Future of the Democratic Party

December 19, 1980

Report Outline
Implications of 1980 Elections
End of So-Called Liberal Era
Search for a New Program
Prospects and Opportunities
Special Focus

Implications of 1980 Elections

Possible Revival of Two-Party System

Taking stock of their battered party, many Democrats have expressed a surprising optimism. To be sure, the Republican landslide on Nov. 4 has produced a lot of anxiety among Democrats that they may have to give up some cherished ideas. The future of liberalism as the party's guiding ideology may even be in doubt. But many Democrats believe that as a result of the election their chronically divided party may be inspired to close ranks. Many also are convinced that the party now will begin to gain influence as an organization, following many years of decline. Retiring Party Chairman John C. White said Dec. 9 that the best thing he has seen since the election is a “heightened interest in party affairs.”

Three decades ago, the American Political Science Association's committee on political parties identified “the inadequacy of the party system in sustaining well-considered programs and providing broad public support for them” as a leading danger to American democracy. In the intervening years concern has continued to grow about the seeming inability of the two major parties to formulate coherent programs, discipline their members, present the public with clear-cut choices and — upon victory — to fulfill campaign pledges.

Analysts have attributed the declining influence of political parties and the increasing independence of candidates to a variety of factors, including television, which is said to have displaced parties as the key mediator between government and the public; more highly educated voters, who increasingly split tickets; special interest groups, which work outside the party framework and target candidates for defeat on the basis of relatively narrow considerations; and new campaign techniques — pollsters, computerized direct mailings, media consultants and all the rest — which tempt candidates to ignore party leaders.

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Campaigns and Elections
Campaigns and Elections