Parties, Pluralism and the “Crisis” in American Representation

  • Craig ParsonsEmail author
  • Till Weber
Original Article


In many ways, Donald Trump’s presidency seems to mark the culmination of a long-developing crisis in American representation. In preceding decades Americans complained that their two major parties were increasingly stifling as many societal concerns as they voiced. Then Trump blew the previous lines of party competition apart and disrupted much of the political landscape. Yet if Trump has certainly introduced an atmosphere of crisis, we argue that much of his rise reflects predictable features of electoral democracy rather than a breakdown in its normal dynamics. We should expect democracies to confront endemic problems of “muffling” (when parties silence or obfuscate cross-cutting issues) and “displacement” (when muffled conflicts break out to shift parties’ leadership selections, like in 2016). We set a qualitative account of the 2016 election against longer term data on American parties in comparative perspective to display these challenges.


Pluralism Cleavages Representation Political parties Donald Trump 


  1. Abramowitz, Alan I., and Stephen Webster. 2016. The Rise of Negative Partisanship and the Nationalization of U.S. Elections in the 21st Century. Electoral Studies 41 (1): 12–22.Google Scholar
  2. Abramowitz, Alan. 2010. The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Aldrich, John. 1995. Why Parties? Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Google Scholar
  4. Azari, Julia, and Marc J. Hetherington. 2016. Back to the Future? What the Politics of the Late Nineteenth Century Can Tell Us about the 2016 Election. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 667 (1): 92–109.Google Scholar
  5. Arrow, Kenneth J. 1951. Social Choice and Individual Values. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  6. Bates, Robert, Avner Greif, Margaret Levi, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, and Barry Weingast. 1998. Analytic Narratives. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bell, Daniel. 1967. The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  8. Berger, Susan (ed.). 1981. Organizing Interests in Western Europe. NY: Cambridge Univ. Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bishop, Bill. 2009. The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Google Scholar
  10. Black, Duncan. 1958. The Theory of Committees and Elections. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Baker, Kendall, Russell Dalton, and Kai Hildebrant. 1981. Germany Transformed: Political Culture and the New Politics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Brady, David W., Hahrie Han, and Jeremy C. Pope. 2007. Primary Elections and Candidate Ideology: Out of Step with the Primary Electorate? Legislative Studies Quarterly 32 (1): 79–105.Google Scholar
  13. Burnham, Walter Dean. 1970. Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  14. Carmines, Edward G., and James A. Stimson. 1989. Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Cohen, Marty, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller. 2008. The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  16. Cohen, Marty, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller. 2016. Party versus Faction in the Reformed Presidential Nominating System. PS: Political Science and Politics 49 (4): 701–708.Google Scholar
  17. Confessore, Nicholas and Nate Cohn. 2016. “Donald Trump’s Victory Was Built on Unique Coalition of White Voters.” New York Times, November 9, 2016.Google Scholar
  18. Dalton, Russell J. 1985. Political Parties and Political Representation. Party Supporters and Party Elites in Nine Nations. Comparative Political Studies 18 (3): 267–299.Google Scholar
  19. Davis, Otto A., and Melvin J. Hinich. 1966. “A Mathematical Model of Policy Formation in a Democratic Society.” In Mathematical Applications in Political Science, ed. Joseph L. Bernd. Dallas: S.M.U. Press. 175–208.Google Scholar
  20. DiMaggio, Paul, John Evans, and Bethany Bryson. 1996. Have Americans’ Social Attitudes Become More Polarized? American Journal of Sociology 102 (3): 690–755.Google Scholar
  21. Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper.Google Scholar
  22. Druckman, James N., Erik Peterson, and Rune Slothuus. 2013. How Elite Partisan Polarization Affects Public Opinion Formation. American Political Science Review 107 (1): 57–79.Google Scholar
  23. Enten, Harry. 2016. “Americans’ Distaste for Both Trump and Clinton is Record-Breaking.”, posted May 5, 2016.Google Scholar
  24. Esaiasson, Peter, and Sören Holmberg. 1996. Representation from Above: Members of Parliament and Representative Democracy in Sweden. Aldershot: Dartmouth.Google Scholar
  25. Fiorina, Morris P. 1999. Extreme Voices: A Dark Side of Civic Engagement, In Morris Fiorina and Theda Skocpol, eds. Civic Engagement in American Democracy. Washington, D.C.: Brookings: 405–413.Google Scholar
  26. Fiorina, Morris P., Samuel J. Abrams, and Jeremy C. Pope. 2005. Culture War?: The Myth of a Polarized America. New York: Pearson Longman. Google Scholar
  27. Fiorina, Morris P., and Samuel J. Abrams. 2008. Political Polarization in the American Public. Annual Review of Political Science 11: 563–588.Google Scholar
  28. Fiorina, Morris. 2017. Unstable Majorities: Polarization, Party Sorting, and Political Stalemate. Stanford, CA: Hoover Press. Google Scholar
  29. Gabel, Matthew J., and John D. Huber. 2000. Putting Parties in Their Place: Inferring Party Left-Right Ideological Positions from Party Manifesto Data. American Journal of Political Science 44 (1): 94–103.Google Scholar
  30. Hacker, Jacob S., and Paul Pierson. 2005. Abandoning the Middle: The Bush Tax Cuts and the Limits of Democratic Control. Perspectives on Politics 3 (1): 33–53.Google Scholar
  31. Hetherington, M.J. 2001. Resurgent Mass Partisanship: The Role of Elite Polarization. American Political Science Review 95 (3): 619–631.Google Scholar
  32. Hetherington, M.J. 2009. Putting Polarization in Perspective. British Journal of Political Science 39 (2): 413–448.Google Scholar
  33. Hetherington, Marc J., Meri T. Long, and Thomas J. Rudolph. 2016. Revisiting the Myth: New Evidence of a Polarized Electorate. Public Opinion Quarterly 80: 321–350.Google Scholar
  34. Huddy, Leonie, Lilliana Mason, and Lene Aarøe. 2015. Expressive Partisanship: Campaign Involvement, Political Emotion, and Partisan Identity. American Political Science Review 109 (1): 1–17.Google Scholar
  35. Hunter, James. 1991. Culture Wars. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Hurley, Patricia A., and Kim Quaile Hill. 2003. Beyond the Demand-Input Model: A Theory of Representational Linkages. Journal of Politics 65 (2): 304–326.Google Scholar
  37. Hill, Seth J, and Gregory A. Huber. 2017. Representativeness and Motivations of the Contemporary Donorate: Results from Merged Survey and Administrative Records. Political Behavior 39(1): 3–29.Google Scholar
  38. Inglehart, Ronald. 1997. Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic and Political Change in 43 Countries. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Iyengar, Shanto, Gaurav Sood, and Yphtach Lelkes. 2012. Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization. Public Opinion Quarterly 76 (3): 504.Google Scholar
  40. Jacobsen, Gary C. 2012. The Electoral Origins of Polarized Politics. American Behavioral Scientist 56 (12): 1612–1630.Google Scholar
  41. Jacobsen, Gary C. 2016. Polarization, Gridlock, and Presidential Campaign Politics in 2016. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 667 (1): 226–246.Google Scholar
  42. Kitschelt, Herbert. 1988. Explaining Innovation in Competitive Party Systems. World Politics 40 (2): 194–234.Google Scholar
  43. Kitschelt, Herbert. 1994. The Transformation of European Social Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Krehbiel, Keith. 1993. Where’s the Party? British Journal of Political Science 23 (2): 235–266.Google Scholar
  45. Levendusky, Matthew. 2009. The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  46. Levendusky, Matthew. 2010. Clearer Cues, More Consistent Voters: A Benefit of Elite Polarization. Political Behavior 32 (1): 111–131.Google Scholar
  47. Levendusky, Matthew. 2017. Morris Fiorina’s Foundational Contributions to the Study of Partisanship and Mass Polarization. The Forum 15 (1): 189–201.Google Scholar
  48. Lipset, Seymour Martin, and Stein Rokkan. 1967. Cleavage Structures, Party Systems and Voter Alignments: An Introduction. In Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives, ed. id. New York: The Free Press. 1–64.Google Scholar
  49. MacWilliams, Matthew. 2016. Who Decides When the Party Doesn’t? Authoritarian Voters and the Rise of Donald Trump. PS: Political Science and Politics 49 (4): 716–721.Google Scholar
  50. Mair, Peter. 1997. Party System Change: Approaches and Interpretations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Mason, Lilliana. 2015. ‘I Respectfully Disagree’: The Differential Effects of Partisan Sorting on Social and Issue Polarization. American Journal of Political Science 59 (1): 128–145.Google Scholar
  52. Mayhew, David R. 1974. Congress: The Electoral Connection. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Mayhew, David R. 2002. Electoral Realignments. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  54. McElwee, Sean, Jesse Rhodes, Brian Schaffner and Bernard Fraga. 2018. “The Missing Obama Millions.” New York Times, March 10, 2018.Google Scholar
  55. McCarty, Nolan, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. 2006. Polarized America: The Dance of Unequal Riches. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  56. McKelvey, Richard D. 1976. Intransitivities in Multidimensional Voting Models and Some Implications for Agenda Control. Journal of Economic Theory 12 (3): 472–482.Google Scholar
  57. Michels, Robert. 1962 [1915]. Political Parties. New York: Free Press. Google Scholar
  58. Miller, Nicholas R. 1983. Pluralism and Social Choice. American Political Science Review 77 (3): 734–747.Google Scholar
  59. Miller, Warren E., and Donald E. Stokes. 1963. Constituency Influence in Congress. American Political Science Review 57 (1): 45–56.Google Scholar
  60. Ostrogorski, Moises. 1902. Democracy and Organization of Political Parties. NY: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  61. Parsons, Craig. 2007. How to Map Arguments in Political Science. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Parsons, Craig, and Till Weber. 2011. Cross-Cutting Issues and Party Strategy in the European Union. Comparative Political Studies 44 (4): 383–411.Google Scholar
  63. Poguntke, Thomas. 1987. New Politics and Party Systems: The Emergence of a New Type of Party? West European Politics 10 (1): 76–88.Google Scholar
  64. Polsby, Nelson W. 1983. The Consequences of Party Reform. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Riker, William. 1982. Liberalism against Populism. San Francisco: Freeman. Google Scholar
  66. Riker, William H. 1986. The Art of Political Manipulation. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Rohde, David W. 1991. Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  68. Sani, Giacomo, and Giovanni Sartori. 1983. Polarization, Fragmentation and Competition in Western Democracies. In Hans Daalder and Peter Mair, ed. West European Party Systems, 307–340. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  69. Sartori, Giovanni. 1976. Parties and Party Systems. New York: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar
  70. Schattschneider, Elmer E. 1942. Party Government. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  71. Schattschneider, Elmer E. 1960. The Semisovereign People. A Realist’s View of Democracy in America. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  72. Schmitter, Philippe, and Gerhard Lehmbruch (eds.). 1979. Trends toward Corporatist Intermediation. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  73. Schwarz, Thomas. 1989. Why Parties?. UCLA Political Science Dept: Research memo.Google Scholar
  74. Shafer, Byron E. (ed.). 1991. The End of Realignment? Interpreting American Electoral Eras. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  75. Shafer, Byron E., and William J. Claggett. 1995. The Two Majorities: The Issue Context of Modern American Politics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  76. Shepsle, Kenneth A. 1979. Institutional Arrangements and Equilibrium in Multidimensional Voting Models. American Journal of Political Science 23 (1): 27–59.Google Scholar
  77. Shepsle, Kenneth. 1986. Institutional Equilibrium and Equilibrium Institutions. In Political Science: The Science of Politics, ed. Herbert Weisberg, 51-81. New York: Agathon.Google Scholar
  78. Sinclair, Barbara. 1995. Legislators, Leaders, and Lawmaking. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  79. Slothuus, Rune, and Claes H. De Vreese. 2010. Political Parties, Motivated Reasoning, and Issue Framing Effects. Journal of Politics 72 (3): 630–645.Google Scholar
  80. Sniderman, Paul M., Richard A. Brody, and Phillip E. Tetlock. 1991. Reasoning and Choice: Explorations in Political Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  81. Stimson, James A., Michael B. MacKuen, and Robert S. Erikson. 1995. Dynamic Representation. American Political Science Review 89 (3): 543–565.Google Scholar
  82. Stonecash, Jeffrey M. 2006. Political Parties Matter: Realignment and the Return of Partisan Voting. Boulder: Lynne Reinner.Google Scholar
  83. Streeck, Wolfgang. 2006. The Study of Organized Interests: Before ‘The Century’and After. In The Diversity of Democracy: Corporatism, Social Order and Political Conflict, ed. Crouch Colin and Wolfgang Streeck, 3–45. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  84. Sundquist, James L. 1983. Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Brookings.Google Scholar
  85. Sunstein, Cass R. 2001. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  86. Thomas, Frank. 2004. What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. New York: Metropolitan Books.Google Scholar
  87. Thomassen, Jacques. 1994. Empirical Research into Political Representation: Failing Democracy or Failing Models? In Elections at Home and Abroad. Essays in Honor of Warren E. Miller, ed. M.Kent Jennings and Thomas E. Miller, 237–264. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  88. Weber, Till. 2018. Negative Voting and Party Polarization. Vienna: Presented at the EPSA Annual Meeting.Google Scholar
  89. Weber, Till, and Craig Parsons. 2016. Dynamic Party Unity: The US Congress in Comparative Perspective. European Political Science Review 8 (4): 637–662.Google Scholar
  90. Weingast, Barry. 2002. Rational-Choice Institutionalism. In Political Science: The State of the Discipline, ed. Ira Katznelson and Helen Milner, 660–692. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  91. Wlezien, Christopher. 1995. The Public as Thermostat: Dynamics of Preferences for Spending. American Journal of Political Science 39 (4): 981–1000.Google Scholar
  92. Zaller, John R. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Fudan University 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OregonEugeneUSA
  2. 2.Baruch CollegeCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations