Much media attention and polling points to the predominance of Super PACs, the role of outside money, and a heightened focus on candidate-centered campaigning. However, a new book by UMass Dartmouth Political Science professors Shannon Jenkins and Doug Roscoe demonstrates that at the local level, party organization has remained critically important in American politics. Local Party Organizations in the Twenty-First Century examines the central role of local political parties and the "electoral payoff" for candidates who are helped by more active parties at the local level.
“One of the key patterns we find in our data is a shift in local party activity toward more grass-roots activities like canvassing, placing lawn signs, voter registration and so on,” Professor Roscoe said. “Local parties are doing more with this kind of volunteer labor. We think this reflects an adaptation to a changing environment. More and more, candidates are coming back to the ground game.”
Despite sweeping changes in the political environment, remarkably little research has sought to understand precisely how these local parties are structured, what they do, and whether they have any impact on the political system. Professors Jenkins and Roscoe utilized data collected from more than 1,100 local parties in forty-eight states to provide the most thorough examination of the role of local political parties in the U.S. political system. They attempt to show that party organizations take particular forms and engage in certain activities because political actors find these forms and activities useful for winning elections.
“One of the key themes of our book is that political parties are remarkably adaptive organizations,” Professor Jenkins said. “They have survived numerous challenges to their survival - the introduction of the secret ballot, the direct primary, and campaign finance to name a few. Despite this, they continue to remain relevant to candidates, politicians, and voters. The political landscape will continue to evolve, and so will political parties.”
Past research has centered primarily on the role of national and state political parties in the United States. Local Party Organizations in the Twenty-First Century demonstrates the continuing central role of local political parties in the electoral process, providing readers with a more comprehensive understanding of the U.S. party system.