Local Political Parties Healthy, But Differences Emerge Over Compromise

Sep 14, 2011, 10:54 ET from Allegheny College Office of Campus Communications

MEADVILLE, Pa., Sept. 14, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As part of research on the viability of local political parties in the United States, the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College released the results of a new poll of nearly 500 local party officials from across the nation.  

Overall, the picture seems bright for local party organizations.  A vast majority of the party leaders surveyed (78 percent) believe their party committee is doing better than in the past.  "Given the vital role that local parties play in our democracy, it's good to hear they are doing well," said Daniel M. Shea, director of the CPP and lead author of the study.

Democratic and Republican party leaders generally agreed on a range of issues, from the use of particular technologies to the types of activities party committees should sponsor.  "In many respects, there was a great deal of consensus," Shea said.  

There was, however, one glaring exception: whether they believed elected officials should stand firm on their principles or try to find areas of compromise when grappling with difficult issues.  Seventy-eight percent of Republican leaders contend that elected officials should stick to their principles and not seek compromise solutions, while 12 percent of Democratic chairs said the same.   Conversely, 88 percent of Democratic chairs thought politicians should find compromises.  Just 22 percent of GOP leaders held a similar view.  "There are always modest partisan differences when you talk to local party leaders," Shea said. "Yet this disparity is stunning.  I've never seen anything like it."

Shea expressed concern about what these results might suggest for future budget negotiations in Congress. "It is hard to imagine middle-of-the-road solutions springing from Congress when 8 out of 10 local GOP party leaders expect their elected officials to stand firm," he said.  "And you can bet all members of Congress pay close attention to these party chairs, given the next primary election is always just around the corner."

A related finding was that 78 percent of the chairs believe Americans are more polarized than in the past, and 65 percent believe their own communities are more polarized than in previous years.

In 2010 the CPP conducted three polls on political civility in an attempt to gauge what the average American voter was thinking. The new poll, conducted this summer, went directly to the leaders of local party committees.   They were asked numerous questions about their organizations and their personal views regarding the tone of politics in general.  

Other key findings of the summer survey include: 73 percent of the chairs say that politics has become less civil in the past few years and 68 percent believe nasty politics is harmful to our democracy.   On a more encouraging note, the CPP study found that 90 percent of party leaders polled believe that aggressive but respectful politics is still possible.  

This summer's Survey on Local Party Vitality was conducted via e-mail through Survey Monkey, Palo Alto, Calif., between July 15 and Aug. 1.  Questionnaires were sent to approximately 1,500 Democratic and 1,500 Republican local party leaders.  In all, 475 party leaders returned the survey, yielding a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.  Fifty-eight percent of the respondents were Democrats; 42 percent were Republicans.

To access data from the Survey on Local Party Vitality, go to http://sites.allegheny.edu/cpp/.

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Dan Shea

SOURCE Allegheny College Office of Campus Communications