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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 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.