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No Middle Ground

How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures

Seth E. Masket

Publication Year: 2009

Despite the debilitating effects of partisanship on democratic government, political parties have gained strength in state governments as well as in Washington in recent years. In many cases these parties function as machines, manipulating votes and determining which candidates can credibly compete in a primary. Focusing on the history and politics of California, Seth E. Masket reveals how these political machines evolved and how they stay in power by directing money, endorsements, and expertise to candidates who often tend toward the ideological extreme. Masket's provocative conclusion argues that typical politicians are not inherently partisan. Instead, partisanship is thrust upon them by actors outside the government with the power to manipulate primary elections, to the detriment of the democratic process. Seth E. Masket is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Denver. "Masket's analysis is fresh, convincing, and interesting. It offers a new perspective on American political parties." ---David Mayhew, Yale University "Masket develops an original, insightful account of the polarization of American politics over the last few decades. It is rooted in the development of new methods by which policy motivated activists have organized to influence political parties in nominations and in policy-making. He provides a convincing explanation for one of the most important political phenomena of the last forty years." ---John Aldrich, Duke University "No Middle Ground takes on the very hard task of documenting behind-the-scenes partisan behavior in the especially murky world of pre-nomination maneuvering." ---Casey Dominguez, University of San Diego "This is a fascinating book. It is one of the best studies of the ways that parties and politics get conducted in any American state. Masket shows that legislators can be perfectly content without parties that control agendas and does a terrific job of explaining the transition from free-wheeling legislators to rigidly partisan voting blocs." ---Sam Popkin, University of California, San Diego "No Middle Ground makes a significant contribution to the study of American parties and legislative politics." ---Matthew Green, Catholic University of America

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. ix-xi

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Introduction: Extreme Partisanship

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pp. 1-22

In the summer of 2003, as California’s state legislators attempted to close a $38 billion deficit in a $100 billion budget, the parties stayed about as ideologically distant from each other as possible. Democrats wanted only modest cuts in services, but higher income taxes on the wealthy, a tripling of the car registration...

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Chapter 1 The Modern Political Party

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pp. 23-53

For decades after its 1974 publication, David Mayhew’s Congress: The Electoral Connection was considered the premier text for anyone wishing to understand how members of Congress behaved. The description was not a pretty one for anyone who believed in the value of party government...

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Chapter 2 The True Character of Politicians

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pp. 54-86

Character, it is said, is how one behaves when nobody is looking. What, then, is the character of a politician? Moral implications aside, we may use this line of thought to inquire about the nature of partisanship among politicians. Are legislators natural...

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Chapter 3 150 Years of Legislative Party Behavior

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pp. 87-107

The previous chapter largely focused on California’s political history in the 1950s, noting changes in voter and legislative behavior in response to the insertion of party labels on the primary ballot and the banning of cross-filing. This analysis painted a picture of politicians as nonideological reelection...

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Chapter 4 A Visit to the Smoke-Filled Room

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pp. 109-159

An old joke tells of a drunk who looks for his lost car keys under a lamppost because that’s where the light is best. Political scientists are commonly criticized for this sort of “drunkard’s search.” They are accused, that is, of using the most convenient forms of data to test their theories, even if such data miss much...

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Chapter 5 Measuring the Power of Informal Party Organizations

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pp. 160-187

The qualitative evidence presented in the last chapter suggested that various political actors bond together to form informal party organizations, controlling nominations and exerting influence over the governing process. Ultimately, however, that conclusion is based upon the statements of individuals with their own agendas. It is one thing to show that these organizations exist...

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Conclusion: The Price and Payoff of Parties

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pp. 188-203

The preceding chapters have covered more than 150 years of political history utilizing a variety of research methods, from qualitative interviews to complex statistical analyses. Before concluding, it is worth asking what exactly we have learned from this multifaceted view of California’s political...

List of Interviews

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pp. 205-206


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pp. 207-218


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pp. 219-227

E-ISBN-13: 9780472022120
E-ISBN-10: 0472022121
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472034673
Print-ISBN-10: 0472034677

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 11 Tables, 19 Figures
Publication Year: 2009