The eighth edition of the State of the Parties just came out! It’s a great book with contributions from many of the leading political science researchers in American politics. As with previous editions, there are sections on public opinion, campaign finance and an expanded focus on the nature of the current party system in America and what changes it may be undergoing.
As with previous editions, I have a chapter on state party platforms. What is different about my chapter this edition is the use of automated techniques to evaluate platform ideology. I used Wordscores to measure state party ideology instead of manual coding. In a future, I will show how the results vary based on the method used for coding.
The main finding in my chapter is that state parties remain highly polarized. I did not find, however, much evidence of a divide within the parties. A lot has been made of the division between Establishment and Trump Republicans and between Establishment and Progressive Democrats. The state party platforms, however, do not reveal much evidence of this divide. It could be that state party platforms just aren’t a good measure of intra-party divisions (although my previous research does capture some meaningful diversity of agenda attention). Dan Hopkins recent book shows that parties are nationalizing and the state party platforms over the last century show greater homogeneity within each party. I wonder, though, if this nationalization could also show when the parties are becoming internally divided. In other words, if the divisions are being fought at the national level, then factional struggles at the state level should reflect this (as seen in several recent primaries as well as control over state party organizations).
I didn’t find evidence that states won by Clinton or Sanders were ideologically different; ditto for Trump versus states won by Establishment GOP candidates (there were some differences using sentiment analysis). Again, it could be the fact that platforms, because they aren’t written in every state and revised every year, won’t capture these divisions. Still, one of my conclusion was that newly engaged party activists have not sought to institutionalize their ideals into formal party documents as they have in the past. I wonder, however, as the Democratic Party moves away from caucuses, that this indicates past processes of party agenda formation are anachronistic. In an age of social media and online fundraising, the party organization is large and cumbersome mechanism to move when other smaller organizational tools and vehicles are available. As political scientists, we devote a lot of our research to understanding how parties as organizations reflect the goals of politicians, social movements, and activists. I just wonder if, as with many other institutions, parties will become less important in the coming years. Sure, it’s a big leap from a single year of state party platforms to this conclusion. Still, I think its worth thinking about how parties formalize their agendas and what this means about party organizational strength.