Insecure Majorities: Congress And The Perpetual Campaign

Paperback | August 23, 2016

byFrances E. Lee

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As Democrats and Republicans continue to vie for political advantage, Congress remains paralyzed by partisan conflict. That the last two decades have seen some of the least productive Congresses in recent history is usually explained by the growing ideological gulf between the parties, but this explanation misses another fundamental factor influencing the dynamic. In contrast to politics through most of the twentieth century, the contemporary Democratic and Republican parties compete for control of Congress at relative parity, and this has dramatically changed the parties’ incentives and strategies in ways that have driven the contentious partisanship characteristic of contemporary American politics.
           
With Insecure Majorities, Frances E. Lee offers a controversial new perspective on the rise of congressional party conflict, showing how the shift in competitive circumstances has had a profound impact on how Democrats and Republicans interact. For nearly half a century, Democrats were the majority party, usually maintaining control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate. Republicans did not stand much chance of winning majority status, and Democrats could not conceive of losing it. Under such uncompetitive conditions, scant collective action was exerted by either party toward building or preserving a majority. Beginning in the 1980s, that changed, and most elections since have offered the prospect of a change of party control. Lee shows, through an impressive range of interviews and analysis, how competition for control of the government drives members of both parties to participate in actions that promote their own party’s image and undercut that of the opposition, including the perpetual hunt for issues that can score political points by putting the opposing party on the wrong side of public opinion. More often than not, this strategy stands in the way of productive bipartisan cooperation—and it is also unlikely to change as long as control of the government remains within reach for both parties.
 

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As Democrats and Republicans continue to vie for political advantage, Congress remains paralyzed by partisan conflict. That the last two decades have seen some of the least productive Congresses in recent history is usually explained by the growing ideological gulf between the parties, but this explanation misses another fundamental fa...

Frances E. Lee is professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. She is the author of three books, most recently Beyond Ideology: Politics, Principles, and Partisanship in the US Senate, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Congress and Its Members

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:248 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.7 inPublished:August 23, 2016Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022640904X

ISBN - 13:9780226409047

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Chapter 1. The Ins versus the Outs
Chapter 2. A Protracted Era of Partisan Parity
Chapter 3. The Logic of Confrontation
Chapter 4. Emerging Strategies of Confrontation, 1976–94
Chapter 5. The Institutionalization of Partisan Communications
Chapter 6. The Rise of the Partisan Message Vote
Chapter 7. Governing versus Messaging: The Party Politics of the Debt Limit
Coauthored with Timothy L. Cordova
Chapter 8. Party Competition and Conflict in State Legislatures
Coauthored with Kelsey L. Hinchliffe
Chapter 9. The Perpetual Campaign and the US Constitutional System
Appendixes
Notes
References
Index
 

Editorial Reviews

“Insecure Majorities is a major contribution to our understanding of Congress and American national politics. Lee marshals an impressive array of evidence to convincingly argue that increasing ideological distance between the parties is not the only—or even the most important—factor driving the increased partisan conflict and changes in party strategy we have seen over the past three decades. Her cogent, engaging account of the nature of contemporary partisan conflict in Congress will be widely read and discussed beyond the field.”