Notes on Parties and Elections


Constitutional provisions and Framers' expectations

Provisions of Article II Sec. 1 Framers' expectations
Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors... Most states would probably set up direct elections for Electoral College, probably based on districting.
no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector ... Presidential and congressional officers and election processes would be politically independent of one another.
The electors shall meet in their respective states ... the day on which they shall give their votes...shall be the same throughout the United States. Simultaneous and dispersed electoral college deliberations would minimize "intrigue" (political strategizing and manipulation).
The electors by ballot for two persons. ... The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed... Electors would deliberate and choose using their own judgment.
...and if there be more than one who have such majority, and have an equal number of votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately choose by ballot one of them for President; and if no person have a majority, then from the five highest on the list the said House shall in like manner choose the President. Electoral College would usually serve as a sort of nomination process, providing up to five candidates for selection in the House.
...after the choice of the President, the person having the greatest number of votes of the electors shall be the Vice President. The VP will simply be the runner-up for President, and thus a worthy replacement or successor.

And of course, overall (and above all), the Framers thought their rules would discourage the formation of factions and parties.

Americans love to make stuff up about what the Framers intended about presidential elections. This past week: Matt Yglesias tweet about Patrick Ruffini's self-styled "hot takes" on the Framers’ intent w.r.t Electoral College:


The Presidential Games

  • The early game (1789-1800)
    • the Republican ideal -- recall basic concepts
    • the expected nature of candidates, campaigns, and presidents
    • the development of parties
    • the "fatal defect": 36 ballots for House to choose Jefferson over Burr
      • A "peaceful revolution"?
      • A Federalist coup attempt?
      • A Jeffersonian transformation?
  • The Virginia Game (1801-1820)
    • nominations by congressional caucus
    • neutering the Vice Presidency
    • Table: Methods for choosing Electors
  • The Game of Faction (1821-1831)
    • the "radical defect"
    • a "democratic ideal" -- recall basic concepts; implications for the franchise, campaigns, the presidency, and public policy
  • The Party Game (1832-44)
    • nominating conventions (anti-Masons, Nat’l Repubs 1831)
    • theatrical campaigns
    • new principles concerning the role of party in a democracy
  • The Party Game, continued (1844-1968)
    • Table: Changes in the Presidential Game after 1844
  • The Primary Elections Game (1972-present)
    • McGovern-Fraser Commission Report (1971): "The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy."
    • McGovern landslide loss: the need for a "party establishment"
    • the invisible primary: donors and endorsements before the primaries
    • failure of the invisible primary: Carter? Obama? definitely with Trump


for reference: Election Atlas


Development of parties

Ultimate motivations: the need for Electoral and congressional majorities

legislative issues => parties of notables identifying themselves by party label, contending for House seats
      => same notables jockey on behalf of Pres. & VP candidates

=> need to control selection of Electors
      => organize to win state legislative seats [=> control of Senate]

=> need to win popular votes, where used
      => local organization (organized by Jefferson)
      => patronage
      => party newspapers => partisan rhetoric => partisanship
      => campaigns

=> need to coordinate majority vote around a single candidate
      => need for a partisan nomination method
      => “nominating” caucuses
      => (later) party conventions


The Constitutional Role of Political Parties


This page compiled by Randall Calvert © 2018. Email comments and questions to calvert at wustl