Political Science 540, American National Institutions, Spring 2000

Prof. Frank Baumgartner


Questions and discussion topics for week 5, February 7:


Readings: Aldrich, Why Parties?


NOTE: We will meet for a shortened class from 9 to 10 AM on the regular Wednesday meeting time, and in addition we will meet on Friday at a time to be announced with John Aldrich.


Choose one of these topics for a five page paper if you choose to do one this week. In any case, come to class prepared to discuss the following:


1.      Parties in the US are quite different from parties elsewhere. In particular, we have no mass parties. Does Aldrich’s explanation of what parties do help explain this peculiarity?

2.      Parties are created by individual politicians for certain reasons that Aldrich explains. But then individual politicians are constrained in their behaviors by the institutional structures of parties. Thus the institutions of parties are endogenous to the preferences of politicians. So do we need a theory of institutions, or just a theory of individual preferences?

3.      What are the problems that parties currently solve for politicians? Why have these changed over the years?

4.      Consider the structure of the book and the nature of the evidence presented. Does the evidence convince you, or is it the argument and logic (or are you not convinced)? Discuss ways to strengthen the evidence.

5.      Compare Aldrich’s theory of parties with other approaches to the study of parties. Is his a general theory of parties, or useful only for a narrower set of questions?