Check your References — the Electoral College

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

What is the purpose of the electoral college? How did it come into existence? These are questions answered Matthew Bowman in this article that touches on the thorny math issues behind our elections.

Multiple measures have been proposed to more closely align the Electoral College with the popular vote. One of the more commonly mentioned solutions is proportional representation; that is, rather than the winner of the presidential election in each state taking all that state’s electoral votes, the state would distribute those votes in proportion to the election results. Such a reform would almost certainly enhance the chances of third parties to gain electoral votes. However, since the Constitution requires a majority of the Electoral College for victory, this solution would most likely throw many more presidential elections to the House of Representatives. For instance, under this system the elections of 1912, 1968, and 1992 would all have been decided by the House. Thus, proportional representation would undo two of the Framers’ wishes, tying the presidency not only closer to the general public but perhaps unintentionally to Congress as well. The Colorado electorate rejected a state constitutional amendment for proportional representation in 2004.

Read the complete article here: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2By-the-Numbers.Electoral-College.pdf

 

The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit http://press.princeton.edu. Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.

Check your References — Democracy as a National Value

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

Alexander Keyssar examines how the right to vote became a reality for every American in this fascinating article. He demonstrates that what we take for granted was hard-earned and fought for and may still need protection.

The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment was a major milestone in the history of the right to vote. Yet significant barriers to universal suffrage remained in place, and they were not shaken by either the prosperity of the 1920s or the Great Depression of the 1930s. African Americans in the South remained disfranchised, many immigrants still had to pass literacy tests, and some recipients of relief in the 1930s were threatened with exclusion because they were “paupers.” Pressures for change, however, began to build during World War II, and they intensified in the 1950s and 1960s. The result was the most sweeping transformation in voting rights in the nation’s history: almost all remaining limitations on the franchise were eliminated as the federal government overrode the long tradition of states’ rights and became the guarantor of universal suffrage. Although focused initially on African Americans in the South, the movement for change spread rapidly, touching all regions of the nation.

Not surprisingly, such a major set of changes had multiple sources.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century:

Conflict over the exercise of the right to vote could still be found in the United States more than 200 years after the nation’s founding. Indeed, the disputed presidential election of 2000, between Al Gore and George W. Bush, revolved in part around yet another dimension of the right to vote— the right to have one’s vote counted, and counted accurately. Perhaps inescapably, the breadth of the franchise, as well as the ease with which it could be exercised, remained embedded in partisan politics, in the pursuit of power in the world’s most powerful nation. The outcomes of elections mattered, and those outcomes often were determined not just by how people voted but also by who voted. The long historical record suggested that— however much progress had been achieved between 1787 and 2008— there would be no final settlement of this issue. The voting rights of at least some Americans could always be potentially threatened and consequently would always be in need of protection.

Read the complete article here: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2Voting.DemocracyasNationalValue.pdf

 

The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit http://press.princeton.edu. Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.

Check your References — Religion and Politics since 1945

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

Patrick Allitt covers a lot of ground in this article on religion and politics since 1945 including the impact of the Cold War, civil rights, the Vietnam War, the 1967 Six- Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, abortion politics, the growth of the new Christian Right and Left, and Catholic child abuse scandals. Here’s a short intro:

The United States in the second half of the twentieth century was, paradoxically, both very secular and very religious. Like most other industrialized democracies, it conducted its daily business in a pragmatic and down- to- earth way. At the same time, however, most of its citizens believed that an omnipotent God was watching over them. While the church membership rate in Western Europe had dwindled to just 4 or 5 percent, in the United States it was still over 50 percent. American religion and politics, meanwhile, were linked in complex ways, even though the First Amendment to the Constitution specified their separation.

No aspirant to high political office could be indifferent to religious questions, and every school board in the country had to wrestle with the problem of what religious symbols and activities they should allow on their campuses without displeasing the Supreme Court. The evangelist Billy Graham befriended every president between Harry Truman and George W. Bush, and all of them valued his goodwill. As recently as 2007, the governor of Georgia held a meeting on the steps of his state capitol, during a drought, to beseech God for rain.

European sociologists early in the twentieth century predicted a continuous process of secularization for industrial societies, and the experience of most nations vindicated them. Why was the United States such an exception?

 

Read the complete article here: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2Religion-and-Politics.pdf

 

The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit http://press.princeton.edu. Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.

Check your References — Public Opinion Polls

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

In this article Sarah E. Igo reveals the origins of the “straw poll” and other fascinating tidbits from the long history of trying to predict the winners in American politics. Here’s a short excerpt:

Starting in the nineteenth century, rudimentary political surveys, whether for entertainment or electoral gain, were undertaken by reporters, party loyalists, and ordinary citizens. In the 1820s, partisan newspapers began conducting straw polls as a means of both calculating and swaying political contests. “Straws,” named for the way a straw held up in the wind could determine which way it was blowing, were haphazard instruments for gauging opinion, with passengers on a train or people encountered during a phase of a political campaign polled as the entire sample. Regardless, these quantitative surveys were popular news features into the twentieth century, encouraging a “horse race” approach to reporting elections that continues to the present.

The current American political process is nearly unimaginable without public opinion polls. These surveys measure not only the relative standing of candidates for office but also citizens’ views on myriad social and political issues. Attempts to record political opinion are as old as the nation. But such polls, at least in their contemporary guise, date only from the mid- 1930s, when George Gallup, Elmo Roper, and Archibald Crossley championed the ability of scientific sampling methods to reveal the “pulse of democracy.” The modern public opinion poll— along with its ramifications for U.S. politics and civic life— was born of their success.

 

Read the complete article here: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2Predicting-Politics.Public-Opinion-Polls.pdf

 

The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit http://press.princeton.edu. Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.

Check your References — the Press and Politics

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

Charles L. Ponce De Leon looks at the surprising history of the press and politics in this lengthy article noting that earlier news outlets avoided domestic politics so as not to offend their patrons. When and how did things changed? How have we arrived at the wary antipathy between politics and press we have today? Here’s a short excerpt:


The press has played a major role in American politics from the founding of the republic. Once subordinate to politicians and the major parties, it has become increasingly independent, compelling politicians and elected officials to develop new strategies to ensure favorable publicity and public support.

Newspapers in the colonial era were few in number and very different from what they would later become. Operated by individual entrepreneurs who produced a variety of printed materials, newspapers included little political news. Instead, their few columns were devoted to foreign news and innocuous correspondence that would not offend colonial officials or the wealthy patrons on whom printers relied for much of their business.

This began to change during the Revolutionary era, when printers were drawn into the escalating conflict with Great Britain.

Fast forward to the 21st century:

But it is an open question whether the welter of often fiercely partisan and ideologically driven sources of political news in America serves— or will ever serve— the larger cause of public enlightenment. Can a mode of discourse that is designed at least in part to entertain, in a popular culture marketplace that is fragmented into increasingly specialized niche markets, ever contribute to inclusive, constructive debate? Or will it reach its logical conclusion and become another species of show biz?

 

Read the complete article here: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2Media-gossip.pdf

 

The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit http://press.princeton.edu. Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.

Check your References — Antiparty Sentiment

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

What is the history of antiparty sentiment in America? Stuart M. Blumin offers some insight into the origins of antiparty sentiment from our Founding Fathers to present day in this short excerpt.

Hostility toward the political party has been an important dimension of American culture from the earliest days of the republic. During the first three or four decades following the adoption of the Constitution, antiparty sentiment derived primarily from the central tenets of classical republican theory, as this ancient body of thought was developed and reshaped by British political philosophers during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Particularly important were two related concepts: that effective and just government flows from the decisions of virtuous leaders pursuing the public good rather than their own or others’ private interests; and that the political influence of those interests and interest groups that do emerge within society must be transitory and contained, so that no single interest acquires enduring power over all others and over the republic as a whole.

Read the complete article here: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2Political-Parties.Antiparty-Sentiment.pdf

 

The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit http://press.princeton.edu. Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.

Check your References — Campaign Consultants

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

First up, campaign consultants. What is a campaign consultant? When did campaigns start hiring experts to guide them through thorny and often divisive primaries and elections?

In this excerpt, Dennis W. Johnson, offers a brief introduction to the history of this relatively new political phenomenon.

But in contests for big- city mayors, governors, members of Congress, and other contests, professional political consultants are used to help guide candidates, political parties, and interest groups through the complexities of today’s elections. These are the expensive, often high- profile contests, where candidates and interested parties will raise hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars to fund their races. It is not unusual for candidates for the U.S. Senate to raise and spend $10 to $15 million. It was once a rarity for candidates for Congress to spend $1 million; now it is commonplace. In some jurisdictions, candidates who are elected to the state supreme court might spend $5 or $8 million, while some school board candidates in big cities have been known to spend well over $100,000. Statewide spending in California presents a special case. In 2005 alone, with no governor, no state legislators, and no other state officials to elect, still over $500 million was spent by participants trying to defend or defeat ballot issues.

Where does the money go? Much of it, of course, goes to television advertising or direct- mail expenses, but a considerable portion goes to a battery of professionals who are hired by the campaigns to help win the public over to their side. Campaign consulting is a thriving business; no serious candidate in an important contest can do without consultants. Yet, campaign consulting is a relatively new business.

Read the complete article here: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2Campaigning.Campaign-Consultants.pdf

 

The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit http://press.princeton.edu. Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.