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Holly Brasher, "The Dynamic Character of Political Party Evaluations," Party Politics, 15 (January, 2009), 69-92.

First paragraph:
The stability of American political life encourages us to assume that the relationship between political parties and issues is constant over time. The profound change in party alignment produced by the issue of civil rights is readily recalled. But beyond this, we assume that the Republicans are the party of a strong national defence, a tough stand on crime and lower taxes. Similarly, we assume that the Democratic Party will do a better job with education, protecting the environment and advancing civil rights. We perceive the relationship between parties and issues to be static. However, some public policy issues on the national agenda are significant to such a large segment of the electorate that neither party can simply cede the issue to the other party. All Americans want a good economy, and all parents want a good education for their children. We should expect that both parties will offer initiatives and take steps to create a positively perceived association between their party and many important issues. Particularly in an era when party identification in the electorate is so closely divided between the two major parties (Wirls, 2001), it becomes even more important for the parties to compete for credibility on issues. Much like business competitors, parties challenge each other directly on issues and are not content to divide up the universe of issues and partition a space for themselves.

Figures and Tables:
Figure 1. Which party do you trust to do a better job with education, taxes, the economy, inflation and unemployment?
Figure 2. Which party do you trust to do a better job with keeping the United States prosperous?
Figure 3. Which party do you trust to do a better job with keeping the United States out of war?
Table 1. Components of comparative party evaluations. Dependent variable: Democratic advantage on doing a better job with the issue
Table 2. Components of comparative party evaluations, 1952-2001. Dependent variable: Democratic advantage in doing a better job with the issue
Table 3. Comparative party evaluations and the congressional vote, 1952-2000. Dependent variable: Democratic percentage of the House vote

First Paragraph of Conclusion:
The results presented here indicate that the comparative party evaluations have a unique usefulness in the analysis of the public preferences. Despite the independent movement of the seven series, there are common predictors of movement in public opinion about the parties' abilities to handle issues. In the long series, a winning presidential campaign moves opinion favourably towards the party and a positive assessment of its capacity to handle issues. In the longer series, even without an institutional platform, the campaign phenomenon can change opinion. In the shorter series, we see that the presidential out-party benefits from having a solid institutional platform in Congress from which to make its case. If a party has control of an institutional platform, it has an opportunity to create a favourable evaluation of its party's capacity to handle an issue relative to the president's party. And, finally, for the president, strong public approval enhances the public perception of the party's ability to handle issues. Conversely, approval of Congress decreases public confidence in the congressional majority party's ability to do a better job with an issue relative to the opposing party.

Last updated December 2008