Where 28). Wattenberg gathered the voter turnout data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, and it illustrates the percentage of people that actually want to vote has declined.
There is evidence to support that a low voter turnout can be linked to how hard it is to vote. Wattenberg writes, “It is reasonable, I believe, to infer that if voting is difficult for some of those who manage to vote that others must be discouraged from casting a ballot due to the complexity of the task” (Where 142). Regardless of the candidate’s message there is still stanch partisanship, and it is the driving force behind our democratic process. To deny it would be futile. From an article in the New York Times, John Tierney writes, “As moderates have become an endangered species in Congress and in state legislatures, the parties’ ideological divisions have deepened, and voters have realigned in response” (4.11) Those of us from working class families remember our parents view on political parties, and they were always distinctive. During the 1970’s, the general consensus was that Republicans were for the rich, and Democrats were for everybody else. This view has not changed a great deal, and party leaders are wise to these ideals. The tendency to be indecisive has taken a turn recently, and partisan attitudes have increased. It is an election year, so members of Congress need to strengthen their allegiance to their parties in order to maintain their campaign support. Steve Kopp says, “Most members of congress are moderates [but] there is no bipartisanship today”. Although he believes the majority in Congress is moderate, he acknowledges they have drawn proverbial lines in the sand to insure their position. John Tierney explains Congressional strategy he writes, “The only threat to incumbents comes from within the party, forcing them to appeal to partisan voters who dominate primaries” (4.11). They need to show their loyalty to insure campaign support in primary elections. The major issues of the day like the Iraq war have polarized the nation and its leaders. As a result, this upcoming election will be a decision on decisive ideals and issues more than the recent past, but what will the winner of this election actually do?
The two major parties in American politics have distinct differences, yet they do not decisively employ their diversity for significant change. They would rather use a self-preserving approach, or try to appeal to the broadest range of the electorate. The effect is they become impossible to differentiate, which has a negative consequence. The decline of voter turnout in recent times is the result of similar candidates representing each party. People have been voting for the lesser of two evils until this election year, and the promise of diversity between the candidates is a positive step.
It is about time we have something we can truly stand behind or completely oppose. Those of us that promote voting and see it as a civic duty finally have solid issues that they can use to entice the voting public. All we need now is a leader that will follow up on the ideals that wins the election. Someone that stands up for his or her beliefs, bravely conveys those beliefs, and calls out adversity. Imagine going to vote without it feeling like a burden of some kind, but a chance to really feel like you are making a difference instead of an agonizing status quo.
Adams, J. Merill. “Voter Turnout and Candidate Strategies in American Elections.”
Journal of Politics 65.1 (2003)
Kopp, Steve. Telephone interview. 7 July 2004
Nader, Ralph. “Public Participation and the Erosion of Democracy.” Humanist 64.1
Tierney, John. “A Nation Divided? Who Says?” New York Times 13 June 2004, late
Wattenberg, Martin P. The Decline of American Political Parties, 1952-1996. Cambridge:
Harvard United Press, 1999
Where Have All The Voters Gone. Cambridge: Harvard United Press, 2002