This paper develops a new theory arguing that party change results from ruptures in political parties’ ties to civil society organizations. I demonstrate the utility of this approach by using it to explain why the Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) changed from a hierarchical machine to a porous political field occupied by multiple interlegislator cliques and brokered by extra-party political organizations and professionals. While others attribute party change to bureaucratization, electoral demand, or system-level changes, I analyze historical, observational, and interview data to find that a severance in the RIDP’s relationship with organized labor prompted party change by causing power to diffuse outward as leadership lost control over nominations and the careers of elected office holders. In the spaces that remained, interest groups and political professionals came to occupy central positions within the party field, serving as brokers of the information and relationships necessary to coordinate legislative activity. This analysis refines existing theories of party change and provides a historically-grounded explanation for the institutionalization of interest groups and political professionals in American party politics.
I am deeply grateful to Jennifer Bouek, Anthony Chen, Nitsan Chorev, Cedric de Leon, José Itzigsohn, Stephanie Lee Mudge, Apollonya Porcelli, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback. This paper also benefited from comments received at the 2014 Chicago Ethnography Conference and the 2014 ASA Political Sociology Roundtables. Special thanks are due to Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Josh Pacewicz for overseeing various stages of this project. Errors and omissions are my own.
Lotesta, J. (2017), "The Strength of Civil Society Ties: Explaining Party Change in America’s Bluest State", On the Cross Road of Polity, Political Elites and Mobilization (Research in Political Sociology, Vol. 24), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 257-287. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0895-993520160000024009
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