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Six Questions & Discussion on American Politics
During the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, two primary plans were forwarded that shaped the development and discussion at the convention that would forever impact the shape of American politics. The first plan, the Virginia Plan, introduced by Governor Randolph, was an effort to simply revise the existing Articles of Confederation. It was characterized by three major points: the structural exclusion of states from elections and representation at the national level, reductions of powers to individual states, and the abandonment of the some national features of republicanism like institutional separation of powers. The Virginia Plan was countered by two alternative plans, and a division at the Convention: the New Jersey Plan that believed the Virginia Plan went too far in affording power to the national government, and the Hamilton Plan that argued the Virginia Plan didn't go far enough (Lloyd).
New Jersey Plan advocates, led by Luther Martin from Maryland, continued questioning the validity of such sweeping federalism. Hamilton Plan enthusiasts, under Alexander Hamilton, countered that a strong national republican government was the most ideal form for a new country. The Convention seemed at an impasses between these two divergent philosophies of government. In late June, however, Oliver Ellsworth proposed a compromise: a mixture of national and federal elements that would move the Convention beyond dogmatic paradigms that showed no hope of resolution. This compromise would become known as the Connecticut Compromise and amounted to dividing Congress into a Senate, which created representation for the states, and a House, which represented the electorate directly. Other key compromises included the division of power between the states and the national government, the decision to not regulate or abolish slavery, and the development of the Electoral College as the means to elect the president. All of these additional compromises were also necessary and important for moving the Convention forward towards an acceptable Constitution that delegates could take back to their respective states (Lloyd).
Question #2: Federalism
Federalism is "the theory or advocacy of federal political orders, where final authority is divided between sub-units and a center" (Follesdal). In the case of American politics, this means that political sovereignty is split between the central, federal government and the geographically dispersed states governments. On a practical level, this means that individual citizens must have political obligations to two (or more, in the case of other political situations) levels of political authority. State laws must be followed, though only for the state in which one is at the time, and federal laws must also be obeyed, regardless of which state one is in. The sub-units in this kind of political organization generally also retain some manner of representation in the central government. In the case of the United States, this representation is accomplished primarily through state representation in the U.S. Senate, which affords each state two delegates in the legislative branch.
Article Four of the U.S. Constitution outlines four areas that outline and limit states' political authority in the federalist government. One, the Full Faith & Credit Section of the Article establishes that all states must honor the decisions and public acts of other states. Two, the Obligations of States Section includes clauses on privileges & immunities, extradition of criminals, and fugitive slaves. Three, Section Three explains the process by which new states can be admitted into the Union, and also reserves the final authority of the federal government over all matters within its borders. Finally, Section Four explains the obligations of the U.S. government to the states, including the guarantee of a lasting republican government and protection from invasion & domestic violence.
The obvious advantages of this system are the retention of political power close to individual citizens' lives, decentralization of political authority, obligations between the primary and sub-units of government, and the use of the national government to protect and enforce order from external and internal strife.
Question #3: Political Parties
Political parties in the United States have historically performed vital functions for American society. This is true in the past, and it remains true today as well. Political parties allow voters to form more monolithic blocks for political action than would be possible if individuals splits along more individualistic lines. Political parties allow for social cohesion and group integration for political action. A large number of citizens can thus rally under the banner of a single political party, even though their personal views might diverge somewhat from the larger party line. This ability to support a political party allows American politics to take on a less fractured and divided nature, as lines can be more easily drawn along broader ideological grounds than simple individual preference. For historical context, we shall consider some past political parties: the Federalist and Democratic-Republicans, the Democrats and Whigs, and the 19th century Democrats and Republicans.
The Federalists were interested in enhancing federal power and the creation of a national bank, while the Democrat-Republicans were interested in decentralizing political power within the U.S. The Federalists declined and disappeared with the election of 1800 and subsequent unpopularity. The Democratic-Republicans also soon vanished, by 1820, as without an opposition, there was little need for the party itself ("Evolution"). The Democrats emerged in the 1820s under the auspices of Andrew Jackson and his generally populist philosophy of personal liberty and anti-Federalism. But resistance immediately formed regarding Jackson and his politics, and a new party, the Whigs, was born as an opposition party. Though factional in nature, the Whigs were united in their hatred for Jackson and his politics. It became the party of the resistance. This Democratic party, conservative in operation, would continue in 19th century American politics, though the Whigs vanished from the scene to be replaced by post-Civil War Republicans formed of abolitionists and Northern businessmen. The Republicans cemented their position in American politics with a victory in the election of 1860 ("Evolution").
Question #4: Voters and Voting
Understanding why voters actually bother to vote is important in political theory. It can be especially important for politicians who want to motivate voters to vote in their favor. But despite ideologically claims that voting is a privilege in a modern democracy, voter apathy continues to increase through the United States, leading many to conclude that the reasons we have for voting are not necessarily tied to its presumed importance to our society. The amount of time that it takes to be prepared to vote -- understanding the candidates' positions, and actually registering -- must be combined with the time it take to perform such a seemingly simple act that has little hope to meaningfully influence the outcome of the political decision. These are the barriers that voters face to political action; yet, voters do still vote. We must investigate what continues to motivate at least some potential voters.
There are a number of approaches that have been used to understand why voters vote the way that they do in elections, or why they vote at all. Some research suggests that voters vote in particular ways through a desire to fit in with the rest of their perceived social community (Munsey). This approach to voter voting patterns could help us better understand why voters in particular communities will often tend to vote in similar ways. In U.S. presidential elections, voters are often divided on candidates based on demographic factors such as geographic location or affluence. This theory of voting presupposes that voters have a desire to express their group identification through the act of voting. Another theory of voting suggests that egocentrism, rather than social identification or altruism, could be at work. Egocentric approaches to understanding voters focus on the voter's illusion that because he/she votes a particular way then likeminded individuals will do the same. Additionally, the egocentric theory suggests that voters believe they can forecast the results of an election by suggesting what would happen if they do not vote, thus reinforcing their importance to the process (Munsey). Though there are undoubtedly many factors at work, these theories to voter behavior deepen our understanding of the motivations of voters who actually go to the polls.
Question #5: Election of 2004
The United States 2004 Presidential Election highlighted increased polarization of the political voting patterns, in particular in the voting patterns of religious groups in the United States. Though this kind of polarization occurred across many demographic groups in the United States, religious groups found themselves to be particularly divided over the issue of who to vote for, as voters who felt strongly about their religious convictions found it increasingly difficult to balance their religious beliefs with the political positions of the relative presidential candidates: George W. Bush and John Kerry.
A study of this polarization revealed a number of revealing conclusions about voter voting patters during the 2004 presidential election, specifically with regard to religious groups (Green et al.). These voting patterns include:
1. Mainline protestants, generally Republican in the past, were divided equally between the two candidates, surprisingly shifting…[continue]
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