When Party Unity Was Rejected (Decades Ago)
Nov 08, 2011 | 2189 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In 1950, the American Political Science Association sponsored a study entitled “Toward a More Responsible Two Party System.” The study came out when the U.S. population was growing very fast.

The recommendations of this report were that the two major parties (Republican and Democrat) need to have clear stances on issues. The report suggested that in local elections, as well as in national elections, there should be a clear Republican stance and a clear Democratic stance on a host of issues, which would be published in each party’s platform. This sounds like a parliamentary system, but had the parties followed this advice, people may be more informed about who to vote for in elections.

The reason why this idea never got off the ground is that parties have become weaker pieces of the political puzzle. For example, the report suggested that parties would finance the campaigns of their candidates, but candidates today finance their own campaigns and hold their own fundraisers.

There are still party leaders, such as Phil Ragusa of the Queens GOP, Congressman Joe Crowley of the Queens Democrats, and Assemblyman Vito Lopez of the Kings County Democrats, but as influential as they may seem, the party system is weaker today. If you run on the Republican or Democratic line today, you better have a way to raise money and a campaign machine of your own.

Why does this matter? After all, if the party system is weaker, at least it is weaker for both parties. When you have a scuffle like the one in the Queens Republican Party over the last few weeks, you realize that these people fighting for leadership positions are fighting for a smaller piece of the pie.

Phil Ragusa and Tom Ognibene have been living in the Queens GOP bubble in various positions for years. Ragusa is the chairman, and now a judge has said so. The party system – even nationally – is weak, so why is there a fight between leaders of a party that controls so little in the city anyway?

Ognibene may have had a plan to build the party, but Ragusa is the chairman, and even though there is no responsible party system as the 1950 report would suggest, the party faithful have one job: getting their incumbents re-elected. Councilmen Peter Koo, Eric Ulrich, and Dan Halloran are the only links to a two-party system in the city.

Catholics in 2012

Issues such as abortion and stem cell research are important issues in a campaign, but they are becoming less predictable among America’s voting Catholics.

Catholics will cross lines and vote for either party in many cases (with the exception of those die-hard partisans), but the rank-and-file Catholic voter, however, appears to rely less on the issue of life than he or she has in the past. The reason for this might be the difference between younger Catholics and more traditional, older Catholics.

According to a Pew research study, when Barack Obama was invited to speak at Notre Dame in 2006, 50 percent of Catholics polled said that inviting him to speak was the right thing to do, up against 28 percent who said it was wrong. Even among weekly mass attendees, 37 percent were okay with the university’s decision.

You could make the argument that inviting a sitting president is an honor, and it does not reflect how Catholics feel about the right to life issue. But poll numbers suggest that there is a big change in how Catholics are voting and responding to politicians who might not share their views on abortion and stem cell research.

Consider that most conservative of Catholic voters tend to be white, or non-Hispanic, voters. Even among the most conservative Catholic voters, it is almost even money that they will vote for a pro-choice candidate as they will a pro-life candidate.

The area of the electorate that has grown more pro-life is with the white evangelical voters. Where Catholics have become split in their concerns with abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage, evangelicals have become more visible in their opposition.

How can we predict what the nation’s Catholic voters will gravitate toward next year? Not enough polling has been conducted recently, but perhaps there are some theories about the Catholic vote that can explain it.

If Catholics are a large part of the middle class, and large chunks of Catholics are now firmly assimilated into the economic fabric, they might be voting more on economic issues than ever before. Also consider that a certain percentage of the Catholic base is pacifist, and the war issue should not be ignored.

A third thing to remember is that next to the growing number of evangelical followers, the only church that has not lost membership in the last few decades is the Catholic Church (which has remained about even), but that is because of recent immigration waves from countries with big Catholic populations, like Mexico. For these reasons, the issue of abortion and stem cell research has given way to economic opportunity.

What does this mean for Obama and Romney? It means the Catholic vote is in nobody’s pocket.

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