Richard Herrera, "The Origins of Opinion of American
Party Activists," Party Politics, 5 (April 1999),
In representative democracies, political parties perform a
variety of functions that maintain and foster democratic
governance. Perhaps the most important role they play is
that of a linkage between the governed and the governors.
Parties, through their activists, are the conduits through
which information about preferences held by the citizenry
are transmitted to elected officials (Key, 1964: 200-3,
218-20). They also dispatch information about politics to
the electorate to inform, educate and lead public opinion
(Berelson et al., 1954; McClosky and Zaller, 1984); Carmines
and Stimson, 1989). Hence, political parties are originators
as well as receptors of the views held by citizens about
political affairs. The capacity of political parties to be
good learners as well as skilled educators is, to a great
degree, dependent on the characteristics and motivations of
its active members.
Figures and Tables:
Table 1: Delegates' reasons for political involvement
Table 2: The effects of electoral incentives and candidate
support on activists' ideological self-placement, 1988.
Table 3: The effects of electoral incentives and candidate
support on activists' ideological self-placement, 1992.
The forces that mold and shape the opinions of American
political parties, while variable, appear to point in the
same direction for both Republicans and Democrats. What
appears to matter most, regardless of party, are the
candidates who choose to take advantage of the loosely
coupled party nomination process. When 'non-traditional'
candidates enter the fray they activate segments of the
party and shape the views of those party activists who in
turn can be expected to influence the views of rank-and-file
partisans as they play the role of opinion leaders. A
patty's structure of opinion at any one time will depend on
the would-be leaders of the party who choose to either
stimulate followers or stifle potential activists.