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Assignment 7

Assignment 7: INSTRUCTIONS: You must read chapter 7 and answer all the Chapter Goals: p., 206, fully answer essay questions. You must also answer the following: 

1. Discuss fully the New Deal Party system. 

2. Is there a correlation between race and political parties according to the Chapter? Cite examples.

3. Why does this exist, if all? HINT: P.220-223. How many electoral votes does the state of Tennessee have?

4. What are PACs?

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Attachment 1

An Introduction to American Politics

We the People

121212 edition


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An Introduction to American Politics

We the People


121212 edition


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W. W. Norton & Company has been independent since its founding in 1923, when William Warder Norton and Mary D. Herter Norton first published lectures delivered at the People’s Institute, the adult education division of New York City’s Cooper Union. The firm soon expanded its program beyond the Institute, publishing books by celebrated academics from America and abroad. By mid-century, the two major pillars of Norton’s publishing program—trade books and college texts—were firmly established. In the 1950s, the Norton family transferred control of the company to its employees, and today—with a staff of four hundred and a com- parable number of trade, college, and professional titles published each year—W. W. Norton & Company stands as the largest and oldest publishing house owned wholly by its employees.

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Permission to use copyrighted material is included in the credits section of this book, which begins on page A83.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the full edition as follows:

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Ginsberg, Benjamin, author. Title: We the people : an introduction to American politics / Benjamin Ginsberg, The Johns Hopkins University, Theodore J. Lowi, Cornell University, Margaret Weir, Brown University, Caroline J. Tolbert, University of Iowa, Andrea L. Campbell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Description: Twelfth Edition. | New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2018] | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2018046033 | ISBN 9780393644326 (hardcover) Subjects: LCSH: United States--Politics and government--Textbooks. Classification: LCC JK276 .G55 2018 | DDC 320.473--dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc. gov/2018046033

ISBN 978-0-393-66464-5

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110 wwnorton.com

W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., 15 Carlisle Street, London W1D 3BS

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

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To: Teresa Spitzer Sandy, Cindy, and Alex Ginsberg David, Jackie, Eveline, and Ed Dowling Dave, Marcella, Logan, and Kennah Campbell

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Preface xxi Acknowledgments xxiii


1 ★ Introduction: The Citizen and Government 2

Government 5 Different Forms of Government Are Defined by Power

and Freedom 5 Limits on Governments Encouraged Freedom 6 Expansion of Participation in America Changed the

Political Balance 7 The Goal of Politics Is Having a Say in What Happens 7

Citizenship Is Based on Political Knowledge and Participation 8

Political Efficacy Means People Can Make a Difference 9

The Identity of Americans Has Changed over Time 10 Immigration and Increasing Ethnic Diversity Have

Long Caused Intense Debate 10 Who Are Americans Today? 12

America Is Built on the Ideas of Liberty, Equality, and Democracy 16 Liberty Means Freedom 16

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Global Diversity 17

Equality Means Treating People Fairly 18 Democracy Means That What the People Want Matters 19

Government Affects Our Lives Every Day 20 Trust in Government Has Declined 21

American Political Culture: What Do We Want? 23 WHO PARTICIPATES? Who Voted in 2016? 25

Key Terms 28 For Further Reading 29


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2 ★ The Founding and the Constitution 30

The First Founding: Ideals, Interests, and Conflicts 33 Narrow Interests and Political Conflicts Shaped the First

Founding 34 British Taxes Hurt Colonial Economic Interests 34 Political Strife Radicalized the Colonists 35 The Declaration of Independence Explained Why the Colonists

Wanted to Break with Great Britain 36 The Articles of Confederation Created America’s First National

Government 37

The Failure of the Articles of Confederation Made the “Second Founding” Necessary 38

The Annapolis Convention Was Key to Calling a National Convention 39

Shays’s Rebellion Showed How Weak the Government Was 39 The Constitutional Convention Didn’t Start Out to Write

a New Constitution 40

The Constitution Created Both Bold Powers and Sharp Limits on Power 43

The Legislative Branch Was Designed to Be the Most Powerful 44 The Executive Branch Created a Brand New Office 46 The Judicial Branch Was a Check on Too Much Democracy 47 National Unity and Power Set the New Constitution Apart

from the Old Articles 48 The Constitution Establishes the Process for Amendment 48 The Constitution Sets Forth Rules for Its Own Ratification 48 The Constitution Limits the National Government’s Power 48

Ratification of the Constitution Was Difficult 51 Federalists and Antifederalists Fought Bitterly over the Wisdom

of the New Constitution 52

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Comparing Systems of Government 55

Both Federalists and Antifederalists Contributed to the Success of the New System 56

Changing the Constitution 56 Amendments: Many Are Called; Few Are Chosen 56 The Amendment Process Reflects “Higher Law” 57

The Constitution: What Do We Want? 60 WHO PARTICIPATES? Who Gained the Right to Vote through

Amendments? 61

Key Terms 64 For Further Reading 65


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3 ★ Federalism 66

Federalism Shapes American Politics 69 Federalism Comes from the Constitution 69

The Definition of Federalism Has Changed Radically over Time 73

Federalism under the “Traditional System” Gave Most Powers to the States 73

The Supreme Court Paved the Way for the End of the Early Federal System 75

FDR’s New Deal Remade the Government 77 Changing Court Interpretations of Federalism Helped the

New Deal While Preserving States’ Rights 78 Cooperative Federalism Pushes States to Achieve

National Goals 80 National Standards Have Been Advanced through

Federal Programs 81

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Cooperative Federalism: Competition or a Check on Power? 83

New Federalism Means More State Control 85 There Is No Simple Answer to Finding the Right National–State Balance 86

Federalism: What Do We Want? 90 WHO PARTICIPATES? Who Participates in State and Local Politics? 91

Key Terms 94 For Further Reading 95

4 ★ Civil Liberties and Civil Rights 96

The Origin of the Bill of Rights Lies in Those Who Opposed the Constitution 99

The Fourteenth Amendment Nationalized the Bill of Rights through Incorporation 101

The First Amendment Guarantees Freedom of Religion, Speech, and the Press 103

Freedom of Religion 103 The First Amendment and Freedom of Speech and of the

Press Ensure the Free Exchange of Ideas 105 Political Speech Is Consistently Protected 106 Symbolic Speech, Speech Plus, Assembly, and Petition Are Highly Protected 106 Freedom of the Press Is Broad 108 Some Speech Has Only Limited Protection 109

The Second Amendment Now Protects an Individual’s Right to Own a Gun 112

Rights of the Criminally Accused Are Based on Due Process of Law 113 The Fourth Amendment Protects against Unlawful Searches and Seizures 114 The Fifth Amendment Covers Court-Related Rights 115


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The Sixth Amendment’s Right to Counsel Is Crucial for a Fair Trial 117

The Eighth Amendment Bars Cruel and Unusual Punishment 118

The Right to Privacy Means the Right to Be Left Alone 119

Civil Rights Are Protections by the Government 120 Plessy v. Ferguson Established “Separate but Equal” 121 Lawsuits to Fight for Equality Came after World War II 122 The Civil Rights Struggle Escalated after Brown v. Board

of Education 123 The Civil Rights Acts Made Equal Protection a Reality 125 Affirmative Action Attempts to Right Past Wrongs 128

The Civil Rights Struggle Was Extended to Other Disadvantaged Groups 130

Americans Have Fought Gender Discrimination 130 Latinos and Asian Americans Fight for Rights 132 Native Americans Have Sovereignty but Still Lack Rights 134

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Civil Liberties around the World 135

Disabled Americans Won a Great Victory in 1990 136 LGBTQ Americans 136

Civil Liberties and Civil Rights: What Do We Want? 137 WHO PARTICIPATES? Religious Affiliation and Freedom of Religion 139

Key Terms 142 For Further Reading 143


5 ★ Public Opinion 144

Public Opinion Represents Attitudes about Politics 147 Americans Share Common Political Values 148 America’s Dominant Political Ideologies Are Liberalism

and Conservatism 149 Americans Exhibit Low Trust in Government 152

Political Socialization Shapes Public Opinion 152

Political Knowledge Is Important in Shaping Public Opinion 157

The Media and Government Mold Opinion 160 The Government Leads Public Opinion 160 Private Groups Also Shape Public Opinion 161 The News Media’s Message Affects Public Opinion 161 Government Policies Also Respond to Public Opinion 162


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Measuring Public Opinion Is Crucial to Understanding What It Is 163 Public-Opinion Surveys Are Accurate If Done Properly 163

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Confidence in Democratic Institutions 164

Why Are Some Polls Wrong? 166

Public Opinion: What Do We Want? 169 WHO PARTICIPATES? Who Expresses Their Political Opinions? 171

Key Terms 174 For Further Reading 175

6 ★ The Media 176

Media Have Always Mattered in a Democracy 179 Journalists Are News-Gathering Professionals 179 The Profit Motive Drives the News Business 180 More Media Outlets Are Owned by Fewer

Companies 180

The Media Today 182 Newspapers Still Set the Standard for News

Reporting 183 Broadcast Media Are Still Popular 184 Radio Has Adapted to Modern Habits 185 Digital Media Have Transformed Media Habits 186 Citizen Journalism Gives People News Power 189 Concerns about Online News 190

The Media Affect Power Relations in American Politics 191 The Media Influence Public Opinion through Agenda-Setting,

Framing, and Priming 191 Leaked Information Can Come from Government Officials

or Independent Sources 193 Adversarial Journalism Has Risen in Recent Years 194 Broadcast Media Are Regulated but Not Print Media 194

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE The Internet and Global Democracy 196

The Media: What Do We Want? 197 WHO PARTICIPATES? Civic Engagement in the Digital Age 199

Key Terms 202 For Further Reading 203


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7 ★ Political Parties, Participation, and Elections 204

Parties and Elections Have Been Vital to American Politics and Government 207

Political Parties Arose from the Electoral Process 207 Parties Recruit Candidates 208 Parties Organize Nominations 208 Parties Help Get Out the Vote 209 Parties Organize Power in Congress 210

America Is One of the Few Nations with a Two-Party System 210 Parties Have Internal Disagreements 217 Electoral Realignments Define Party Systems in American

History 217 American Third Parties Sometimes Change the Major Parties

and Election Outcomes 218 Group Affiliations Are Based on Voters’ Psychological Ties

to One of the Parties 220

Political Participation Takes Both Traditional and Digital Forms 220

Voting Is the Most Important Form of Traditional Participation 220 Digital Political Participation Is Surging 221 Voter Turnout in America Is Low 223 Why Do People Vote? 224

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Voter Turnout in Comparison 226

Voters Decide Based on Party, Issues, and Candidate 227 Party Loyalty Is Important 227 Issues Can Shape an Election 228 Candidate Characteristics Are More Important in the Media

Age 229

The Electoral Process Has Many Levels and Rules 229 The Electoral College Still Organizes Presidential Elections 231

The 2016 and 2018 Elections 232 The 2016 Elections 232 Understanding the 2016 Results 233 The 2018 Election: A Blue Wave Meets a Red Wall 235 The 2018 Election and America’s Future 236

Money Is Critical to Campaigns 237 Campaign Funds Come from Direct Appeals, the Rich, PACs, and

Parties 237

Political Parties, Elections, and Participation: What Do We Want? 240

WHO PARTICIPATES? Who Participated in the 2016 Presidential Election? 241

Key Terms 244 For Further Reading 245


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8 ★ Interest Groups 246

Interest Groups Form to Advocate for Different Interests 249

What Interests Are Represented? 250

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Civil Society around the World 252

Some Interests Are Not Represented 253 Group Membership Has an Upper-Class Bias 253

The Organizational Components of Groups Include Money, Offices, and Members 254

The Internet Has Changed the Way Interest Groups Foster Participation 257

The Number of Groups Has Increased in Recent Decades 258 The Expansion of Government Has Spurred the Growth of Groups 259 Public Interest Groups Grew in the 1960s and ’70s 259

Interest Groups Use Different Strategies to Gain Influence 259 Direct Lobbying Combines Education, Persuasion, and Pressure 261 Cultivating Access Means Getting the Attention of Decision Makers 262 Using the Courts (Litigation) Can Be Highly Effective 263 Mobilizing Public Opinion Brings Wider Attention to an Issue 264 Groups Often Use Electoral Politics 266

Groups and Interests: What Do We Want? 267 WHO PARTICIPATES? How Much Do Major Groups Spend? 269

Key Terms 272 For Further Reading 273


9 ★ Congress 274

Congress Represents the American People 277 The House and Senate Offer Differences

in Representation 277 Representation Can Be Sociological or Agency 278 The Electoral Connection Hinges on Incumbency 281 Direct Patronage Means Bringing Home the Bacon 286

The Organization of Congress Is Shaped by Party 288 Party Leadership in the House and the Senate Organizes Power 289 The Committee System Is the Core of Congress 289 The Staff System Is the Power behind the Power 291


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AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Women’s Parliamentary Representation Worldwide 292

Rules of Lawmaking Explain How a Bill Becomes a Law 293 The First Step Is Committee Deliberation 293 Debate Is Less Restricted in the Senate Than in the House 295 Conference Committees Reconcile House and Senate Versions

of Legislation 296 The President’s Veto Controls the Flow of Legislation 297

Several Factors Influence How Congress Decides 297 Constituents Matter 297 Interest Groups Influence Constituents and Congress 298 Party Leaders Rely on Party Discipline 299 Partisanship Has Thwarted the Ability of Congress to Decide 303

Much Congressional Energy Goes to Tasks Other Than Lawmaking 303

Congress Oversees How Legislation Is Implemented 304 Special Senate Powers Include Advice and Consent 305 Impeachment Is the Power to Remove Top Officials 305

Congress: What Do We Want? 306 WHO PARTICIPATES? Who Elects Congress? 307

Key Terms 310 For Further Reading 313

10 ★ The Presidency 314

Presidential Power Is Rooted in the Constitution 317 Expressed Powers Come Directly from the Words

of the Constitution 318 Implied Powers Derive from Expressed Powers 323 Delegated Powers Come from Congress 324 Modern Presidents Have Claimed Inherent Powers 324

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Executive Branches in Comparison 325

Institutional Resources of Presidential Power Are Numerous 327

The Cabinet Is Often Distant from the President 327 The White House Staff Constitutes the President’s Eyes and

Ears 327 The Executive Office of the President Is a Visible Sign of the

Modern Strong Presidency 328 The Vice Presidency Has Become More Important since the

1970s 329 The First Spouse Has Become Important to Policy 330


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Party, Popular Mobilization, and Administration Make Presidents Stronger 331

Going Public Means Trying to Whip Up the People 332 The Administrative Strategy Increases Presidential Control 334 Presidential Power Has Limits 339

The Presidency: What Do We Want? 340 WHO PARTICIPATES? Who Voted for Donald Trump in 2016? 341

Key Terms 344 For Further Reading 345

11 ★ Bureaucracy 346

Bureaucracy Exists to Improve Efficiency 349 Bureaucrats Fulfill Important Roles 349 The Size of the Federal Service Has Actually

Declined 352 The Executive Branch Is Organized Hierarchically 352

Federal Bureaucracies Promote Welfare and Security 355

Federal Bureaucracies Promote Public Well-Being 356

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Bureaucracy in Comparison 357

Federal Agencies Provide for National Security 358 Federal Bureaucracies Help to Maintain a Strong National Economy 362

Several Forces Control Bureaucracy 363 The President as Chief Executive Can Direct Agencies 363 Congress Promotes Responsible Bureaucracy 365 Can the Bureaucracy Be Reformed? 366

Bureaucracy and Democracy: What Do We Want? 367 WHO PARTICIPATES? Waiting for a Veterans Affairs Health Care Appointment 369

Key Terms 372 For Further Reading 373

12 ★ The Federal Courts 374

The Legal System Settles Disputes 377 Court Cases Proceed under Criminal and Civil Law 377 Types of Courts Include Trial, Appellate, and Supreme 378

The Federal Courts Hear a Small Percentage of All Cases 381

The Lower Federal Courts Handle Most Cases 381 The Appellate Courts Hear 20 Percent of Lower-Court Cases 382 The Supreme Court Is the Court of Final Appeal 383 Judges Are Appointed by the President and Approved by the Senate 384


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The Power of the Supreme Court Is Judicial Review 385 Judicial Review Covers Acts of Congress 386

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Term Limits for High Court Justices 387

Judicial Review Applies to Presidential Actions 388 Judicial Review Also Applies to State Actions 389

Most Cases Reach the Supreme Court by Appeal 390 The Solicitor General, Law Clerks, and Interest Groups Also

Influence the Flow of Cases 392 The Supreme Court’s Procedures Mean Cases May Take

Months or Years 394

Supreme Court Decisions Are Influenced by Activism and Ideology 397

The Federal Courts: What Do We Want? 400 WHO PARTICIPATES? Influencing the Supreme Court? 401

Key Terms 404 For Further Reading 405


13 ★ Domestic Policy 406

The Tools for Making Policy Are Techniques of Control 409 Promotional Policies Get People to Do Things by Giving

Them Rewards 409 Regulatory Policies Are Rules Backed by Penalties 411 Redistributive Policies Affect Broad Classes of People 413 Should the Government Intervene in the Economy? 415

Social Policy and the Welfare System Buttress Equality 416 The History of the Government Welfare System Dates Only

to the 1930s 416 The Modern Welfare System Has Three Parts 417 Welfare Reform Has Dominated the Welfare Agenda in

Recent Years 421

The Cycle of Poverty Can Be Broken by Education, Health, and Housing Policies 423

Education Policies Provide Life Tools 423 Health Policies Mean Fewer Sick Days 425

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE U.S. Healthcare: High Cost, Poor Outcomes 427

Housing Policies Provide Residential Stability 431

Social Policy Spending Benefits the Middle Class More Than the Poor 432

Senior Citizens Receive over a Third of All Federal Dollars 433 The Middle and Upper Classes Benefit from Social Policies 434


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The Working Poor Receive Fewer Benefits 434 Spending for the Nonworking Poor Is Declining 435 Minorities, Women, and Children Are Most Likely to Face Poverty 435

Domestic Policy: What Do We Want? 437 WHO PARTICIPATES? Growing Student Debt Burden 439

Key Terms 442 For Further Reading 443

14 ★ Foreign Policy 444

Foreign Policy Goals Are Related 447 Security Is Based on Military Strength 447 Economic Prosperity Helps All Nations 451 America Seeks a More Humane World 451

AMERICA SIDE BY SIDE Building Influence through International Connections 452

American Foreign Policy Is Shaped by Government and Nongovernment Actors 453

The President Leads Foreign Policy 454 The Bureaucracy Implements and Informs Policy Decisions 455 Congress’s Legal Authority Can Be Decisive 456 Interest Groups Pressure Foreign Policy Decision Makers 457

Tools of American Foreign Policy Include Diplomacy, Force, and Money 458 Diplomacy 459 The United Nations Is the World’s Congress 459 The International Monetary Structure Helps Provide Economic Stability 460 Economic Aid Has Two Sides 460 Collective Security Is Designed to Deter War 461 Military Force Is “Politics by Other Means” 462 Soft Power Uses Persuasion 463 Arbitration Resolves Disputes 463

Current Foreign Policy Issues Facing the United States 464 A Powerful China and a Resurgent Russia 464 Nuclear Proliferation in Iran and North Korea 466 Trade Policy 467 Global Environmental Policy 467

Foreign Policy and Democracy: What Do We Want? 468 WHO PARTICIPATES? Public Opinion on Security Issues 469

Key Terms 472 For Further Reading 473


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The Declaration of Independence A1

The Articles of Confederation A5

The Constitution of the United States of America A11

Amendments to the Constitution A21

The Federalist Papers A30

The Anti-Federalist Papers A38

Presidents and Vice Presidents A45

Endnotes A49 Answer Key A81 Credits A83 Glossary/Index A85


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This book has been and continues to be dedicated to developing a satisfactory response to the question more and more Americans are asking: Why should we be engaged with government and politics? Through the first 11 editions, we sought to answer this question by making the text directly relevant to the lives of the students who would be reading it. As a result, we tried to make politics interest- ing by demonstrating that students’ interests are at stake and that they therefore need to take a personal, even selfish, interest in the outcomes of government. At the same time, we realized that students needed guidance in how to become politically engaged. Beyond providing students with a core of political knowledge, we needed to show them how they could apply that knowledge as participants in the political process. The “Who Participates?” and “What You Can Do” sections in each chapter help achieve that goal.

As events from the last several years have reminded us, “what government does” inevitably raises questions about political participation and political equality. The size and composition of the electorate, for example, affect who is elected to public office and what policy directions the government will pursue. Hence, the issue of voter ID laws became important in the 2016 election, with some arguing that these laws re- duce voter fraud and others contending that they decrease participation by poor and minority voters. Charges of Russian meddling in the 2016 election have raised questions about the integrity of the voting process. Fierce debates about the policies of the Trump administration have heightened students’ interest in politics. Other recent events have underscored how Americans from different backgrounds experience politics. Arguments about immigration became contentious during the 2016 election as the nation once again debated the question of who is entitled to be an American and have a voice in determin- ing what the government does. And charges that the police often use excessive violence against members of minority groups have raised questions about whether the govern- ment treats all Americans equally. Reflecting all of these trends, this new Twelfth Edition shows more than any other book on the market (1) how students are connected to gov- ernment, (2) why students should think critically about government and politics, and (3) how Americans from different backgrounds experience and shape politics. To help us explore these themes, Professor Andrea Campbell has joined us as the most recent in a group of distinguished coauthors. Professor Campbell’s scholarly work focuses on the ways in which government and politics affect the lives of ordinary citizens. Among her contributions are new chapter introductions that focus on stories of individuals and how government has affected them. Many Americans, particularly the young, can have difficulty seeing the role of government in their everyday lives. Indeed, that’s a chief explanation of low voter participation among younger citizens. The new chapter openers profile various individuals and illustrate their interactions with government, from a rock


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band that gets its controversial name approved by the Supreme Court (Chapter 4), to a young mother who realizes the tap water in her Flint, Michigan, home is poisoning her children after local officials switched the source (Chapter 11), to teenagers protesting the end of net neutrality and the internet as they have known it (Chapter 6). The goal of these stories is to show students in a vivid way how government and politics mean something to their daily lives.

Several other elements of the book also help show students why politics and govern- ment should matter to them. These include:

• A twenty-first-century perspective on demographic change moves beyond the book’s strong coverage of traditional civil rights content with expanded coverage of contemporary group politics.

• “Who Participates?” infographics at the end of every chapter show students how different groups of Americans participate in key aspects of politics and government. Each concludes with a “What You Can Do” section that provides students with specific, realistic steps they can take to act on what they’ve learned and get involved in politics.

• “America Side by Side” boxes in every chapter use data figures and tables to provide a comparative perspective. By comparing political institutions and behavior across countries, students gain a better understanding of how specific features of the American system shape politics.

• Up-to-date coverage, with more than 10 pages and numerous graphics on the 2016 and 2018 elections, including a five-page section devoted to analysis of these momentous elections in Chapter 8, as well as updated data, examples, and other information throughout the book.

• “What Do We Want” chapter conclusions step back and provide perspective on how the chapter content connects to fundamental questions about the American political system. The conclusions also reprise the important point made in the personal profiles that begin each chapter that government matters to the lives of individuals.

• This Twelfth Edition is accompanied by InQuizitive, Norton’s award-winning formative, adaptive online quizzing program. The InQuizitive course for We the People, Essentials Edition, guides students through questions organized around the text’s chapter learning objectives to ensure mastery of the core information and to help with assessment. More information and a demonstration are available at digital.wwnorton.com/wethepeople12ess.

We note with regret the passing of Theodore Lowi as well as Margaret Weir’s decision to step down from the book. We miss them but continue to hear their voices and to benefit from their wisdom in the pages of our book. We also continue to hope that our book will itself be accepted as a form of enlightened political action. This Twelfth Edition is another chance. It is an advancement toward our goal. We promise to keep trying.


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We are especially pleased to acknowledge the many colleagues who had a direct and active role in criticism and preparation of the manuscript. Our thanks go to:

First Edition Reviewers

Sarah Binder, Brookings Institution Kathleen Gille, Office of Representative David

Bonior Rodney Hero, University of Colorado

at Boulder Robert Katzmann, Brookings Institution Kathleen Knight, University of Houston Robin Kolodny, Temple University Nancy Kral, Tomball College Robert C. Lieberman, Columbia University David A. Marcum, University of Wyoming Laura R. Winsky Mattei, State University

of New York at Buffalo Marilyn S. Mertens, Midwestern State

University Barbara Suhay, Henry Ford Community

College Carolyn Wong, Stanford University Julian Zelizer, State University of New York

at Albany

Second Edition Reviewers

Lydia Andrade, University of North Texas John Coleman, University of Wisconsin

at Madison Daphne Eastman, Odessa College Otto Feinstein, Wayne State University Elizabeth Flores, Delmar College James Gimpel, University of Maryland

at College Park Jill Glaathar, Southwest Missouri State

University Shaun Herness, University of Florida

William Lyons, University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Andrew Polsky, Hunter College, City University of New York

Grant Reeher, Syracuse University Richard Rich, Virginia Polytechnic Bartholomew Sparrow, University

of Texas at Austin

Third Edition Reviewers

Bruce R. Drury, Lamar University Andrew I. E. Ewoh, Prairie View A&M

University Amy Jasperson, University of Texas

at San Antonio Loch Johnson, University of Georgia Mark Kann, University of Southern California Robert L. Perry, University of Texas

of the Permian Basin Wayne Pryor, Brazosport College Elizabeth A. Rexford, Wharton County Junior

College Andrea Simpson, University of Washington Brian Smentkowski, Southeast Missouri State

University Nelson Wikstrom, Virginia Commonwealth


Fourth Edition Reviewers

M. E. Banks, Virginia Commonwealth University

Lynn Brink, North Lake College Mark Cichock, University of Texas

at Arlington


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Del Fields, St. Petersburg College Nancy Kinney, Washtenaw Community

College William Klein, St. Petersburg College Dana Morales, Montgomery College Christopher Muste, Louisiana State University Larry Norris, South Plains College David Rankin, State University of New York

at Fredonia Paul Roesler, St. Charles Community College J. Philip Rogers, San Antonio College Greg Shaw, Illinois Wesleyan University Tracy Skopek, Stephen F. Austin State

University Don Smith, University of North Texas Terri Wright, Cal State, Fullerton

Fifth Edition Reviewers

Annie Benifield, Tomball College Denise Dutton, Southwest Missouri State

University Rick Kurtz, Central Michigan University Kelly McDaniel, Three Rivers Community

College Eric Plutzer, Pennsylvania State University Daniel Smith, Northwest Missouri State

University Dara Strolovitch, University of Minnesota Dennis Toombs, San Jacinto College–North Stacy Ulbig, Southwest Missouri State


Sixth Edition Reviewers

Janet Adamski, University of Mary Hardin–Baylor

Greg Andrews, St. Petersburg College Louis Bolce, Baruch College Darin Combs, Tulsa Community College Sean Conroy, University of New Orleans Paul Cooke, Cy Fair College Vida Davoudi, Kingwood College Robert DiClerico, West Virginia University Corey Ditslear, University of North Texas Kathy Dolan, University of Wisconsin,

Milwaukee Randy Glean, Midwestern State University Nancy Kral, Tomball College Mark Logas, Valencia Community College

Scott MacDougall, Diablo Valley College David Mann, College of Charleston Christopher Muste, University of Montana Richard Pacelle, Georgia Southern University Sarah Poggione, Florida International

University Richard Rich, Virginia Tech Thomas Schmeling, Rhode Island College Scott Spitzer, California State

University–Fullerton Robert Wood, University of North Dakota

Seventh Edition Reviewers

Molly Andolina, DePaul University Nancy Bednar, Antelope Valley College Paul Blakelock, Kingwood College Amy Brandon, San Jacinto College Jim Cauthen, John Jay College Kevin Davis, North Central Texas College Louis DeSipio, University of California–Irvine Brandon Franke, Blinn College Steve Garrison, Midwestern State University Joseph Howard, University of Central Arkansas Aaron Knight, Houston Community

College Paul Labedz, Valencia Community College Elise Langan, John Jay College Mark Logas, Valencia Community College Eric Miller, Blinn College Anthony O’Regan, Los Angeles Valley College David Putz, Kingwood College Chis Soper, Pepperdine University Kevin Wagner, Florida Atlantic University Laura Wood, Tarrant County College

Eighth Edition Reviewers

Brian Arbour, John Jay College, CUNY Ellen Baik, University of Texas–Pan

American David Birch, Lone Star College–Tomball Bill Carroll, Sam Houston State University Ed Chervenak, University of New Orleans Gary Church, Mountain View College Adrian Stefan Clark, Del Mar College Annie Cole, Los Angeles City College Greg Combs, University of Texas at Dallas Cassandra Cookson, Lee College Brian Cravens, Blinn College


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John Crosby, California State University–Chico

Scott Crosby, Valencia Community College Courtenay Daum, Colorado State

University, Fort Collins Peter Doas, University of Texas–Pan American John Domino, Sam Houston State University Doug Dow, University of Texas–Dallas Jeremy Duff, Midwestern State University Heather Evans, Sam Houston State University Hyacinth Ezeamii, Albany State University Bob Fitrakis, Columbus State Community

College Brian Fletcher, Truckee Meadows

Community College Paul Foote, Eastern Kentucky University Frank Garrahan, Austin Community College Jimmy Gleason, Purdue University Steven Greene, North Carolina State

University Jeannie Grussendorf, Georgia State University M. Ahad Hayaud-Din, Brookhaven College Alexander Hogan, Lone Star College–CyFair Glen Hunt, Austin Community College Mark Jendrysik, University of North Dakota Krista Jenkins, Fairleigh Dickinson

University Carlos Juárez, Hawaii Pacific University Melinda Kovács, Sam Houston State

University Boyd Lanier, Lamar University Jeff Lazarus, Georgia State University Jeffrey Lee, Blinn College Alan Lehmann, Blinn College Julie Lester, Macon State College Steven Lichtman, Shippensburg University Fred Lokken, Truckee Meadows

Community College Shari MacLachlan, Palm Beach

Community College Guy Martin, Winston-Salem State University Fred Monardi, College of Southern Nevada Vincent Moscardelli, University of

Connecticut Jason Mycoff, University of Delaware Sugumaran Narayanan, Midwestern State

University Anthony Nownes, University of Tennessee,

Knoxville Elizabeth Oldmixon, University of North Texas

John Osterman, San Jacinto College–Central Mark Peplowski, College of Southern Nevada Maria Victoria Perez-Rios, John Jay

College, CUNY Sara Rinfret, University of Wisconsin, Green

Bay Andre Robinson, Pulaski Technical College Susan Roomberg, University of Texas at San

Antonio Ryan Rynbrandt, Collin County Community

College Mario Salas, Northwest Vista College Michael Sanchez, San Antonio College Mary Schander, Pasadena City College Laura Schneider, Grand Valley State

University Subash Shah, Winston-Salem

State University Mark Shomaker, Blinn College Roy Slater, St. Petersburg College Debra St. John, Collin College Eric Whitaker, Western Washington

University Clay Wiegand, Cisco College Walter Wilson, University of Texas at

San Antonio Kevan Yenerall, Clarion University Rogerio Zapata, South Texas College

Ninth Edition Reviewers Amy Acord, Lone Star College–CyFair Milan Andrejevich, Ivy Tech Community

College Steve Anthony, Georgia State University Phillip Ardoin, Appalachian State

University Gregory Arey, Cape Fear Community College Joan Babcock, Northwest Vista College Evelyn Ballard, Houston Community College Robert Ballinger, South Texas College Mary Barnes-Tilley, Blinn College Robert Bartels, Evangel University Nancy Bednar, Antelope Valley College Annie Benifield, Lone Star College–Tomball Donna Bennett, Trinity Valley Community

College Amy Brandon, El Paso Community College Mark Brewer, The University of Maine Gary Brown, Lone Star College–Montgomery


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Joe Campbell, Johnson County Community College

Dewey Clayton, University of Louisville Jeff Colbert, Elon University Amanda Cook-Fesperman, Illinois Valley

Community College Kevin Corder, Western Michigan University Kevin Davis, North Central Texas College Paul Davis, Truckee Meadows Community

College Terri Davis, Lamar University Jennifer De Maio, California State

University, Northridge Christopher Durso, Valencia College Ryan Emenaker, College of the Redwoods Leslie Feldman, Hofstra University Glen Findley, Odessa College Michael Gattis, Gulf Coast State College Donna Godwin, Trinity Valley Community

College Precious Hall, Truckee Meadows

Community College Sally Hansen, Daytona State College Tiffany Harper, Collin College Todd Hartman, Appalachian State University Virginia Haysley, Lone Star College–Tomball David Head, John Tyler Community College Rick Henderson, Texas State University–San

Marcos Richard Herrera, Arizona State University Thaddaus Hill, Blinn College Steven Holmes, Bakersfield College Kevin Holton, South Texas College Robin Jacobson, University of Puget Sound Joseph Jozwiak, Texas A & M–Corpus Christi Casey Klofstad, University of Miami Samuel Lingrosso, Los Angeles Valley College Mark Logas, Valencia College Christopher Marshall, South Texas College Larry McElvain, South Texas College Elizabeth McLane, Wharton County Junior

College Eddie Meaders, University of North Texas Rob Mellen, Mississippi State University Jalal Nejad, Northwest Vista College Adam Newmark, Appalachian State University Stephen Nicholson, University of

California, Merced Cissie Owen, Lamar University Suzanne Preston, St. Petersburg College David Putz, Lone Star College–Kingwood

Auksuole Rubavichute, Mountain View College

Ronnee Schreiber, San Diego State University Ronald Schurin, University of Connecticut Jason Seitz, Georgia Perimeter College Jennifer Seitz, Georgia Perimeter College Shannon Sinegal,The University of New

Orleans John Sides, George Washington University Thomas Sowers, Lamar University Jim Startin, University of Texas at San Antonio Robert Sterken, University of Texas at Tyler Bobby Summers, Harper College John Theis, Lone Star College–Kingwood John Todd, University of North Texas Delaina Toothman, The University of Maine David Trussell, Cisco College Ronald Vardy, University of Houston Linda Veazey, Midwestern State University John Vento, Antelope Valley Community

College Clif Wilkinson, Georgia College John Wood, Rose State College Michael Young, Trinity Valley Community

College Tyler Young, Collin College

Tenth Edition Reviewers

Stephen P. Amberg, University of Texas at San Antonio

Juan F. Arzola, College of the Sequoias Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes University Christina Bejarano, University of Kansas Paul T. Bellinger, Jr., University of Missouri Melanie J. Blumberg, California University of

Pennsylvania Matthew T. Bradley, Indiana University

Kokomo Jeffrey W. Christiansen, Seminole State

College McKinzie Craig, Marietta College Christopher Cronin, Methodist University Jenna Duke, Lehigh Carbon Community

College Francisco Durand, University of Texas at San

Antonio Carrie Eaves, Elon University Paul M. Flor, El Camino College Compton

Center Adam Fuller, Youngstown State University


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Christi Gramling, Charleston Southern University

Sally Hansen, Daytona State College Mary Jane Hatton, Hawai’i Pacific University David Helpap, University of

Wisconsin–Green Bay Theresa L. Hutchins, Georgia Highlands College Cryshanna A. Jackson Leftwich, Youngstown

State University Ashlyn Kuersten, Western Michigan University Kara Lindaman, Winona State University Timothy Lynch, University of

Wisconsin–Milwaukee Larry McElvain, South Texas College Corinna R. McKoy, Ventura College Eddie L. Meaders, University of North Texas Don D. Mirjanian, College of Southern

Nevada R. Shea Mize, Georgia Highlands College Nicholas Morgan, Collin College Matthew Murray, Dutchess Community

College Harold “Trey” Orndorff III, Daytona State

College Randall Parish, University of North Georgia Michelle Pautz, University of Dayton Michael Pickering, University of New Orleans Donald Ranish, Antelope Valley College Glenn W. Richardson, Jr., Kutztown

University of Pennsylvania Jason Robles, Colorado State University Ionas Aurelian Rus, University of Cincinnati–

Blue Ash Robert Sahr, Oregon State University Kelly B. Shaw, Iowa State University Captain Michael Slattery, Campbell University Michael Smith, Sam Houston State University Maryam T. Stevenson, University of

Indianapolis Elizabeth Trentanelli, Gulf Coast State

College Ronald W. Vardy, University of Houston Timothy Weaver, University of Louisville Christina Wolbrecht, University of Notre


Eleventh Edition Reviewers

Maria J. Albo, University of North Georgia Andrea Aleman, University of Texas at San


Juan Arzola, College of the Sequoias Ross K. Baker, Rutgers University Lauren Balasco, Pittsburg State University Daniel Birdsong, University of Dayton Phil Branyon, University of North Georgia Camille D. Burge, Villanova University Matthew DeSantis, Guilford Technical

Community College Sheryl Edwards, University of

Michigan–Dearborn Lauren Elliott-Dorans, University of

Toledo Heather Evans, Sam Houston State

University William Feagin, Jr., Wharton County Junior

College Glen Findley, Odessa College Heather Frederick, Slipper Rock University Jason Ghibesi, Ocean County College Patrick Gilbert, Lone Star–Tomball Rebecca Herzog, American River College Steven Horn, Everett Community College Demetra Kasimis, California State

University, Long Beach Eric T. Kasper, University of Wisconsin–Eau

Claire Jill Kirkham, Brigham Young University–

Idaho Mary Linder, Grayson County College Johnson Louie, California State University,

Stanislaus Phil McCall, Portland State University Patrick Novotny, Georgia Southern

University Carolyn Myers, Southwestern Illinois

College–Belleville Gerhard Peters, Citrus College Michael A. Powell, Frederick Community

College Robert Proctor, Santa Rosa Junior College Allen K. Settle, California Polytechnic State

University Laurie Sprankle, Community College of

Allegheny County Ryan Lee Teten, University of Louisiana

at Lafayette Justin Vaughn, Boise State University John Vento, Antelope Valley College Aaron Weinschenk, University of

Wisconsin–Green Bay Tyler Young, Collin College


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Twelfth Edition Reviewers

Craig Albert, Augusta University Alexa Bankert, University of Georgia Nathan Barrick, University of South Florida Jeff Birdsong, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M

College Sara Butler, College of the Desert Cory Colby, Lone Star College Anthony Daniels, University of Toledo Dennis Falcon, Cerritos College Kathleen Ferraiolo, James Madison University Patrick Gilbert, Lone Star College, Tomball Matthew Green, Catholic University

of America Matt Guardino, Providence College Barbara Headrick, Minnesota State University,

Moorhead Justin Hoggard, Three Rivers Community

College John Patrick Ifedi, Howard University Cryshanna Jackson Leftwich, Youngstown

State University Douglas Kriner, Boston University Thom Kuehls, Weber State University

Jennifer Lawless, American University LaDella Levy, College of Southern Nevada Timothy Lim, California State University, Los

Angeles Sam Lingrosso, Los Angeles Valley College Mandy May, College of Southern Maryland Suzanne Mettler, Cornell University Michael Miller, Barnard College Joseph Njoroge, Abraham Baldwin

Agricultural College Michael Petri, Santa Ana College Christopher Poulios, Nassau Community

College Andrew Rudalevige, Bowdoin College Amanda Sanford, Louisiana Tech University Elizabeth Saunders, George Washington

University Kathleen Searles, Louisiana State University Matthew Snyder, Delgado Community College Steven Sylvester, Utah Valley University Linda Trautman, Ohio University Lancaster Donald Williams, Western New England

University Peter Yacobucci, Buffalo State College

We are also grateful to Melissa Michelson, of Menlo College, who contributed to the “Who Participates?” infographics for this edition; Holley Hansen, of Oklahoma State University, who contributed to the “America Side by Side” boxes.

Perhaps above all, we thank those at W. W. Norton. For its first five editions, editor Steve Dunn helped us shape the book in countless ways. Lisa McKay contrib- uted smart ideas and a keen editorial eye to the Tenth Edition. Ann Shin carried on the Norton tradition of splendid editorial work on the Sixth through Ninth and Eleventh Editions. Peter Lesser brought intelligence and dedication to the development of this Twelfth Edition. For our InQuizitive course and other instructor resources, Spencer Richardson-Jones has been an energetic and visionary editor. Ashley Horna, Michael Jaoui, Tricia Vuong, and Anna Olcott also kept the production of the Eleventh Edition and its accompanying resources coherent and in focus. Lynne Cannon copyedited the manuscript, and our superb project editor Christine D’Antonio devoted countless hours to keeping on top of myriad details. We thank Elyse Rieder for finding new photos and our photo editor Stephanie Romeo for managing the image program. Finally, we thank Roby Harrington, the head of Norton’s college department.

Benjamin Ginsberg Caroline J. Tolbert Andrea L. Campbell

October 2018


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An Introduction to American Politics

We the People

121212 edition


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010101 chapter

Introduction: The Citizen and Government WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES AND WHY IT MATTERS Meet two of the nation’s youngest elected officials. Saira Blair became the young-

est member of West Virginia’s House of Delegates when she won election as

an 18-year-old college freshman. The day after her victory party in November

2014, she was back in class at West Virginia University. In May 2017, Prairie

View A&M senior Kendric D. Jones similarly achieved electoral victory, becom-

ing the youngest city council member in the state of Texas. What got Blair

and Jones involved in politics? Both had sources of political inspiration. Blair

followed in the footsteps of her father, a West Virginia state senator, who she

had accompanied to political events since childhood. Jones was inspired by

the long history of activism at Prairie View, which was founded in 1876 during

Reconstruction by some of the first African American members of the Texas

state legislature. A further spur to action was President Obama’s call in his

2017 farewell address to “grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for

office yourself.” Both also had strong commitments to issues. Blair believes

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Introduction: The Citizen and Government

While Americans share a belief in the values of liberty, equality, and democracy, debates rage about how to live up to those values. To advocate for their beliefs, Republican Saira Blair (left) and Democrat Kendric Jones (right)—both college students—ran for office and won. What is the citizen’s role in America’s democratic system?

in limited government, lower taxes, and Second Amendment gun rights. Jones

has a long history of working in the community, serving in student government,

and founding a mentoring program for middle-school boys.

Both Blair and Jones also believe deeply in political participation, espe-

cially that of young people. As Jones said, “The students of Prairie View A&M

University’s voices have not been heard. Since I have been here, the city has

been stagnant and has not made any progression—outside of the university.

I feel as though a young, innovative mind can push this city forward.” After

participating in a mock government program in high school, Blair saw that

young people were just as capable as lawmakers decades older: “When I saw

how capable the students were of creating . . . legislation and really getting

work done, it really made me realize that we really didn’t need to wait.”1

Blair and Jones’s experiences show that citizens are at the center of

democratic government. They ran for office because they care about public

issues and want to have a hand in shaping policy outcomes. What are you

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passionate about? How does government affect your everyday life and that

of your family, friends, and community? And how are differences in political

views resolved in politics? Americans hold certain values dear, including lib-

erty, equality, and democracy. In fact, if you asked Blair and Jones, they would

almost certainly agree that these are critical values to uphold. However, Blair

and Jones might emphasize one more than the other. And they might have

major disagreements about what those values mean and what the government

should do to shape and uphold them. What are your values? Do you see them

reflected in government today? What do you want government to do?

★ Define government and forms of government (pp. 5–7)

★ Describe the role of the citizen in politics (pp. 8–9)

★ Show how the social composition of the American population has changed over time (pp. 10–16)

★ Analyze whether the U.S. system of government upholds American political values (pp. 16–20)

★ Explore Americans’ attitudes toward government (pp. 20–23)



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Government Government refers to the formal in­ stitutions and procedures through which a territory and its people are ruled. To govern is to rule. A govern­

ment may be as simple as a town meeting in which community members make policy and determine budgets together or as complex as the vast establishments found in many large countries today, with their extensive procedures, laws, and bureaucracies. In the history of civilization, governments have not been difficult to establish. There have been thousands of them. The hard part is establishing a govern­ ment that lasts. Even more difficult is developing a stable government that promotes liberty, equality, and democracy.


Governments vary in their structure, in their size, and in the way they operate. Two questions are of special importance in determining how governments differ: Who governs? And how much government control is permitted?

In some nations, government power is held by a single individual, such as a king or dictator, or by a small group of powerful individuals, such as military leaders or wealthy landowners. Such a system of government normally pays little attention to popular preferences; it tends to hold power by violence or the threat of violence and is referred to as an authoritarian system, meaning that the government recognizes no formal limit but may nevertheless be restrained by the power of other social insti­ tutions. A system of government in which the degree of control is even greater is a totalitarian system, where the government recognizes no formal limits on its power and seeks to absorb or eliminate other social institutions that might challenge it. Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin are classic examples of totalitarian rule.

In contrast, a democracy is a political system that permits citizens to play a significant part in the governmental process, where they are vested with the power to rule themselves, usually through the election of key public officials. Under such a system, constitutional government is the norm, in that formal and effective limits are placed on the powers of the government. At times, an author­ itarian government might bend to popular wishes, and democratic governments do not automatically follow the wishes of the majority. The point, however, is that these contrasting systems of government are based on very different assumptions and practices.

Americans have the good fortune to live in a nation in which limits are placed on what governments can do and how they can do it. By one measure, just 40 per­ cent of the global population (those living in 86 countries) enjoy sufficient levels of political and personal freedom to be classified as living in a constitutional democracy.2 And constitutional democracies were unheard of before the modern era. Prior to

Define government and forms of government


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the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, governments seldom sought (and rarely received) the support of their ordinary subjects.3

Beginning in the seventeenth century, in a handful of Western nations, two important changes began to take place in the character and conduct of govern­ ment. First, governments began to acknowledge formal limits on their power. Second, a small number of governments began to provide the ordinary citizen with a formal voice in public affairs—through the vote. Obviously, the desirability of limits on government and the expansion of popular influence were at the heart of the Ameri can Revolution in 1776. “No taxation without representation” was hotly debated from the beginning of the Revolution through the adoption of the modern Constitution in 1789. But even before the Revolution, a tradition of limi­ ting government and expanding citizen participation in the political process had developed throughout western Europe. Thus, to understand how the relationship between rulers and the ruled was transformed, we must broaden our focus to take into account events in Europe as well as in America. We will divide the transforma­ tion into its two separate parts. The first is the effort to put limits on government. The second is the effort to expand the influence of the people through access to government and politics.


The key force behind the imposition of limits on government power was a new social class, the bourgeoisie. Bourgeoisie is a French word for “freeman of the city,” or bourg. Being part of the bourgeoisie later became associated with being “middle class” and with involvement in commerce or industry. In order to gain a share of control of government, joining or even displacing the kings, aristocrats, and gentry who had dominated government for centuries, the bourgeoisie sought to change existing institutions—especially parliaments—into instruments of real political participation. Parliaments had existed for centuries but were generally controlled by the aristocrats. The bourgeoisie embraced parliaments as means by which they could exert the weight of their superior numbers and grow­ ing economic advantage against their aristocratic rivals. At the same time, the bourgeoisie sought to restrain the capacity of governments to threaten these economic and political interests by placing formal or constitutional limits on governmental power.

Although motivated primarily by the need to protect and defend their own in­ terests, the bourgeoisie advanced many of the principles that became the central underpinnings of individual liberty for all citizens—freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience, and freedom from arbitrary search and seizure. It is important to note here that the bourgeoisie generally did not favor democracy as we know it. They were advocates of electoral and representative institutions, but they favored property requirements and other restrictions so as to limit political participation to the middle and upper classes. Yet once these institutions of politics and the protection of the right to engage in politics were established, it was difficult to limit them to the bourgeoisie.


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In America, the expansion of participation to ever­larger segments of society, seen mostly in the expansion of voting rights, occurred because competing segments of the bour­ geoisie sought to gain political advantage by reaching out and mobilizing the support of working­ and lower­class groups that craved the opportunity to take part in politics. To be sure, excluded groups often agitated for greater participation. But seldom was such agitation, by itself, enough to secure the right to participate. Usually, expansion of voting rights resulted from a combination of pressure from below and help from above.

This pattern of suffrage expansion by groups hoping to derive some political advantage has been typical in American history. After the Civil War, one of the chief reasons that the Republican Party moved to enfranchise newly freed slaves was to use the support of the former slaves to maintain Republican control over the defeated southern states. Similarly, in the early twentieth century, upper­middle­class Pro­ gressives advocated women’s suffrage because they believed that women were likely to support the reforms espoused by the Progressive movement.


Expansion of participation means that more and more people have a legal right to take part in politics. Politics is an important term. In its broadest sense, it refers to conflicts over the character, membership, and policies of any organization to which people belong. As Harold Lasswell, a famous political scientist, once put it, politics is the struggle over “who gets what, when, how.”4 Although politics is a phenom­ enon that can be found in any organization, our concern in this book is narrower. Here, politics will be used to refer only to conflicts and struggles over the leadership, structure, and policies of governments. The goal of politics, as we define it, is to have a share or a say in the composition of the government’s leadership, how the govern­ ment is organized, or what its policies are going to be. Having a share is called power or influence.

Participation in politics can take many forms, including blogging and posting opinion pieces online, voting, sending emails to government officials, lobbying legis lators on behalf of particular programs, and participating in protest marches and even violent demonstrations. A system of government in which the populace selects representatives, who play a significant role in governmental decision mak­ ing, is usually called a representative democracy, or republic. A system that permits citizens to vote directly on laws and policies is often called a direct democracy. At the national level, America is a representative democracy in which citizens select government officials but do not vote on legislation. Some states and cities, how­ ever, have provisions for direct legislation through ballot initiative and popular referendum. In 2017, for example, voters in Maine approved by statewide vote to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act after the governor had vetoed expansion multiple times.5


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Citizenship Is Based on Political Knowledge and Participation

Citizen participation is the hallmark of the democratic form of govern­ ment. “Government by the people” depends on lively citizen involve­

ment in public discussion, debate, and activity designed to improve the welfare of one’s community. The very legitimacy of democratic government depends on political participation, which takes a variety of forms, from the conventional— voting, contacting elected officials, working on campaigns, making political dona­ tions, attending political meetings—to the unconventional—protesting, boycott­ ing, and signing petitions.

One key ingredient for political participation is political knowledge and informa­ tion. Democracy functions best when citizens are informed and have the knowledge needed to participate in political debate. Indeed, our definition of citizenship derives from the ideal put forth by the ancient Greeks: enlightened political engagement.6

Citizens need political knowledge, which includes knowing the rules and strate­ gies that govern political institutions and the principles on which they are based, to figure out how best to act in their own interests. For example, during the debate in 2017 about whether to repeal the Obama health care reform, one­third of Americans

Protests are a form of direct action citizens can take to influence policy outcomes. The Black Lives Matter movement used peaceful protests and marches to educate fellow citizens and lawmakers on the impact of police brutality on the African American community.

Describe the role of the citizen in politics


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did not know that “Obamacare” and the “Affordable Care Act” are the same thing.7 That meant that some Americans who had enrolled in “Obamacare” did not realize their access to health insurance would be affected if the ACA were repealed. Citizens need knowledge in order to assess their interests and to know when to act on them.

Effective participation requires knowledge. (It should come as no surprise, then, that people who have less knowledge of politics vote at lower rates than those with more knowledge.) Knowledge is the first prerequisite for achieving an increased sense of political efficacy.

As more and more of our social, workplace, and educational activities have migrated online, so too have opportunities for political knowledge and participa­ tion, creating a new concept of “digital citizenship.” Digital citizenship is the abil­ ity to participate in society online, and it is increasingly important in politics. A 2015 survey found that over the previous year, 65 percent of Americans had used the internet—including visiting local, state, or federal government websites—to find data or information about government.8 Digital citizens are more likely to be interested in politics and to discuss politics with friends, family, and coworkers than individuals who do not use online political information. They are also more likely to vote and participate in other ways in elections. Individuals without internet access or the skills to participate in politics and the economy online are being left further behind. Exclusion from participation online is referred to as the “digital divide.” Lower­income and less educated Americans, racial and ethnic minorities, those living in rural areas, and the elderly are all less likely to have internet access.


Another important trend in American views about government has been a declining sense of political efficacy, the belief that ordinary citizens can affect what government does. In 2015, 74 percent of Americans said that elected officials do not care what people like them think; in 1960, only 25 percent felt so shut out of government.9 Accompanying this sense that ordinary people cannot be heard is a growing belief that government is not run for the benefit of all the people. In 2015, 76 percent of the public disagreed with the idea that the “government is really run for the benefit of all the people.”10 These views are widely shared across the age spectrum.

This widely felt loss of political efficacy is bad news for American democracy. Why bother to participate if you believe it makes no difference? Yet the belief that you can be effective is the first step needed to influence government. Research shows that the relationship between efficacy and participation is two­way: a feeling that one can make a difference leads to participation, but in addition, joining in can increase one’s feeling of efficacy. Not every effort of ordinary citizens to influence government will succeed, but without any such efforts, government decisions will be made by a smaller and smaller circle of powerful people. Such loss of broad popular influence over govern­ ment actions undermines the key feature of American democracy: government by the people. Most people do not want to be politically active every day of their lives, but it is essential to American political ideals that all citizens be informed and able to act.


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The Identity of Americans Has Changed over Time

While American democracy aims to give the people a voice in govern­ ment, the meaning of “we the people” has changed over time. Who are Americans? Over the course of

Ameri can history, politicians, religious leaders, prominent scholars, and ordinary Americans have puzzled over and fought about the answer to this fundamental question. It is not surprising that such a simple question could provoke so much conflict: the American population has increased over eighty­fold, from 3.9 million in 1790, the year of the first official census, to 327 million in 2018.11 As the American population has grown, it has become more diverse in nearly every dimen­ sion imaginable.12

At the time of the Founding, when the United States consisted of 13 states arrayed along the Eastern seaboard, 81 percent of Americans counted by the census traced their roots to Europe, mostly England and northern Europe; nearly one in five were of African origin, the vast majority of whom were slaves.13 There was also an unknown number of Native Americans, not counted by the census because the government did not consider them Americans.14

Fast­forward to 1900. The country, now stretched out across the continent, had a sharply altered racial and ethnic composition. Waves of immigrants, mainly from Europe, had boosted the population to 76 million. The black population stood at 12 percent. Residents who traced their origins to Latin America or Asia each accounted for less than 1 percent of the entire population.15 Although principally of European origin, the American population had become much more ethnically diverse as immigrants, first from Germany, then from Ireland, and finally from southern and eastern Europe, made their way to the United States. The foreign­born population of the United States reached its height at 14.7 percent in 1910.16


As the population grew more diverse, anxiety about Americans’ ethnic identity mounted, and much as today, politicians and scholars argued about whether the country could absorb such large numbers of immigrants. The debate encompassed such issues as whether immigrants’ political and social values were compatible with American democracy, whether they would learn English, and what diseases they might bring into the United States.

Immigrants’ religious affiliations also aroused concern. The first immigrants to the United States were overwhelmingly Protestant, many of them fleeing religious persecution. The arrival of Germans and Irish in the mid­1800s meant increasing numbers of Catholics, and the large­scale immigration of the early twentieth cen­ tury threatened to reduce the percentage of Protestants significantly: many eastern

Show how the social composition of the American population has changed over time


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European immigrants pouring into the country were Jewish, while the southern Europeans were mostly Catholic. A more religiously diverse country challenged the implicit Protestantism embedded in many aspects of American public life.

After World War I, Congress responded to the fears swirling around immigration with new laws that sharply limited the number of immigrants who could enter the country each year. Congress also established a new National Origins Quota System based on the nation’s population in 1890 before the wave of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe arrived.17 The new system set up a hierarchy of admissions: northern European countries received generous quotas for new immigrants, whereas eastern and southern European countries were granted very small quotas. These restrictions ratcheted down the numbers of immigrants so that by 1970 the foreign­born population in the United States reached an all­time low of 5 percent.

Official efforts to use racial and ethnic criteria to restrict the American population were not new. The very first census, as we have seen, did not count Native Ameri­ cans; in fact, Native Americans were not granted the right to vote until 1924. Most people of African descent were not officially citizens until 1868, when the Four­ teenth Amendment to the Constitution conferred citizenship on the freed slaves.

In 1790 the federal government had sought to limit the nonwhite population with a law stipulating that only free whites could become naturalized citizens. Not until 1870 did Congress lift the ban on the naturalization of nonwhites. Restric­ tions applied to Asians as well. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 outlawed the entry of Chinese laborers to the United States, and additional barriers enacted after World War I meant that virtually no Asians entered the country as immigrants until 1943, when China became our ally in World War II and these provisions were

In the 1900s many immigrants entered the United States through New York’s Ellis Island, where they were checked for disease before being admitted.


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lifted. People of Hispanic origin do not fit simply into the American system of racial classification. In 1930, for example, the census counted people of Mexican origin as nonwhite, but it reversed this decision a decade later. Not until 1970 did the cen­ sus officially begin counting persons of Hispanic origin, noting that they could be any race.18 As this history suggests, American citizenship has always been tied to “whiteness” even as the meaning of “white” shifted over time.


Race and Ethnicity By 2000 immigration had profoundly transformed the nation’s racial and ethnic profile once again. The primary cause was Congress’s decision in 1965 to lift the tight immigration restrictions of the 1920s, a decision that resulted, among other things, in the growth of the Latino population (see Figure 1.1). Census figures for 2016 show that the total Hispanic proportion of the population, who can be of any race, is now 17.8 percent, while the black, or African American, population is 12.7 percent of the total population. Asians make up 5.4 percent of the population. Non­Hispanic white Americans account for 61 percent of the population—their lowest share ever. Moreover, about 3.2 percent of the population now identifies itself as of “two or more races.”19 Although it is only a small percentage of the population, the multiracial category points toward a future in which the lines separating the traditional labels of racial identification may be blurring.

In 2016, 13.5 percent of the population was born outside the United States, a figure comparable to the rates of foreign­born at the turn of the previous cen­ tury. About half of the foreign­born population came from Latin America and the Caribbean, with just over one­third from Central America (including Mexico). Those born in Asia constituted the next largest group, making up 31 percent of foreign­born residents. By 2016 just 10.9 percent of those born outside the United States came from Europe.20 These figures represent only legally authorized immigrants, while estimates put the number of undocumented immigrants at 11.4 million, the majority of whom are from Mexico and Central America.21

Religion The new patterns of immigration combined with a number of other factors to alter the religious affiliations of Americans. In 1900, 80 percent of the population was Protestant; by 2016 only 44 percent of Americans identi­ fied themselves as Protestants.22 Catholics made up 20 percent of the population, and Jews accounted for 2 percent. A small Muslim population had also grown, to nearly 1 percent of the population. One of the most important changes in religious affiliation during the latter half of the twentieth century was the percentage of people who professed no organized religion. In 2016, 23 percent of the population was not affiliated with an organized church. These changes suggest an important shift in American religious identity: although the United States thinks of itself as a “Judeo­Christian” nation—and indeed was 95 percent Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish from 1900 to 1968—by 2016 the numbers had fallen to under 70 percent of the adult population.23


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Age As America grew and its population expanded and diversified, the country’s age profile shifted with it. In 1900 only 4 percent of the population was over 65. As life expectancy increased, the number of older Americans grew with it: by 2016 nearly 15.2 percent of the population was over 65. The number of children under the age of 18 also changed; in 1900 this group comprised 40.5 percent of the American population; by 2016 it had fallen to 22.8 percent of the population.24 An aging


Immigration by Continent of Origin* Where did most immigrants come from at the start of the twentieth century? How does that compare with immigration in the twenty-first century?

*Less than 1 percent not shown.

SOURCE: Department of Homeland Security 2016 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics Table 2, November 2017, www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2016 (accessed 2/16/18). Figure shows those who have obtained “lawful permanent resident status” by continent of origin.


0 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s












AfricaOceaniaNot speci�ed


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population poses challenges to the United States. As the elderly population grows and the working­age population shrinks, ques­ tions arise about how we will fund programs for the elderly such as Social Security.

Geography Over the nation’s history, Americans have changed in other ways as well, moving from mostly rural settings and small towns to large urban areas. Before 1920 less than half the population lived in urban areas; today 82 percent of Ameri­ cans do.25 Critics charge that the American political system, created when America was a largely rural society, underrepresents urban areas. The constitutional provision allocat­ ing each state two senators, for example, overrepresents sparsely populated rural states and underrepresents urban states, where the population is far more concentrated. The American population has also shifted regionally. In the past 50 years, especially, many Americans have left the Northeast and Midwest and moved to the South and Southwest. As congressional seats have been reapportioned to reflect the population shift, many problems that particularly plague the Midwest and Northeast, such as the decline of manufacturing jobs, receive less attention in national politics.

Socioeconomic Status Americans have fallen into diverse economic groups throughout American history. For much of American history most people were relatively poor working people, many of them farmers. A small wealthy elite, how­ ever, grew larger in the 1890s, in a period called “the gilded age.” By 1928 nearly 25 percent of the total annual income went to the top 1 percent of earners; the top 10 percent took home 46 percent of total annual income. After the New Deal in the 1930s, a large middle class took shape, and the share going to those at the top dropped sharply. By 1976 the top 1 percent took home only 9 percent of the national annual income. Since then, however, economic inequality has once again wide­ ned as a tiny group of super­rich has emerged. By 2015 the top 1 percent earned 20.3 percent of annual income, and the top 10 percent took home almost 50 percent of the total national income.26 At the same time, the incomes of the broad middle class have largely stagnated (see Figure 1.2).27 And 12.7 percent of the population remains below the official poverty line. As the middle class has

Immigration remains a controversial issue in the United States. While many believe we should do more to protect our borders, others call for comprehensive immigration reform, including an easier pathway to citizenship.


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frayed around the edges, the numbers of poor and near poor have swelled to nearly one­third of the population.28

Population and Politics The shifting contours of the American people have regu­ larly raised challenging questions about our politics and governing arrangements. Population growth has spurred politically charged debates about how the popula­ tion should be apportioned among congressional districts and how they should be drawn. These conflicts have major implications for the representation of different regions of the country—for the balance of representation between urban and rural areas. The representation of various demographic and political groups may also be affected, as there is substantial evidence of growing geographic sorting of citizens by education, income, marriage rates, and party voting.29 In addition, immigration and the cultural and religious changes it entails provoked heated debates 100 years ago and still do today. The different languages and customs that immigrants bring to the


Income in the United States This figure shows that while the income of most Americans has risen only slightly since 1975, the income of the richest Americans (the top 5 percent) has increased dramatically. What are some of the ways that this shift might matter for American politics? Does the growing economic gap between the richest groups and most other Americans conflict with the political value of equality?

*Dollar values are given in constant 2016 dollars, which are adjusted for inflation so that we can compare a person’s income in 1975 with a person’s income today.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016,” Table A-2, www.census.gov/ content/dam/Census/library/publications/2017/demo/P60-259.pdf (accessed 4/16/18).

Lowest fifth

Fourth fifth

Second fifth

Highest fifth

Third fifth

Top 5 percent


1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2015201020052000










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United States trigger fears among some that the country is changing in ways that may undermine American values and alter fundamental identities. Yet a changing population has been one of the constants of American history.

America Is Built on the Ideas of Liberty, Equality, and Democracy

A few fundamental values underlie the American system. These values are reflected in such Founding docu­ ments as the Declaration of Inde­ pendence, the Constitution, and

the Bill of Rights. The three values on which the American system of govern­ ment is based are liberty, equality, and democracy. Most Americans find it easy to affirm all three values in principle. In practice, however, matters are not always so clear. Americans, moreover, are sometimes willing to subordinate liberty to security and have frequently tolerated significant departures from the principles of equality and democracy.


No idea is more central to American values than liberty. The Declaration of Independence defined three inalienable rights: “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The preamble to the Constitution likewise identified the need to secure “the Blessings of Liberty” as one of the key reasons for which the Constitution was drawn up. For Americans, liberty means freedom from government control as well as economic freedom. Both are closely linked to the idea of limited government, meaning that powers are defined and limited by a constitution.

The Constitution’s first 10 amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, above all preserve individual personal liberties and rights. In fact, liberty has come to mean many of the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights: freedom of speech and writing, the right to assemble freely, and the right to practice religious beliefs without interference from the government. Over the course of American history, the scope of personal liberties has expanded as laws have become more tolerant and as individuals have successfully used the courts to challenge restrictions on their indi­ vidual freedoms. Far fewer restrictions exist today on the press, political speech, and individual moral behavior than in the early years of the nation. Even so, conflicts persist over how personal liberties should be extended and when personal liberties violate community norms.

In addition to personal freedom, the American concept of liberty means economic freedom. Since the Founding, economic freedom has been linked to capitalism, free markets, and the protection of private property. Free competition, the unfettered movement of goods, and the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor are all essential aspects of economic freedom and American capitalism.30 In the first century of the Republic, support for capitalism often meant support for the doctrine of laissez­faire

Analyze whether the U.S. system of government upholds American political values


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Global Diversity How does the racial and ethnic diversity of the United States compare to that of other countries around the world, and why are some countries more diverse than others?

As a “nation of immigrants,” the United States is more diverse than many Western countries, but some former colonies are even more diverse than the United States. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa were colonized by empires whose governments often drew borders that encompassed multiple ethnic groups in the region. State- building and nationalism are new to these regions, meaning that local identities often remain stronger than national ones.

In contrast, many western european and Asian countries have histories of past conflict and strong state-building efforts, resulting

in less diversity either by eliminating rival groups or forcibly assimilating them. Japan’s geographic isolation has created a racially homogeneous society, which was reinforced by the government’s use of isolationism as a means to consolidate power.a Modern policies limiting immigration continue these historic trends. france has historically pursued both political and cultural assimilation, using its schools to socialize its citizens into a com- mon identity. Recent immigration, however, has highlighted potential problems with this policy.b

How might the degree of diversity shape political values in specific countries? What types of values and policies would we expect to see in countries with a high degree of diversity versus those with less diversity?

Most diverse

No data available


Most homogeneous

aBenedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006), 94–99. bJohn R. Bowen, Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).

SOURCE: Alberto Alesina, Arnaud Devleeschauwer, William Easterly, Sergio Kurlat, and Romain Wacziarg, “Fractionalization,” Journal of Economic Growth, 8 (2003): 155–94.

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(literally, “let do” in French), an economic system in which the means of produc­ tion and distribution are privately owned and operated for profit with minimal or no government interference. Laissez-faire capitalism allowed very little room for the national government to regulate trade or restrict the use of private property, even in the public interest. Americans still strongly support capitalism and economic liberty, but they now also endorse some restrictions on economic freedoms to protect the public. Today, federal and state governments deploy a wide array of regulations in the name of public protection. These include health and safety laws, environmental rules, and workplace regulations.

Not surprisingly, fierce disagreements often erupt over what the proper scope of government regulation should be. What some people regard as protecting the pub­ lic, others see as an infringement of their own freedom to run their businesses and use their property as they see fit.


The Declaration of Independence declares as its first “self­evident” truth that “all men are created equal.” As central as it is to the American political creed, how­ ever, equality has been a less well­defined ideal than liberty because people interpret “equality” in different ways. Most Americans share the ideal of equality of opportunity wherein all people should have the freedom to use whatever talents and wealth they have to reach their fullest potential. Yet it is hard for Americans to reach an agree­ ment on what constitutes equality of opportunity. Must a group’s past inequalities

Economic freedom lies at the heart of many conflicts in American life. While supporters of the Tea Party movement protest against economic regulation and higher taxes and support smaller government, many Americans feel it is the government’s responsibility to regulate economic activity to benefit the majority of Americans.


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be remedied in order to ensure equal opportunity in the present? Should inequalities in the legal, political, and economic spheres be given the same weight? In contrast to liberty, which requires limits on the role of government, equality implies an obliga- tion of the government to the people.31

Americans do make clear distinctions between political equality and social or economic equality. Political equality refers to the right to participate in poli­ tics equally, based on the principle of “one person, one vote.” Beginning from a very restricted definition of political community, which originally included only propertied white men, the United States has moved much closer to an ideal of political equality. Broad support for this ideal has helped expand the American political community and extend the right to participate to all. Although consi­ derable conflict remains over whether the political system makes it harder for some people to participate and easier for others, and about whether the role of money in politics has drowned out the public voice, Americans agree that all citizens should have an equal opportunity to participate and that government should enforce that right.

In part because Americans believe that individuals are free to work as hard as they choose, they have always been less concerned about social or economic inequality. Many Americans regard economic differences as the consequence of individual choices, virtues, or failures. Because of this, Americans tend to be less supportive than most Europeans of government action to ensure economic equality. Since the recession of 2008, however, income inequality has risen on the political agenda. In 2015 two­thirds of Americans said the distribution of wealth and money is not fair and should be more evenly distributed; in 2017, 63 percent of Americans said upper­income people pay too little in taxes, and 67 percent said corporations pay too little.32


The essence of democracy is the participation of the people in choosing their rulers and the people’s ability to influence what those rulers do. In a democracy, political power ultimately comes from the people. The principle of democracy in which political authority rests ultimately in the hands of the people is known as popular sovereignty. In the United States, popular sover­ eignty and political equality make politicians accountable to the people. Ideally, democracy envisions an engaged citizenry prepared to exercise its power over rulers. As we noted earlier, the United States is a representative democracy, meaning that the people do not rule directly but instead exercise power through elected representatives. Forms of participation in a democracy vary greatly, but voting is a key element of the representative democracy that the American Founders established.

American democracy rests on the principle of majority rule with minority rights, the democratic principle that a government follows the preferences of the major­ ity of voters but protects the interests of the minority. Majority rule means that


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the wishes of the majority determine what government does. The House of Representatives—a large body elected directly by the people—was designed in particular to ensure majority rule. But the Founders feared that popular majori­ ties could turn government into a “tyranny of the majority” in which individual liberties would be violated. Concern for individual rights has thus been a part of American democracy from the beginning. The rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights and enforced through the courts provide an important check on the power of the majority.

Government Affects Our Lives Every Day Since the United States was estab­ lished as a nation, Americans have been reluctant to grant government too much power, and they have often

been suspicious of politicians. But over the course of the nation’s history, Americans have also turned to government for assistance in times of need and have strongly supported the government in periods of war. In 1933 the power of the govern­ ment began to expand to meet the crises created by the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression, and the run on banks. Congress passed legislation that brought the government into the businesses of home mortgages, farm mort­ gages, credit, and relief of personal distress. More recently, when the economy fell

The federal government maintains a large number of websites that provide useful information to citizens on such topics as loans for education, civil service job applications, the inflation rate, and how the weather will affect farming. These sites are just one way in which the government serves its citizens.

Explore Americans’ attitudes toward government


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into a recession in 2008 and 2009, the federal government took action to shore up the financial system, oversee the restructuring of the ailing auto companies, and inject hundreds of billions of dollars into the faltering economy. Today, the national government is an enormous institution with programs and policies reach­ ing into every corner of American life. It oversees the nation’s economy, it is the nation’s largest employer, it provides citizens with a host of services, it controls the world’s most formidable military establishment, and it regulates a wide range of social and commercial activities.

Much of what citizens have come to depend on and take for granted—as, somehow, part of the natural environment—is in fact created by government. Take the example of a typical college student’s day, throughout which that student relies on a host of services and activities organized by national, state, and local government agencies. The extent of this dependence on government is illustrated by Table 1.1.


Ironically, even as popular dependence on government has grown, the American public’s view of government has turned more sour. Public trust in government has declined, and Americans are now more likely to feel that they can do little to influence the government’s actions. Different groups vary somewhat in their levels of trust: African Americans and Latinos express more confidence in the federal government than do whites. But even among the most supportive groups, more than half do not trust the government.33 These developments are important because politically en­ gaged citizens and public confidence in government are vital for the health of a democracy. In the early 1960s three­quarters of Americans said they trusted government most of the time or always. By 2017 only 18 percent of Americans expressed such trust in government.34 Trust hit a high point after the September 11, 2001, terror­ ist attacks, but fell to pre­attack levels within three years, and the trend con­ tinued its downward path. Distrust of government greatly influenced the presidential primary elections in 2015 and 2016, when a number of “outsider” candidates—most notably

While levels of participation in politics are relatively low for young Americans, the presidential primary campaigns of 2008 and 2016 saw the highest levels of youth turnout—to volunteer and to vote—in decades. What factors might have energized young people to become involved in these campaigns?

21GOVeRNMeNT AffecTS OUR l I VeS eVeRy DAy

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7:00 a.m. Wake up. Standard time set by the national government.

7:10 a.m. Shower. Water courtesy of local government, either a public entity or a regulated private company. Brush your teeth with toothpaste whose cavity-fighting claims have been verified by a federal agency.

7:30 a.m. Have a bowl of cereal with milk for breakfast. “Nutrition facts” on food labels are a federal requirement, pasteurization of milk required by state law, recycling the empty cereal box and milk carton enabled by state or local laws.

8:30 a.m. Drive or take public transportation to campus. Air bags and seat belts required by federal and state laws. Roads and bridges paid for by state and local governments, speed and traffic laws set by state and local governments, public transportation subsidized by all levels of government.

8:45 a.m. Arrive on campus of large public university. Buildings are 70 percent financed by state taxpayers.

9:00 a.m. first class: chemistry 101. Tuition partially paid by a federal loan (more than half the cost of university instruction is paid for by taxpayers), chemistry lab paid for with grants from the National Science foundation (a federal agency).

Noon eat lunch. college cafeteria financed by state dormitory authority on land grant from federal Department of Agriculture.

2:00 p.m. Second class: American Government 101 (your favorite class!). you may be taking this class because it is required by the state legislature or because it fulfills a university requirement.

4:00 p.m. Third class: computer Science 101. free computers, software, and internet access courtesy of state subsidies plus grants and discounts from IBM and Microsoft, the costs of which are deducted from their corporate income taxes; internet built in part by federal government.

6:00 p.m. eat hamburger for dinner. Meat inspected by federal agencies.

7:00 p.m. Work at part-time job at the campus library. Minimum wage set by federal, state, or local government; books and journals in library paid for by state taxpayers.

8:15 p.m. check the status of your application for a federal student loan (fAfSA) on the Department of education’s website at studentaid.ed.gov.

10:00 p.m. Go home. Street lighting paid for by county and city governments, police patrols by city government.

10:15 p.m. Watch TV. Networks regulated by federal government, cable public- access channels required by city law. Weather forecast provided to broadcasters by a federal agency.


The Presence of Government in the Daily Life of a Student at “State University”


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Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who were critical of government and eager to depart from business as usual in Washington—attracted wide support.

Does it matter if Americans trust their government? For the most part, the answer is yes. Most Americans rely on government for a wide range of services and laws that they simply take for granted. But long­term distrust in government can result in public refusal to pay the taxes necessary to support such widely approved public activities. Low levels of confidence may also make it difficult for govern­ ment to attract talented and effective workers to public service.35 The weakening of government as a result of prolonged levels of distrust may ultimately harm the capacity of the United States to defend its national interest in the world economy and may jeopardize its national security. Likewise, a weak government can do little to assist citizens who need help in weathering periods of sharp economic or technological change.

American Political Culture WHAT DO WE WANT? Americans express mixed views about government. Almost everyone complains about

government, and general trust in government has declined significantly. Despite mount-

ing distrust, when asked about particular government activities or programs, a majority

of Americans generally support the activities that government undertakes. These con-

flicting views reflect the tensions in American political culture: there is no perfect

balance between liberty, equality, and democracy. In recent years, finding the right mix

of government actions to achieve these different goals has become especially trouble-

some. Some charge that government initiatives designed to promote equality infringe

on individual liberty, while others point to the need for government to take action in

the face of growing inequality. Sharp political debate over competing goals alienates

many citizens, who react by withdrawing from politics. yet, in contrast to totalitarian

and authoritarian forms of government, democracy rests on the principle of popular

sovereignty. No true democracy can function properly without knowledgeable and

engaged citizens. The stories of Saira Blair and Kendric Jones at the beginning of this

chapter show that people often turn frustration with government into political action.

But running for office is only one way to participate in politics. The “Who Participates?”

feature on page 25 shows who voted in the 2016 presidential election.

The remarkable diversity of the American people represents a great strength for

American democracy as well as a formidable challenge. The shifting religious, racial,

ethnic, and immigration statuses of Americans throughout history have always pro-

voked fears about whether American values could withstand such dramatic shifts.

The changing face of America also sparks hopes for an America that embodies its

fundamental values more fully.


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Demographic changes will continue to raise tough new questions. for example,

as the American population grows older, programs for the elderly will take up an

increasing share of the federal budget. yet, to be successful, a nation must invest

in its young people. And, as any college student knows, the cost of college has risen

in recent years. Many students drop out as they discover that the cost of college is

too high. Or they graduate and find themselves saddled with loans that will take

decades to pay back. yet, in a world of ever-sharper economic competition, higher

education has become increasingly important for individuals seeking economic secu-

rity. Moreover, an educated population is critical to the future prosperity of the country

as a whole. Are there ways to support the elderly and the young at the same time? Is it

fair to cut back assistance to the elderly, who have worked a lifetime for their benefits?

If we decrease assistance to the elderly, will they stay in the labor market and make

the job hunt for young people even more difficult? As these trade-offs suggest, there

are no easy answers to these demographic changes.


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Who Voted in 2016?


College graduate Postgraduate study

Some high school Some collegeHigh school graduate


Race / Ethnicity

Income Sex


18−29 30−44 45−64 65+

46% 59% 67% 71%







White BlackHispanic Asian





65% 59%48% 49%

35% 63% 74%52%

*Highest level attained SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey November 2016, census.gov (accessed 11/20/17).


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Practice Quiz

1. What is the difference between a totalitarian government and an authoritarian government? (p. 5) a) Authoritarian governments require

popular participation while totalitar- ian governments do not.

b) Totalitarian governments are generally based on religion, while authoritarian governments are not.

c) Authoritarian governments are often restrained by the power of social institutions, while totalitarian governments are not.

d) Totalitarian governments acknowledge strict limits on their power, while authoritarian governments do not.

e) There is no difference between these two kinds of government.

2. In a constitutional government (p. 5) a) the government recognizes no

formal limits on its power. b) presidential elections are held

every four years. c) governmental power is held by a

single individual. d) formal and effective limits

are placed on the powers of government.

e) the government follows the wishes of the majority.

Register to vote. See page 242.

Cast your vote on Election Day. Consider encouraging others to vote too. Research shows that people are more likely to turn out to vote if a friend or family member asks them to.


Find out what’s on the ballot in upcoming elections in your state and district by entering your address at www.vote411.org (a website from the League of Women Voters).



wtp12e_ess_ptr_ch01_002-029.indd 26 11/28/18 4:25 PM

3. A state that permits its citizens to vote directly on laws and policies is practicing a form of (p. 7) a) representative democracy b) direct democracy c) pluralism d) laissez-faire capitalism e) republicanism

4. Political efficacy is the belief that (p. 9) a) government operates efficiently. b) government has grown too large. c) government cannot be trusted. d) ordinary citizens can influence what

government does. e) government is wasteful and corrupt.

5. What is digital citizenship? (p. 9) a) a new government initiative to

expand online voter registration b) the ability to vote online c) an online certification program

that allows immigrants to become American citizens

d) the ability to participate in society online

e) a new government initiative to pro- vide daily legislative updates online

6. The percentage of foreign-born individuals living in the United States (pp. 11–12) a) has increased significantly since

reaching its low point in 1970. b) has decreased significantly since

reaching its high point in 1970. c) has remained the same since 1970. d) has never been less than the per-

centage of native-born individuals living in the United States.

e) has not been studied since 1970.

7. In 2016, latinos were approximately what percent of the American public? (p. 13) a) 67 percent b) 52 percent c) 31 percent d) 18 percent e) 6 percent

8. Which of the following statements best describes the changes in America’s age profile since 1900? (p. 13) a) The percentage of adults over the

age of 65 has declined dramatically.

b) The percentage of adults over the age of 65 has increased dramatically.

c) The percentage of adults over the age of 65 has remained constant.

d) The percentage of children under the age of 18 has increased dramatically.

e) The percentage of children under the age of 18 has remained constant.

9. What percent of Americans live in urban areas today? (p. 14) a) less than 10 percent b) about 20 percent c) about 40 percent d) about 60 percent e) about 80 percent

10. Which of the following statements best describes the history of income inequality in the United States? (p. 14) a) The top 1 percent has never

earned more than 10 percent of the nation’s annual income.

b) The top 1 percent has never earned less than 10 percent of the nation’s annual income.

c) Income inequality has remained fairly constant since the late 1970s.

d) Income inequality has increased considerably since the late 1970s.

e) Income inequality has decreased considerably since the late 1970s.

11. The phrase “life, liberty and the pur- suit of Happiness” appears in (p. 16) a) the preamble to the constitution. b) the Bill of Rights. c) the Declaration of Independence. d) the Magna carta. e) the Gettysburg Address.

12. An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately owned and operated for profit with minimal or no government interference is referred to as (p. 18) a) socialism. b) communism. c) laissez-faire capitalism. d) corporatism. e) feudalism.


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13. The principle of political equality can be best summed up as (p. 19) a) “equality of results.” b) “equality of opportunity.” c) “one person, one vote.” d) “equality between the sexes.” e) “leave everyone alone.”

14. Americans’ trust in their government (p. 21) a) has risen steadily since the

1960s. b) has remained relatively constant

since the 1960s. c) increased between 1960 and

2008 but has declined since.

d) increased after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but has declined since.

e) declined after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but has increased since.

Key Terms

authoritarian government (p. 5) a system of rule in which the government recognizes no formal limit but may nevertheless be restrained by the power of other social institutions

citizenship (p. 8) informed and active membership in a political community

constitutional government (p. 5) a system of rule in which formal and effective limits are placed on the powers of the government

democracy (p. 5) a system of rule that permits citizens to play a significant part in the governmental process, usually through the election of key public officials

direct democracy (p. 7) a system of rule that permits citizens to vote directly on laws and policies

equality of opportunity (p. 18) a widely shared American ideal that all people should have the freedom to use whatever talents and wealth they have to reach their fullest potential

government (p. 5) institutions and proce- dures through which a territory and its people are ruled

laissez-faire capitalism (p. 18) an economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately owned and operated for profit with minimal or no government interference

liberty (p. 16) freedom from government control

limited government (p. 16) a principle of constitutional government; a government whose powers are defined and limited by a constitution

majority rule/minority rights (p. 19) the democratic principle that a government follows the preferences of the majority of voters but protects the interests of the minority

political efficacy (p. 9) the ability to influence government and politics

political equality (p. 19) the right to participate in politics equally, based on the principle of “one person, one vote”

political knowledge (p. 8) possessing information about the formal institutions of government, political actors, and political issues


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politics (p. 7) conflict over the leadership, structure, and policies of governments

popular sovereignty (p. 19) a principle of democracy in which political authority rests ultimately in the hands of the people

power (p. 7) influence over a government’s leadership, organization, or policies

Dahl, Robert. How Democratic Is the American Constitution? New Haven, cT: yale University Press, 2002.

Dalton, Russell. The Good Citizen: How a Younger Generation Is Reshaping American Politics. 2nd ed. Washington, Dc: cq Press, 2015.

Delli carpini, Michael X., and Scott Keeter. What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters. New Haven, cT: yale University Press, 1996.

Hochschild, Jennifer l. Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

lasswell, Harold. Politics: Who Gets What, When, How. New york: Meridian Books, 1958.

Mccarty, Nolan, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches. cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.

Mettler, Suzanne. The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy. chicago: University of chicago Press, 2011.

Nye, Joseph S., Jr., Philip D. zelikow, and David c. King, eds. Why People Don’t Trust Government. cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Page, Benjamin I., and lawrence R. Jacobs. Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality. chicago: University of chicago Press, 2009.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Translated by Phillips Bradley. New york: Knopf, Vintage Books, 1945. first published 1835.

representative democracy (republic) (p. 7) a system of government in which the populace selects representatives, who play a significant role in governmental decision making

totalitarian government (p. 5) a system of rule in which the government recognizes no formal limits on its power and seeks to absorb or eliminate other social institutions that might challenge it

For Further Reading


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020202 chapter

The Founding and the Constitution WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES AND WHY IT MATTERS One of the worries of the framers of the U.S. Constitution was the concentration

of government powers and the possible infringement on individual liberties.

One solution was to divide the executive, legislative, and judicial powers of

government across different institutions with separate powers, each checking

the other. Governmental power was further divided between the national and

state governments. Sometimes this constitutional system and its effect on

average Americans comes vividly to life.

Jim Obergefell was a real estate agent and IT consultant in Cincinnati, Ohio,

in 1992 when he met and fell in love with John Arthur.1 Although their relation-

ship would last for decades, they were unable to marry. In 1996, Congress

passed and President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a

federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman. States

could still permit same-sex marriage, but the marriages would not be recognized

for fede ral purposes such as filing taxes or earning Social Security survivor bene-

fits. The law also permitted states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages

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The Founding and the Constitution

From America’s founding to today, debates over the role of the United States government in citizens’ lives have persisted. After the historic decision to rule same-sex marriage a right guaranteed by the Constitution, Jim Obergefell holds a photo of his late husband on the steps of the Supreme Court to celebrate his bittersweet victory.


performed in other states. Then the state of Ohio enacted its own DOMA in

2004, prohibiting same-sex marriage and refusing to recognize those per-

formed elsewhere.

Thus Obergefell and Arthur were unable to marry due to the actions of two

branches of the federal government—the executive and legislative—and their

state. The issue became more acute when Arthur was diagnosed with ALS, or

Lou Gehrig’s disease—a progressive, debilitating disease. Obergefell served

as Arthur’s primary caregiver, and the couple traveled to Maryland in 2013

and wed on the airport tarmac. Then they filed a lawsuit with the state of Ohio

for Obergefell to be recognized as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s imminent

death certificate. Arthur passed away three months later.

The case made it to the Supreme Court. In 2015 the Court ruled in Obergefell

v. Hodges that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex

couples by the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth

Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.2 Thus the Court secured a civil right that

the executive and legislative branches and a number of states had denied.

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The U.S. Constitution lays out the purpose of government: to promote justice,

to maintain peace at home, to defend the nation from foreign foes, to provide for

the welfare of the citizenry, and, above all, to secure the “blessings of liberty” for

Americans. It also spells out a plan for achieving these objectives, including provi-

sions for the exercise of legislative, executive, and judicial powers and a recipe

for the division of powers among the federal government’s branches and between

the national and state governments. Jim Obergefell’s quest to marry the love of

his life intersected with all three branches and both levels of government.

His story also shows that although many Americans believe strongly in the

long-standing values of liberty, equality, and democracy, how those values are

defined and implemented by the political institutions that the Constitution

created are a source of considerable controversy. The framers believed that a

good constitution created a government with the capacity to act forcefully. But

they also believed that government should be compelled to take a variety of

interests and viewpoints into account when it formulates policies. Sometimes

the deliberation and compromise encouraged by the constitutional arrange-

ments of “separated institutions sharing powers” can result in policymaking

that is slow or even gridlocked.3 Public policy is always a product of political

bargaining. But so was the Constitution itself. As this chapter will show, the

Constitution reflects high principle as well as political self-interest and defines

the relationship between American citizens and their government.

★ Describe the events that led to the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation (pp. 33–38)

★ Analyze the reasons many Americans thought a new Constitution was needed, and assess the obstacles to a new Constitution (pp. 38–43)

★ Explain how the Constitution attempted to improve America’s governance, and outline the major institutions established by the Constitution (pp. 43–51)

★ Present the controversies involved in the struggle for ratification (pp. 51–56)

★ Trace how the Constitution has changed over time through the amendment process (pp. 56–60)



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The First Founding: Ideals, Interests, and Conflicts

The government created by the coun- try’s Founders was the product of British legal and political traditions, colonial experience, and new ideas about governance that gained currency

in the century before America broke with Britain. While America’s leaders were first and foremost practical politicians, they also read political philosophy and were influenced by the important thinkers of their day, including Hobbes, Locke, and Montesquieu.

The seventeenth-century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was no advocate of democratic government, but he wrote persuasively in Leviathan about the necessity of a government authority as an antidote to human existence in a government-less state of nature, where life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” He also believed that governments should have limits on the powers they exercised and that political systems are based on the idea of “contract theory”— that the people of a country voluntarily give up some freedom in exchange for an ordered society. The monarchs who rule that society derive their legitimacy from this contract, not from a God-given right to rule.

Another British political thinker, John Locke (1632–1704), advanced the prin- ciples of republican government by arguing not only that monarchical power was not absolute, but that such power was dangerous and should therefore be limited. In a break with Hobbes, Locke argued that the people retain rights despite the social contract they make with the monarch. Preserving safety in society is not enough; people’s lives, liberty, and property also require protection. Further, Locke wrote in his Second Treatise of Civil Government that the people of a country have a right to overthrow a government they believe to be unjust or tyrannical. This key idea shaped the thinking of the Founders, including Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, who said that the document was “pure Locke.” Locke advanced the important ideas of limited government and consent of the governed.

Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu (1689–1755) was a French political thinker who advocated the idea that power needed to be balanced by power as a bulwark against tyranny. The way in which this could be achieved was through the separation of governing powers. This idea was already in practice in Britain, where legislative and executive powers were divided between Parliament and the monarch. In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu argued for the separation and elevation of judicial power, which in Britain was still held by the monarch. Montesquieu did not argue for a pure separation of powers; rather, basic functions would be separated, but there would also be some overlap of functions. These ideas were central in shaping the three-branch system of government that America’s Founders outlined in the Constitution of 1787.

Describe the events that led to the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation


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The American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution were outgrowths of a struggle among competing economic and political forces within the colonies. Five sectors of society had interests that were important in colonial politics: (1) New England merchants; (2) southern planters; (3) “royalists”—holders of royal lands, offices, and patents (licenses to engage in a profession or business activity); (4) shopkeepers, artisans, and laborers; and (5) small farmers. Throughout the eighteenth century, these groups were in conflict over issues of taxation, trade, and commerce. For the most part, however, the southern planters, the New England merchants, and the royal office and patent holders—groups that together made up the colonial elite— were able to maintain a political alliance that held in check the more radical forces representing shopkeepers, laborers, and small farmers. After 1760, however, by seriously threatening the interests of New England merchants and southern plant- ers, British tax and trade policies split the colonial elite, permitting radical forces to expand their political influence, and set in motion a chain of events that culminated in the American Revolution.4


During the first half of the eighteenth century, Britain ruled its American colonies with a light hand. Evidence of British rule was hardly to be found outside the largest towns, and the enterprising colonists had found ways of evading most of the taxes levied by the distant British government. Beginning in the 1760s, however, debts and other financial problems faced by the British government forced it to search for new revenue sources. This search rather quickly led to the Crown’s North American colonies, which, on the whole, paid remarkably little in taxes to their parent country. Much of Britain’s debt arose from the expenses it had incurred in defense of the colonies during the recent French and Indian War (1756–63), as well as from the continuing protection that British forces were giving the colonists from Indian attacks and that the British navy was providing for colonial shipping. Thus, during the 1760s, Great Britain sought to impose new, though relatively modest, taxes on the colonists.

Like most governments of the period, the British regime had limited ways in which to collect revenues. In the mid-eighteenth century, governments relied mainly on tariffs, duties, and other taxes on commerce; and it was to such taxes, including the Stamp Act, that the British turned during the 1760s.

The Stamp Act and other taxes on commerce, such as the Sugar Act of 1764, which taxed sugar, molasses, and other commodities, most heavily affected the two groups in colonial society whose commercial interests and activities were most extensive—the New England merchants and the southern planters. United under the famous slogan “No taxation without representation,” the merchants and plant- ers sought to organize opposition to these new taxes. In the course of the struggle against British tax measures, the planters and merchants broke with their royalist


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allies and turned to their former adversaries—the shopkeepers, laborers, artisans, and small farmers—for help. With the assistance of these groups, the merchants and planters organized demonstrations and a boycott of British goods that ultimately forced the Crown to rescind most of its hated new taxes.

From the perspective of the merchants and planters, this was a victorious con- clusion to their struggle with the parent country. They were anxious to end the un- rest they had helped to arouse, and they supported the British government’s efforts to restore order. Indeed, most respectable Bostonians supported the actions of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre (1770), when those soldiers killed five colonists while attempting to repel an angry mob moving against a government building. In their subsequent trial, the soldiers were defended by John Adams, a pillar of Boston society and a future president of the United States. Adams asserted that the soldiers’ actions were entirely justified, provoked as they were by “a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and mulattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish Jack tars.” All but two of the soldiers were acquitted.5

Yet political strife persisted. The more radical forces representing shopkeepers, artisans, laborers, and small farmers, who had been mobilized and energized by the struggle over taxes, continued to agitate for political and social change. These radi- cals, whose leaders included Samuel Adams, a cousin of John Adams, asserted that British power supported an unjust political and social structure within the colonies and began to advocate an end to British rule.6


The political strife within the colonies was the background for the events of 1773–74. In 1773 the British government granted the politically powerful but ailing East India Company a monopoly on the export of tea from Britain, elimi- nating a lucrative form of trade for colonial merchants. To add insult to injury, the East India Company sought to sell the tea directly in the colonies instead of working through the colonial merchants. Tea was an extremely important commodity in the 1770s, and these British actions posed a serious threat to the New England merchants. Together with their southern allies, the merchants once again called upon the radicals for support. The most dramatic result was the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when anti-British radicals, led by Samuel Adams (some of them “disguised” as Mohawk Indians), boarded three vessels anchored in Boston Harbor and threw the entire cargo of 342 chests of tea into the harbor.

This event was of decisive importance in American history. The merchants had hoped to force the British government to rescind the Tea Act, but they did not support any demands beyond this one. They certainly did not seek independence from Britain. Samuel Adams and the other radicals, however, hoped to provoke the British government to take actions that would alienate its colonial supporters and pave the way for a rebellion. This was precisely the purpose of the Boston Tea Party, and it succeeded. By dumping the East India Company’s tea into Boston Harbor, Adams and his followers goaded the British into enacting a number of harsh reprisals that closed the port of Boston to commerce, changed the provincial


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government of Massachusetts, provided for the removal of accused persons to Britain for trial, and, most important, restricted movement to the West—further alienating the southern planters, who depended upon access to new western lands. These acts of retaliation confirmed the worst criticisms of British rule and helped radicalize Americans. Radicals such as Samuel Adams had been agitating for more violent measures against the British. But ultimately it was Britain’s political repres- sion that fanned support for independence.

Thus, the Boston Tea Party set in motion a cycle of provocation and retaliation that in 1774 resulted in the convening of the First Continental Congress—an assembly of delegates from all parts of the colonies that called for a total boycott of British goods and, under the prodding of the radicals, began to consider the possi- bility of independence from British rule. The eventual result was the Declaration of Independence.


In 1776, more than a year after open warfare had commenced in Massachusetts, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee consisting of Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, John Adams of Massachusetts, and Robert Livingston of New York to draft a statement of American independence from British rule. The Declaration

The British helped radicalize colonists through policy decisions in the years before the Revolution. For example, Britain gave the East India Company a monopoly on the tea trade in the American colonies, which colonists feared would hurt colonial merchants’ business.


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of Independence, written by Jefferson and adopted by the Second Conti- nental Congress, was an extraordinary philosophical and political document. Philosophically, the Declaration was remarkable for its assertion that certain rights, called “unalienable rights”— including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—could not be abridged by governments. In the world of 1776, a world in which some kings still claimed to rule by divine right, this was a dramatic statement.

Politically, the Declaration was re- markable because it focused on griev- ances, aspirations, and principles that might unify the various colonial groups that were otherwise divided economi- cally, philosophically, and by region. The Declaration was an attempt to identify and articulate a history and set of principles that might help to forge national unity.7 It also explained to the rest of the world why American colo- nists were attempting to break away from Great Britain.


Having declared their independence, the colonies needed to establish a govern- mental structure. In November 1777 the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the United States’ first written constitution. Although it was not ratified by all the states until 1781, it was the country’s operative constitution until the final months of 1788.

The Articles of Confederation were concerned primarily with limiting the powers of the central government. The central government, first of all, was based entirely in a Congress. Since it was not intended to be a powerful government, it was given no executive branch. Execution of its laws was to be left to the individual states. Second, the Congress had little power. Its members were not much more than delegates or messengers from the state legislatures. They were chosen by the state legislatures, their salaries were paid out of the state treasuries, and they were subject to immediate recall by state authorities. In addition, each state, regardless of its size, had only a single vote.

The Congress was given the power to declare war and make peace, to make treaties and alliances, to coin or borrow money, and to regulate trade with the

The purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to explain to the world why the colonists had rebelled against the British and sought self-government. Every year, Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration on the Fourth of July.


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Native Americans. It could also appoint the senior officers of the U.S. Army. But it could not levy taxes or regulate commerce among the states. Moreover, the army officers it appointed had no army to serve in because the nation’s armed forces were composed of the state militias. And in order to amend the Articles, all 13 states had to agree—a virtual impossibility. Probably the most unfortunate part of the Articles of Confederation was that the central government could not prevent one state from discriminating against other states in the quest for foreign commerce.

The relationship between the Congress and the states under the Articles of Con- federation was one in which the states retained virtually all governmental powers. It was properly called a confederation (a system of government in which states retain sovereign authority except for the powers expressly delegated to the national gov- ernment) because, as provided under Article II, “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.” Not only was there no executive, there also was no judicial authority and no other means of enforcing the Congress’s will. If there was to be any enforcement at all, the states would do it for the Congress.8

The Failure of the Articles of Confederation Made the “Second Founding” Necessary

The Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation were not sufficient to hold the new nation together as an independent and effective nation-state. From almost the moment of armistice

with the British in 1783, moves were afoot to reform and strengthen the Articles of Confederation.

Competition among the states for foreign commerce posed a special prob- lem to the new country because it allowed the European powers to play the states against one another, which not only made America seem weak and vul- nerable abroad but also created confusion on both sides of the Atlantic. At one point during the winter of 1786–87, John Adams of Massachusetts, a leader in the independence struggle, was sent to negotiate a new treaty with the British, one that would cover disputes left over from the war. The British government responded that, because the United States under the Articles of Confedera- tion was unable to enforce existing treaties, it would negotiate with each of the 13 states separately.

At the same time, well-to-do Americans—in particular the New England merchants and southern planters—were troubled by the influence that “radical” forces exercised in the Continental Congress and in the governments of sever- al of the states. As a result of the Revolution, one key segment of the colonial

Analyze the reasons many Americans thought a new Constitution was needed, and assess the obstacles to a new Constitution


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elite—the royal land office, and patent holders—was stripped of its economic and political privileges. And while the pre-Revolutionary elite were weakened, the pre- Revolutionary radicals were better organized than ever and now controlled such states as Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, where they pursued economic and political policies that struck terror into the hearts of the pre-Revolutionary political establishment. Of course, the central government under the Articles of Confederation was powerless to intervene.


The continuation of international weakness and domestic economic turmoil led many Americans to consider whether their newly adopted form of govern- ment might not already require revision. In the fall of 1786, many state lead- ers accepted an invitation from the Virginia legislature for a conference of representatives of all the states, to be held in Annapolis, Maryland. Delegates from only five states actually attended, so nothing substantive could be accom- plished. Still, this conference was the first step toward what is now known as the second founding. The one positive thing that came out of the Annapolis convention was a carefully worded resolution calling on the Congress to send commissioners to Philadelphia at a later time “to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the Constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union.”9 But the resolution did not necessarily imply any desire to do more than improve and reform the Articles of Confederation.

The government under the Articles did enact some important measures, including the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The Land Ordinance established the principles of land surveying and landowner- ship that governed America’s westward expansion, and under the Northwest Ordinance the states agreed to surrender their western land claims, which opened the way for the admission of new states to the Union. Still, the young nation’s political and economic position deteriorated during the 1780s, and something had to be done.


It is quite possible that the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia would never have taken place at all except for a single event that occurred during the winter following the Annapolis convention: Shays’s Rebellion.

Daniel Shays, a former army captain, led a mob of farmers in a rebellion against the government of Massachusetts, which had levied heavy taxes against them. The purpose of the rebellion was to prevent foreclosures on farmers’ debt-ridden land by keeping the county courts of western Massachusetts from sitting until after the next election. A militia force, organized by the Governor of Massachusetts and privately


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funded by a group of prominent merchants, dispersed the mob, but for several days in February 1787, Shays and his followers terrified the state government by attempting to capture the federal arsenal at Spring- field, provoking an appeal to the Congress to help restore order. Within a few days, the state government regained control and captured 14 of the rebels. (All were eventually pardoned.) Later that year, a newly elected Massachusetts legislature granted some of the farmers’ demands.

George Washington summed up the effects of this incident: “I am mortified beyond expression that in the moment of our acknowledged independence we should by our conduct verify the predictions of our transatlantic foe, and render ourselves ridiculous and contemptible in the eyes of all Europe.”10

The Congress under the Confederation had been unable to act decisively in a time of crisis. This provided critics of the Articles of Confederation with precisely the evidence they needed to push the Annapolis resolution through the Congress. Thus, the states were asked to send representatives to Philadelphia to discuss constitutional revision. Delegates were eventually sent by every state except Rhode Island.


The delegates who convened in Philadelphia in May 1787 had political strife, inter- national embarrassment, national weakness, and local rebellion fixed in their minds. Recognizing that these issues were symptoms of fundamental flaws in the Articles of Confederation, the delegates soon abandoned the plan to revise the Articles and committed themselves to a second founding—a second, and ultimately successful, attempt to create a legitimate and effective national system of government. This effort would occupy the convention for the next five months.

A Marriage of Interest and Principle For years, scholars have disagreed about the motives of the Founders in Philadelphia. Among the most controversial views of the framers’ motives is the “economic interpretation” put forward by historian Charles Beard and his disciples.11 According to Beard’s account, America’s Founders were a collection of securities speculators and property owners whose only aim was personal enrichment. From this perspective, the Constitution’s lofty principles are little more than sophisticated masks behind which the most venal interests sought to enrich themselves.

In 1787, Daniel Shays led a makeshift army against the federal arsenal at Springfield to protest heavy taxes levied by the Massachusetts legislature. The rebellion proved the Articles of Confederation were too weak to protect the fledgling nation.


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The opposing view is that the framers of the Constitution were concerned with philosophical and ethical principles. Indeed, the framers did try to devise a system of government consistent with the dominant philosophical and moral principles of the day. But, in fact, these two views belong together; the Founders’ interests were rein- forced by their principles. The convention that drafted the American Constitution was chiefly organized by the New England merchants and southern planters. Although the delegates representing these groups did not all hope to profit personally from an increase in the value of their securities, as Beard would have it, they did hope to benefit in the broadest political and economic sense by breaking the power of their radical foes and establishing a system of government more compatible with their long-term economic and political interests. Thus, the framers sought to create a new government capable of promoting commerce and protecting property from radical state legislatures and populist forces hostile to the interests of the commercial and propertied classes.

The Great Compromise The proponents of a new government fired their opening shot on May 29, 1787, when Edmund Randolph of Virginia offered a resolution that proposed corrections and enlargements in the Articles of Confederation. The proposal, reflecting the strong influence of James Madison, was no simple motion; rather, it provided for an entirely new government.

The portion of Randolph’s motion that became most controversial was called the Virginia Plan. This plan provided for a system of representation in the national legislature based upon the population of each state or the proportion of each state’s revenue contribution to the national government or both. (Randolph also pro- posed a second chamber of the legislature, to be elected by the members of the first chamber.) Since the states varied enormously in size and wealth, the Virginia Plan was heavily biased in favor of the large states.

While the convention was debating the Virginia Plan, opposition to it began to mount as more delegates arrived in Philadelphia. William Paterson of New Jersey introduced a new resolution known as the New Jersey Plan, which called for equal state representation in the national legislature regardless of population. Its main proponents were delegates from the less populous states, including Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York, who asserted that the more populous states, such as Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Georgia, would dominate the new government if representation were determined by population. The smaller states argued that each state should be equally represented in the new regime regardless of the state’s population.

The issue of representation was one that threatened to wreck the entire consti- tutional enterprise. Delegates conferred, factions maneuvered, and tempers flared. James Wilson of Pennsylvania told the small-state delegates that if they wanted to disrupt the union, they should go ahead. The separation, he said, could “never happen on better grounds.” Small-state delegates were equally blunt. Gunning Bedford of Delaware declared that the small states might, if forced, look elsewhere for friends. “The large states,” he said, “dare not dissolve the confederation. If they do the small ones will find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith, who will take them by the hand and do them justice.” These sentiments were widely shared.


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The union, as Luther Martin of Maryland put it, was “on the verge of dissolution, scarcely held together by the strength of a hair.”12

The outcome of this debate was the Connecticut Compromise, also known as the Great Compromise. Under the terms of this compromise, in the first chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives, the representatives would be apportioned according to the population in each state. This, of course, was what delegates from the large states had sought. But in the second chamber, the Senate, each state would have equal representa- tion regardless of its population; this provision addressed the concerns of the small states. This compromise was not immediately satisfactory to all the delegates. Indeed, two of the most vocal members of the small-state faction, John Lansing and Robert Yates of New York, were so incensed by the concession that their colleagues had made to the large-state forces that they stormed out of the convention. In the end, however, most of the delegates preferred compromise to the breakup of the Union, and the plan was accepted.

The Question of Slavery: The Three-Fifths Compromise Many of the conflicts that emerged during the Constitutional Convention were reflections of the funda- mental differences between the slave and the nonslave states—differences that pitted the southern planters against New England merchants. This was one example of the conflict that would later almost destroy the Republic.

More than 90 percent of the country’s slaves resided in five states—Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia—where they accounted for 30 percent of the total population. In some places, slaves outnumbered nonslaves by as many as 10 to 1. For the Constitution to embody any principle of national supremacy, some basic decisions would have to be made about the place of slavery in the general scheme. James Madison observed, “It seemed now to be pretty well understood that the real difference of interests lay, not between the large and small but between the northern and southern states. The institution of slavery and its consequences formed the line of discrimination.”13

The issue of slavery was the most difficult one faced by the framers, and it nearly destroyed the Union. Although some delegates believed slavery to be morally wrong, an evil and oppressive institution that made a mockery of the ideals and values espoused in the Constitution, morality was not the issue that caused the framers to support or oppose the Three-Fifths Compromise. Whatever they thought of the institution of slavery, most delegates from the northern states opposed counting slaves in the distribution of congressional seats. James Wilson of Pennsylvania, for example, argued that if slaves were citizens, they should be treated and counted like other citizens. If, on the other hand, they were property, then why should not other forms of property be counted toward the apportionment of representatives? But southern delegates made it clear that if the northerners refused to give in, they would never agree to the new government. William R. Davie of North Carolina heatedly asserted that the people of North Carolina would never enter the Union if slaves were not counted as part of the basis for representation. Without such agree- ment, he asserted ominously, “the business was at an end.” Even southerners such as Edmund Randolph of Virginia, who conceded that slavery was immoral, insisted on including slaves in the allocation of congressional seats. Eventually the North and South compromised on the issue of slavery and representation. Indeed, northerners


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even agreed to permit a continuation of the odious slave trade until 1808 in order to keep the South in the Union. Eventually, the disparate interests of the North and the South could no longer be reconciled, and a bloody civil war was the result.

Northerners and southerners eventually reached agreement through the Three- Fifths Compromise. The seats in the House of Representatives would be apportioned according to a “population” in which only three-fifths of slaves would be counted. The slaves would not be allowed to vote, of course; but the number of representa- tives would be apportioned accordingly.

The Constitution Created Both Bold Powers and Sharp Limits on Power

The political significance of the Great Compromise and the Three-Fifths Compromise was to reinforce the unity of the mercantile and planter forces that sought to create a new government. The Great Compromise reassured those in both groups who

Despite the Founders’ emphasis on liberty, the new Constitution allowed slavery. In this 1792 painting, Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences, the books, instruments, and classical columns at the left contrast with the kneeling slaves at the right—illustrating the divide between America’s rhetoric of liberty and equality and the realities of slavery.

Explain how the Constitution attempted to improve America’s governance, and outline the major institutions established by the Constitution


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feared that this new governmental framework would reduce the importance of their own local or regional influence. The Three-Fifths Compromise temporarily defused the rivalry between the merchants and planters. Their unity secured, members of the alliance supporting the establishment of a new government moved to fashion a constitutional framework consistent with their economic and political interests.

In particular, the framers sought a new government that, first, would be strong enough to promote commerce and protect property from radical state legislatures such as Rhode Island’s. This became the constitutional basis for national control over commerce and finance and for the establishment of national judicial supremacy and the effort to construct a strong presidency. (See Table 2.1 for a comparison of the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution.) Second, the framers sought to prevent what they saw as the threat posed by the “excessive democracy” of the state and national governments under the Articles of Confederation. This led to such constitutional principles as a bicameral legislature (a legislative assembly composed of two chambers or houses), checks and balances (mechanisms through which each branch of government is able to participate in and influence the activities of the other branches), staggered terms in office with longer terms for senators, and indirect election (selection of the president not by voters directly but by an electoral college; senators also were chosen indirectly, by state legislatures). Third, the framers, lacking the power to force the states or the public at large to accept the new form of government, sought to identify principles that would help to secure support. This became the basis of the constitutional provision for direct popular election of representatives and, subsequently, for the addition of the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, ratified in 1791; they ensure certain rights and liberties to the people). Finally, the framers wanted to be certain that the government they created did not pose an even greater threat to its citizens’ liberties and property rights than did the radical state legislatures they feared and despised. To prevent the new government from abusing its power, the framers incorporated principles such as the separation of powers (the division of governmental power among several institutions that must cooperate in de cision-making) and federalism (a system of government in which power is divided, by a constitution, between a central government and regional govern- ments) into the Constitution.


In Article I, Sections 1–7, the Constitution provides for a Congress consisting of two chambers: a House of Representatives and a Senate. Members of the House of Representatives were given two-year terms in office and were to be elected directly by the people. Members of the Senate were to be appointed by the state legisla- tures (this was changed in 1913 by the Seventeenth Amendment, which instituted direct election of senators) for six-year terms. These terms were staggered so that the appointments of one-third of the senators would expire every two years. The Constitution assigned somewhat different tasks to the House and Senate. Although the approval of each body was required for the enactment of a law, the Senate alone


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was given the power to ratify treaties and approve presidential appointments. The House, on the other hand, was given the sole power to originate revenue bills.

The structure of the legislative branch reflected the framers’ major goals. The House of Representatives was designed to be directly responsible to the people in order to encourage popular consent for the new Constitution and to help enhance the power of the new government. At the same time, to guard against “excessive democracy,” the Constitution checks the power of the House of Representatives


Executive branch none President of the United States

Judiciary no federal court system. Judiciary exists only at state level.

Federal judiciary headed by the Supreme Court

Legislature Unicameral legislature with equal representation for each state. Delegates to the Congress of the Confederation were appointed by the states.

Bicameral legislature consisting of Senate and House of representatives. Each state is represented by two senators, while apportionment in the House is based on state population. Senators are chosen by the state legislatures (changed to popular election in 1913) and House members by popular election.

Fiscal and economic powers

The national government is dependent upon the states to collect taxes. The states are free to coin their own money, print paper money, and sign commercial treaties with foreign governments.

Congress given the power to levy taxes, coin money, and regulate commerce. States prohibited from coining money or entering into treaties with other nations.

Military The national government is dependent upon state militias and cannot form an army during peacetime.

The national government is authorized to maintain an army and navy.

Legal supremacy State constitutions and state law are supreme.

national Constitution and national law are supreme.

Constitutional amendment

Must be agreed upon by all states.

Must be agreed upon by three- fourths of the states.


Comparing the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution


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with that of the Senate, whose members were to be appointed by the states for long terms rather than elected directly by the people. The purpose of this provision, accord- ing to Alexander Hamilton, was to avoid “an unqualified complaisance to every sud- den breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive.”14 Staggered terms of service in the Senate, moreover, were intended to make that body even more resistant to popular pressure. Since only one-third of the senators would be selected at any given time, the composition of the institution would be protected from changes in popular preferences transmitted by the state legislatures. This would prevent what James Madison called “mutability in the public councils arising from a rapid succession of new members.”15 Thus, the structure of the legislative branch was designed to contribute to governmental power, to promote popular consent for the new government, and at the same time to place limits on the popular political currents that many of the framers saw as a radical threat to the economic and social order.

The issues of power and consent were important throughout the Constitution. Section 8 of Article I specifically listed the powers of Congress, which include the authority to collect taxes, borrow money, regulate commerce, declare war, and main- tain an army and navy. By granting Congress these powers, the framers indicated very clearly that they intended the new government to be far more powerful than its pre- decessor. At the same time, by defining the new government’s most important pow- ers as belonging to Congress, the framers sought to promote popular acceptance of this critical change by reassuring citizens that their views would be fully represented whenever the government exercised its new powers.

As a further guarantee to the people that the new government would pose no threat to them, the Constitution seems to say that any powers not listed are not granted at all. Specific powers granted to Congress in the Constitution are expressed powers. But the framers intended to create an active and powerful government, so they also included the necessary and proper clause, sometimes known as the elastic clause, which declared that Congress could write laws needed to carry out its expressed powers. This clause indicated that the expressed powers could be broadly interpreted as a source of strength for the national government, not a limitation on it. In response to the charge that they intended to give the national government too much power, the framers adopted language in the Tenth Amendment stipulating that powers not specifically granted by the Constitution to the federal government were reserved to the states or to the people. As we will see in Chapter 3, the resulting tension between the elastic clause and the Tenth Amendment has been at the heart of constitutional struggles between federal and state powers.


The Articles of Confederation had not provided for an executive branch, and the framers viewed this as a source of weakness, so the Constitution provides for the establishment of the presidency in Article II. As Hamilton commented, the presi- dential article aimed toward “energy in the Executive.” It did so in an effort to overcome the natural tendency toward stalemate that was built into the bicameral


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legislature as well as into the separation of powers among the three branches. The Constitution affords the president a measure of independence from the people and from the other branches of government—particularly the Congress.

In line with the framers’ goal of increased power to the national government, the president is granted the unconditional power to receive ambassadors from other countries—this amounts to the power to “recognize” other countries—as well as the power to negotiate treaties, although their acceptance requires the approval of two-thirds of the Senate. The president is also given the unconditional right to grant reprieves and pardons, except in cases of impeachment, and the powers to appoint major departmental personnel, to convene Congress in special session, and to veto congressional enactments. The veto power is formidable, but it is not absolute, since Congress can override it by a two-thirds vote, reflecting the framers’ concern with checks and balances.

The framers hoped to create a presidency that would make the federal govern- ment rather than the states the agency capable of timely and decisive action to deal with public issues and problems. At the same time, however, the framers sought to help the presidency withstand excessively democratic pressures by creating a system of indirect rather than direct election through an electoral college.


In establishing the judicial branch in Article III, the Constitution reflects the fram- ers’ preoccupation with nationalizing governmental power and checking radical democratic impulses while preventing the new national government from interfer- ing with liberty and property.

Under the provisions of Article III, the framers created a court that was to be literally a supreme court of the United States and not merely the highest court of the na- tional government. The most important expression of this intention was granting the Supreme Court the power to resolve any conflicts that might emerge between federal and state laws. In particular, the Supreme Court is given the right to determine whether a power is exclusive to the national government, concurrent with the states, or exclusive to the states. In addition, the Supreme Court is assigned jurisdiction over controversies between citizens of different states. The long-term significance of this provision was that as the country developed a national economy, it came to rely increasingly on the federal judiciary, rather than on the state courts, for the resolution of disputes.

Federal judges are given lifetime appointments in order to protect them from popular politics and from interference by the other branches. This, however, does not mean that the judiciary remains totally impartial to political considerations or to the other branches, for the president is to appoint the judges and the Senate to approve the appointments. Congress also has the power to create inferior (lower) courts, change the jurisdiction of the federal courts, add or subtract federal judges, and even change the size of the Supreme Court.

No explicit mention is made in the Constitution of judicial review, the power of the courts to review and, if necessary, declare actions of the legislative and execu- tive branches invalid or unconstitutional. The Supreme Court asserted this power


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in Marbury v. Madison (1803).16 Its assumption of this power, as we shall see in Chapter 12, was based not on the Constitution itself but on the politics of later decades and the membership of the Court.


Various provisions in the Constitution address the framers’ concern with national unity and power, including Article IV’s provisions for comity (reciprocity) among states and among citizens of all states. Each state is prohibited from discriminating against the citizens of other states in favor of its own citizens, and the Supreme Court is charged with deciding in each case whether a state has discriminated against goods or people from another state. The Constitution restricts the power of the states in favor of ensuring enough power to the national government to give the country a free-flowing national economy.

The framers’ concern with national supremacy was also expressed in Article VI, in the supremacy clause, which provides that national laws and treaties “shall be the supreme Law of the Land” and superior to all laws adopted by any state or any subdivi- sion. This means that states are expected to respect all laws made under the “Authority of the United States.” The supremacy clause also binds the officials of all state and local governments as well as the federal government to take an oath of office to support the national Constitution. This means that every action taken by the U.S. Congress has to be applied within each state as though the action were in fact state law.


The Constitution establishes procedures for its own revision in Article V. Its provi- sions are so difficult that the document has been successfully amended only 17 times since 1791, when the first 10 amendments were adopted. Thousands of other amend- ments have been proposed in Congress, but fewer than 40 of them have even come close to fulfilling the Constitution’s requirement of a two-thirds vote in Congress.


The rules for the ratification of the Constitution are set forth in Article VII. Nine of the 13 states have to ratify, or agree to, the terms in order for the Constitution to be formally adopted.


As we have indicated, although the framers sought to create a powerful national government, they also wanted to guard against possible misuse of that power. To that end, the framers incorporated two key principles into the Constitution: the


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separation of powers and federalism. A third set of limitations, the Bill of Rights, was added to the Constitution in the form of 10 amendments proposed by the first Congress and ratified by the states in 1791. Most of the framers had thought a Bill of Rights to be unnecessary but accepted the idea during the debates over the Constitution’s ratification.

The Separation of Powers No principle of politics was more widely shared at the time of the 1787 Founding than the principle that power must be used to balance power. As mentioned earlier in the chapter, Montesquieu believed that this balance was an indispensable defense against tyranny. His writings, especially his major work, The Spirit of the Laws, “were taken as political gospel” at the Philadel- phia convention.17 Although the principle of the separation of powers is not expli- citly stated in the Constitution, the entire structure of the national government is built precisely on Article I (the legislature), Article II (the executive), and Article III (the judiciary; see Figure 2.1).

However, separation of powers is nothing but mere words on parchment without a method to maintain that separation. The method became known by the popular label


The Separation of Powers

Enforces laws

Commander in chief of armed forces

Makes foreign treaties

Proposes laws

Appoints Supreme Court justices and federal

court judges

Pardons those convicted in federal court

Passes federal laws

Controls federal appropriations

Approves treaties and presidential


Regulates interstate commerce

Establishes lower court system

Decides constitutionality of laws

Reviews lower court decisions

Decides cases involving disputes between states



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“checks and balances” (see Figure 2.2). Each branch is given not only its own powers but also some power over the other two branches. Among the most familiar checks and balances are the president’s veto as a power over Congress and Congress’s power over the president through its control of appointments to high executive posts and to the judiciary. Congress also has power over the president with its control of appropri- ations (the spending of government money) and the right of approval of treaties (by the Senate). The judiciary has the power of judicial review over the other two branches.

Another important feature of the separation of powers is the principle of giving each of the branches a distinctly different constituency. Theorists such as Montesquieu called this a “mixed regime,” with the president chosen indirectly by electors, the House by popular vote, the Senate (originally) by state legislature, and the judiciary by presidential appointment. By these means, the occupants of each branch would tend to develop very different outlooks on how to govern, different definitions of the public interest, and different alliances with private interests.

Federalism Compared to the confederation principle of the Articles of Confede- ration, federalism was a step toward greater centralization of power. The delegates


Checks and Balances




Legislative over Judicial Can change size of federal court

system and the number of Supreme Court justices

Can propose constitutional amendments

Can reject Supreme Court nominees

Can impeach and remove federal judges

Legislative over Executive Can override presidential veto

Can impeach and remove president

Can reject president’s appointments and refuse to ratify treaties

Can conduct investigations into president’s actions

Can refuse to pass laws or to provide funding that president


Judicial over Executive Can declare executive actions


Power to issue warrants

Chief justice presides over impeachment of president

Judicial over Legislative

Can declare laws unconstitutional

Chief justice presides over Senate during hearing to impeach

the president

Executive over Legislative Can veto acts of Congress

Can call Congress into a special session

Carries out, and thereby interprets, laws passed by Congress

Vice president casts tie-breaking vote in the Senate

Executive over Judicial Nominates Supreme Court


Nominates federal judges

Can pardon those convicted in federal court

Can refuse to enforce Court decisions


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agreed that they needed to place more power at the national level, without com- pletely undermining the power of the state governments. Thus, they devised a sys- tem of two sovereigns—the states and the nation—with the hope that competition between the two would be an effective limitation on the power of both.

The Bill of Rights Late in the Philadelphia convention of 1787, a motion was made to include a list of citizens’ rights in the Constitution. After a brief debate in which hardly a word was said in its favor and only one speech was made against it, the motion was almost unanimously defeated. Most delegates sincerely believed that since the federal government was already limited to its expressed powers, further protection of citizens was not needed. The delegates argued that the states should adopt bills of rights because their greater powers needed greater limitations. But almost immediately after the Constitution was ratified, there was a movement to adopt a national bill of rights. This is why the Bill of Rights, adopted in 1791, comprises the first 10 amendments to the Constitution rather than being part of the body of it. (We will have a good deal more to say about the Bill of Rights in Chapter 4.)

Ratification of the Constitution Was Difficult

The first hurdle facing the proposed Constitution was ratification by state conventions of delegates elected by the people of each state. This struggle

for ratification was carried out in 13 separate campaigns. Each involved different people, moved at a different pace, and was influenced by local and national con- siderations. Two sides faced off throughout the states, however; the two sides called themselves Federalists and Antifederalists (see Table 2.2).

The Federalists (who more accurately should have called themselves “National- ists” but who took their name to appear to follow in the Revolutionary tradition) supported the constitution proposed at the American Constitutional Convention of 1787 and preferred a strong national government. The Antifederalists favored strong state governments and a weak national government and opposed the document produced at the Constitutional Convention. They preferred a federal system of gov- ernment that was decentralized; they took their name by default, in reaction to their better-organized opponents. The Federalists were united in their support of the Constitution, while the Antifederalists were divided over possible alternatives to the Constitution.

During the struggle over ratification of the Constitution, Americans argued about great political principles. How much power should the national government be given? What safeguards would most likely prevent the abuse of power? What institutional arrangements could best ensure adequate representation for all Ameri- cans? Was tyranny to be feared more from the many or from the few?

Present the controversies involved in the struggle for ratification


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During the ratification struggle, thousands of essays, speeches, pamphlets, and let- ters were written in support of and in opposition to the proposed Constitution. The best-known pieces supporting ratification of the Constitution were the 85 essays written, under the name of “Publius,” by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay between the fall of 1787 and the spring of 1788—known today as the Federalist Papers. They not only defended the principles of the Constitution but also sought to dispel fears of a strong national authority. The Antifederalists published essays of their own, arguing that the new Constitution betrayed the Revolution and was a step toward monarchy. Among the best of the Antifederalist works were the essays, usually attributed to New York Supreme Court justice Robert Yates, that were written under the name of “Brutus” and published in the New York Journal at the same time the Federalist Papers appeared. The Antifederalist view was also ably presented in the pamphlets and letters written by a former delegate to the Con- tinental Congress and future U.S. senator, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, using the pen name “The Federal Farmer.” These essays highlight the major differences of opinion between Federalists and Antifederalists. Federalists appealed to basic principles of government in support of their nationalist vision. Antifederalists cited equally fundamental precepts to support their vision of a looser confederacy of small republics. Three areas of disagreement were representation, majority tyranny, and governmental power.


Who were they? Property owners, creditors, merchants

Small farmers, frontiersmen, debtors, shopkeepers, some state government officials

What did they believe?

Believed that elites were most fit to govern; feared “excessive democracy”

Believed that government should be closer to the people; feared concentration of power in hands of the elites

What system of government did they favor?

Favored strong national government; believed in “filtration” so that only elites would obtain governmental power

Favored retention of power by state governments and protection of individual rights

Who were their leaders?

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, George Washington

Patrick Henry, George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, George Clinton


Federalists versus Antifederalists


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Representation The Antifederalists believed that the best and most representative government was closest to the people, what we would think of as local and state governments. These smaller, more homogeneous governing units would provide “a true picture of the people . . . [possessing] the knowledge of their circumstances and their wants.”18 A strong national government could not represent the interests of the nation as effectively, the Antifederalists argued, because the nation as a whole was simply too large and diverse.

The Federalists, on the other hand, thought that some distance between the peo- ple and their representatives might be a good thing because it would encourage the selection of a few talented and experienced representatives to serve in a national legislature who could balance the wishes of the people with their own considered judgment. In James Madison’s view, representatives would not simply mirror soci- ety; rather, they must be “[those] who possess [the] most wisdom to discern, and [the] most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society.”19

Tyranny Both Federalists and Antifederalists feared tyranny, oppressive and unjust government that employs cruel and arbitrary use of power and authority. But each painted a different picture of what kind of tyranny to fear.

The Antifederalists feared that tyranny would arise from the tendency of all governments to become more “aristocratic,” wherein a few individuals in positions of authority would use their positions to gain more and more power over the people. For this reason, Antifederalists were sharply critical of those features of the Constitution that limited direct popular influence over the government, including the election of senators by state legislatures, election of the president by the electoral college, and selection of federal judges by the president and the Senate. Judges, who are appointed for life, were seen as an especially dire threat: “I wonder if the world ever saw . . . a court of justice invested with such immense powers, and yet placed in a situation so little responsible,” protested Brutus.20

For the Federalists, tyranny in a republic was less likely to come from aristocrats and more likely to come from the majority. They feared that a popular majority, “united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens,” would attempt to “trample on the rules of justice.”21 Those features of the Constitution opposed by the Antifederalists were the very ones that the Federalists defended as the best hope of avoiding tyranny. The sheer size and diversity of the American nation, as represented in the two houses of Congress, would provide a built-in set of balances that would force competing interests to moderate and compromise.

Governmental Power A third difference between Federalists and Antifederalists was over the matter of governmental power. Both sides agreed on the principle of limited government, meaning a government whose powers are defined and limited by a constitution; but they differed on how best to limit the government.

Antifederalists wanted the powers of the national government to be carefully specified and limited. Otherwise, the federal government would “swallow up all the


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power of the state governments.” Antifederalists bitterly attacked the supremacy clause and the elastic clause of the Constitution, saying that these provisions gave the national government dangerously unlimited grants of power. They also insisted that a bill of rights be added to the Constitution to place limits on the government’s power over citizens.

Federalists favored a national government with broad powers to defend the nation from foreign threats, guard against domestic strife and insurrection, pro- mote commerce, and expand the nation’s economy. Federalists agreed that such power could be abused but believed that the best safeguard against such abuse was through the Constitution’s internal checks and controls, not by keeping the national government weak. As Madison put it, “The power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments [federal and state], and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence, a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.”22 The Federalists considered a bill of rights to be unneces- sary, although this Antifederalist demand was eventually embraced by Federalists, including Madison.

Debates over how much power the national government should have continue today. After the San Bernardino shooting in 2015, the FBI demanded Apple unlock the perpetrator’s iPhone for details into his criminal activity. Here, a group protests the FBI’s infringement on the right to privacy.


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There is tremendous variation across the world’s democracies. All democracies possess some form of an executive, a legislature, and a judiciary; but the amount of power that each branch has varies. note that in some systems, no one branch has

very much power. In the United States, that is because of the system of checks and balances among the branches. Israel and the United Kingdom, which lack written constitutions, have branches with even less power than in the United States.

Comparing Systems of Government








Brazil Yes Federal High Medium High

France Yes Unitary High Low Low

India Yes Federal Medium Low Medium

Israel no Unitary Low Low Medium

South Africa

Yes Unitary Medium Low High

Tunisia Yes Unitary High Medium Low

United States

Yes Federal Low Medium High*

United Kingdom

no Unitary High* Low Medium

*Although the Comparative Constitutions Project classifies the formal powers of both the American presidency and the judicial branch, as originally provided for in the Constitution, as relatively weak, we have classified both here as strong, based on the greater powers that have developed over time. SOURCE: Comparative Constitutions Project, “CCP Rankings,” http://comparativeconstitutionsproject.org/ccp-rankings/ (accessed 7/16/15).

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In general, the Federalist vision of America triumphed. The Constitution adopted in 1789 creates the framework for a powerful national government that for more than 200 years has defended the nation’s interests, promoted its commerce, and maintained national unity. In one notable instance, the national government fought and won a bloody war to prevent the nation from breaking apart. And despite this powerful government, the system of internal checks and balances has functioned reasonably well, as the Federalists predicted, to prevent the national government from tyrannizing its citizens.

Although they were defeated in 1788, the Antifederalists present us with an im- portant picture of a road not taken and of an America that might have been. Would Americans in the eighteenth century have been worse off if they had been governed by a confederacy of small republics linked by a national administration with severely limited powers? Were the Antifederalists correct in predicting that a government given great power in the hope that it might do good would, through “insensible progress,” inevitably turn to evil purposes?

Changing the Constitution The Constitution has endured for more than two centuries as the frame- work of government because it has changed over time.


The inevitable need for change was recognized by the framers of the Constitution, and the provisions for amendment (a change added to a bill, law, or constitution) were incorporated into Article V. The Constitution has proven to be extremely difficult to amend. Since 1789, more than 11,000 amendments have been formally offered in Congress. Of these, Congress officially proposed only 29, and 27 of these were even- tually ratified by the states.

Four methods of amendment are provided for in Article V:

1. Passage in House and Senate by two-thirds vote, then ratification by majority vote of the legislatures of three-fourths (now 38) of the states.

2. Passage in House and Senate by two-thirds vote, then ratification by conven- tions called for the purpose in three-fourths of the states.

3. Passage in a national convention called by Congress in response to petitions by two-thirds of the states, then ratification by majority vote of the legislatures of three-fourths of the states.

4. Passage in a national convention, as in method 3, then ratification by conven- tions called for the purpose in three-fourths of the states.

Trace how the Constitution has changed over time through the amendment process


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Figure 2.3 illustrates each of these possible methods. Since no amendment has ever been proposed by national convention, routes 3 and 4 have never been employed. And route 2 has only been employed once (the Twenty-First Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, or Prohibition). Thus, route 1 has been used for all the others.

Now it should be clear why it has been so difficult to amend the Constitution. The requirement of a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate means that any propos- al for an amendment in Congress can be killed by only 34 senators or 136 members of the House. What is more, if the necessary two-thirds vote is obtained, the amend- ment can still be killed by the refusal or inability of only 13 out of 50 state legislatures to ratify it. Since each state has an equal vote regardless of its population, the 13 holdout states may represent a very small fraction of the total American population.


Most efforts to amend the Constitution have failed because they were simply attempts to use the Constitution as an alternative to legislation for dealing directly with a specific public problem. Successful amendments, on the other hand, are concerned with the structure or composition of government (see Table 2.3; the


Four Ways the Constitution Can Be Amended *This method of proposal has never been employed. Thus, amendment routes 3 and 4 have never been attempted. **For each amendment proposal, Congress has the power to choose the method of ratification, the time limit for consideration by the states, and other conditions of ratification. The movement to repeal Prohibition in the Twenty-First Amendment was the only occasion in which route 2 was used successfully.

The National Level: Proposal of


Method 1

Method 2

Method 3

Method 4

The State Level: Rati�cation of Amendments

C** Acceptance by

majority vote in the legislatures of

three-fourths of the states (38 states)

D** Acceptance by

conventions called for the purpose in

three-fourths of the states (38 states)

B* Passage in a national convention called by

Congress in response to petitions by two-thirds of the

states (34 states)

A Passage in House

and Senate, each by two-thirds vote


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I Congress is not to make any law establishing a religion or abridging free exercise of religion, speech, press, assembly, or petitioning the government for redress of grievances.

II, III, IV no branch of government may infringe on the right of people to keep arms (II), is not arbitrarily to occupy homes for a militia (III), and is not to engage in the search or seizure of evidence without a court warrant swearing to belief in the probable existence of a crime (IV).

V, VI, VII, VIII The courts* are not to hold trials for serious offenses without provision for a grand jury (V), a petit (trial) jury (VII), a speedy trial (VI), presentation of charges (VI), confrontation of hostile witnesses (VI), immunity from testimony against oneself (V), and immunity from more than one trial for the same offense (V). neither bail nor punishment can be excessive (VIII), and no property can be taken without just compensation (V).

IX, X Limits on National Government: All rights and powers not enumerated are reserved to the states or the people.

XI Limited jurisdiction of federal courts over suits involving the states.

XII Provided separate ballot for vice president in the electoral college.

XIII Eliminated slavery and eliminated the right of states to allow property in persons.**

XIV Asserted the principle of national citizenship and prohibited the states from infringing upon the rights of citizens of the nation, no matter that they happened to live in that state. Also prohibited states from denying voting rights to male citizens over the age of 21.†

XV Extended voting rights to all races.

XVI Established national power to tax incomes.

XVII†† Provided direct election of senators.

XIX Extended voting rights to women.

XX Eliminated “lame-duck” session of Congress.

XXII Limited presidential term.

XXIII Extended voting rights to residents of the District of Columbia.

XXIV Extended voting rights to all classes by abolition of poll taxes.

XXV Provided presidential succession in case of disability.


Amendments to the Constitution


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XXVI Extended voting rights to citizens aged 18 and over.‡

XXVII Limited Congress’s power to raise its own salary.


Amendments to the Constitution—cont’d

first 10 amendments will be discussed in Chapter 4). This is consistent with the dictionary, which defines constitution as the makeup or composition of something. And it is consistent with the concept of a constitution as “higher law” because the whole point and purpose of a higher law is to establish a framework within which government and the process of making ordinary law can take place. Even those who would have preferred more changes to the Constitution have to agree that there is great wisdom in this principle. A constitution ought to enable legislation and public policies to be enacted, but it should not determine what that legislation or those public policies ought to be.

For those whose hopes for change center on the Constitution, it must be empha- sized that the amendment route to social change is, and always will be, extremely limited. Through a constitution it is possible to establish a working structure of government and basic rights of citizens by placing limitations on the powers of that government. Once these goals have been accomplished, the next problem is how to extend rights to those people who do not already enjoy them. Of course, the Con- stitution cannot enforce itself. But it can and does have a real influence on everyday life because a right or an obligation set forth in the Constitution can become a cause of action in the hands of an otherwise powerless person.

Private property is an excellent example. Property is one of the most fundamental and well-established rights in the United States, but it is well established not because it is recognized in so many words in the Constitution but because legislatures and courts have made it a crime for anyone, including the government, to trespass or to take away property without compensation.

* These amendments also impose limits on the law-enforcement powers of federal (and especially) state and local executive branches.

** The Thirteenth Amendment was proposed January 31, 1865, and adopted less than a year later, on December 18, 1865. † In defining citizenship, the Fourteenth Amendment actually provided the constitutional basis for expanding the electorate to include all races, women, and residents of the District of Columbia. Only the “18-year-olds’ amendment” should have been necessary since it changed the definition of citizenship. The fact that additional amendments were required following the Fourteenth suggests that voting is not considered an inherent right of U.S. citizenship. Instead, it is viewed as a privilege. †† The Eighteenth Amendment, ratified in 1919, outlawed the sale and transportation of liquor. It was repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment, ratified in 1933. ‡ The Twenty-Sixth Amendment holds the record for speed of adoption. It was proposed on March 23, 1971, and adopted on July 5, 1971.


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A constitution is good if it produces the cause of action that leads to good legis- lation, good court decisions, and appropriate police behavior. A constitution cannot eliminate power. But its principles can be a citizen’s dependable defense against the abuse of power.

The Constitution WHAT DO WE WANT? The Constitution’s framers placed individual liberty ahead of all other political values,

a concern that led many of the framers to distrust both democracy and equality. They

feared that democracy could degenerate into a majority tyranny in which the popu-

lace, perhaps led by rabble-rousing demagogues, trampled on liberty. As for equality,

the framers were products of their time and place; our contemporary ideas of racial

and gender equality would have been foreign to them. The basic structure of the

Constitution—separated powers, internal checks and balances, and federalism—was

designed to safeguard liberty, and the Bill of rights created further safeguards for

liberty. At the same time, however, many of the Constitution’s other key provisions,

such as indirect election of senators and the president and the appointment of judges

for life, were designed to limit democracy and, hence, the threat of majority tyranny.

By championing liberty, however, the framers virtually guaranteed that democracy

and even a measure of equality would sooner or later evolve in the United States.

The “Who Participates?” feature on the facing page traces the expansion of the

United States from the founding to today. Where they have liberty, more and more

people, groups, and interests will engage in politics and gradually overcome whatever

restrictions might have been placed on participation. They will fight for their rights and

interests, and in doing, may achieve greater equality, as Jim Obergefell did in securing

marriage equality for same-sex couples. By granting citizens the freedom to exercise

voice, liberty is over time conducive to democracy.


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Who Gained the Right to Vote through Amendments?


*Percentages are of the adult (18+) population. These �gures are approximate for 1789 and 1869. The votings rights of convicted felons are restricted in some states and of noncitizens in all states.

SOURCES: U.S. Census of Population and Housing, 1790–2010, www.census.gov/prod/www/decennial.html (accessed 9/28/15); United States Elections Project, www.electproject.org/national-1789–present (accessed 9/27/15).

Adult Citizens Eligible to Vote in National Elections*


1789 The Founding: White men of property, age 21+


1869 15th Amendment: All men, age 21+


1920 19th Amendment: All men and women, age 21+


1971 26th Amendment: All men and women, age 18+


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Practice Quiz

1. How did the British attempt to raise revenue in the north American colonies? (p. 34) a) income taxes b) tariffs, duties, and other taxes on

commerce c) expropriation and sale of native

American lands d) licensing fees for the mining of

natural resources e) requests for voluntary donations

2. In their fight against British taxes such as the Stamp Act and the Sugar Act of 1764, new England merchants and southern planters allied with which of the following groups? (pp. 34–35) a) shopkeepers, small farmers,

laborers, and artisans b) shopkeepers only c) laborers only d) artisans only e) shopkeepers and laborers only

Review your rights as outlined in the Constitution, a copy of which is reproduced in the appendix of this book.

Find out what voting rights are retained by individuals with mental illness. Go to www.bazelon.org and search “voting” for more information.

Know Your Constitutional Rights

Find out what voting rights are retained by individuals who have been convicted of a felony. Go to www.ncsl.org and search “felon voting rights” for more information.

Should noncitizens (such as longtime permanent legal residents) have the right to vote? Go to www.latimes.com/citizenship to read more and to join the conversation online.



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3. The first governing document in the United States was (p. 37) a) the Declaration of Independence. b) the Articles of Confederation. c) the Constitution. d) the Bill of rights. e) the Virginia Plan.

4. Who was responsible for executing laws passed by the national government under the Articles of Confederation? (p. 37) a) the presidency b) the Congress c) the states d) the federal judiciary e) the federal bureaucracy

5. Which event led directly to the Con- stitutional Convention by providing evidence that the government created under the Articles of Confederation was unable to act decisively in times of national crisis? (pp. 39–40) a) the Boston Massacre b) the Boston Tea Party c) Shays’s rebellion d) the Annapolis Convention e) the War of 1812

6. Which state’s proposal embodied a principle of representing states in the Congress according to their size and wealth? (p. 41) a) Connecticut b) Maryland c) new Jersey d) rhode Island e) Virginia

7. The agreement reached at the Constitutional Convention that deter- mined that every five slaves would be counted as three free persons for the purposes of taxation and representa- tion in the House of representatives was called the (pp. 42–43) a) Virginia Plan. b) new Jersey Plan. c) Connecticut Compromise. d) Three-Fifths Compromise. e) Great Compromise.

8. Which of the following mechanisms were in the Congress to guard against “excessive democracy”? (p. 44) a) bicameralism b) staggered terms in office

c) appointment of senators for long terms

d) indirect election of the president e) all of the above

9. Which of the following best describes the Supreme Court as understood by the Founders? (p. 47) a) the body that would choose the

president b) the principle check on presidential

power c) arbiter of disputes within the Congress d) a figurehead commission of elders e) the highest court of both the

national government and the states

10. Theorists such as Montesquieu referred to the system of giving each branch of government a distinctly different constituency as (p. 50) a) a mixed regime. b) a confederation. c) a bicameral structure. d) a limited government. e) a federalist arrangement.

11. Which of the following were the Antifederalists most concerned with? (p. 51) a) interstate commerce b) the protection of property c) the distinction between principles

and interests d) the potential for tyranny in the

central government e) abolishing slavery

12. Which of the following best describes the process of amending the Constitution? (p. 56) a) It is difficult and has rarely been

used successfully to address specific public problems.

b) It is difficult and has frequently been used successfully to address specific public problems.

c) It is easy and has rarely been used successfully to address specific public problems.

d) It is easy and has frequently been used successfully to address specific public problems.

e) It is easy, but it has never been used for any purpose.


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Key Terms

amendment (p. 56) a change added to a bill, law, or constitution

Antifederalists (p. 51) those who favored strong state governments and a weak national government and were opponents of the constitution proposed at the Ameri- can Constitutional Convention of 1787

Articles of Confederation (p. 37) America’s first written constitution; served as the basis for America’s national government until 1789

bicameral (p. 44) having a legislative assembly composed of two chambers or houses; distinguished from unicameral

Bill of Rights (p. 44) the first 10 amend- ments to the Constitution, ratified in 1791; they ensure certain rights and liberties of the people

checks and balances (p. 44) mechanisms through which each branch of government is able to participate in and influence the activities of the other branches. Major examples include the presidential veto power over congressional legislation, the power of the Senate to approve presiden- tial appointments, and judicial review of congressional enactments

confederation (p. 38) a system of gov- ernment in which states retain sovereign authority except for the powers expressly delegated to the national government

elastic clause (p. 46) Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution (also known as the nec- essary and proper clause), which declares that Congress can write laws needed to carry out its expressed powers, providing Congress with the authority to make all laws “necessary and proper” to do so

electoral college (p. 44) the electors from each state who meet after the popular election to cast ballots for president and vice president

expressed powers (p. 46) specific powers granted by the Constitution to Congress (Article I, Section 8) and to the president (Article II)

federalism (p. 44) a system of government in which power is divided, by a constitution, between the central (national) government and regional (state) governments

Federalist Papers (p. 52) a series of essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay supporting the ratification of the Constitution

Federalists (p. 51) those who favored a strong national government and supported the constitution proposed at the American Constitutional Convention of 1787

Great Compromise (p. 42) the agreement reached at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that gave each state an equal number of senators regardless of its population but linked representation in the House of representatives to population

judicial review (p. 47) the power of the courts to review and, if necessary, declare actions of the legislative and executive branches invalid or unconstitutional. The Supreme Court asserted this power in Marbury v. Madison (1803)

limited government (p. 53) a principle of constitutional government; a government whose powers are defined and limited by a constitution

New Jersey Plan (p. 41) a framework for the Constitution, introduced by William Paterson, that called for equal state representation in the national legislature regardless of population

separation of powers (p. 44) the division of governmental power among several institutions that must cooperate in decision-making


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supremacy clause (p. 48) Article VI of the Constitution, which states that laws passed by the national government and all treaties “shall be the supreme law of the land” and superior to all laws adopted by any state or any subdivision

Three-Fifths Compromise (p. 43) the agreement reached at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that stipulated that for purposes of the apportionment of congressional seats only three-fifths of slaves would be counted

Ackerman, Erin, and Benjamin Ginsberg. A Guide to the United States Constitution. 4th ed. new York: W. W. norton, 2019.

Beeman, richard. Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. new York: random House, 2009.

Chernow, ron. Alexander Hamilton. new York: Penguin Books, 2005.

Ellis, Joseph. The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution. new York: Knopf, 2015.

Gerstle, Gary. Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government from the Found- ing to the Present. Princeton, nJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.

Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay. The Federalist Papers. Edited by Isaac Kramnick. new York: Viking, 1987.

Jensen, Merrill. The Articles of Confederation. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1963.

Paulson, Michael S, and Luke Paulson. The Constitution: An Introduction. new York: Basic Books, 2017.

Storing, Herbert, ed. The Complete Anti-Federalist. 7 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic. new York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

tyranny (p. 53) oppressive and unjust government that employs cruel and unjust use of power and authority

Virginia Plan (p. 41) a framework for the Constitution, introduced by Edmund randolph, that called for representation in the national legislature based on the popu- lation of each state

For Further Reading


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030303 chapter

Federalism WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES AND WHY IT MATTERS Decades of work as a commercial fisherman and long-haul truck driver

left Larry Harvey with severe pain. The 70-year-old grandfather found one

thing that helped: medical marijuana, which was legalized in the state of

Washington in 1998. He and his wife included cannabis among the many

herbs they grew on their property outside a little town some 80 miles north

of Spokane.

One hot August day in 2012, armed federal agents stormed the Harveys’

home. Harvey was handcuffed and sent to jail, despite his poor health and

advanced age. Prosecutors said guns had been found along with the

marijuana. A judge released him 17 days later, but the lack of health care in

jail caused his gout to flare up and left him unable to walk more than short


Washington State, along with 32 other states and the District of Columbia,

protect qualified medical marijuana patients from arrest and prosecution

(as of 2018, 10 states permit the use of recreational marijuana as well).2

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Federalism Federalism is at the center of a national debate over marijuana policy: while marijuana remains illegal under federal law, some states permit marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. Larry Harvey, pictured here, was prosecuted under federal law for growing marijuana though Washington state allowed the practice.

Yet under federal law marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled sub-

stance, in the same category as heroin, LSD, and MDMA (“ecstasy”). Users

are subject to arrest and prosecution by the federal Drug Enforcement Admini-

stration. Thus medical marijuana patients like Harvey are caught in a clash

between state and federal law. States can legalize medical marijuana, and

medical marijuana defenses can be mounted in state courts, but federal law

considers marijuana a dangerous drug with no medical value; evidence about

the medical necessity of marijuana for patient-defendants cannot even be

admitted in federal court.3

The federal response to the states has shifted over time. As state laws

began to loosen restrictions on marijuana starting in the late 1990s, the

federal government at first sought to assert its authority, raiding marijuana

clinics and individual homes like Harvey’s. In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled

that these federal actions were constitutional. By 2013, however, the Justice

Department under President Obama stated that it would not challenge state

laws so long as the states maintained a close watch over their marijuana

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markets. Instead the federal government would focus its enforcement efforts

on specific issues, including trafficking by gangs, sales to minors, and selling

across state lines. It remains to be seen whether marijuana will be a focus of

a possibly renewed War on Drugs in the Trump administration.4

Larry Harvey’s situation and the debates about marijuana policy engage

some of the oldest questions in American government: What is the responsi-

bility of the federal government, and what is the responsibility of the states?

When should there be uniformity across the states, and when is it better to let

the states adopt their own laws based on the preferences of their population,

which may result in a diverse set of laws across the nation? The United States

is a federal system, in which the national government shares power with lower

levels of government. Throughout American history, lawmakers, politicians,

and citizens have wrestled with questions about how responsibilities should

be allocated across the different levels of government. Some responsibili-

ties, such as foreign policy, clearly lie with the federal government. Others,

such as divorce laws, are controlled by state governments. Many government

responsibilities are shared in American federalism and require cooperation

among local, state, and federal governments. The debate about “who should

do what” remains one of the most important discussions in American politics.

★ Describe what the Constitution says about the powers of the national government and of the states (pp. 69–72)

★ Trace developments in the federal framework leading to a stronger national government (pp. 73–84)

★ Analyze the changing role of states in the federal framework (pp. 85–89)



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Federalism Shapes American Politics The Constitution has had a profound influence on American life through federalism, the division of powers and functions between the national gov- ernment and the state governments. Governments can organize power

in a variety of ways. One of the most important distinctions is between unitary and federal governments. In a unitary system, the central government makes the important decisions and lower levels of government have little independent power. In such systems, lower levels of government primarily implement decisions made by the central government. In France, for example, the central government was once so involved in the smallest details of local activity that the minister of education boasted that by looking at his watch he could tell what all French schoolchildren were learning at that moment because the central government set the school curriculum. In a federal system, by contrast, the central government shares power or functions with lower levels of government, such as regions or states. Nations with diverse ethnic or language groupings, such as Switzerland and Canada, are most likely to have federal arrangements. In federal systems, lower levels of government often have significant independent power to set policy in some areas, such as education and social programs, and to impose taxes. Yet the specific ways in which power is shared vary greatly: no two federal systems are exactly the same.


The United States was the first nation to adopt federalism as its governing frame- work. With federalism, the framers sought to limit the national government by creating a second layer of state governments. American federalism thus recognized two sovereigns in the original Constitution by granting a few “expressed powers” to the national government and reserving the rest to the states.

The Powers of the National Government As we saw in Chapter 2, the expressed powers granted to the national government are found in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution. These 17 powers include the powers to collect taxes, coin money, declare war, and regulate commerce. Article I, Section 8, also contains another important source of power for the national government: the implied powers that enable Congress “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers.” Such powers are not specifi- cally expressed but are implied through the expansive interpretation of delegated powers. Not until several decades after the Founding did the Supreme Court allow Congress to exercise the power granted in this necessary and proper clause, but as we shall see later in this chapter, this doctrine allowed the national govern- ment to expand considerably the scope of its authority, although the process was a slow one.

Describe what the Constitution says about the powers of the national government and of the states


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Aside from these powers, the federal government operates with one other advan- tage over the states: as mentioned in the last chapter, Article VI of the Constitution says that whenever there is a conflict between a national law and a state law, the national law shall prevail. This doctrine of national supremacy says that “[t]his Con- stitution, and the Laws of the United States . . . and all Treaties made . . . shall be the supreme Law of the Land,” even extending to state courts and constitutions.

The Powers of State Government One way in which the framers sought to pre- serve a strong role for the states was through the Tenth Amendment to the Constitu- tion. The Tenth Amendment states that the powers that the Constitution does not delegate to the national government or prohibit to the states are “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The Antifederalists, who feared that a strong central government would encroach on individual liberty, repeatedly pressed for such an amendment as a way of limiting national power. The Federalists agreed to the amendment because they did not think it would do much harm, given the powers of the Constitution already granted to the national government. The Tenth Amendment is also called the “reserved powers amendment” because it aims to reserve powers to the states.

The most fundamental power that the states retain is that of coercion—the power to develop and enforce criminal codes, to administer health and safety rules, and to regulate the family via marriage and divorce laws. The states have the power to regulate individuals’ livelihoods; if you’re a doctor or a lawyer or a plumber or a hairstylist, you must be licensed by the state. Even more fundamentally, the states have the power to define private property—private property exists because state laws against trespass define who is and is not entitled to use a piece of property. If you own a car, your owner ship isn’t worth much unless the state is willing to enforce your right to posses- sion by making it a crime for anyone else to drive your car without your permission. These laws are essential to citizens’ everyday lives, and the powers of the states regard- ing such domestic issues are much greater than the powers of the national government.

A state’s authority to regulate the health, safety, and morals of its citizens is com- monly referred to as the police power of the state. Policing is what states do—they coerce you in the name of the community in order to maintain public order. And this was exactly the type of power that the Founders intended the states, rather than the federal government, to exercise.

In some areas, the states share concurrent power (authority possessed by both state and national governments) with the national government, whereby they retain and share some power to regulate commerce and to affect the currency—for example, by being able to charter banks, grant or deny corporate charters, grant or deny licenses to engage in a business or practice a trade, and regulate the quality of products or the conditions of labor. Wherever there is a direct conflict of laws between the federal and the state levels, the issue will most likely be resolved in favor of national supremacy.

States’ Obligations to One Another The Constitution also creates obligations among the states. These obligations, spelled out in Article IV, were intended to


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promote national unity. By requiring the states to recognize actions and decisions taken in other states as legal and proper, the framers aimed to make the states less like independent countries and more like parts of a single nation.

Article IV, Section 1, establishes the full faith and credit clause, stipulating that each state is normally expected to honor the “public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings” that take place in any other state. So, for example, if a person has a restraining order placed on a stalker or batterer in one state, the other states are required to enforce that order as if they had issued it.

Until recently, the full faith and credit clause was embroiled in the controversy over same-sex marriage. In 2004, Massa- chusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage. By 2015, 37 states plus the District of Columbia had legalized gay marriage, and 13 states had either state constitutional amendments or laws that barred same-sex marriage.5 The principle of full faith and credit would seem to suggest that states without same-sex marriage would be obliged to recognize such unions in their states, just as they would recognize heterosexual marriages performed in other states. But to forestall this possibility, in 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which declared that states did not have to recognize same-sex marriage even if it were legal in other states. DOMA also said that the federal government would not recognize same-sex marriage, even if legal in some states, and that same-sex partners were not eligible for federal benefits such as Medicare and Social Security. In 2013, however, the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor struck down part of the DOMA, ordering that same-sex married couples receive equal treatment on issues relating to taxes, inheritance, and other federal laws.6 It also opened the door for same-sex couples to receive federal social benefits on the same terms as heterosexual married couples. The court did not rule on whether states have to recognize same-sex marriages in other states.

On the second anniversary of the Windsor ruling, the Supreme Court, in a historic and long-awaited decision, ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment guar- anteed a fundamental right to same-sex marriage. The case, Obergefell v. Hodges, combined four lawsuits by same-sex couples challenging their home states’ refusals to grant same-sex marriage licenses or recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state. While 37 states recognized same-sex marriage on the eve of the Obergefell announcement, the Court’s 5–4 decision immediately required that all 50 states must offer marriage licenses to two people of the

Previously a state-level policy, same-sex marriage was declared a fundamental right nationwide by the Supreme Court in 2015. The decision prompted a brief backlash when clerks in some states, such as Kim Davis from Kentucky, pictured here, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.


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same sex and recognize same-sex marriages licensed out of state. In one stroke, same-sex marriage turned from a state-level policy choice to a nationally recog- nized right. In the aftermath of the Obergefell decision, several of the 13 states that were mandated to lift their bans on same-sex marriage protested the ruling. However, such resistance ebbed as it became clear that the courts would enforce the constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Article IV, Section 2, known as the “comity clause,” also seeks to promote national unity. This clause provides that citizens enjoying the “privileges and immunities” of one state should be entitled to similar treatment in other states. What this has come to mean is that a state cannot discriminate against someone from another state or give special privileges to its own residents. For example, in the 1970s, when Alaska passed a law that gave residents preference over nonresidents in obtaining work on the state’s oil and gas pipelines, the Supreme Court ruled the law illegal because it discriminated against citizens of other states.7 The comity clause also regulates criminal justice among the states by requiring states to return fugitives to the states from which they have fled. Thus, in 1952, when an inmate escaped from an Alabama prison and sought to avoid being returned to Alabama on the grounds that he was being subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” there, the Supreme Court ruled that he must be returned according to Article IV, Section 2.8

Local Government and the Constitution Local government occupies a peculiar but very important place in the American system (Table 3.1). In fact, the status of American local government is probably unique in world experience. First, local government has no status in the U.S. Constitution and is therefore an authority

or function under the control of the states. State legislatures created local governments, and state constitutions and laws permit local governments to take on some of the responsibili- ties of the state governments. Most states amended their constitutions to give their larger cities home rule, pow- ers delegated by the state to a local unit of government to manage its own affairs. Local governments have always been creatures of the states.9 In recent years, some local govern- ments have passed laws making pol- icy on matters from minimum wage to public broadband, only to have state legislatures preempt, or remove, that authority, illustrating the degree to which local governments are cre- ations of the state.


90,107 Governments in the United States TYPE NUMBER

national 1

State 50

County 3,031

Municipal 19,519

Townships 16,360

School districts 12,880

Other special districts 38,266

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, www2.census.gov/govs/ cog/g12_org.pdf (accessed 11/02/13).


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The Definition of Federalism Has Changed Radically over Time

Many of the fiercest political con- troversies in American history have revolved around competing views of federalism. The best way to understand these disputes, and how federalism has

been redefined throughout American history, is to examine how its conception has changed over time. From 1789 to 1937, the political scales clearly favored the states over the federal government. Then, from the New Deal period of the 1930s to the present, some important limits were placed on state governments and the federal government exerted far more power than it had under the traditional system. Over the last 80 years, even as the trend has been toward centralization of government power, the states have asserted themselves at certain times and in certain policy areas, sometimes aided by the courts. At other moments a crisis shifts power toward the national government again, as during the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and the fiscal crisis that began in 2008.


The prevailing view of national government–state government relations under the traditional system was one of dual federalism. During this time, the states possessed a vast amount of governing power, and virtually all of the important policies affect- ing the lives of Americans were made by the state governments. For evidence, look at Table 3.2, which lists the major types of public policies by which Americans were governed for the first century and a half under the Constitution. Under this traditional system, the national government was quite small by comparison both with the state governments and with the governments of other Western nations. It was also very narrowly specialized in the functions it performed. The national government built or sponsored the construction of roads, canals, and bridges (internal improvements). It provided cash subsidies to shippers and shipbuilders and distributed free or low-priced public land to encourage western settlement and business ventures. It placed relatively heavy taxes on imported goods (tariffs), not only to raise revenues but also to protect “infant industries” from competition from the more advanced European enterprises. It protected patents and provided for a common currency, which encouraged and facilitated enterprises and helped to expand markets.

What do these functions of the national government reveal? First, virtually all the national government’s functions were aimed at assisting commerce. Second, virtually none of the national government’s policies directly coerced citizens. The emphasis of governmental programs was on assistance, promotion, and encouragement—the allocation of land or capital to meet the needs of economic development.

Trace developments in the federal framework leading to a stronger national government


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Meanwhile, state legislatures were also actively involved in economic regulation during the nineteenth century. In the United States, then and now, private property exists only in state laws and state court decisions regarding property, trespass, and real estate. American capitalism took its form from state property and trespass laws and from state laws and court decisions regarding contracts, markets, credit, bank- ing, incorporation, and insurance. Laws concerning slavery were a subdivision of property law in states where slavery existed. The practice of important professions, such as law and medicine, was (and is) illegal except as provided for by state law. Most criminal laws, from trespass to murder, have been state laws, as are require- ments regarding the education of children. Thus, most of the fundamental govern- ing in the United States was done by the states.

Ultimately, the fundamental impact of federalism on the way the United States is governed comes not from any particular provision of the Constitution but from


The Federal System: Specialization of Governmental Functions, 1789–1937




Internal improvements



Public land disposal



Property laws (including slavery)

Estate and inheritance laws

Commerce laws

Banking and credit laws

Corporate laws

Insurance laws

Family laws

Morality laws

Public health laws

Education laws

general penal laws

Eminent domain laws

Construction codes

Land-use laws

Water and mineral laws

Criminal procedure laws

Electoral and political party laws

Local government laws

Civil service laws

Occupations and professions laws

Adaptation of state laws to local conditions

Public works

Contracts for public works

Licensing of public accommodation

Zoning and other land-use regulation

Basic public services


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the framework itself, which has determined the flow of government functions and, through that, the political development of the country. By allowing state governments to do most of the fundamental governing, the Constitution saved the national government from many policy decisions that might have proved too divisive for a large and very young country. In helping the national government remain small and apart from the most divisive issues of the day, federalism con- tributed significantly to the political stability of the young nation, even as the social, economic, and political systems of many of the states and regions of the country were undergoing tremendous, profound, and sometimes violent change.10 As we shall see, some important aspects of federalism have changed, but the federal framework has survived over two centuries and through a devastating civil war.


As the nation grew, disputes arose about the powers of the federal government versus the powers of the states. In the first several decades after the Founding, the Supreme Court decided several critical cases that expanded federal powers and facilitated trade across the states. These decisions removed barriers to trade in the new nation and laid the groundwork for a national economy. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, as reformers began to enact laws regulating businesses through such measures as child labor restrictions, the Court took a much more restrictive view of federal power. Not until well into the New Deal, in 1937, did the federal government gain the expansive powers it exercises today.

Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution delegates to Congress the power “to regu- late Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States and with the Indian Tribes.” For most of the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court consis tently interpreted this commerce clause in favor of national power over the economy. The first and most important such case was McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), which involved the question of whether Congress had the power to charter a national bank as such an explicit grant of power was nowhere to be found in Article I, Section 8.11 Chief Justice John Marshall answered that this power could be “implied” from other powers that were expressly delegated to Congress, such as the “powers to lay and collect taxes; to borrow money; to regulate commerce; and to declare and conduct a war.”

By allowing Congress to use the necessary and proper clause to interpret its delegated powers expansively, the Supreme Court created the potential for an un- precedented increase in national government power. Marshall also concluded that whenever a state law conflicted with a federal law (as in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland), the state law would be deemed invalid since the Constitution states that “the Laws of the United States . . . shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Both parts of this great case are pro-national, including the verification of the principle of “national supremacy,” yet Congress did not immediately seek to expand the policies of the national government.

Another major case, Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), reinforced this nationalistic interpretation of the Constitution. The important but relatively narrow issue


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was whether the state of New York could grant a monopoly to Robert Fulton’s steamboat company to operate an exclusive service between New York and New Jersey. Chief Justice Marshall argued that New York State did not have the power to grant this particular monopoly. In reaching this decision, Marshall had to define what Article I, Section 8, meant by “commerce among the several states.” He insisted that the definition was “comprehensive,” extending to “every species of commercial intercourse.” However, this comprehensiveness was limited “to that commerce which concerns more states than one.” Gibbons is important because it established the supremacy of the national government in all matters affecting what later came to be called “interstate commerce.”12 But the precise meaning of interstate commerce would remain uncertain during several decades of constitutional discourse. Backed by the implied powers and national supremacy decision in McCulloch and by the broad definition of “interstate commerce” in Gibbons, Article I, Section 8, was a source of power for the national government as long as Congress sought to facilitate commerce through subsidies, services, and land grants.

Later in the nineteenth century, though, the Supreme Court declared any effort of the national government to regulate commerce in such areas as fraud, the production of substandard goods, the use of child labor, or the existence of dangerous work- ing conditions or long hours to be unconstitutional as a violation of the concept of interstate commerce. Such legislation meant that the federal government was entering the factory and the workplace—local areas—and was attempting to regulate goods that had not yet passed into interstate commerce. To enter these local workplaces was to exercise police power—a power reserved to the states. No one questioned the power of the national government to regulate businesses that intrinsically involved interstate commerce, such as railroads, gas pipelines, and waterway transportation. But well into the twentieth century, the Supreme Court used the concept of interstate commerce as a barrier against most efforts by Congress to regulate local conditions.

This interpretation of federalism gave the American economy a freedom from federal government control that closely approximated the ideal of free enterprise. The economy was never entirely free, of course; in fact, entrepreneurs themselves did not want complete freedom from government. Between the Civil War and the 1930s, the federal government aided business by providing law and order; a stable currency; roads, canals, and railroads; and the courts and police necessary to enforce contracts and prevent trespass. But federalism, as interpreted by the Supreme Court for 70 years after the Civil War, made it possible for business to have its cake and eat it, too. Entrepreneurs enjoyed the benefits of national policies facilitating commerce but were shielded by the courts from policies that regulate commerce by protecting the rights of consumers and workers.13 In addition, the Tenth Amendment was used to bolster arguments about states’ rights, the principle that the states should oppose the increasing authority of the national government. This principle was most popu- lar in the period before the Civil War.

In the early twentieth century, however, the Tenth Amendment appeared to lose its force as reformers began to press for national regulations to limit the power of large corporations and to protect the health and welfare of citizens, as we shall see next.


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The New Deal of the 1930s marked a major change in how the courts interpreted national power. The door to increased federal action opened when states proved unable to cope with the demands brought on by the Great Depression. Before the depression, states and localities took responsibility for addressing the needs of the poor, usually through private charity. But the extent of the depression quickly exhausted local and state capacities. By 1932, 25 percent of the workforce was unemployed. The jobless lost their homes and settled into camps all over the country, called “Hoovervilles” after President Herbert Hoover. Elected in 1928, the year before the depression hit, Hoover steadfastly maintained that there was little the federal government could do to alleviate these people’s misery caused by the depression. It was a matter for state and local governments, he said.

Yet demands mounted for the federal government to take action. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933, he energetically threw the federal government into the business of fighting the depression through a number of proposals known collectively as the New Deal. He proposed a variety of temporary measures to pro- vide federal relief and work programs. Most of the programs he proposed were to be financed by the federal government but administered by the states. In addition to these temporary measures, Roosevelt presided over the creation of several important federal programs designed to provide future economic security for Americans. The New Deal signaled the rise of a more active national government.

For the most part, the new national programs that the Roosevelt adminis- tration developed did not directly take power away from the states. Instead, Washington typically redirected states by offering them grants-in-aid, programs through which Congress provided money to state and local governments on the condi- tion that the funds be employed for purposes defined by the federal government.

Franklin Roosevelt did not invent the idea of grants- in-aid, but his New Deal vastly expanded the range of grants-in-aid to include social programs, pro- viding grants to the states for financial assistance to poor children. Congress added more grants after World War II, creating new programs to help states fund activities such as providing school lunches and building highways. Some- times the national government required state or local governments to match the national contri- bution dollar for dollar, but in some programs,

John C. Calhoun, one of the most prominent advocates of states’ rights, argued that states should have the right to veto any federal law they found to be unconstitutional.

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such as the development of the inter- state highway system, the congres- sional grants provided 90 percent of the cost.

These types of federal grants- in-aid are called categorical grants because they are given to states and localities by the national gov- ernment on the condition that expenditures be limited to a prob- lem or group specified by law. For the most part, the categorical grants created before the 1960s simply helped the states perform their traditional functions.14 In the 1960s, however, the national role expanded and federal funding in the form of categorical grants increased dramatically (see Figure 3.1). The grants authorized during the 1960s addressed national purposes much more strongly than did earlier grants. One of the most important— and expensive—was the federal Medicaid program, which provides

states with grants to pay for medical care for the poor, the disabled, and many nursing home residents. Over time the value of categorical grants has risen dramatically, increasing from $2.3 billion in 1950 to an estimated $675 billion in 2017.


In a dramatic change beginning in 1937, the Supreme Court threw out the old distinction between interstate and intrastate commerce on which it had relied in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It converted the commerce clause from a source of limitations to a source of power for the national government. The Court began to refuse to review appeals that challenged acts of Congress protecting the rights of employees to organize and engage in collective bargaining, regulating the amount of farmland in cultivation, extending low-interest credit to small businesses and farmers, and restricting the activities of corporations dealing in the stock market; it upheld many other laws that contributed to the construction of the modern “welfare state.”15

The Court also reversed its position on the Tenth Amendment, which it had used to strike down national laws as violations of state power. Instead, the Court

The New Deal expanded the scope of the federal government. One of the largest and most effective New Deal programs, the Works Progress Administra- tion, employed millions of Americans in public-works projects such as constructing highways, bridges, and public parks.


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approved numerous expansions of national power, to such an extent that the Tenth Amendment appeared irrelevant. In fact, in 1941, Justice Harlan Fiske Stone declared that the Tenth Amendment was simply a “truism” that had no real meaning.16

Yet the idea that some powers should be reserved to the states did not go away. Indeed, in the 1950s southern opponents of the civil rights movement revived the idea of states’ rights. In 1956, 96 southern members of Congress issued a “Southern Manifesto” in which they declared that southern states were not constitutionally bound by Supreme Court decisions outlawing racial segregation. They believed


Historical Trend of Federal Grants-in-Aid,* 1960–2019 (in billions of dollars)** Spending on federal grants-in-aid to the states and local governments has grown dramati- cally since 1990. These increases reflect the growing public expectations about what government should do. What has been the most important cause of the steady increase in these grants?

*Excludes outlays for national defense and international affairs. **Data in constant (fiscal year 2009) dollars. †Data for 2018 and 2019 are estimated.

SOURCE: Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Budget for Fiscal Year 2019, Historical Tables: Table 12.1, Summary Comparison of Total Outlays for Grants to State and Local Governments: 1940-2023, www.whitehouse .gov/omb/historical-tables/ (accessed 6/8/18).









’60 ’65 ’70 ’75 ’80 ’85 ’90 ’95 ’00 ’05 ’06 ’07 ’08 ’09 ’10 ’11 ’12 ’13 ’14 ’15 ’16 ’17 ’18† ’19†

Grants to the states rose sharply in 2009 as a result of federal efforts to stimulate the economy.

The increasing costs of medical care pushed up government spending on health care in the 2000s.

Federal Medicaid program �rst enacted.


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that states’ rights should override individual rights to liberty and formal equality. With the triumph of the civil rights movement, the slogan of “states’ rights” became tarnished by its association with racial inequality.

The 1990s saw a revival of interest in the Tenth Amendment and important Supreme Court decisions limiting federal power. Much of the interest in the Tenth Amendment stemmed from conservatives who believe that a strong federal govern- ment encroaches on individual liberties. They believed such freedoms were better protected by returning more power to the states through the process of devolution, whereby a program is removed from one level of government by delegating it or passing it down to a lower level of government, such as from the national govern- ment to the state and local governments. In 1996, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole carried a copy of the Tenth Amendment in his pocket as he campaigned, pulling it out to read at rallies.17

The Supreme Court’s 1995 ruling in United States v. Lopez fueled further interest in the Tenth Amendment. In that case, the Court, stating that Congress had exceeded its authority under the commerce clause, struck down a federal law that barred handguns near schools.18 This was the first time since the New Deal that the Court had limited congressional powers in this way. In 1997 the Court again relied on the Tenth Amendment to limit federal power in Printz v. United States.19 The decision declared unconstitutional a provision of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that required state and local law- enforcement officials to conduct background checks on handgun purchasers. The Court declared that this provision violated state sovereignty guaranteed in the Tenth Amendment because it required state and local officials to administer a federal regulatory program.


The growth of categorical grants, along with favorable court rulings, created a new kind of federalism. If the traditional system of two sovereigns performing highly different functions could be called dual federalism, historians of federalism suggest that the system since the New Deal could be called cooperative federalism, in which grants-in-aid have been used strategically to encourage states and localities to pursue nationally defined goals, with national and state governments sharing powers and resources via intergovernmental cooperation. One political scientist characterized this as a move from “layer cake federalism” to “marble cake federalism,”20 in which intergovernmental cooperation and sharing have blurred a once-clear distinguishing line, making it difficult to say where the national government ends and the state and local governments begin (see Figure 3.2).

For a while in the 1960s, it appeared as if the state governments would become increasingly irrelevant to American federalism. Many of the new federal grants bypassed the states and instead sent money directly to local governments and even to local nonprofit organizations. The theme heard repeatedly in Washington was that the states simply could not be trusted to carry out national purposes.21


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One of the reasons that Washington distrusted the states was the way African American citizens were treated in the South. The southern states’ forthright defense of segregation, justified on the grounds of states’ rights, tarnished the image of the states as the civil rights movement gained momentum. The national officials who planned the War on Poverty during the 1960s pointed to the racial exclusion prac- ticed in the southern states as a reason for bypassing state governments. Political scientist James Sundquist described their thinking: “In the drafting of the Economic Opportunity Act, an ‘Alabama syndrome’ developed. Any suggestion within the poverty task force that the states be given a role in the administration of the act was met with the question, ‘Do you want to give that kind of power to [then–Alabama governor] George Wallace?’”22 (Wallace at the time was nationally known for his virulent opposition to the civil rights movement.)

Yet even though many national policies of the 1960s bypassed the states, other new programs, such as Medicaid, relied on state governments for their implementation. In addition, as the national government expanded existing programs run by the states, states had to take on more responsibilities. These new responsibilities meant that the states were now playing a critical role in the federal system.


Over time, the Supreme Court has pushed for greater uniformity in rules and proce- dures across the states. In addition to legal decisions, the national government uses two other tools to create similarities across the states: grants-in-aid and regulations.


Dual versus Cooperative Federalism In layer-cake federalism, the responsibilities of the national government and state govern- ments are clearly separated. In marble-cake federalism, national policies, state policies, and local policies overlap in many areas.


“Marble Cake”

Cooperate on some policies

“Layer Cake”

National Government

State Governments

National Government

State Governments


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Grants-in-aid, as we have seen, are incentives: Congress provides an incentive by giving money to state and local governments if they agree to spend it for the purposes Congress specifies. But as Congress in the 1970s began to enact legislation in new areas, such as environmental policy, it resorted to another tool: regulated federalism.23 The national government began to set standards of conduct or to require the states to set standards that met national guidelines. The effect of these national standards is that state and local policies in the areas of environmental protection, social services, and edu- cation are more uniform from coast to coast than are other nationally funded policies.

Some national standards require the federal government to take over areas of regulation formerly overseen by state or local governments. Such preemption (the principle that allows the national government to override state or local actions in certain policy areas) occurs when state and local actions are found to be inconsist- ent with federal requirements. If this occurs, all regulations in the preempted area must henceforth come from the national government. In many cases, the courts determine the scope of the federal authority to preempt. For example, in 1973 the Supreme Court struck down a local ordinance prohibiting jets from taking off from the airport in Burbank, California, between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. It ruled that the fed- eral Civil Aeronautics Act granted the Federal Aviation Administration all authority over flight patterns, takeoffs, and landings and that local governments could not impose regulations in this area.

As federal regulations increased after the 1970s, Washington increasingly preempted state and local action in many different policy areas. After 1994, when Republicans retook control of Congress, the federal government used its preemption power in business’s favor, limiting the ability of states to tax and regulate industry. For exam- ple, in 1998, Congress passed a law that prohibited states and localities from taxing internet access services. The 1996 Telecommunications Act reduced local control by giving broadcasters and digital companies broad discretion over where they could erect digital television and cellular phone towers even if local citizens objected.24

In 2009, after only a few months in office, President Obama reversed the Bush administration’s use of federal regulations to limit state laws. Under the new policy, federal regulations should preempt state laws only in extraordinary cases. The presi- dent directed agency leaders to review the regulations that had been put in place over the previous 10 years and consider amending them if they interfered with the “legitimate prerogatives of the states.”25 But the Obama administration did use its power of preemption to challenge state immigration laws, charging that states were making laws in a domain reserved for federal authority.

The growth of national standards has created some new problems and has raised questions about how far federal standardization should go. One problem that emerged in the 1980s was the increase in unfunded mandates—regulations or new conditions for receiving grants that impose costs on state and local governments for which they are not reimbursed by the national government. The growth of unfunded mandates was the product of a Democratic Congress, which wanted to achieve liberal social objectives, and Republican presidents who opposed increased social spending. Between 1983 and 1991, Congress mandated standards in many policy areas, including social services and environmental regulations, without providing additional funds to


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While the United States has evolved into a system of cooperative federalism, some democracies began that way. germany’s constitution, adopted in 1949, was designed to use a cooperative federal system to help prevent the abuses of central government power seen in Hitler’s germany. For example, the upper house of the german parliament comprises delegates from the Länder (“states”) governments, giving the states an official check on all national policy.

The most interesting blending of power, however, is in taxation and spending. Unlike U.S. states, german states and local governments

have no taxation powers, making them fully dependent on federal funding. However, german states are responsible for implementing most government policy. As a result, almost two-thirds of german government spending is carried out by states and local governments, compared to less than half of U.S. spending. This emphasis on local spending includes the running of germany’s extensive social security program, a complex system carried out at the national, state, and local levels. In the United States, comparable social spending is done by the national government or is left to Americans to pay out of pocket.

Cooperative Federalism: Competition or a Check on Power?


50 states


Pensions, health, defense veterans bene�ts, transportation, food and agriculture, foreign policy, etc.

Education, general public services, law enforcement, economic affairs, health, etc.

Defense, digital infrastructure, foreign policy

Welfare, general public services, education, economic affairs, transport, etc.

Multilevel Social Security System: pensions, child support, unemployment insurance, health, maternity leave, etc.

16 Länder

Taxation: Federal only

52% 48 17% 40 43

State and local

Taxation: Federal, state, and local

SOURCE: OECD, “Figure 2.42. Distribution of general government expenditures across levels of government, 2015 and 2016,” Government at a Glance 2017, www.oecd-ilibrary.org/governance/government-at-a-glance-2017_gov_glance -2017-en; “Regional Policy Profile: United States,” www.oecd.org/regional/regional-policy/profile-United-States.pdf and “Regional Policy Profile: Germany,” www.oecd.org/regional/regional-policy/profile-Germnay.pdf (accessed 6/7/18).

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meet those standards. Altogether, Congress enacted 26 laws that imposed new regula- tions or required states to expand existing programs.26 For example, the 1973 Rehabili- tation Act prohibited discrimination against the disabled in programs that were partly funded by the federal government. The new law required state and local governments to make public transit accessible to disabled people with wheelchair lifts in buses, ele- vators in train stations, and special trans- portation systems where needed. These requirements were estimated to cost state and local governments $6.8 billion over 30 years.27 But Congress did not supply additional funding to help states meet these new requirements; the states had to shoulder the increased financial burden themselves. States complained that mandates took up so much of their budgets that they were not able to set their own priorities.28

These burdens became part of a rally- ing cry to reduce the power of the federal government—a cry that took center stage when a Republican Congress was elected in 1994. One of the first measures the new

Congress passed was an act to limit the cost of unfunded mandates, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA). Under this law, Congress must estimate the expense for any proposal it believes would exceed the threshold established in UMRA ($76 million in 2014, adjusted for inflation). Congress must then identify funding sources for bills that exceed the threshold established in UMRA.

New national problems inevitably raise the question of who pays. Recently, concern about unfunded mandates arose around health care reform. The major health care reform enacted under President Obama, the Affordable Care Act of 2010, called for a major expansion of Medicaid. Because Medicaid is partly funded by the states, any major increase in the number of Medicaid recipients could impose a significant fiscal burden on the states. Although the law provided additional federal aid to support the new require- ments, the Medicaid provisions became a target for state challenges to the health care law. One of the central claims in the 26 states’ lawsuits charged that the federal government did not have the power to withhold Medicaid funds from states that did not implement the new expansions. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that states could decline to expand Medicaid coverage without losing their existing Medicaid funds. After the Court’s decision, some Republican governors announced that they would not implement the expanded coverage. By late 2018, 36 states plus the District of Columbia had decided to expand Medicaid, and 14 had decided to not expand.

The federal government frequently passes laws that impose mandates on the states, such as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects against discrimination based on disability. States were required to pay for changes to meet federal standards for accessibility in public transportation and public facilities.


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New Federalism Means More State Control

Since the 1970s, as states have become more capable of adminis- tering large-scale programs, the idea of devolution—transferring respon-

sibility for policy from the federal government to the states and localities—has become popular.

Proponents of more state authority have looked to block grants as a way of reduc- ing federal control. Block grants are federal grants-in-aid that allow states consi- derable discretion in how the funds are spent. Richard Nixon led the first push for block grants in the early 1970s. Nixon’s approach consolidated programs in the areas of job training, community development, and social services into three large block grants. These grants imposed some conditions on states and localities as to how the money should be spent but avoided the narrow regulations contained in the categorical grants discussed earlier. In addition, Congress approved a fourth block grant called general revenue sharing, whereby the federal government provided money to local governments and counties with no strings attached; localities could spend the money as they wished. In enacting revenue sharing, Washington acknowl- edged both the critical role that state and local governments play in implementing national priorities and their need for increased funding and enhanced flexibility in order to carry out that role (see Figure 3.3). Ronald Reagan’s version of New Federalism

The debate over national versus state control of speed limits arose in 1973, when gas prices skyrocketed and supplies became scarce. Drivers nationwide were forced to wait in long lines at gas stations. The federal government responded to the gas crisis by instituting a national 55-mile-per-hour speed limit.

Analyze the changing role of the states in the federal framework


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(returning power to the states through block grants) similarly aimed to reduce the national government’s control. In all, Congress created 12 new block grants between 1981 and 1990.29

But this new approach, like those that preceded it, has not provided magic solutions to the problems of federalism. For one thing, there is always a trade-off between accountability—that is, whether the states are using funds for the purposes intended—and flexibility. If the objective is to have accountable and efficient government, it is not clear that state bureaucracies are any more efficient or more capable than national agencies. In Mississippi, for example, the state Department of Human Services spent money from the child care block grant for office furniture and designer salt and pepper shakers that cost $37.50 a pair. As one Mississippi state legislator said, “I’ve seen too many years of good ol’ boy politics to know they shouldn’t [transfer money to the states] without stricter controls and require- ments.”30 Even after block grants were created, Congress reimposed regulations in order to increase the states’ accountability.

At times the federal government has also moved to limit state discretion over spending in cases where it thinks states are too generous. For example, in 2007, President Bush issued regulations that prevented states from providing benefits under the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to children in families well above the poverty line. The Bush administration also barred states from provid- ing chemotherapy to undocumented immigrants, who are guaranteed emergency medi cal treatment under Medicaid.31


As Figure 3.4 indicates, federalism has changed dramatically over the course of Ameri- can history, even over just the past several decades. Finding the right balance among states and the federal government is a persistent challenge for American democracy.


Regulated versus New Federalism

Regulated Federalism New Federalism

National government sets policy for the states

State governments help pay for and administer programs

State governments have �exibility to make policy and administer programs

National government provides funding

National standards

Conditional grants

Unfunded mandates

Block grants

Revenue sharing



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In recent years, many of the most controversial issues in American politics— including the appropriate size of public social spending, the rights and benefits of immigrants (legal as well as undocumented), what government should do in response to climate change, and whether and how government should regulate business and moral behavior—have been fought out through the federal system. Politicians of all stripes regularly turn to the federal government to override decisions made by states. Likewise, when the federal government proves unable or unwilling to act, activists and politicians try to achieve their goals in states and localities. In many cases, it is up to the courts to decide which level of government should have the final say.

Although conservatives proclaim their preference for a small federal government and their support for more state autonomy, in fact, they often expand the federal government and limit state autonomy. President George W. Bush, for example, expanded federal control and increased spending in various policy areas. The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, passed with Democratic support, introduced unprecedented federal intervention in public education, traditionally a state and local responsibility. New detailed federal testing requirements stipulating how states should treat failing schools were major expansions of federal authority in education. When a number of states threatened to defy some of the new federal requirements, Bush’s Department of Education relaxed its tough stance and became more flexible in enforcing the act. But the administration did not back down entirely, leading to several legal challenges to different aspects of the law.

In the Supreme Court, too, many decisions supported a stronger federal role over the states. Decisions to uphold the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and the Amer- icans with Disabilities Act asserted federal authority against state claims of immunity from the acts. In one important 2005 case, the Court upheld the right of Congress to ban medical marijuana, even though 11 states had legalized its use. Overturning a lower court ruling that said Congress did not have authority to regulate marijuana when it had been grown for noncommercial purposes in a single state, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government did have the power to regulate use of all marijuana under the commerce clause. Even so, as we saw in the chapter opener, by 2018, 32 states and the District of Columbia had legalized medical marijuana, and 10 states have now gone


The Changing Federal Framework


Dual Federalism 1789–1937


Cooperative Federalism 1937–60


Regulated Federalism 1960s–1970s

1970 2000

New Federalism 1970s–


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further to legalize its recreational use. Although the federal government has not endorsed these laws, it has made prosecution of marijuana in these states a low priority.

The most significant Obama law to affect the states was the 2010 health care overhaul. One controversial part of that legislation required states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income residents and to offer them additional services. As we saw earlier, the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that the federal government could not impose all- or-nothing conditions on the states—implement the expansion or lose all Medicaid funding—represented a new limit on the national government’s power. The ruling mostly upheld the law but also gave the states more leeway. The other controversial provision of the Affordable Care Act was the “individual mandate,” the requirement that individuals without health care insurance be required to purchase such insurance. The 26 states suing the federal government charged that Congress had no power to force individuals to purchase a product and that it had exceeded its power under the commerce clause. In defending the law, the federal government argued the opposite: that the complex interactions of the health care market made the individual mandate constitutional under the commerce clause.32 From the moment a person is born, he or she is part of the health care economy. Even if a person does not have health insurance, federal law requires that hospitals provide treatment in an emergency. Those costs are borne by all of the people who do pay for health insurance.

Taking a more narrow view of the health care market, the Court rejected this argument on the grounds that the federal government cannot regulate economic inactivity, that is, the failure to purchase health insurance. Instead, it found that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional based on Congress’s power to tax. The law requires individuals who do not receive insurance from their employers or their parents and are not eligible for Medicaid to purchase insurance or pay a penalty. The Court reasoned that the penalty could be considered a tax and, for that reason, was constitutional. At the end of 2017, however, Congress passed a sweeping tax bill that included a provision to eliminate the individual mandate.

The Affordable Care Act survived another challenge in 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled that federal subsidies to help pay for insurance should be available to residents in states that offered insurance only through the federal exchange as well as in states that had formed their own state insurance marketplaces. The outcome of King v. Burwell ensured that subsidies would be available in all states.33

In other policy areas, states and localities have forged their own policies because the federal government has not acted. One of the most controversial of these issues is immi- gration legislation. In the first half of 2013, for example, state legislatures enacted 377 laws and resolutions related to immigration.34 Many state and local laws that govern immigration are not controversial, but some raise critical questions about the federal government’s role as opposed to the responsibilities of state and local governments. In 2010, Arizona enacted an extremely controversial immigration measure requiring immigrants to carry identity documents and requiring police to ask about immigration status when they stop drivers they suspect of being undocumented immigrants. The federal Department of Justice joined several other groups in challenging the law. In the words of then–attorney general Eric Holder, “It is clearly unconstitutional for a state to


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set its own immigration policy.”35 In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that Arizona’s law did not preempt federal authority to make immigration law.36 The court’s decision in Arizona v. United States did overturn three of four provisions in Arizona’s law, but it ruled in favor of the most controversial provision, which allows state police to check the immigration status of anyone stopped or arrested.

Immigration policy once again be- came embroiled in federal–state conflict after 2014. Frustrated by congressional inaction on immigration, President Obama issued executive memoranda in 2012 to provide temporary legal status and work permits to undocumented children who had been brought to the United States, termed the “Dreamers.” However, when Oba- ma moved to expand this Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) in 2014 and extend legal status to some parents of U.S. citizens and legal resi- dents (called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA), 26 states, led by Texas, challenged the executive order in court. They charged that the expansion exceeded executive authority and would impose unreasonable costs on states. The expansion was never implemented because the Supreme Court, in the wake of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, deadlocked in a 4–4 decision, leaving in place lower-court decisions that sided with the states.37 The Trump administration began a six-month phaseout of the DACA program in Septem- ber 2017, giving Congress until March 2018 to devise a legislative solution.38 Congressional action failed, but as of mid-2018, DACA remained in place due to two federal judges’ rulings.

President Donald Trump campaigned promising more rigorous immigration en- forcement. In 2017 he signed an executive order increasing the number of immigrants considered a priority for deportation, from those convicted of serious crimes such as felonies or multiple misdemeanors as under Obama to those accused or convicted of minor crimes as well.39 A growing number of cities, counties, and states declared themselves “sanctuaries,” which limit cooperation with national government enforce- ment of immigration law. President Trump pledged to cancel funding for sanctuary cities and states, but in 2017 a federal judge temporarily blocked the Trump adminis- tration from withholding federal grants from these jurisdictions because of sanctuary policies.40 The Department of Homeland Security rescinded the DACA expansion in 2017, but the original program remained. Claiming sympathy for the “Dreamers,” Trump asked Congress to resolve the matter through legislation.41

As the cases of health care and immigration show, federalism operates like ping-pong, with the federal and state governments reacting to the actions, or inactions, of the other. It is easy to see how confusing and ever-changing federal–state relations can be.

Since the Trump administration’s announce- ment of the phaseout of the DACA program put in place by the Obama administration, the legislative branch on the federal level has failed to implement a solution. State-level challenges to the termination of the policy, however, have been successful in protecting those covered by the program.


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Federalism WHAT DO WE WANT? In recent years, sharp differences in Americans’ views on many economic and social

issues have been reflected in the federal system. Until 2015, when the Supreme Court

ruled that state-level bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, 37 states

allowed same-sex marriage and 13 did not. Today, over half of the 50 states have legali-

zed medical marijuana, while 10 and Washington, D.C., have gone further and legalized

recreational marijuana. More states are likely to change their laws on marijuana, but

differences across the states are likely to persist for many years. Half of the states wel-

comed the expansion of Medicaid, the program that provides medical assistance to the

poor. The other half, concerned about costs and the growing role of government in the

economy, initially declined to implement the expansion. Some states actively welcome

immigrants and seek to opt out of restrictive federal laws; other states go beyond the fed-

eral government in enacting restrictive immigration laws. Yet while states have the authority

to devise their own laws on a variety of important issues, Americans’ participation in state

and local politics remains low (see the “Who Participates?” feature on the facing page).

As described in the opening of this chapter, Larry Harvey’s arrest for using medical

marijuana, legal in his state but illegal under federal law, raises questions about the

promise, conflict, and ambiguity inherent in a federal system of government. Our history

of federalism means that we are comfortable with the idea that states should have

the freedom to enact laws that best serve their residents, within the bounds set by

Congress and the courts. We expect states to act as “laboratories of democracy” that

try out new policies. But the great variation across the states today poses questions

that will have to be answered in the coming decades. Is the federal government endan-

gering people by allowing states to legalize marijuana? Or is the federal government

endangering critically ill people by prosecuting medical marijuana use even in states

with legalization? Is it fair that a transgender person in California can legally change the

sex on her birth certificate, but a transgender person in Tennessee would be denied

the same? Is it reasonable that a gun owner can openly carry a handgun in georgia but

not in Florida? Each generation confronts a different set of questions about how much

variation across the states is appropriate. Are some of the issues on which the states

differ fundamental rights that should be uniform across the country? Is it important to

preserve state choice on most matters? As today’s youth help to answer these ques-

tions in the coming decades, they will be remaking American federalism.

Thus, American federalism remains a work in progress. As public problems shift

and as local, state, and federal governments change, questions about the relationship

between American values and federalism naturally emerge. The different views that

people bring to this discussion suggest that federalism will remain a central issue in

American democracy.


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*The voting-eligible population excludes noncitizens and people who are institutionalized or not allowed to vote in some states because they are ex-felons. The voting-age population includes everyone over 18.

NOTE: Oregon had an additional election in 2016 to �ll a vacancy.

SOURCES: Elect Project, electproject.org; Voter Turnout, elect.ky.gov; Post Election Statistics, electionstatistics.sos.la.gov; 2017 Results, state.nj.us; 2017 Results Report, elections.virginia.gov (accessed 3/10/18).

Turnout in Recent Gubernatorial Elections

New Jersey 39%

Missouri 62%

California 31%

Texas 28%

Florida 43%

Virginia 43%





San Antonio


New York City


Percentage of voting-eligible population*

Turnout in Most Recent Municipal Election Percentage of voting-age population in selected cities*

Median % of voters to turn out in the following years:

2015, 2017

Non-presidential, non-congressional






Non-presidential, congressional


Seattle 43%

Washington, D.C. 38%





Who Participates in State and Local Politics?



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Practice Quiz

1. Which term describes the division of powers between the national govern- ment and the state governments? (p. 69) a) separation of powers b) federal system c) checks and balances d) expressed powers e) implied powers

2. Which amendment to the Constitution stated that the powers not delegated to the national government or prohibit- ed to the states were “reserved to the states”? (p. 70) a) First Amendment b) Fifth Amendment c) Tenth Amendment d) Fourteenth Amendment e) Twenty-Sixth Amendment

3. A state government’s authority to regulate the health, safety, and morals of its citizens is frequently referred to as (p. 70) a) the reserved power. b) the expressed power. c) the police power. d) the concurrent power. e) the implied power.

4. Which constitutional clause requires that states normally honor the public acts and judicial decisions of other states? (p. 71) a) privileges and immunities clause b) necessary and proper clause c) interstate commerce clause d) preemption clause e) full faith and credit clause

Attend a board of supervisors, city council, planning commission, or other local government meeting. Agendas and minutes will usually be available on county and city websites.

Attend a session of your local or state judiciary. Cases on the docket are available online, as are rules for attendance and behavior when the court is in session.

Get Involved in State and Local Politics

Visit the state capitol. If you make an appointment, you might be able to meet with your local representative. Committee meetings and hearings are generally open to the public, as are meetings of the legislature.



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5. Many states have amended their constitutions to guarantee that large cities will have the authority to man- age local affairs without interference from state government. This power is called (p. 72) a) home rule. b) preemption. c) devolution. d) states’ rights. e) new Federalism.

6. The relationship between the states and the national government from 1789 to 1937 is known as (p. 73) a) dual federalism. b) regulated federalism. c) states’ rights. d) cooperative federalism. e) new Federalism.

7. In which case did the Supreme Court create the potential for increased national power by ruling that Congress could use the necessary and proper clause to interpret its delegated powers broadly? (p. 75) a) United States v. Lopez b) Printz v. United States c) Loving v. Virginia d) McCulloch v. Maryland e) Gibbons v. Ogden

8. The process of returning more of the responsibilities of governing from the national level to the state level is known as (p. 80) a) dual federalism. b) devolution. c) preemption. d) home rule. e) incorporation.

9. The principle that allows the federal government to take over areas of regulation formerly overseen by states or local governments is called (p. 82) a) regulated federalism. b) preemption. c) devolution. d) “layer cake” federalism. e) exemption.

10. When state and local governments must conform to costly regulations or conditions in order to receive grants but do not receive reimbursements for their expenditures from the federal government it is called (p. 82) a) states’ rights. b) block grants. c) general revenue sharing. d) an unfunded mandate. e) redistributive programs.

11. To what does the term New Federalism refer? (pp. 85–86) a) the era of federalism initiated by

President roosevelt during the late 1930s

b) the national government’s regulation of state action through grants-in-aid

c) the type of federalism that uses categorical grants to influence state action

d) efforts to return more policy-making discretion to the states through the use of block grants

e) the recent emergence of local governments as important political actors

12. The Supreme Court’s decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius was significant because (p. 88) a) it affirmed the federal government’s

absolute power to impose all-or- nothing conditions on state govern- ments attempting to receive federal funding.

b) it limited the federal government’s power to impose all-or-nothing conditions on state governments at- tempting to receive federal funding.

c) it struck down the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act as a violation of the interstate commerce clause.

d) it eliminated the federal govern- ment’s ability to provide subsidies for health insurance coverage.

e) it invalidated the educational stand- ards and testing requirements imposed by the 2001 no Child Left Behind Act.


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Key Terms

block grants (p. 85) federal grants-in-aid that allow states considerable discretion in how the funds are spent

categorical grants (p. 78) congressional grants given to states and localities on the condition that expenditures be limited to a problem or group specified by law

commerce clause (p. 75) Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, which delegates to Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States and with the Indian Tribes”; this clause was interpreted by the Supreme Court in favor of national power over the economy

concurrent powers (p. 70) authority pos- sessed by both state and national govern- ments, such as the power to levy taxes

cooperative federalism (p. 80) a type of federalism existing since the new Deal era in which grants-in-aid have been used strategically to encourage states and local- ities (without commanding them) to pursue nationally defined goals; also known as “intergovernmental cooperation”

devolution (p. 80) a policy to remove a program from one level of government by delegating it or passing it down to a lower level of government, such as from the national government to the state and local governments

dual federalism (p. 73) the system of gov- ernment that prevailed in the United States from 1789 to 1937 in which most funda- mental governmental powers were shared between the federal and state governments

expressed powers (p. 69) specific powers granted by the Constitution to Congress (Article I, Section 8) and to the president (Article II)

federal system (p. 69) a system of govern- ment in which the national government shares power with lower levels of govern- ment such as states

federalism (p. 69) a system of government in which power is divided, by a constitution, between the central (national) government and regional (state) governments

full faith and credit clause (p. 71) provision from Article Iv, Section 1, of the Constitution requiring that the states normally honor the public acts and judicial decisions that take place in another state

general revenue sharing (p. 85) the process by which one unit of government yields a portion of its tax income to another unit of government, according to an established formula; revenue sharing typically involves the national government providing money to state governments

grants-in-aid (p. 77) programs through which Congress provides money to state and local governments on the condition that the funds be employed for purposes defined by the federal government

home rule (p. 72) power delegated by the state to a local unit of government to manage its own affairs

implied powers (p. 69) powers derived from the necessary and proper clause of Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution; such powers are not specifically expressed but are implied through the expansive interpretation of delegated powers

necessary and proper clause (p. 69) provision from Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution providing Congress with the authority to make all laws necessary and proper to carry out its expressed powers

New Federalism (p. 85) attempts by presi- dents nixon and reagan to return power to the states through block grants

police power (p. 70) power reserved to the state government to regulate the health, safety, and morals of its citizens


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preemption (p. 82) the principle that allows the national government to override state or local actions in certain policy areas; in foreign policy, the willingness to strike first in order to prevent an enemy attack

privileges and immunities clause (p. 72) provision, from Article Iv, Section 2, of the Constitution, that a state cannot discrimi- nate against someone from another state or give its own residents special privileges

reserved powers (p. 70) powers, derived from the Tenth Amendment to the Constitu- tion, that are not specifically delegated to the national government or denied to the states

Derthick, Martha. Keeping the Compound Republic: Essays on American Federalism. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001.

Elazar, Daniel. American Federalism: A View from the States. 3rd ed. new York: Harper & row, 1984.

gerston, Larry n. American Federalism: A Concise Introduction. Armonk, nY: M. E. Sharpe, 2007.

Johnson, Kimberly S. Governing the American State: Congress and the New Federalism, 1877–1929. Princeton, nJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Kettl, Donald. The Regulation of American Federalism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

Mettler, Suzanne. Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy. Ithaca, nY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Michener, Jamila. Fragmented Democracy: Medicaid, Federalism, and Unequal Politics. new York: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Peterson, Paul E. The Price of Federalism. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1995.

Pierceson, Jason. Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: The Road to the Supreme Court. Lanham, MD: rowman and Littlefield, 2014.

robertson, David Brian. Federalism and the Making of America. new York: routledge, 2011.

van Horn, Carl E. The State of the States. 4th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2005.

Zimmerman, Joseph. Contemporary American Federalism. 2nd ed. Albany: SUnY Press, 2009.

states’ rights (p. 76) the principle that the states should oppose the increasing authority of the national government; this principle was most popular in the period before the Civil War

unfunded mandates (p. 82) regulations or conditions for receiving grants that impose costs on state and local governments for which they are not reimbursed by the federal government

unitary system (p. 69) a centralized gov- ernment system in which lower levels of government have little power independent of the national government

For Further Reading


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Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

040404 chapter

WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES AND WHY IT MATTERS In Portland in 2006, Simon Tam founded what Oregon Music News called

the first and only all Asian American dance-rock band, or “Chinatown Dance

Rock,” as the band prefers. The various members of the band are of Chinese,

Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and Filipino descent. In addition to playing at anime

conventions and cultural festivals, they are known for their community involve-

ment battling Asian stereotypes and supporting young Asian people.1

They are also known for a First Amendment case over the band’s name, The

Slants. The name has three sources. The first two reference the members’

“slant” on life and the guitar chords they use: “It actually sounds like a fun,

’80s, New Wave kind of band. And it’s a play on words. We can share our per-

sonal experiences about what it’s like being people of color—our own slant

on life, if you will. It’s also a musical reference. There are slant guitar chords

that we use in our music,” Tam said. The third source was a reclaiming and

repurposing of the old ethnic slur about Asian people. “We grew up and the

notion of having slanted eyes was always considered a negative thing,” Tam

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Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

The First Amendment protects Americans from government infringement on their right to free speech. In the case of the Slants, they used the First Amendment as grounds to re-appropriate a term deemed offensive for themselves and their cultures.


said. “Kids would pull their eyes back in a slant-eyed gesture to make fun of

us . . . I wanted to change it to something that was powerful, something that

was considered beautiful or a point of pride instead.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had a different view. Tam’s applica-

tion for a trademark on the band’s name was rejected as a violation of the

Disparagement Clause of the Lanham Act of 1946, which prohibits trade-

marks that disparage a racial or ethnic group. The denial stated that although

the “applicant, or even the entire band, may be willing to take on the disparag-

ing term as a band name, in what may be considered an attempt . . . to wrest

‘ownership’ of the term,” that “does not mean that all [Asian Americans]

share the applicant’s view.” The case ultimately went to the Supreme Court,

which in 2017 ruled unanimously that the disparagement clause violated the

First Amendment’s free speech clause. The band could keep the name.

Free speech, along with the freedoms of assembly, religion, and privacy,

are among the civil liberties contained in the Bill of Rights and elsewhere

in the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson said that a bill of rights “is what

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people are entitled to against every government on earth.” Note the wording:

against government. Civil liberties are protections from improper government

action. Civil rights, on the other hand, are positives—what the government

must do to guarantee equal citizenship and protect citizens from discrimina-

tion. Civil rights regulate who can participate in the political process and civil

society and how they can participate: for example, who can vote, who can

hold office, who can have a trial or serve on juries, and when and how

citizens can petition the government to take action. Civil rights also define

how people are treated in employment, education, and other aspects of

American society.

Liberties are limits on government action, and the courts are the institution

best situated to tell Congress, the president and state governments what they

may not do. Civil rights, though, involve the government’s obligation to act and

the evolution of civil rights required much more action on the part of Congress

and the president.

★ Explain the origins and evolution of the civil liberties in the Bill of Rights as they apply to the federal government and the states (pp. 99–103)

★ Describe how the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, speech, and the press (pp. 103–11)

★ Explore whether the Second Amendment means people have a right to own guns (pp. 112–13)

★ Explain the major rights that people have if they are accused of a crime (pp. 113–19)

★ Assess whether people have a right to privacy under the Constitution (pp. 119–20)

★ Trace the legal developments and social movements that expanded civil rights (pp. 120–30)

★ Describe how different groups have fought for and won protection of their civil rights (pp. 130–37)



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The Origin of the Bill of Rights Lies in Those Who Opposed the Constitution

Since the early 1960s the Supreme Court has expanded considerably the scope of civil liberties, defined as indi­ vidual rights and personal freedoms with which governments may not interfere; that is, they are protections

for Americans from the government. These liberties are constantly subject to judi­ cial interpretation, and their provisions need to be safeguarded vigilantly, especially during times of war or a threat to national security, such as in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Civil rights—protections of citizen equality provided by the government—have also expanded dramatically since the middle of the twentieth century, when the African American struggle for equal rights took center stage. Many goals of the civil rights movement that once aroused bitter controversy are now widely accepted as part of the American commitment to equal rights. But even today the question of what is meant by “equal rights” is hardly settled. To what extent can states mandate racial preferences in college admissions? Do transgender individuals have the right to use a public restroom based on their gender identification rather than their physi­ cal characteristics? What rights do undocumented immigrants possess? Although the United States was founded on the ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy, its history of civil rights reveals a gap between these principles and actual practice.

When the first Congress under the newly ratified Constitution met in April 1789, the most important item of business was the proposal to add a bill of rights to the Constitution. Such a proposal had been turned down with little debate in the waning days of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787, not because the delegates were against rights but because—as the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, later argued—such a bill was “not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution but would even be dangerous.”2 First, according to Hamilton, a bill of rights would be irrelevant to a national government that was given only delegated powers in the first place. To put restraints on “powers which are not granted” could provide a pretext for governments to claim more powers than were in fact granted: “For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”3 Second, the Constitution was to Hamilton and the Federalists a bill of rights in itself, containing provisions that amounted to a bill of rights without requiring additional amendments (see Table 4.1). For example, Article I, Section 9, included the right of habeas corpus, a court order demanding that an individual in custody be brought into court and shown the reason for detention. This prohibits the government from depriving a person of liberty with­ out explaining the reason before a judge.

Despite the power of Hamilton’s arguments, when the Constitution was submit­ ted to the states for ratification, Antifederalists, most of whom had not been dele­ gates in Philadelphia, picked up on the argument of Thomas Jefferson (who also had

Explain the origins and evolution of the civil liberties in the Bill of Rights as they apply to the federal government and the states


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not been a delegate) that the omission of a bill of rights was a major imperfection of the new Constitution. The Federalists conceded that for the document to gain ratification they would have to make an “unwritten but unequivocal pledge” to add a bill of rights.

The Bill of Rights might well have been titled the “Bill of Liberties” because the provisions that were incorporated in it were seen as defining a private sphere of personal liberty, free from governmental restrictions.4 As Jefferson put it, a bill of rights “is what people are entitled to against every government on earth.” Note the wording: against government. Civil liberties are protections of citizens from improper government action. Some of these restraints are substantive liberties, which put lim­ its on what the government shall and shall not have power to do—such as establish­ ing a religion, quartering troops in private homes without consent, or seizing private property without just compensation. Other restraints are procedural liberties, which are restraints on how the government is supposed to act. These procedural liberties are usually grouped under the general category of due process of law, which is the right of every citizen to be protected against arbitrary action by national or state gov­ ernments. It first appears in the Fifth Amendment provision that “no person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” For example, even though the government has the substantive power to declare certain acts to be crimes and to arrest and imprison persons who violate criminal laws, it may not do so without meticulously observing procedures designed to protect the accused per­ son. The best­known procedural rule is that an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This rule does not question the government’s power to punish someone for committing a crime; it questions only the way the government deter­ mines who committed the crime. Substantive and procedural restraints together identify the realm of civil liberties.


Rights in the Original Constitution (Not in the Bill of Rights)


Article I, Section 9 guarantee of habeas corpus

Article I, Section 9 Prohibition of bills of attainder

Article I, Section 9 Prohibition of ex post facto laws

Article I, Section 9 Prohibition against acceptance of titles of nobility, etc., from any foreign state

Article III guarantee of trial by jury in state where crime was committed

Article III Treason defined and limited to the life of the person convicted, not to the person’s heirs


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In contrast, civil rights are the obligations imposed on government to take positive action to protect citizens from any illegal actions by government agencies and by other private citizens. Civil rights did not become part of the Constitution until 1868, with the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, which sought to provide for each citizen “the equal protection of the laws.”


In the first 70 years of the country’s history, the Bill of Rights was understood to apply only to the national government and not to the states. This meant that the actions of state governments were restricted only by their own state constitutions as interpreted by their own courts. In fact, the Supreme Court said this in a decision in 1833, Barron v. Baltimore.5 But the Civil War cast new light on the large question of state versus national governmental power. After the war, the Fourteenth Amend­ ment was added to the Constitution. Part of the amendment reads as though it were meant to tell the states that they must now adhere to the Bill of Rights:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This language sounds like an effort to extend the Bill of Rights to all citizens, wherever they might reside.6 Yet this was not the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the amendment for nearly 100 years. Within five years of ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court was making decisions as though the amend­ ment had never been adopted.7

The first change in civil liberties following the adoption of the Fourteenth Amend­ ment came in 1897, when the Supreme Court held that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did in fact prohibit states from taking property for a public use without just compensation (a protection found in the Fifth Amendment), over­ ruling the Barron case.8 However, the Supreme Court had selectively “incorporated” under the Fourteenth Amendment only the property protection provision of the Fifth Amendment and no other clause of the Fifth or any other amendment of the Bill of Rights. In other words, although according to the Fifth Amendment “due process” applied to the taking of life and liberty as well as property, only property was incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment as a limitation on state power.

No further expansion of civil liberties via the Fourteenth Amendment occurred until 1925, when the Supreme Court held that freedom of speech is “among the fundamental personal rights and ‘liberties’ protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the states.”9 In 1931 the Court added freedom of the press to that short list protected by the Bill of Rights from state action; by 1939 it had added freedom of assembly and petitioning the government for redress of grievances.10 But that was as far as the Court was then willing to go.

101The OR Ig IN OF B I LL OF R IghTS

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Incorporation of the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment


eminent domain (V) 1897 Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy R.R. v. Chicago

Freedom of speech (I) 1925 Gitlow v. New York

Freedom of press (I) 1931 Near v. Minnesota

Free exercise of religion (I) 1934 Hamilton v. Regents of the University of California

Freedom of assembly (I) and freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances (I)

1937 DeJonge v. Oregon

Freedom of assembly (I) 1939 Hague v. CIO

Nonestablishment of state religion (I) 1947 Everson v. Board of Education

Freedom from unnecessary search and seizure (IV)

1949 Wolf v. Colorado

Freedom from warrantless search and seizure (IV; “exclusionary rule”)

1961 Mapp v. Ohio

Freedom from cruel and unusual punishment (VIII)

1962 Robinson v. California

Right to counsel in any criminal trial (VI) 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright

Right against self-incrimination and forced confessions (V)

1964 Malloy v. Hogan; Escobedo v. Illinois

Right to counsel and to remain silent (V) 1966 Miranda v. Arizona

Right against double jeopardy (V) 1969 Benton v. Maryland

Right to bear arms (II) 2010 McDonald v. Chicago

As Table 4.2 shows, selective incorporation—the process by which different protec­ tions in the Bill of Rights were incorporated or applied to the states, part by part, using the Fourteenth Amendment, thus guaranteeing citizens’ protection from state as well as national government—continued to occur gradually until 2010. The final provision of the Bill of Rights to be incorporated by the Supreme Court was the Second Amendment, which protects the right to bear arms.11 (Incorporation is also sometimes referred to as the “absorption” or the “nationalizing” of the Bill of Rights.)


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To make clear that “selective incorporation” should be narrowly interpreted, Justice Benjamin Cardozo, writing for an 8–1 majority in 1937, asserted that although many rights have value and importance, some rights do not represent a “principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.” So, until 1961, only the First Amendment and one clause of the Fifth Amendment had been clearly incorporated into the Fourteenth Amend­ ment as binding on the states as well as on the national government.12

The best way to examine the Bill of Rights today is the simplest way: to take each of the major provisions one at a time. Some of these provisions are settled areas of law; others are not.

The First Amendment Guarantees Freedom of Religion, Speech, and the Press

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to

assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


The Bill of Rights begins by guaranteeing freedom of religion, and the First Amend­ ment provides for that freedom in two distinct clauses: “Congress shall make no law (1) respecting an establishment of religion, or (2) prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The first clause is called the “establishment clause,” and the second is called the “free exercise clause.”

Separation between Church and State Comes from the First Amendment The establishment clause and the idea of “no law” regarding the establishment of religion can be interpreted in several ways. One interpretation, which probably reflects the views of many of the First Amendment’s authors, is that the govern­ ment is prohibited from establishing an official church. Official state churches, such as the Church of England, were common in the eighteenth century and were viewed by many Americans as inconsistent with a republican form of gov­ ernment. Indeed, many American colonists had fled Europe to escape persecu­ tion for having rejected state­sponsored churches. A second interpretation is the view that the government may not take sides among competing religions but may provide assistance to religious institutions or ideas as long as it shows no favoritism. The United States accommodates religious beliefs in a variety of ways, from the reference to God on U.S. currency to the prayer that begins every session of Congress. These forms of establishment have never been struck down by the courts.

Describe how the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, speech, and the press

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The third view regarding religious establishment, the most commonly held today, is the idea of a “wall of separation” between church and state—Jefferson’s formulation—that cannot be breached by the government. For two centuries, Jefferson’s words have had a powerful impact on our understanding of the proper relationship between church and state in America.

Despite the seeming absoluteness of the phrase “wall of separation,” there is ample room to disagree on how high or strong this wall is. For example, the Court has been consistently strict in the area of public education in cases of school prayer, striking down such practices as Bible reading,13 nondenominational prayer,14 reading prayers over a public address system during a football game,15 and even a moment of silence for meditation.16 In each of these cases, the Court reasoned that school­sponsored religious observations, even if nondenominational, are highly suggestive of school sponsorship and therefore violate the prohibition against establishment of religion. On the other hand, the Court has been quite permissive (and some would say inconsistent) about the public display of religious symbols, such as city­sponsored Nativity scenes in commercial or municipal areas.17 And although the Court has consistently disapproved of government financial support for religious schools, even when the purpose has been purely educational and secular, it has permitted certain direct aid to students of such schools in the form of busing, for example.

The difficulty in defining what religious establishment means is evident from two cases in 2005 involving government­sponsored displays of religious symbols. In Van Orden v. Perry, the Court decided by a 5–4 margin that a display of the Ten Com­ mandments at the Texas State Capitol did not violate the Constitution.18 However, in McCreary v. ACLU of Kentucky, decided at the same time and also by a 5–4 margin, the Court determined that a display of the Ten Commandments inside two Kentucky courthouses was unconstitutional.19 Justice Stephen Breyer, the swing vote in the two cases, said that the displays in Van Orden had a secular purpose, whereas the displays in McCreary had a purely religious purpose. The key difference between the two cases is that the Texas display had been exhibited in a large park for 40 years with other monuments related to the development of American law without any objections raised until this case, whereas the Kentucky display was erected much more recently and initially by itself, suggesting to some justices that its posting had a religious pur­ pose. But most observers saw little difference between the two cases. Clearly, the issue of government­sponsored displays of religious symbols has not been settled.

Free Exercise of Religion Means You Have a Right to Your Beliefs The free exercise clause protects the citizen’s right to believe and to practice any religion; it also protects the right to choose not to practice a religion. The precedent­ setting case involving free exercise is West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), which involved the children of a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to salute and pledge allegiance to the American flag on the grounds that their religious faith did not permit it. Three years earlier, the Court had upheld such a requirement and had permitted schools to expel students for refusing to salute the flag. But the entry of the United States into a war to defend democracy, coupled with the ugly treatment to which the Jehovah’s Witnesses children had been


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subjected, induced the Court to reverse itself and to endorse the free exercise of religion even when it may be offensive to the beliefs of the majority.20

In recent years, the principle of free exercise has been bolstered by statutes pro­ hibiting religious discrimination by public and private entities in a variety of realms including hiring, land use, and the treatment of prison inmates. Two recent cases illustrat­ ing this point are Holt v. Hobbs and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores.21 The Holt case involved a Muslim prisoner in an Arkansas jail. The prisoner, Gregory Holt, asserted that his reli­ gious beliefs required him to grow a beard. Thus, according to Holt, an Arkansas prison policy prohibiting beards was a violation of his ability to exercise his religion. The Court held that the prison policy was a violation of the free exercise clause and violated a federal statute designed to protect the ability of prisoners to worship as they pleased. The Hobby Lobby case involved the owners of a chain of craft stores who claimed that a section of the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide their female employees with free contraceptive coverage violated their religious beliefs as pro­ tected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This law requires the government to prove a “compelling interest” for requiring individuals to obey a law that violates their religious beliefs. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby.


Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

Freedom of speech and of the press have a special place in American political thought. To begin with, democracy depends upon the ability of individuals to talk to one another and to disseminate information. A democratic nation could not function without free and open debate. Such debate, moreover, is seen as an essential mechanism for determining the quality or validity of competing ideas. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market . . . that at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.”22 What is sometimes called the “marketplace of ideas” receives a good deal of protection from the courts. In 1938 the Supreme Court held that any legislation that attempts to restrict these funda­ mental freedoms “is to be subjected to a more exacting judicial scrutiny . . . than are most other types of legislation.”23 This higher standard of judicial review came to be called strict scrutiny.

Does religious freedom lead to discrimina- tion on the basis of religion? Here, senior counsel for Hobby Lobby Stores speaks to supporters after the Supreme Court ruled that businesses were not required to pro- vide free contraceptive coverage if they find it in violation of their religious beliefs.

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The doctrine of strict scrutiny places a heavy burden of proof on the govern­ ment if it seeks to regulate or restrict speech. Americans are assumed to have the right to speak and to broadcast their ideas unless some compelling reason can be identified to stop them. But strict scrutiny does not mean that speech can never be regulated. According to the courts, although virtually all speech is protected by the Constitution, some forms of speech are entitled to a greater degree of protec­ tion than others.


Over the past 200 years the courts have scrutinized many different forms of speech and constructed different principles and guidelines for each. And of all forms of speech, political speech is the most consistently protected.

Political speech was the activity of greatest concern to the framers of the Con­ stitution, even though some found it the most difficult provision to tolerate. Within seven years of the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791, Congress adopted the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts, which, among other things, made it a crime to say or publish anything that might tend to defame or bring into disrepute the government of the United States. Quite clearly, the acts’ intentions were to criminalize the very thing protected by the First Amendment—political speech. Fifteen violators, including several newspaper editors, were indicted; and a few were actually convicted before the relevant portions of the acts were allowed to expire.

The first modern free speech case arose immediately after World War I. It involved persons who had been convicted under the federal Espionage Act of 1917 for opposing U.S. involvement in the war. The Supreme Court upheld the Espionage Act and refused to protect the speech rights of the defendants on the grounds that their activities—appeals to draftees to resist the draft—constituted a “clear and present danger” to national security.24 This is the first and most famous, though since discarded, “test” for when government intervention or censorship can be permitted.

It was only after the 1920s that real progress toward a genuinely effective First Amendment was made. Since then, the courts have consistently protected political speech even when it has been deemed “insulting” or “outrageous.”


The First Amendment treats the freedoms of religion and political speech as equal to the freedoms of assembly and petition—speech associated with action. Free­ dom of speech and freedom of assembly are closely related by the “public forum doctrine.” In the 1939 case of Hague v. Committee for Industrial Organization, the Court declared that the government may not prohibit speech­related activities such as demonstrations or leafleting in public areas traditionally used for that


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purpose, though, of course, the government may impose rules designed to pro­ tect the public safety so long as these rules do not discriminate against particular viewpoints.25

Generally, the Supreme Court has protected actions that are designed to send a political message. Thus, the Court held unconstitutional a California statute making it a felony to display a red Communist flag “as a sign, symbol or emblem of opposi­ tion to organized government.”26

Another example is the burning of the American flag as a symbol of protest. In 1984, at a political rally held during the Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, a political protester burned an American flag, thereby violating a Texas law that prohibited desecration of a venerated object. The Supreme Court declared the Texas law unconstitutional on the grounds that flag burning was expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment.27

In the 2011 case of Snyder v. Phelps, the Court continued to protect symbolic speech. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church had frequently demonstrated at military funerals, claiming that the deaths of soldiers were a sign that God disap­ proved of acceptance of homosexuality in the United States. They carried signs that included slogans like “Thank God for dead soldiers.” The father of a soldier killed in Iraq brought suit against the church and its pastor, claiming that the demonstrators had caused him and his family severe emotional distress. The Supreme Court ruled, however, that the First Amendment protected this form of speech in a public place against such suits.28

Should the First Amendment’s protection of free speech apply even when that speech is seen as offensive? The Supreme Court ruled that members of the Westboro Baptist Church had a right to picket soldiers’ funerals to demonstrate what they take as a sign of God’s disapproval of homosexuality.

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Closer to the original intent of the assembly and petition clause is the category of “speech plus”—speech accompanied by conduct or physical activity such as sit­ins, picketing, and demonstrating; protection of this form of speech under the First Amendment is conditional, and restrictions imposed by state or local author­ ities are acceptable if properly balanced by considerations of public order. Courts consistently protect such assemblies under the First Amendment; state and local laws regulating such activities are closely scrutinized and frequently overturned. But the same assembly on private property is quite another matter and can in many circumstances be regulated. For example, the directors of a shopping center can lawfully prohibit an assembly protesting a war or supporting a ban on abortion. Assemblies in public areas can also be restricted in some circumstances, especially when the assembly or demonstration jeopardizes the health, safety, or rights of others. This condition was the basis of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a lower­court order that restricted the access abortion protesters had to the entrances of abortion clinics.29

Speech by Public School Students One group that seems to enjoy only a limited right of free speech is public school students. In 1986 the Supreme Court upheld the punishment of a high school student for making sexually suggestive speech. The Court opinion held that such speech interfered with the school’s goal of teaching students the limits of socially acceptable behavior.30 Two years later, the Supreme Court restricted student speech and press rights even further by defining them as part of the educational process, not to be treated with the same standard as adult speech in a regular public forum.31 In the 2007 case of Morse v. Frederick, the Court held that a principal did not violate a student’s free speech rights by suspending him for displaying a banner proclaiming “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS.”32 The decision affirmed that school officials can censor student speech that advocates or celebrates the use of illegal drugs.


For all practical purposes, freedom of speech implies and includes freedom of the press. With the exception of the broadcast media, which are subject to federal regulation, the press is protected under the doctrine against prior restraint (efforts by a governmental agency to block the publication of material it deems libelous or harmful in some other way; otherwise known as “censorship”). Beginning with the landmark 1931 case of Near v. Minnesota, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that, except under the most extraordinary circumstances, the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits government agencies from seeking to prevent newspapers or magazines from publishing whatever they wish.33 In the case of New York Times v. United States (1971), the so­called Pentagon Papers case, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not block publication of secret Defense Department documents given to the New York Times by an opponent of the Vietnam War who had obtained the documents illegally.34


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Another press freedom issue is the question of whether journalists can be com­ pelled to reveal their sources of information. Journalists assert that if they cannot promise to keep the confidentiality of their sources, the flow of information will be reduced and press freedom effectively curtailed. Government agencies, how­ ever, assert that the names of news sources may be relevant to criminal or even national security investigations. Nearly all states have “shield laws” that to varying degrees protect journalistic sources. There is, however, no federal shield law, and the Supreme Court has held that the press has no constitutional right to withhold information in court.35 In 2005, Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter, was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to tell a federal grand jury the name of a confidential source in a case involving the leaked identity of the CIA analyst Valerie Plame. Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, had been critical of the Bush administration’s Iraq policies.


At least four categories of speech fall outside the guarantees of the First Amend­ ment and therefore outside the realm of absolute protection: (1) libel and slander, (2) obscenity and pornography, (3) fighting words, and (4) commercial speech. It should be emphasized once again that these types of speech still enjoy considerable protection by the courts.

Libel and Slander If a written statement is made in “reckless disregard of the truth” and is considered damaging to the victim because it is “malicious, scandalous, and defamatory,” it can be punished as libel. If an oral statement of such a nature is made, it can be punished as slander.

Today, most libel suits involve freedom of the press, and the realm of free press is enormous. Historically, newspapers were subject to the law of libel, which provided that newspapers that printed false and malicious stories could be compelled to pay damages to those they defamed. In recent years, however, American courts have greatly narrowed the meaning of libel and made it extremely difficult, particularly for politicians or other public figures, to win a libel case against a newspaper. In the important 1964 case of New York Times v. Sullivan, the Court held that to be deemed libelous, a story about a public official not only had to be untrue but also had to result from “actual malice” or “reckless disregard” for the truth.36 In other words, the newspaper had to print false and malicious material deliberately. In prac­ tice, this is a very difficult legal standard to meet.

With the emergence of the internet as an important communications medium, the courts have had to decide how traditional libel law applies to internet content. In 1995 the New York courts held that an online bulletin board could be held responsible for the libelous content of material posted by a third party. To protect internet service providers, Congress subsequently enacted legislation absolving them of responsibility for third­party posts. The federal courts have generally upheld this law and declared that service providers are immune from suits regarding the content of material posted by others.37

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Obscenity and Pornography If libel and slander cases can be difficult because of the problem of determining the truth of statements and whether those statements are malicious and damaging, cases involving pornography and obscenity can be even trickier. Not until 1957 did the Supreme Court confront these issues, and it did so with a definition of obscenity that may have caused more confusion than it cleared up. Justice William Brennan, in writing the Court’s opinion, defined obscenity as speech or writing that appeals to the “prurient interest”—that is, whose purpose is to excite lust as this appears “to the average person, applying contemporary com­ munity standards.” Even so, Brennan added, the work should be judged obscene only when it is “utterly without redeeming social importance.”38 In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart confessed that, although he found pornography impossible to define, “I know it when I see it.”39

An effort was made to strengthen the restrictions in 1973, when the Supreme Court expressed its willingness to define pornography as a work that (1) as a whole, is deemed prurient by the “average person” according to “community standards”; (2) depicts sexual conduct “in a patently offensive way”; and (3) lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” This definition meant that pornography would be determined by local rather than national standards. Thus, a local bookseller might be prosecuted for selling a volume that was a best­ seller nationally but that was deemed pornographic locally.40 This new defini­ tion of standards did not help much either, and not long after 1973 the Court began again to review all such community antipornography laws, reversing most of them.

In recent years, the battle against obscene speech has targeted “cyberporn,” pornography on the internet. Opponents of this form of expression argue that it should be banned because of the easy access children have to the internet. The first major effort to regulate the content of the internet occurred in 1996, when Congress passed the Communications Decency Act (CDA), designed to regulate the online transmission of obscene material. The constitutionality of the CDA was immediately challenged in court by a coalition of interests led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In the 1997 Supreme Court case of Reno v. ACLU, the Court struck down the CDA, ruling that it suppressed speech that “adults have a constitutional right to receive,” saying that “the level of discourse reaching the mailbox simply cannot be limited to that which would be suitable for a sandbox.” Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens described the internet as the “town crier” of the modern age and said that the internet was entitled to the greatest degree of First Amendment protection possible.41 By contrast, radio and television are subject to more control than the internet. In 2008 the Supreme Court upheld a law that made it a crime to sell child pornography on the internet.42

In 2000 the Supreme Court extended the highest degree of First Amendment protection to cable (not broadcast) television. In United States v. Playboy Entertain- ment Group, the Court struck down a portion of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that required cable TV companies to limit the broadcast of sexually explicit programming to late­night hours. In its decision, the Court noted that the law already provided parents with the means to restrict access to sexually explicit


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cable channels through various blocking devices. Moreover, such programming could come into the home only if parents decided to purchase such channels in the first place.43

Closely related to the issue of obscenity is the matter of violent broadcast content. Here, too, the Court has generally upheld freedom of speech. For example, in the 2011 case of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association the Court struck down a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children, saying that the law violated the First Amendment.44

Fighting Words Speech can also lose its protected position when it moves toward the sphere of action. “Expressive speech,” for example, is protected until it moves from the symbolic realm to the realm of actual conduct—to direct incitement of damaging conduct with the use of so­called fighting words. In 1942 a man called a police officer a “goddamned racketeer” and “a damn Fascist” and was arrested and convicted of violating a state law forbidding the use of offensive language in public. When his case reached the Supreme Court, the arrest was upheld on the grounds that the First Amendment provides no protection for such offensive language because such words “are no essential part of any exposition of ideas.”45 This decision was reaffirmed in the important 1951 case of Dennis v. United States, in which the Supreme Court held that there is no substantial public interest in permit­ ting certain kinds of utterances: the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or “fighting” words—those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.46 Since that time, however, the Supreme Court has reversed almost every conviction based on arguments that the speaker had used “fighting words.”

Commercial Speech Commercial speech, such as newspaper or television adver­ tisements, has only partial First Amendment protection because it cannot be con­ sidered political speech. Initially considered to be entirely outside the protection of the First Amendment, commercial speech is subject to regulation, although it is also recognized and protected for the part it plays in the free flow of information. For example, prohibition of false and misleading advertising by the Federal Trade Commission is an old and well­established power of the federal government. The Supreme Court long ago approved the constitutionality of laws prohibiting elec­ tronic media from carrying cigarette advertising.47 It has also upheld city ordinances prohibiting the posting of all signs on public property (as long as the ban is total so that there is no hint of censorship).48

However, the gains outweigh the losses in the effort to expand the protection of commercial speech under the First Amendment. For example, in 1996 the Court struck down Rhode Island laws and regulations banning the advertisement of liquor prices,49 and in 2001 the Court overturned a Massachusetts ban on all cigarette advertising as violations of the First Amendment.50 These instances of commercial speech indicate the breadth and depth of the freedom today to direct appeals to a large public, to sell goods and services, and to mobilize people for political purposes.

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The Second Amendment Now Protects an Individual’s Right to Own a Gun

The Second Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights to pro­ vide for “well­regulated” militias to enforce the “security of a free State,” which were to be the backing of the

government for the maintenance of local public order and national defense. Militia was understood to be a military or police resource for state and the national govern­ ments; militias were distinguished from professional armies, which came within the sole constitutional jurisdiction of Congress. While the right of the people “to keep and bear Arms” was linked to citizen service in militias, many have argued that the Second Amendment also establishes an individual right to bear arms.

A 1939 Supreme Court case upheld a federal gun law in which the Court con­ cluded that the Second Amendment pertained to “the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia,”51 but the Court made no further Second Amendment decisions for nearly 70 years. Thus, states and localities across the country have very different gun ownership standards. For instance, in Wyoming there is no ban on any type of gun and no permit is required for carrying a concealed weapon. In California, by contrast, the possession of assault weapons is banned and a permit is required to carry a concealed weapon. Figure 4.1 shows the background check requirements to purchase a firearm across the country.

The Court’s silence on the application of the Second Amendment ended in 2008, when it made the first of two rulings in favor of expansive rights of gun ownership by individuals. The case of District of Columbia v. Heller challenged a Washington, D.C., law that banned handguns. In a 5–4 decision, the Court ruled that the Second Amendment provides a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun at home for self­defense. The dissenting opinion asserted that the Second Amendment only pro­ tects the rights of individuals to bear arms as part of a militia force, not in an individual capacity.52 Because the District of Columbia is an entity of the federal government, the ruling did not apply to state firearm laws. However, in the 2010 case of McDonald v. Chicago, the Court applied the Second Amendment to the states, making this decision the first new incorporation decision by the Court in 40 years (see Table 4.2). The case concerned a Chicago ordinance that made it extremely difficult to own a gun within city limits, and the Court’s ruling had the effect of overturning the law.53

Despite these rulings, the debate over gun control continues to loom large. A series of tragic shootings in recent years—including the killing of 20 elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut; 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida; 59 people at a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada; and 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida—has kept the issue of gun laws firmly on the national agenda. Proponents of gun control point to these shootings as evidence of the need to restrict the availability of firearms, while opponents of gun control say that shooting inci­ dents demonstrate that Americans are not safe and should be free to carry guns for self­protection.

Explore whether the Second Amendment means people have a right to own guns


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Rights of the Criminally Accused Are Based on Due Process of Law

Except for the First Amendment, most of the battle to apply the Bill of Rights to the states was fought over the various protections granted to

individuals who are accused of a crime, who are suspects in the commission of a crime, or who are brought before the court as a witness to a crime. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth amendments, taken together, are the essence of the due process of law, even though this key phrase does not appear until the very last words of the Fifth Amendment.


Background Checks on Firearm Sales Although state gun laws must conform to the Second Amendment as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, laws concerning gun sales and ownership vary widely from state to state. It is much more difficult to buy a gun in, say, New York or California than in Texas or Kentucky. This map shows states that require criminal background checks for the sale of all firearms, only handguns, or none when purchasing firearms. While federal law requires background checks when purchasing a firearm from a licensed seller, only 21 states require them from unlicensed sellers as well.

*An answer of N/A indicates the state does not require criminal background checks for gun sales by unlicensed sellers.

SOURCE: Background Checks, Gun Law Navigator, www.everytownresearch.org/ (accessed 6/12/18).



All �rearms Only handguns *N/A









































Explain the major rights that people have if they are accused of a crime


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The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unrea­ sonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to guarantee the security of citizens against unreasonable (that is, improper) searches and seizures. In 1990 the Supreme Court summarized its understanding of the Fourth Amendment brilliantly and suc­ cinctly: “A search compromises the individual interest in privacy; a seizure deprives the individual of dominion over his or her person or property.”54 But how are we to define what is reasonable and what is unreasonable?

The 1961 case of Mapp v. Ohio illustrates one of the most important principles that has grown out of the Fourth Amendment: the exclusionary rule, which is the abil­ ity of courts to exclude evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, such as barring evidence obtained during an illegal search from being introduced in a trial. Acting on a tip that Dollree Mapp was harboring a suspect in a bombing incident, several police officers forcibly entered Mapp’s house claiming they had a warrant to look for the bombing suspect. The police did not find the bombing sus­ pect but did find some materials connected to the local numbers racket (an illegal gambling operation) and a quantity of “obscene materials,” in violation of an Ohio law banning possession of such materials. Although no warrant was ever produced, the evidence that had been seized was admitted by a court and Mapp was convicted for illegal possession of obscene materials.

By the time Mapp’s appeal reached the Supreme Court, the question was whether any evidence produced under the circumstances of the search of her home was admissible. The Court’s opinion affirmed the exclusionary rule: under the Fourth Amendment (applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amend­ ment), “all evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Consti­ tution . . . is inadmissible.”55 This means that even people who are clearly guilty of the crime of which they are accused must not be convicted if the only evidence for their conviction was obtained illegally.

The exclusionary rule is the most dramatic restraint imposed by the courts on police behavior because it rules out precisely the evidence that produces a convic­ tion; it frees those people who are known to have committed the crime of which they have been accused because the evidence was obtained improperly, though few convictions are actually lost because of excluded evidence. Because it works so dramatically in favor of persons known to have committed a crime, the Court has since softened the application of the rule. In recent years, the federal courts have relied upon a discretionary use of the exclusionary rule, whereby they make a judgment as to the “nature and quality of the intrusion.” It is thus difficult to know ahead of time whether a defendant will or will not be protected from an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment.56 Several recent cases have imposed strict


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interpretations of a reasonable search. In 2013 the Court held that the use of a drug­sniffing dog on the front porch of a home constituted an improper search in the absence of consent or a warrant.57

Changes in technology have also had an impact on Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. In the 2012 case of United States v. Jones, the Court held that prosecutors violated Jones’s rights when they attached a Global Position­ ing System device to his Jeep and monitored his movements for 28 days.58 On the other hand, in Maryland v. King, the Court upheld DNA testing of arrestees without the need for individualized suspicion. The Court charac­ terized DNA testing as an administrative tool for identifying the arrestee and thus as legally indistinguishable from photographing and fingerprinting.59 In the 2014 case of Riley v. California, the Court held that the police were constitutionally prohibited from seizing and searching the digital contents of a cell phone during an arrest.60 As new technologies develop, the Court will continue to face the question of what constitutes a reasonable search. In 2016 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sought to compel the Apple Corporation to unlock the cell phone used by Syed Farook, an alleged terrorist who, along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. Apple asserted that creating new soft­ ware to enable the FBI to unlock the phone would allow the agency to invade the privacy of millions of iPhone users. The case became moot when the FBI was able to unlock the phone without Apple’s help.

Finally, the Fourth Amendment places limits on government surveillance of individuals, an ongoing and controversial issue in the United States today. For example, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., recently ruled that a National Secu­ rity Agency (NSA) program that collected millions of records of telephone calls was impermissible under the Fourth Amendment.61


No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any per­ son be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Under what circumstances can the police search an individual’s car? The Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” but the Supreme Court has had to interpret what is unreasonable.


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Grand Juries The first clause of the Fifth Amendment sets forth the right to a grand jury to determine whether a trial is warranted; grand juries do not rule on the accused’s guilt or innocence. Grand juries play an important role in federal criminal cases. However, the provision for a grand jury is the one important civil liberties pro­ vision of the Bill of Rights that was not incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment to apply to state criminal prosecutions. Thus, some states operate without grand juries. In such states, the prosecuting attorney simply files a “bill of information,” affirming that there is sufficient evidence available to justify a trial. If the accused person is to be held in custody, the prosecutor must take the available information before a judge to determine that the evidence shows probable cause.

Double Jeopardy “Nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” is the constitutional protection from double jeopardy, a protection to prevent a person from being tried more than once for the same crime. The protection from double jeopardy was at the heart of the Palko v. Con- necticut case in 1937. In that case, a Connecticut court had found Frank Palko guilty of second­degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison. Unhappy with the verdict, the state of Connecticut appealed the conviction to its highest state court, won the appeal, got a new trial, and then succeeded in getting Palko convicted of first­degree murder. Palko appealed to the Supreme Court on what seemed an open­ and­shut case of double jeopardy. Yet, although the majority of the Court agreed that this could indeed be considered a case of double jeopardy, they decided that double jeopardy was not one of the provisions of the Bill of Rights incorporated in the Fourteenth Amendment as a restriction on the powers of the states.62 Palko was executed for the crime in 1938, because he lived in Connecticut rather than in a state whose constitution included a guarantee against double jeopardy. It took more than 30 years for the Court to nationalize the constitutional protection against dou­ ble jeopardy, when the court overruled Palko and declared that double jeopardy now applied to the states (see Table 4.2).

Self-Incrimination Perhaps the most significant liberty found in the Fifth Amend­ ment, and the one most familiar to many Americans who watch television crime shows, is the guarantee that no citizen “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” The most famous case concerning self­incrimination involved 23­year­old Ernesto Miranda, who was sentenced to between 20 and 30 years in prison for the kidnap and rape of an 18­year­old woman. The woman had identified him in a police lineup, and, after two hours of questioning, Miranda confessed, subsequently signing a statement that his confession had been made vol­ untarily, without threats or promises of immunity. This confession was admitted into evidence and served as the basis for Miranda’s conviction. After his convic­ tion, Miranda argued that his confession had not been truly voluntary and that he had not been informed of his right to remain silent or his right to consult an attor­ ney. The Supreme Court agreed and overturned the conviction.63 Following one of the most intensely and widely criticized decisions ever handed down by the Supreme Court, Miranda’s case produced the rules the police must follow before


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questioning an arrested criminal suspect. The reading of a person’s “Miranda rights” became a standard scene in every police station and on virtually every dramatization of police action on television and in the movies. Miranda advanced the civil liberties of accused persons not only by expanding the scope of the Fifth Amendment clause covering coerced confessions and self­incrimination but also by confirming the right to counsel (discussed later). Subsequent Supreme Courts considerably softened the Miranda restrictions, but the Miranda rule (as set out in Miranda v. Arizona) that persons under arrest must be informed prior to police interrogation of their rights to remain silent and to have the benefit of legal counsel, still stands as a protection against egregious police abuses of arrested persons.

Eminent Domain The other fundamental clause of the Fifth Amendment is the “takings clause,” which extends to each citizen a protection against the “taking” of private property by the government “without just compensation.” The power of any government to take private property for public use is called eminent domain. The Fifth Amendment puts limits on that inherent power through procedures that require a showing of a public purpose and the provision of fair payment for the government’s taking of someone’s property.


In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and the cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Like the exclusionary rule of the Fourth Amendment and the self­incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment, the “right to counsel” provision of the Sixth Amendment is notable for sometimes freeing defendants who seem to the public to be guilty as charged. Other provisions of the Sixth Amendment, such as the right to a speedy trial and the right to confront witnesses before an impartial jury, are not very controversial.

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) is the perfect case study because it involved a disreputable person who seemed patently guilty of the crime of which he was convicted. In and out of jails for most of his 51 years, Clarence Earl Gideon received a five­year sentence for breaking and entering a poolroom in Panama City, Florida. While serving time in jail, Gideon became a fairly well­qualified “jailhouse lawyer,” made his own appeal on a handwritten petition, and eventu­ ally won the landmark ruling on the right to counsel in all felony cases. After the Supreme Court’s decision, Gideon was granted a new trial. This time, represented by an attorney, he was found not guilty.64 The right to counsel was later expanded, beyond just serious crimes, to any trial, with or without a jury, that holds the possibility of imprisonment.


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Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.

Virtually all the debate over Eighth Amendment issues focuses on the last clause of the amendment: the protection from “cruel and unusual punishment.” One of the greatest challenges in interpreting this provision consistently arises over the death penalty. In 1972 the Supreme Court overturned several state death penalty laws, not because they were cruel and unusual but because they were being applied unevenly—that is, blacks were much more likely than whites to be sentenced to death, the poor more likely than the rich, and men more likely than women.65 Very soon after that decision, a majority of states revised their capital punishment provi­ sions to meet the Court’s standards, and the Court reaffirmed that the death penalty could be used if certain standards were met.66 Since 1976 the Court has consistently upheld state laws providing for capital punishment, although it also continues to review death penalty appeals each year.

Between 1976 and April 2017, states executed 1,448 people. Most of those exe­ cutions occurred in southern states, with Texas leading the way at 542. As of 2018, 30 states had statutes providing for capital punishment for specified offenses, a pol­ icy supported by a majority of Americans, according to polls. On the other hand, 19 states bar the death penalty; and since the end of the 1990s both the number of death sentences and the number of executions have declined annually.

Many death penalty supporters assert it deters other would­be criminals. Although studies of capital crimes usually fail to demonstrate any direct deterrent effect, this failure may be due to the lengthy delays (typically years and even decades) between convictions and executions. A system that eliminates undue delays might enhance deterrence.

Death penalty opponents are quick to coun­ ter that the death penalty has not been proven to deter crime, either in the United States or abroad. In fact, America is the only Western nation that still executes criminals. If the gov­ ernment is to serve as an example of proper behavior, say foes of capital punishment, it has no business sanctioning killing when incarcer­ ation also protects society. Furthermore, execu­ tion is time­consuming and expensive—more expensive than life imprisonment—precisely because the government must make every effort to ensure that it is not executing an innocent

Opponents argue that the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. In recent years, the use of lethal injection drugs including Midazolam has come under scrutiny after troubling executions where the process was drawn out and painful. In 2015 the Supreme Court upheld the use of lethal injection.


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person. Curtailing legal appeals would increase the possibility of a mistake. Race also intrudes in death penalty cases: people of color are disproportionately more likely than whites charged with identical crimes to be given the ultimate punishment.

In recent years, the Court has issued a number of death penalty opinions, declaring that death was too harsh a penalty for the crime of raping a child67 and invalidating a death sentence for a black defendant when the prosecutor had improp­ erly excluded African Americans from the jury.68 In 2015 the Court upheld lethal injection as a mode of execution, despite arguments that this form of execution was likely to cause considerable pain.69

The Right to Privacy Means the Right to Be Left Alone

Although the word privacy never appears in the Bill of Rights, there is general agreement that a right to privacy emanates from the first 10 amendments—even though judges

and legal scholars continue to disagree about where the right comes from. The idea behind the right to privacy is simple: people have a right to be left alone from government or other persons’ interference in certain personal areas.

The sphere of privacy was drawn by the Supreme Court in 1965, when it ruled that a Connecticut statute forbidding the use of contraceptives vio­ lated the right of marital privacy. Estelle Griswold, the executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, was arrested by the state of Connecticut for providing information, instruction, and medical advice about contraception to married couples. She and her associates were found guilty as accessories to the crime and fined $100 each. The Supreme Court reversed the lower­court decisions and declared the Connecticut law unconstitutional because it violated “a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights—older than our political parties, older than our school system.”70 Justice William O. Douglas, author of the majority decision in the Griswold v. Connecticut case, argued that this right of privacy is also grounded in the Constitution because it fits into a “zone of privacy” created by a combination of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth amendments. A concurring opinion, written by Justice Arthur Goldberg, attempted to strengthen Douglas’s argument by adding that “the concept of liberty . . . embraces the right of marital privacy though that right is not mentioned explicitly in the Constitution [and] is supported by numerous decisions of this Court . . . and by the language and history of the Ninth Amendment [emphasis added].”71

The right to privacy was confirmed and extended in 1973 in an important but controversial privacy decision: Roe v. Wade. This decision established a woman’s right to seek an abortion and prohibited states from making abortion a criminal act

Assess whether people have a right to privacy under the Constitution


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prior to the point at which the fetus becomes viable, which, in 1973, was the twenty­ seventh week.72 It is important to emphasize that the preference for privacy rights and for their extension to include the rights of women to control their own bodies was not something invented by the Supreme Court in a vacuum. Most states did not regulate abortions in any fashion until the 1840s, at which time only 6 of the 26 existing states had any regulations gov­ erning abortion. In addition, many states had begun to ease their abortion restrictions well before the 1973 Roe decision. In recent years, a number of states have reinstated some restric­ tions on abortion, including lowering the via­ bility standard to 20 weeks (Texas), 12 weeks (Arkansas), and 6 weeks (North Dakota). While the Supreme Court has continued to affirm a

woman’s right to seek an abortion, it has limited the right, approving restrictions as long as they do not pose an “undue burden.”

Like any important principle, once privacy was established as an aspect of civil liberties protected by the Bill of Rights through the Fourteenth Amendment, it took on a life of its own. In a number of important decisions, the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts sought to protect rights that could not be found in the text of the Constitution but could be discovered through a study of the philosophic sources of fundamental rights. Right­to­privacy claims have been made by those attempting to preserve the right to obtain legal abortions, by those seeking to obtain greater rights for gay people, and by supporters of physician­assisted suicide (also known as the “right­to­die” movement). In the case of gay people, the Supreme Court extended privacy protections to them in 2003 when it ruled that they are “entitled to respect for their private lives” in the case of Lawrence v. Texas.73 The case overturned a Texas law banning certain sexual acts among same­sex partners. The Court concluded, “Peti­ tioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.” For the first time, gay men and lesbians could claim right­to­privacy protection.

Civil Rights Are Protections by the Government

With the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, civil rights became part of the Constitution, guaranteed to each citizen through “equal protection of the laws.”

One of the most important cases related to the right to privacy was Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s right to seek an abortion. However, the decision has remained highly controversial, with opponents arguing that the Constitution does not guarantee this right.

Trace the legal developments and social movements that expanded civil rights


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Together with the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed voting rights for black men, it seemed to provide a guarantee of civil rights for the newly freed black slaves. But the general language of the Fourteenth Amendment meant that its support for civil rights could be even more far­reaching. The very simplicity of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment left it open to interpretation:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

These words launched a century of political movements and legal efforts to press for racial equality. The African American quest for civil rights in turn inspired many other groups, including members of other racial and ethnic groups, women, the disabled, and gay men, lesbians, and transgender individuals, to seek new laws and constitutional guarantees of their civil rights.


The Supreme Court was initially no more ready to enforce the civil rights aspects of the Fourteenth Amendment than it was to enforce the civil liberties provisions. Resistance to equality for African Americans in the South led Congress to adopt the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which attempted to protect blacks from discrimination by proprietors of hotels, theaters, and other public accommodations. But the Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional on the grounds that it sought to protect blacks against discrimination by private businesses, while the Fourteenth Amendment, according to the Court’s interpretation, was intended to protect indi­ viduals only from discrimination that arose from actions by public officials of state and local governments.

In the infamous case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Court went still further by upholding a Louisiana statute that required segregation of the races on trolleys and other public carriers (and, by implication, in all public facilities, including schools). Homer Plessy, a man defined as “one­eighth black,” sat in a trolley car reserved for whites and was found guilty of violating a Louisiana law that pro­ vided for “equal but separate accommodations” on trains and a $25 fine for any white passenger who sat in a car reserved for blacks or any black passenger who sat in a car reserved for whites. The Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws” was not violated by laws requir­ ing segregation of the races in public accommodations as long as the facilities were equal, thus establishing the “separate but equal” rule that prevailed through the mid­twentieth century.74 White people generally pretended that segregated accommodations were equal as long as some accommodation for blacks existed. Thus, racial inequality in the guise of the separate but equal doctrine persisted for decades.


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The Supreme Court had begun to change its position on racial discrimination before World War II by being stricter about the criterion for equal facilities in the “separate but equal” rule. In 1938, for example, the Court rejected Missouri’s policy of paying the tuition of qualified blacks to out­of­state law schools rather than admitting them to the University of Missouri Law School.75 Similar rulings in the 1940s and ’50s began to chip away at “separate but equal.”

Although none of those pre­1954 cases confronted “separate but equal” and the principle of racial discrimination head­on, they gave black leaders encouragement to believe that recent legal precedent might change the constitutional framework itself. Much of this legal work was done by the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Formed in 1909 to fight discrimination against African Americans, the NAACP was the most important civil rights organization during the first half of the twentieth century.

In the fall of 1952 the Court had on its docket cases from Delaware, the District of Columbia, Kansas, South Carolina, and Virginia challenging the constitutional­ ity of school segregation. Of these, the case filed in Kansas became the chosen one by the NAACP. It seemed to be ahead of the pack in its district court, and it had the special advantage of being located in a state outside the Deep South, which would minimize local opposition to a favorable decision.76

Oliver Brown, the father of three girls, lived “across the tracks” in a low­income, racially mixed Topeka neighborhood. Every school day morning, Linda Brown took

The 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson upheld legal segregation and created the “separate but equal” rule, which fostered national segregation. Overt discrimination in public accommodations was common.


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the school bus to the Monroe School for black children about a mile away but had to walk through a dangerous railroad switchyard to get to the stop—all this, even though a white school was closer to their home. In September 1950, Oliver Brown took Linda to the closer all­white Sumner School to enter her into the third grade in defiance of state law and local segregation rules. When they were refused, Brown took his case to the NAACP; and soon thereafter Brown v. Board of Education was born.

In deciding the Brown case, the Court, to the surprise of many, rejected as inconclusive historical evidence about the intent and the history of the Fourteenth Amendment and committed itself instead to considering only the consequences of segregation:

Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the phys­ ical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. . . . We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.77

The Brown decision altered the constitutional framework by concluding that racial discrimination violated the Constitution.


Brown v. Board of Education withdrew all constitutional authority to use race as a criterion for exclusion, and it signaled more clearly the Court’s determination to use the strict scrutiny test in cases related to racial discrimination. This meant that the burden of proof would fall on the government to show that the law in question was constitutional—not on the challengers to show the law’s unconstitutionality.78 But the historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education was merely a small open­ ing move. First, most states refused to cooperate until sued, and many ingenious schemes were employed to delay obedience (such as states paying the tuition for white students to attend newly created “private” academies). Second, while school boards began to cooperate by eliminating legally enforced school segregation (what is referred to as de jure segregation, meaning literally “by law” or legally enforced practices), extensive actual segregation remained (what is referred to as de facto seg­ regation, meaning literally “by fact,” wherein races are still segregated even though the law does not require it). Thus, school segregation in the North as well as in the South remained as a consequence of racially segregated housing patterns that were untouched by the 1954–55 Brown principles. Third, discrimination in employment, public accommodations, juries, voting, and other areas of social and economic activity was not directly touched by Brown.

Social Protest and Congressional Action Ten years after Brown, fewer than 1 percent of black school­age children in the Deep South were attending schools with whites.79 A decade of frustration made it fairly obvious to all observers that


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adjudication alone would not succeed. The goal of “equal protection” required positive, or affirmative, action by Congress and by federal agencies. And given massive southern resistance and a generally negative national public opinion toward racial integration, progress would not be made through courts, Congress, or federal agen­ cies without intense, well­organized support. Organized civil rights demonstrations began to mount slowly but surely after Brown v. Board of Education. Only a year after Brown, black citizens in Montgomery, Alabama, challenged the city’s segregated bus system with a yearlong boycott. The boycott began with the arrest of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her bus seat for a white man. A seamstress who worked with civil rights groups, Parks eventually became a civil rights icon, as did one of the ministers leading the boycott: Martin Luther King, Jr. After a year of private carpools and walking, Montgomery’s bus system desegregated but only after the Supreme Court ruled the system unconstitutional.

By the 1960s the many organizations that made up the civil rights movement had accumulated experience and built networks capable of launching massive direct­action campaigns against southern segregationists. The Southern Christian Leader ship Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and many other organizations had built a movement that stretched across the South, using the media to attract nationwide attention and support. The image of protesters being beaten, attacked by police dogs, and set upon with fire hoses did much to win broad sympathy for the cause of black civil rights and to discredit state and local governments in the South. In the massive March on Washington in 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., staked out the movement’s moral claims in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Protests against discriminatory practices toward African Americans did not end in the 1960s. Beginning in 2012, a variety of protests coalesced under the banner Black Lives Matter to focus attention on allegations of police miscon­ duct directed at African Americans. The movement took off after the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 and spread across the nation as the media, including social media, carried reports, photos, and videos of police violence against blacks around the country. African Americans have long asserted that they are often victims of racial profil­ ing and more likely than whites to be harassed or arrested by the police. Police departments have replied that blacks are more likely than whites to be engaged in criminal activity.

“Massive resistance” among white southerners attempted to block the desegregation efforts of the national government. For example, at Little Rock Central High School in 1957, an angry mob of white southerners prevented black students from entering the school.


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The right to equal protection of the laws could be established and, to a certain extent, implemented by the courts. But after a decade of very frustrating efforts, the courts and Congress ultimately came to the conclusion that the federal courts alone were not adequate to the task of changing the social rules and that legislation and administrative action would be needed.

Congress used its legislative powers to help make equal protection of the laws a reality by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting major forms of discrimi­ nation against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women in voting registration, schools, public accommodations, and the workplace. The act seemed bold at the time, but it was enacted 10 years after the Supreme Court had declared racial discrimination “inherently unequal” and long after blacks had demonstrated that discrimination was no longer acceptable.

Public Accommodations After the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, public accommodations quickly removed some of the most visible forms of racial discrim­ ination. Signs defining “colored” and “white” restrooms, water fountains, waiting rooms, and seating arrangements were removed and a host of other practices that relegated black people to separate and inferior arrangements were ended. In addition, the federal government filed more than 400 antidiscrimination suits in federal courts against hotels, restaurants, taverns, gas stations, and other “public accommodations.”

Many aspects of legalized racial segregation, such as using separate Bibles to swear in black and white witnesses in the courtroom, seem like ancient history today. But the issue of racial discrimination in public settings is by no means over. In 1993 six African American Secret Service agents filed suit after a Denny’s restaurant in Annapolis, Maryland, failed to serve them. Similar charges citing discriminatory service at Denny’s restaurants surfaced across the country. Faced with evidence of a pattern of systematic discrimination and numerous lawsuits, Denny’s paid $45 mil­ lion in damages to plaintiffs in Maryland and California in what is said to be the largest settlement ever in a public accommodation case.80 In addition to the settle­ ment, the chain vowed to expand employment and management opportunities for minorities in Denny’s restaurants.

School Desegregation The 1964 Civil Rights Act also declared discrimination by private employers and state governments (school boards, etc.) illegal, then went further by providing for administrative agencies to help the courts implement these laws. The act, for example, authorized the executive branch, through the Justice Department, to implement federal court orders to desegregate schools and to do so without having to wait for individual parents to bring complaints. The act also provided that federal grants­in­aid to state and local governments for education be withheld from any school system practicing racial segregation.

In recent years, a series of court rulings have slowed race­based integration efforts. In 2007 the Supreme Court’s ruling in Parents Involved in Community Schools v.


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Seattle School District No. 1 limited the measures that can be used to promote school integration.81 The case involved school assignment plans voluntarily initiated by the cities of Seattle, Washington, and Louisville, Kentucky. By making race one factor in assigning students to schools, the cities hoped to achieve greater racial balance across the public schools. The Court ruled that these plans, even though they were volun­ tarily adopted by cities, were unconstitutional because it assigned some students to schools based on race (in violation of Brown). Still, some described the decision as the end of the Brown era because it eliminated one of the few public strategies left to promote racial integration.82

Outlawing Discrimination in Employment The federal courts and the Jus­ tice Department also fought employment discrimination through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed job discrimination by all private and public employers, including governmental agencies (such as fire and police departments) that employed more than 15 workers.83 The 1964 act makes it unlaw­ ful to discriminate in employment on the basis of color, religion, sex, or national origin, as well as race.

In order to enforce fair employment practices, the national government could revoke public contracts for goods and services and refuse to engage in contracts with any private company that could not guarantee that its rules for hiring, promotion, and firing were nondiscriminatory.

But one problem was that the complaining party had to show that deliber­ ate discrimination was the cause of the failure to get a job or a training oppor­ tunity. Rarely, of course, does an employer explicitly admit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or any other illegal reason. Recognizing this, the courts have allowed aggrieved parties (the plaintiffs) to make their case if they can show that an employer’s hiring practices had the effect of exclusion, even if they cannot show the intention to discriminate.

Voting Rights Although 1964 was the most important year for civil rights leg­ islation, it was not the only important year. In 1965, Congress significantly strengthened legislation protecting voting rights by barring literacy and other tests as a condition for voting in six southern states,84 by making it a crime to interfere with voting, and by providing for the replacement of local registrars with federally appointed registrars in counties designated by the attorney general as significantly resistant to registering eligible blacks to vote. The right to vote was further strength­ ened with ratification in 1964 of the Twenty­Fourth Amendment, which abolished the poll tax, and later with legislation permanently outlawing literacy tests and mandating bilingual ballots or oral assistance for Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean speakers, and Native Americans. This 1965 law finally led to a dramatic increase in voting by African Americans, meaning that it took almost 100 years to carry out the Fifteenth Amendment.

In the long run, the laws extending and protecting voting rights could prove to be the most effective of all the great civil rights legislation because the progress in black political participation produced by these acts has altered the


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shape of American politics. In 1965, in the seven states of the Old Confederacy covered by the Voting Rights Act, 29.3 percent of the eligible black residents were registered to vote, compared with 73.4 percent of the white residents (see Table 4.3). In 1967, a mere two years after implementation of the voting rights laws, 52.1 percent of the eligible blacks in the seven states were registered. By 1972 the gap between black and white registration in the seven states was only 11.2 points.

A new area of controversy in the realm of voting rights concerns so­called voter ID laws. Some 34 states have enacted legislation requiring voters to show positive identification at the polls. As of 2018, seven of these states required photo ID, like a driver’s license, in order to vote. Republicans generally support such laws, arguing that they deter voter fraud. Democrats generally oppose such laws, countering that


Registration by Race and State in Southern States Covered by the Voting Rights Act (VRA)

The VRA had a direct impact on the rate of black voter registration in the southern states, as measured by the gap between white and black voters in each state. Further insights can be gained by examining changes in white registration rates before and after passage of the VRA and by comparing the gaps between white and black registration. Why do you think registration rates for whites increased significantly in some states and dropped in others? What impact could the increase in black registration have had on public policy?




GAP** (%)



GAP (%)

Alabama 69.2 19.3 49.9 80.7 57.1 23.6

georgia 62.6 27.4 35.2 70.6 67.8 2.8

Louisiana 80.5 31.6 48.9 80.0 59.1 20.9

Mississippi 69.9 6.7 63.2 71.6 62.2 9.4

North Carolina 96.8 46.8 50.0 62.2 46.3 15.9

South Carolina 75.7 37.3 38.4 51.2 48.0 3.2

Virginia 61.1 38.3 22.8 61.2 54.0 7.2

AVeRAge 73.4 29.3 44.1 67.8 56.6 11.2

*Available registration data as of March 1965 and 1971–72. **The gap is the percentage-point difference between white and black registration rates.

SOURCE: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Political Participation (1968), Appendix VII: Voter Education Project, attachment to press release, October 3, 1972.


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they are particularly burdensome to poor, young, and minority voters, who they say are less likely to possess such IDs. Critics also note that virtually no documented cases of voter ID fraud exist, despite intensive efforts to uncover them. In 2017 the Trump administration established an election integrity commission to look into charges of illegal voting in the 2016 elections. The Commission was blasted by Democrats as another effort to discourage voting.

Housing The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not address housing, but in 1968, Con­ gress passed another civil rights act specifically to outlaw housing discrimination. Called the Fair Housing Act, the law prohibited discrimination in the sale or rental of most housing, eventually covering nearly all of the nation’s housing. Housing was among the most controversial of discrimination issues because of deeply entrenched patterns of residential segregation across the United States.

Although it pronounced sweeping goals, the Fair Housing Act had little effect on housing segregation because its enforcement mechanisms were so weak. Individuals believing they had been discriminated against had to file suit themselves. The burden was on the individual to prove that housing discrimination had occurred, even though such discrimination is often subtle and difficult to document. Although local fair­housing groups emerged to assist individuals in their court claims, the procedures for proving discrimination created a formidable barrier to effective change. These procedures were not altered until 1988, when Congress passed the Fair Housing Amendments Act. This new law put more teeth in the enforcement procedures and allowed the Department of Housing and Urban Development to initiate legal action in cases of discrimination.85

Another kind of discrimination, related to discriminatory home mortgage– lending practices, remained significant. So­called predatory lending—offering loans with interest rates that are higher than prevailing market rates, including “subprime mortgages”—led to charges that such loans were offered to African Americans and Latinos, while whites with similar incomes were offered loans with lower interest rates. These charges received extensive national attention when the economic down­ turn of 2008–09 led to widespread mortgage defaults, with many people losing their homes.86 Lawsuits over these practices have resulted in the largest financial settlements ever issued for lending discrimination.


Over the past half­century, the relatively narrow goal of equalizing opportunity by eliminating discriminatory barriers developed toward the far broader goal of affirma- tive action, government policies or programs that seek to redress past injustices against specified groups by making special efforts to provide members of these groups with access to educational and employment opportunities. An affirmative action policy uses two novel approaches: (1) positive or benign discrimination in which race or some other status is counted as a positive rather than negative factor and (2) compensatory


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action to favor members of the disadvantaged group who themselves may never have been the victims of discrimination.

Affirmative action also took the form of efforts by the agencies in the Depart­ ment of Health, Education, and Welfare to shift their focus from “desegregation” to “integration.”87 Federal agencies required school districts to present plans for busing children across district lines, for closing certain schools, and for redistribut­ ing faculties as well as students or face the loss of aid from the federal government. The guidelines constituted preferential treatment to compensate for past discrimi­ nation, leading to a dramatic increase in the numbers of black children attending integrated classes.

The Supreme Court Shifts the Burden of Proof in Affirmative Action Efforts by the government to shape the meaning of affirmative action today tend to center on one key issue: What is the appropriate level of review in affirmative action cases— that is, on whom should the burden of proof be placed: the plaintiff, to show that discrimination has not occurred, or the defendant, to show that discrimination has occurred? The reason this question is difficult is because the cases in which the Court struck down racially discriminatory laws all involved historically disadvantaged racial minority groups. The Court struck down those laws partly because it concluded they were motivated by racial hostility and partly because the Court concluded that dis­ advantaged minority groups were effectively unable to use the political process to challenge laws that harmed them. The new cases, however, rather than being moti­ vated by racial hostility, were enacted with the objective of assisting victims of past injustice. And instead of harming minority groups, they disadvantaged members of the dominant majority racial group. Yet critics argued that discriminating against any individual because of their race violated the Equal Protection clause.

This question was addressed by the Supreme Court in the case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Allan Bakke, a white male, brought suit against the University of California at Davis Medical School in 1973 on the grounds that it denied him admission on the basis of his race. (That year the school had reserved 16 of its 100 available slots for minority applicants.) Bakke argued that his grades and test scores had ranked him well above many students who had been accepted at the school and that the only possible explanation for his rejection was that he was white, whereas those others accepted were black or Latino. In 1978, Bakke won his case before the Supreme Court and was admitted to the medical school, but he did not succeed in getting affirmative action declared unconstitutional. The Court accepted the argument that achieving “a diverse student body” was “a compelling public pur­ pose,” but it ruled that the method of a rigid quota of student slots assigned on the basis of race was incompatible with the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. Thus, the Court permitted universities and other hiring authorities to con­ tinue to take minority status into consideration but barred the use of quotas.88

This ambiguous status of affirmative action was how things stood in 2003, when the Supreme Court took two cases against the University of Michigan. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court upheld the affirmative action program used by Michigan’s law school, finding it in keeping with the standard set in the Bakke case.89 Michigan’s


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undergraduate affirmative action program was declared unconstitutional, however, in Gratz v. Bollinger because its ranking system for admissions gave specific points to African American, Latino, and Native American applicants.90 This approach was barred for resembling too closely the specific numerical quota system struck down by Bakke. In 2013 the Court indicated in Fisher v. University of Texas that a school’s affirma­ tive action program of admissions that seems to discriminate in favor of black students must be subjected to the same “strict scrutiny” as a program that seems to discriminate against black students and sent the case back to the lower courts for consideration.91 The Court heard the case again in 2016, and declared that some intrusion on equal protection was warranted by the importance of creating a diverse student body.92

The Civil Rights Struggle Was Extended to Other Disadvantaged Groups

Even before equal employment laws began to have a positive effect on the economic situation of blacks, some­ thing far more dramatic began to happen: the universalization of civil

rights. The right not to be discriminated against was being successfully claimed by the other groups listed in the 1964 Civil Rights Act (those defined by sex, religion, or national origin) and eventually by still other groups (defined by age or sexual orientation). This extension of civil rights became the new frontier of the civil rights struggle, and women emerged with the greatest prominence in this new struggle.


In many ways the Civil Rights Act fostered the growth of the women’s movement (although critics noted that this movement largely benefited white women). The first major campaign of the National Organization for Women (NOW) involved picketing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for its refusal to ban sex­segregated employment advertisements. NOW also sued the New York Times for continuing to publish such ads after the passage of the act. Another organiza­ tion, the Women’s Equity Action League, pursued legal action on a wide range of sex­discrimination issues, filing lawsuits against law schools and medical schools for discriminatory admission policies, for example.

Building on these victories and the growth of the women’s movement, feminist activists sought to add an “Equal Rights Amendment” (ERA) to the Constitution. The proposed amendment was short; it stated that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The amendment’s supporters believed that such a sweeping guarantee of equal rights was a necessary tool for ending all discrimination against women and for making gender roles more equal. Opponents charged that it would be socially disruptive and would introduce changes (such as unisex restrooms) that most

Describe how different groups have fought for and won protection of their civil rights


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Americans did not want. The amendment easily passed Congress in 1972 and won quick approval in many state legislatures, but it fell 3 states short of the 38 needed to ratify it by the 1982 deadline.93

Despite the failure of the ERA, efforts to stop gender discrimination expanded dramatically as an area of civil rights law. In the 1970s the conservative Burger Court (under Chief Justice Warren Burger) helped establish gender discrimination as a major and highly visible civil rights issue. Although the Supreme Court refused to treat gender discrimination as the equivalent of racial discrimination,94 it did make it easier for plaintiffs to file and win suits on the basis of gender discrimination.

Courts began to find sexual harassment a form of sex discrimination during the late 1970s. Most of the law on sexual harassment has been developed by courts through interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1986 the Supreme Court recognized two forms of sexual harassment: the quid pro quo type, which involves an explicit or strongly implied threat that submission is a condition of continued employment, and the hostile environment type, which involves offen­ sive or intimidating employment conditions amounting to sexual intimidation.95

Another major step was taken in 1992, when the Court decided in Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools that violations of Title IX of the 1972 Educa­ tion Act could be remedied with monetary damages.96 Title IX forbade gender dis­ crimination in education, but it initially sparked little litigation because of its weak enforcement provisions. The Court’s 1992 ruling that monetary damages could be awarded for gender discrimination opened the door for more legal action in the area of education. The greatest impact has been in the areas of sexual harassment (the subject of the Franklin case) and in equal treatment of women’s athletic programs. The potential for monetary damages has made universities and public schools take the problem of sexual harassment more seriously.

In 1996 the Supreme Court made another important decision by putting an end to all­male schools supported by public funds. It ruled that the policy of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) not to admit women was unconstitutional.97 Along with The Citadel, an all­male military college in South Carolina, VMI had never admitted women in its 157­year history. VMI argued that the unique educational experience it offered—including intense physical training and the harsh treatment of freshmen—would be destroyed if women were admitted. The Court, however, ruled that the male­only policy denied “substantial equality” to women. Two days after the Court’s ruling, The Citadel announced that it would accept women.

Women have also pressed for civil rights in employment. In particular, women have fought against pay discrimination, which occurs when a male employee is paid more than a female employee of equal qualifications in the same job. In the 1960s pay discrimination was common. After the Equal Pay Act of 1963 made such discrimination illegal, women’s pay slowly moved toward the level of men’s pay. In 2007 this movement received a setback when the Supreme Court ruled against a claim of pay discrimination. The case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., involved a female supervisor named Lily Ledbetter, who learned late in her career that she was being paid up to 40 percent less than male supervisors, including those with less seniority. Ledbetter filed a grievance with the EEOC, charging sex discrimination.98

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The Supreme Court denied her claim, ruling that, according to the law, workers must file their grievance 180 days after the discrimina­ tion occurs. Many observers found the ruling unfair because workers often do not know about pay differentials until well after the ini­ tial decision to discriminate has been made. In 2009 the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became the first bill that President Obama signed into law, giving workers expanded rights to sue in cases such as Ledbetter’s when an employee learns of discriminatory treatment well after it has started.

In recent years, laws and court deci­ sions designed to deal with discrimination against women have been used by groups representing transgender individuals to press

for equal rights, especially in the realm of employment. For example, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act makes it unlawful to discriminate in employment on the basis of color, religion, sex, national origin, or race. Pressed by groups repre­ senting transgender workers, in 2015 President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Two months later the EEOC filed its first­ever lawsuits to protect transgender workers under Title VII. Later that year Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would consider discrimination against transgender people as covered by the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of sex discrimination.99 Nonetheless, attempts have been made to pass legislation requiring transgender individuals to use public bathrooms that correspond to the gender designated on their birth certificates. In 2016, North Carolina enacted such a law. After the federal Department of Justice warned the state that the law violated the Civil Rights Act, the state and the department filed opposing lawsuits over the issue. As the legal standoff continued, many companies pulled conventions and other events out of the state, costing North Carolina’s econ­ omy millions of dollars. Bowing to pressure, North Carolina repealed the ordinance in 2017. Also in 2017, President Trump tweeted that transgender people would be barred from military service. The president’s tweet caused confusion and consterna­ tion with Pentagon officials, saying they had neither been consulted nor received any formal directive. On the heels of a court decision pausing the enactment of any ban, the military said that transgender enlistments would be allowed in 2018.100


Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination on the basis of national origin, persistent discrimination plus limited English proficiency kept many Asian Americans and Latinos from full participation in American life. Two

Political equality did not end discrimination against women in the workplace or in society at large. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in an effort to reinstate fair pay protections for women.


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developments in the 1970s, however, established rights for language minorities. In 1974 the Supreme Court ruled in Lau v. Nichols that school districts have to provide education for students whose English is limited.101 It did not mandate bilingual education, but it established a duty to provide instruction that the students could understand. And as mentioned earlier the 1970 amendments to the Voting Rights Act permanently outlawed literacy tests in all 50 states and mandated bilingual ballots or oral assistance for those who speak Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Native American languages.

Asian Americans and Latinos have also been concerned about the impact of immigration laws on their civil rights. Many Asian American and Latino organiza­ tions opposed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 because it imposed sanctions on employers who hire undocumented workers. Such sanctions, they feared, would lead employers to discriminate against Latinos and Asian Americans. These suspicions were confirmed in a 1990 report by the General Accounting Office that found employer sanctions had created a “widespread pattern of discrimination” against Latinos and others who appear foreign.102

As we saw in Chapter 3, a number of states have recently passed very strict immi­ gration laws. Arizona’s 2010 law provided the inspiration for these far­reaching state measures. Arizona’s law required immigrants to carry identity documents with them at all times, made it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job, gave

Immigration is one of today’s most controversial issues. President Trump campaigned on a promise to build a protective wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Supporters of stricter immigration policies believe they will help protect jobs for American citizens. Others support the rights of undocumented people— especially young people brought to the United States by their parents, so-called Dreamers—and believe that they should have a path to American citizenship.

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the police greater powers to stop anyone they suspected of being an unauthorized immigrant, and required the police to check the immigration status of a person they detain if they suspect that person is an unauthorized immigrant. The Justice Department challenged the law on the grounds that the federal government was responsible for making immigration law, not the states. In 2012 the Court struck down three parts of the Arizona law: the provision that immigrants carry identity papers, that undocumented immigrants cannot apply for jobs, and that police can stop persons they suspect of being undocumented immigrants. But the Court let stand the provision that required local police to check the immigration status of an individual detained for other reasons, if they had grounds to suspect that the person was in the country illegally.103

In 2014, President Obama issued executive orders granting quasi­legal status and work permits to millions of individuals who entered the United States illegally as children or who have children who are American citizens. The Supreme Court challenged Obama’s authority to issue the executive order, and in 2016, with only eight members on the Court after the death of Justice Scalia, the Court issued a 4–4 tie.104 The stalemate let stand a lower­court decision striking down Obama’s order. The lower­court decision, however, did not establish a binding national precedent, and the administration seemed likely to ignore it.


Native Americans occupy a unique place in the American equality landscape. An early Supreme Court decision referred to native peoples as “domestic dependent nations”—they were not considered American citizens, but they were also placed firmly under the power of the national government. Native peoples were forcibly removed from lands, attacked in sustained military campaigns, and subject to exten­ sive and explicit discrimination across the country.

In 1924 native peoples were collectively naturalized by Congress. In 1975 they were granted federal voting­rights protections in the amendments to the Voting Rights Act. The Lau decision established the right of Native Americans to be taught in their own languages. This marked quite a change from the period when Native American children attended boarding schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where they were forbidden from speaking their own languages and otherwise forced to assimilate to the dominant culture. Native Americans have also sought to expand their rights on the basis of their sovereign status. Since the 1920s and ’30s, Native American tribes have sued the federal government for illegally seizing land, seeking monetary reparations and land. Both types of damages have been awarded in such suits but only in small amounts. Native American tribes have been more successful in winning federal recognition of their sovereignty. Most significant economically was a 1987 Supreme Court decision that freed Native American tribes from most state regulations prohibiting gambling. The establishment of casino gambling on Native American lands has brought a substantial flow of new income into some desperately poor reservations.


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elections are only a small part of what makes a democracy a democracy. Liberal democracies also have extensive civil rights and civil liberties.

Freedom house, an independent watch- dog organization focusing on freedom and democracy around the world, collects data on political rights and civil liberties from each country. They measure freedom of expression and belief, respect for the “rule of law,”a the right to organize and form associations, and personal autonomy and individual rights to rank countries as free, partly free, and not free (shown below).

All countries vary in how they prioritize specific liberties. The United States is generally comparable to other democracies when it comes to the freedom of expression and belief and the right to organize and form associations, but the United States places exceptionally high emphasis on personal autonomy and individual rights. In comparison, Latvia is ranked slightly higher on the right to organize and form associations, but concerns regarding the treatment of women and minorities mean its individual rights score is lower.

Civil Liberties around the World

SOURCE: Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2018 Democracy in Crisis,” https://freedomhouse.org/report/ freedom-world-aggregate-and-subcategory-scores (accessed 4/27/18).

Free (democracy)

Partly free Not free No data available


a A legal principle that laws should govern a country—including its leaders—rather than having decisions made arbitrarily by individuals in the government.

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The concept of rights for the disabled began to emerge in the 1970s as the civil rights model spread to other groups. The seed was planted in a little­noticed provision of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which outlawed discrimination against individuals on the basis of disabilities. As in many other cases, the law itself helped give rise to the movement demanding rights for the disabled.105 Modeling it on the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, the disability movement founded the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund to press its legal claims. The movement achieved its greatest success with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which guarantees equal employment rights and access to public businesses for the disabled and bars discrimination in employment, housing, and health care. The EEOC is a body that considers claims of discrimination in violation of this act. The impact of the law has been far­reaching as businesses and public facilities have installed ramps, elevators, and other devices to meet the act’s requirements.106


In less than 50 years, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) movement has become one of the largest civil rights movements in contemporary America. For much of the country’s history, any sexual orientation other than hetero­ sexuality was considered “deviant,” and many states criminalized sexual acts consid­ ered to be “unnatural.” Gay people were often afraid to reveal their sexual orientation for fear of reprisals, including being fired from their jobs; and the police in many cities raided bars and other establishments where it was believed that gay people gath­ ered. While no formal restrictions existed on their political participation, gay people faced the possibility of ostracism, discrimination, assault, and even prosecution.107

The contemporary gay rights movement began in earnest in the 1960s, growing into a well­financed and sophisticated lobby, though there was no Supreme Court ruling or national legislation explicitly protecting gays and lesbians from discrimina­ tion until 1996. The first gay rights case that the Court decided, Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), ruled against a right to privacy that would protect consensual homosexual activity.108 After the Bowers decision, the gay and lesbian rights movement sought suitable legal cases to test the constitutionality of discrimination against gay men and lesbians, much as the black civil rights movement did in the late 1940s and ’50s. In 1996 the Supreme Court, in Romer v. Evans, explicitly extended fundamental civil rights protections to gays and lesbians by declaring unconstitutional a 1992 amendment to the Colorado state constitution that prohibited local governments from passing ordinances to protect gay rights.109

The gay community won another major victory in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas (mentioned earlier), in which the Supreme Court overturned Bowers and struck down a Texas law that made certain sexual conduct between consenting partners of the same sex illegal. While the ruling in Lawrence struck down laws that made homo­ sexual acts a crime, it did not change federal and state laws that deprived gay people of full civil rights, including the right to marry. In 2013 the Supreme Court struck down a federal law (the Defense of Marriage Act) that barred benefits to married


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same­sex couples and let stand a California law recognizing same­sex marriage. The federal government subsequently expanded recognition of same­sex marriages for the purpose of federal benefits and legal pro­ ceedings, such as survivor benefits, bank­ ruptcies, tax purposes, and immigration.

In 2015 the Supreme Court clarified the law concerning same­sex marriage. In the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court ruled that the Constitu­ tion’s equal protection clause and the Four­ teenth Amendment’s due process clause guarantee same­sex couples the right to marry in all states and required states to recognize same­sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.110 Though the Court was divided in the case, its decision actually reflected a dramatic shift in public opinion in favor of same­sex unions and their right to wed.

Another significant victory at the national level occurred in 2009, when new legislation extended the definition of hate crimes to include crimes against gays and transgender people. Such legislation had been sought since the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student who was brutally slain because of his sexual orientation. The 2009 law allows for tougher penalties when a crime is desi gnated a hate crime. In another important victory for the gay rights move­ ment, an executive order signed by President Obama in 2011 repealed the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, a 20­year­old rule that expelled gays and lesbians from the military if they made their sexual orientation known. The new policy allows gays to serve openly in the military.

Civil Liberties and Civil Rights WHAT DO WE WANT? The prominent place of civil liberties is one of the hallmarks of American government.

The freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and its amendments help define the

relationship between government and citizens by limiting what government can do to


But these freedoms also come with trade-offs. As we saw in the chapter opener,

the freedom to reimagine an ethnic slur as a term of empowerment was afforded to

the Slants rock band. In a further twist, this decision undermined Native Americans’

In 2013 the Supreme Court struck down the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act denying federal benefits to married same- sex couples. This decision paved the way for the Court decision two years later legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. The Obama administration showed its support by illumi- nating the White House in rainbow light.


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efforts to revoke the Washington Redskins’ team name, as they found it to be an

offensive ethnic term, and the groups were unable to establish a legal basis to sue

the team. The Slants’ free speech was protected to their joy, but so was the Redskins’

free speech to the disappointment of Native Americans. Issues related to free speech,

privacy, and religious freedom (see the “Who Participates?” feature on the facing

page) are unlikely to go away anytime soon.

The civil rights revolution, a revolution that began with African Americans, has

broadened to include women and Latinos and to address such matters as sexual

orientation, sexual identification, and immigration status. As our nation becomes more

and more diverse, equal protection of the laws will become more and more important.

If we are to succeed and prosper as a nation, we must be inclusive. The tumultuous

history of civil rights in America demonstrates that exclusion is a recipe for national

calamity, and that struggles for civil rights often take a long time, beginning with polit-

ical action by a small group of committed individuals and often ending with legislation

and legal decisions from the highest court in the country. What civil rights battles now

appear on the country’s horizon? What can and should be done to remedy past wrongs

that have current consequences, such as when past discrimination results in an eco-

nomic underclass for a racial or ethnic minority? And, most fundamentally, how does a

country based on the democratic principle of majority rule ensure that the civil rights

of minorities are protected?


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WHAT YOU CAN DOWHAT YOU CAN DOWHAT YOU CAN DO SOURCE: Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox, America's Changing Religious Identity, 2016, www.prri.org/ (accessed 11/4/17).

Percentage of American Adults in Each Religious Tradition

Under the First Amendment, Americans enjoy the freedom to practice (or not practice) the religion of their choice. Most Americans identify with and participate in some form of religion.

Protestant 44%

Other Christian 3%

Catholic 20%

Jewish 2%

Buddhist 1%

Muslim 1%

Hindu 1%

Other faiths 1%

Nothing in particular 17%

Atheist 3%

Agnostic 3%

Don't know 4%

Religious Affiliation and Freedom of Religion

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Practice Quiz

1. Which of the following rights was not included in the original Constitution? (p. 100) a) prohibition of bills of attainder b) prohibition of ex post facto laws c) guarantee of habeas corpus d) guarantee of trial by jury in state

where crime was committed e) prohibition of warrantless search

and seizure

2. When did civil rights first become part of the Constitution? (p. 101) a) in 1789 at the Founding b) with the adoption of the Fourteenth

Amendment in 1868 c) when Barack Obama was elected

president d) with the adoption of the Nineteenth

Amendment in 1920 e) in the 1954 Brown v. Board of

Education case

3. The process by which some of the liberties in the Bill of Rights were applied to the states is known as (p. 102) a) selective incorporation. b) judicial activism. c) civil liberties. d) establishment. e) preemption.

4. The judicial doctrine that places a heavy burden of proof on the govern- ment when it seeks to regulate or restrict speech is called (pp. 105–6) a) judicial restraint. b) judicial activism. c) habeas corpus. d) prior restraint. e) strict scrutiny.

Know Your First Amendment Rights


Share your opinion about the First Amendment and religion on campus with your school newspaper. Find information about students’ religious rights at www.the�re.org.

Learn more about your other First Amendment rights, such as free speech on the internet, at www.eff.org.

Learn more about freedom of religion from a variety of legal scholars at www.constitutioncenter.org.

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5. Which of the following describes a written statement made in “reckless disregard of the truth” that is consid- ered damaging to a victim because it is “malicious, scandalous, and defamatory”? (p. 109) a) slander b) libel c) speech plus d) fighting words e) expressive speech

6. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that (p. 112) a) states can require citizens to own

firearms. b) federal grants can be used to sup-

port the formation of state militias. c) felons can be prevented from

purchasing assault rifles. d) the Second Amendment applies

to states as well as the federal government.

e) the Second Amendment applies only to the federal government and not to states.

7. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and eighth amendments, taken together are the essence of (p. 113) a) due process of law. b) free speech. c) the right to bear arms. d) civil rights of minorities. e) freedom of religion.

8. In Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled that (p. 114) a) evidence obtained from an illegal

search could not be introduced in a trial.

b) the government must provide legal counsel for defendants who are too poor to provide for themselves.

c) persons under arrest must be informed prior to police interroga- tion of their rights to remain silent and to have the benefits of legal counsel.

d) the government has the right to take private property for public use if just compensation is provided.

e) a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime.

9. In which case did the Supreme Court rule that state governments no longer had the authority to make private sexual behavior a crime? (p. 120) a) Webster v. Reproductive Health

Services b) Gonzales v. Oregon c) Lawrence v. Texas d) Bowers v. Hardwick e) Texas v. Johnson

10. Which of the following declared that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”? (p. 129) a) the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act b) Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act c) the DReAM Act d) the equal Rights Amendment e) Obergefell v. Hodges

11. In Bakke v. Board of Regents, the Supreme Court ruled (p. 129) a) race can never be used as a factor

in university admissions. b) achieving “adiverse student body”

was a “compelling public purpose” but a rigid quota system based on race was incompatible with the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

c) achieving “a diverse student body” was a “compelling public purpose,” but the method of a rigid quota of student slots assigned on the basis of race was incompatible with the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

d) achieving “a diverse student body” was a “compelling public purpose,” but affirmative action policies can only be used to give preferences to African Americans.

e) achieving “a diverse student body” was a “compelling public purpose,” but affirmative action policies can only be used to give preferences to Asian Americans.


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Key Terms

affirmative action (p. 128) government policies or programs that seek to redress past injustices against specified groups by making special efforts to provide members of these groups with access to educational and employment opportunities

bill of attainder (p. 100) a law that declares a person guilty of a crime without a trial

Brown v. Board of Education (p. 123) the 1954 Supreme Court decision that struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine as fundamentally unequal; this case eliminated state power to use race as a criterion for discrimination in law and provided the national government with the power to intervene by exercising strict regulatory policies against discriminatory actions

civil liberties (p. 99) areas of personal freedom constitutionally protected from government interference

civil rights (p. 99) obligation imposed on gov- ernment to take positive action to protect citizens from any illegal action of govern- ment agencies and of other private citizens

“clear and present danger” test (p. 106) test to determine whether speech is protected or unprotected, based on its capacity to pres- ent a “clear and present danger” to society

double jeopardy (p. 116) the Fifth Amend- ment right providing that a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime

due process of law (p. 100) the right of every citizen against arbitrary action by national or state governments

eminent domain (p. 117) the right of govern- ment to take private property for public use

equal protection clause (p. 121) provision of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing citizens “the equal protection of the laws”; this clause has served as the basis for the civil rights of African Americans, women, and other groups

establishment clause (p. 103) the First Amendment clause that says that “Con- gress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”; this law means that a “wall of separation” exists between church and state

exclusionary rule (p. 114) the ability of courts to exclude evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment

ex post facto laws (p. 100) laws that declare an action to be illegal after it has been committed

fighting words (p. 111) speech that directly incites damaging conduct

free exercise clause (p. 104) the First Amendment clause that protects a citizen’s right to believe and practice whatever reli- gion he or she chooses

grand jury (p. 116) jury that determines whether sufficient evidence is available to justify a trial; grand juries do not rule on the accused’s guilt or innocence

habeas corpus (p. 99) a court order demand- ing that an individual in custody be brought into court and shown the cause for detention

libel (p. 109) a written statement made in “reckless disregard of the truth” that is considered damaging to a victim because it is “malicious, scandalous, and defamatory”

Miranda rule (p. 117) the requirement, artic- ulated by the Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), that persons under arrest must be informed prior to police interroga- tion of their rights to remain silent and to have the benefit of legal counsel

prior restraint (p. 108) an effort by a gov- ernmental agency to block the publication of material it deems libelous or harmful in some other way; censorship; in the United States, the courts forbid prior restraint except under the most extraordinary circumstances

142 STUDY gU IDe

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selective incorporation (p. 102) the process by which different protections in the Bill of Rights were incorporated into the Four- teenth Amendment, thus guaranteeing citizens protection from state as well as national governments

“separate but equal” rule (p. 121) doctrine that public accommodations could be segregated by race but still be considered equal

slander (p. 109) an oral statement made in “reckless disregard of the truth” that

Abraham, henry J., and Barbara A. Perry. Freedom and the Court: Civil Rights and Liberties in the United States. 8th ed. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004.

Ash, Timothy garton. Free Speech. New haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.

Chen, Anthony S. The Fifth Freedom: Jobs, Politics, and Civil Rights in the United States, 1941–1972. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

eisgruber, Christopher. Religious Freedom and the Constitution. Cambridge, MA: harvard University Press, 2010.

King, Desmond, and Rogers M. Smith. Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama’s America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.

Lee, Sonia Song-ha. Building a Latino Civil Rights Movement. Chapel hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

Lewis, Anthony. Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment. New York: Basic Books, 2010.

Nichols, Walter. The Dreamers: How the Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed the Immigrant Rights Debate. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.

Orth, John. Due Process of Law: A Brief History. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003.

Richards, Neil. Intellectual Privacy: Rethinking Civil Liberties in the Digital Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Solove, Daniel. Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff between Privacy and Security. New haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

Spitzer, Robert J. Saving the Constitution from Lawyers: How Legal Training and Law Reviews Distort Constitutional Meaning. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Spitzer, Robert J. Guns across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Waldman, Michael. The Fight to Vote. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

is considered damaging to the victim because it is “malicious, scandalous, and defamatory”

strict scrutiny (p. 105) a test used by the Supreme Court in racial discrimination cases and other cases involving civil liberties and civil rights that places the burden of proof on the government rather than on the challengers to show that the law in question is constitutional

For Further Reading


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Public Opinion

050505 chapter

WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES AND WHY IT MATTERS Americans can have quite different opinions on important issues, even citizens

who have had similarly vivid, harrowing experiences. In 1991, Suzanna Hupp

was eating lunch in a Texas restaurant when a man drove his truck through the

window and began shooting people. Hupp had often carried a handgun in her

purse, but had recently taken it out because Texas did not allow concealed carry

at the time, and she was afraid she would lose her license as a chiropractor if

caught. “Could I have hit the guy? He was fifteen feet from me. . . . Could I have

missed? Yeah, it’s possible. But the one thing nobody can argue with is that

it would have changed the odds.” The gunman killed 23 people, including her

parents. She has become a strong proponent of gun rights since then. “One of

my bugaboos is gun laws. Anytime we list a place where you can’t carry guns, to

me, that’s like a shopping list for a madman. . . . If you think about nearly every

one of these mass shootings, they have occurred at places where guns weren’t

allowed. That’s frustrating to me, particularly when you talk about schools.

Where do these madmen go? They go to schools and slaughter people.”1

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Public Opinion

Suzanna Hupp (left) and Justin Gruber (right) were both present during episodes of gun violence. These events pushed Hupp to advocate for more gun rights, and Gruber to speak out for more restrictive gun laws. How do political opinions form? And how do government officials respond to shifts in public opinion?


Fifteen-year-old Justin Gruber also survived a terrible shooting incident,

in a school: the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in

Parkland, Florida, in February 2018. The incident left seventeen students and

teachers dead. But Gruber and many of his schoolmates reached the oppo-

site view of Suzanna Hupp, arguing for greater gun control, such as assault

weapons bans and increased age limits for purchase. Objecting to one

suggestion raised after the shooting, Gruber said that arming teachers is a

“terrible idea.” “Adding guns to solve a gun problem will increase the possible

negative outcomes,” he said. “Teachers shouldn’t have to be trained to carry

weapons. They are supposed to mold the minds of the next generation.”2

Some students formed a group, Never Again MSD, known by the hashtag

#NeverAgain, to advocate for tighter gun control.

The “consent of the governed”—demanded in the Declaration of

Independence—is critical for the functioning of a democracy. We expect

government to pay attention to the people. But whose opinion gets repre-

sented in public policy, particularly on issues such as gun rights and gun

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control where there are strong divides among the public? What is the role of

public opinion compared to that of other political actors, such as organized

interests? How well informed are people, and by what channels can individ-

uals have their voices heard? As we will see in this chapter, research shows

that public opinion does indeed have a significant impact on public policy. But

there are debates among scholars about whether the public is sufficiently

informed about politics, as well as whether elected officials represent the

interests of all Americans or only some Americans.

★ Define public opinion, and identify broad types of values and beliefs Americans have about politics (pp. 147–52)

★ Explain the major factors that shape specific individual opinions (pp. 152–57)

★ Explore when and why public opinion changes and the role that political knowledge plays (pp. 157–60)

★ Describe the major forces that shape public opinion (pp. 160–63)

★ Describe basic survey methods and other techniques researchers use to measure public opinion (pp. 163–69)



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Public Opinion Represents Attitudes about Politics

The term public opinion refers to the attitudes citizens have about politi- cal issues, leaders, institutions, and events. It is useful to distinguish between values and beliefs, on the one

hand, and attitudes and opinions, on the other. Values (or beliefs) are the basic principles that shape a person’s opinions about political issues and events. They constitute a person’s basic orientation to politics. Values underlie deep-rooted goals, aspira- tions, and ideals that shape an individual’s perceptions of political issues and events. Liberty, equality of opportunity, and democracy, for example, are basic political values held by most Americans.

An attitude (or opinion) is a specific preference on a particular issue. An individual may have an attitude toward American policy in the Middle East or an opinion about economic inequality in the United States. The attitude or opinion may have emerged from a broad belief about the purpose of military intervention or about the role of government in the economy, but the opinion itself is very specific. Some attitudes may be short-lived and can change based on changing circumstances or new information.

Factors such as race, gender, income, age, religion, and region—which not only affect individuals’ interests but also shape their experiences and upbringing— influence Americans’ beliefs and opinions. For example, blacks and whites often have different views on issues that touch upon civil rights and race relations, such as affirmative action, presumably reflecting differences of interest and historical expe- rience. Views expressed by men and by women often vary as well, especially on foreign policy questions, where women appear to be much more concerned with the dangers of war.

Political attitudes are increasingly influenced by partisanship (Republicans versus Democrats) and ideology (conservatives versus liberals). For example, shortly after taking office in January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order imme- diately halting the U.S. refugee program and banning immigration to the United States from a half dozen predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria. The Supreme Court upheld the travel ban as constitutional, despite legal challenges. Opinion polls show 45 percent of Americans overall believe that refugees from Syria and Iraq pose a serious threat to the well-being of the United States. But 63 percent of Republicans say refugees from the Middle East are a threat compared to 30 percent of Democrats.3

Opinions about issues and politics have strong emotional underpinnings as well.4 Emotions are traditionally measured by survey questions asking if a candidate, politician, event, or issue makes the respondent feel fearful, anxious, angry, or enthusiastic. Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, for example, benefited from high enthusiasm from his supporters. Similarly high positive emotions may have given Barack Obama an advantage as the first African American president in

Define public opinion, and identify broad types of values and beliefs Americans have about politics


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2008, overcoming racial resentment among some citizens.5 Contrary to the idea that public opinion is purely rational, feelings are complicated and often irrational; once individuals become emotionally attached to particular beliefs, they tend to hold on to those beliefs even in the face of contradictory information. Using emotions as a guide, individuals form opinions quickly in response to current events.6


Most Americans share a common set of values, including a belief in the principles, if not always the actual practice, of liberty, equality, and democracy. The United States was founded on the principle of individual liberty, or freedom. Since the birth of our nation, Americans have always voiced strong support for the idea of liberty and typically support the notion that governmental interference in individuals’ lives and property should be kept to a minimum.

Similarly, equality of opportunity has always been an important theme in Ameri- can society. Most Americans believe that all individuals should be allowed to seek personal and material/economic success. Moreover, Americans generally believe that such success should be the result of individual effort and ability, rather than family connections or other forms of special privilege. Quality public education is one of the most important mechanisms for obtaining equality of opportunity in that it allows individuals, regardless of personal or family wealth, a chance to get ahead. Today, the internet is an important example of equality of

Dramatic events, and the emotions they stir, can alter public opinion. In the aftermath of the violence erupting at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, seemingly everyone had an opinion of the state of race relations in America.


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opportunity by providing online access to news, politics, jobs, and other benefits of digital citizenship.7

Most Americans also believe in democracy. They believe that every citizen should have the opportunity to take part in the nation’s governmental and policy-making processes and to have some say in determining how he or she is governed, including the right to vote in elections.8 Figure 5.1 shows there is consensus among Americans on fundamental values.

Obviously, the principles that Americans espouse have not always been put into practice. For 200 years, Americans embraced the principles of individual liberty and equality of opportunity while denying them in practice to generations of African Americans. Yet the strength of the principles ultimately helped overcome practices that deviated from those principles.


The application of America’s shared values to specific policies varies quite a bit. The set of underlying orientations, ideas, and beliefs through which we come to under- stand and interpret politics is called a political ideology. In the United States today,


Americans Agree on Many Core Democratic Values SOURCE: Pew Research Center, “Broad Public Agreement on Importance of Many Aspects of a Strong Democracy,” March 2, 2017, www.people-press.org/2017/03/02/large-majorities-see-checks-and-balances-right-to-protest-as -essential-for-democracy/democracy_11/ (accessed 1/23/18).

Not too/Not at allSomewhatVery






6 3







National elections are open and fair


A system of checks and balances dividing power between the

president, Congress, and the courts

Rights of people with unpopular views are protected

People have the right to nonviolent protest

News organizations are free to criticize political leaders




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a variety of ideologies compete for attention and support, but two are dominant: liberalism and conservatism.

Liberalism In classical political theory, a liberal was someone who favored individual initiative and was suspicious of governments and their ability to manage economic and social affairs—a definition akin to that of today’s libertarian. The proponents of a larger and more active government called themselves progressives. In the early twentieth century, many liberals and progressives coalesced around the doctrine of “social liberalism,” which represented recognition that government action might be needed to preserve individual liberty. Today’s liberals are social liberals rather than classical liberals.

In contemporary politics being liberal has come to imply supporting political and social reform; extensive government intervention in the economy and progres- sive taxation; workers’ rights; the expansion of federal social services; more vigorous efforts on behalf of the poor, minorities, and women; and greater concern for con- sumers and the environment. Liberals generally support reproductive rights and rights for gays and lesbians and are concerned with protecting the rights of people accused of crimes, refugees, and immigrants. In international affairs, liberals often support arms control, aid to poor nations, and international organizations such as the United Nations; liberals generally oppose the development and testing of nuclear weapons and are suspicious of the use of American troops to influence the affairs of developing nations.

Conservatism By contrast, conservatives generally support the social and economic status quo and are suspicious of efforts to introduce new political formulae and eco- nomic arrangements. They believe strongly that a large and powerful government poses a threat to the freedom of individual citizens. Ironically, today’s conservatives support the views of classical liberalism. Today, in the domestic arena, conserva- tives generally oppose the expansion of governmental activity and support finding solutions to social and economic problems in the private sector, local communities, or by religious organizations. Conservatives particularly oppose efforts to impose government regulation on business and the environment, maintaining that regulation frequently leads to economic inefficiency, is costly, and can ultimately lower the entire nation’s standard of living. In terms of social policy, many conservatives support school prayer and traditional family arrangements and are concerned about law and order; conservatives generally oppose abortion, same-sex marriage, drug legalization, and seek to reduce immigration to the United States. In international affairs, conservatism has come to mean support for military interven- tion and the maintenance of American military power as well as a desire to restrict immigration.

Other political ideologies also influence American politics. Libertarians, for example, argue that government interferes with freedom of expression, free mar- kets, and society and thus should be limited to as few spheres of activity as possible (national defense being a notable exception). Libertarians prefer government to be even smaller than that favored by conservatives. While libertarians believe in less


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government intervention in economic and social realms, socialists and the Green Party argue that more government is necessary to promote justice and to reduce economic inequality. 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist”; Sanders wants government to ensure more equality of opportunity for citizens through free public college, single-payer health care, and increased taxation on the very affluent. He also supports government policies to protect workers’ rights and unions. Socialists are more to the ideological left than the mainstream Democratic Party.

Americans’ Ideologies Today Although many Americans subscribe to libertar- ianism, socialism, or other ideologies in part, most describe themselves as either liberals, conservatives, or moderates. Figure 5.2 shows that the percentage of Ameri- cans who consider themselves moderates, liberals, or conservatives has remained relatively constant since the 1990s. Gallup surveys indicate that as of 2017 35 per- cent of Americans considered themselves conservatives, 35 percent moderates, and 25 percent liberals. These numbers have remained virtually unchanged since the 1990s. But among young people aged 18–33, trends are different: just 15 percent identify as conservatives, while 41 percent identify as liberals and 44 percent as moderates (and independent from the political parties).9


Americans’ Ideology More Americans identify themselves as “conservatives” than “liberals.” During the period shown in this figure, however, Americans have had two Democratic presidents and have several times elected Democratic majorities to a house of Congress. What might account for this apparent discrepancy? What role do moderates play in the electorate? How stable is Americans’ ideology over time?

SOURCE: Lydia Saad, “Conservative Lead in U.S. Ideology Down to Single Digits,” Gallup, January 11, 2018, https://news.gallup.com/poll/225074/conservative-lead-ideology-down-single-digits.aspx (accessed 10/10/18).



1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016









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One of the most important measures of public opinion in a democracy is trust in gov- ernment. High levels of political trust create legitimacy for democratic government, whereas very low levels can cause concern. Many scholars and political pundits argue that Americans are becoming more and more disenchanted with traditional political institutions; public approval of Congress reached a low of only 10 percent in 2014.10

Why does public opinion in the form of trust matter? Declining trust has been linked to declines in political participation and voting. Low confidence in govern- ment and elected officials is related to the perception that the government is unable to solve problems, spend money in an effective or efficient way, or represent the interests and policy preferences of average voters.11

The Pew Research Center has tracked trust in the federal government from 1958 to 2017 by asking this question on national surveys: “How much of the time do you trust the government in Washington?”12 The percentage of Americans who indicate they trust the government “just about always or most of the time” has fallen from 73 percent in 1960 to just 15 percent in 2017. These trends span party lines. In 2017, 22 percent of Republicans indicated they trusted government all or most of the time compared with 12 percent of independents and 15 percent of Democrats.

Political Socialization Shapes Public Opinion

People’s attitudes about political issues and elected officials tend to be shaped by underlying political beliefs and values. For example, an

individual who has negative feelings about government intervention in America’s economy and society would probably oppose the development of new social and health care programs. Similarly, someone who distrusts the military would likely be suspicious of any call for the use of U.S. troops. The processes through which these underlying political beliefs and values are formed are collectively called political socialization.

Probably no nation, and certainly no democracy, could survive if its citizens did not share some fundamental beliefs. If Americans had few common values or perspectives, it would be very difficult for them to reach agreement on particular issues. In contemporary America, some elements of the socialization process tend to produce differences in outlook, whereas others promote similarities. The agents of socialization that shape political beliefs are the family and social networks, social groups and race, political party affiliation, education, and political environment.

The Family and Social Networks Most people acquire their initial orientation to politics from their families. As might be expected, differences in family background tend to produce divergent political perspectives. Although relatively few parents

Explain the major factors that shape specific individual opinions


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spend much time directly teaching their children about politics, political conversa- tions occur in many households, and children tend to absorb the political views of parents and other caregivers, often without realizing it. Studies find, for example, that political party preferences are initially acquired at home. Children raised in households in which the primary caregivers are Democrats tend to become Demo- crats, whereas children raised in homes where their caregivers are Republicans tend to favor the Republican Party.13 Similarly, children reared in politically liberal house- holds are more likely than not to develop a liberal outlook, whereas children raised in politically conservative settings are likely to see the world through conservative lenses. Family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors are an important source of political orientation for nearly everyone.

Online social networks such as Facebook and Twitter may increase the role of peers in shaping public opinion. For example, after the 2015 Supreme Court deci- sion legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, Facebook launched a “Celebrate Pride” tool that enabled users to give their profile pictures a rainbow-tinted back- ground to show their support for gay rights, signaling to friends and family their opinion on this issue. In the 72 hours following the Court’s decision, 26 million individuals added this filter to their profile picture.14 This phenomenon was associ- ated with upticks in public support for same-sex marriage rights.15

Education Often thought of as a great equalizer, education is also an important source of differences in political perspectives. Governments use public education to try to teach all children a common set of civic values; it is mainly in school that Amer- icans acquire their basic beliefs in liberty, equality, and democracy. In history classes, students are taught that the Founders fought for the principle of liberty (freedom). In studying such topics as the Constitution, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement, students are taught the importance of equality. Research finds education to be a strong predictor of tolerance for racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.16 Through participation in class elections and student gov- ernment, students are taught the virtues of democracy. These lessons are repeated in every grade and in many contexts.

At the same time, differences in formal education are strongly associated with differ- ences in political outlook. In particular, those who attend college are often exposed to modes of thought that will distinguish them from their friends and neighbors who do not pursue college diplomas. One of the major differences between college graduates

The family is one of the largest influences on a person’s political views. Children raised in conservative or liberal families, usually, but not always, hold those same views later in life.

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and other Americans is that higher levels of education are associated with greater involvement in politics. College graduates are more likely to vote, join campaigns, take part in protests, and generally make their voices heard.17

Social Groups and Public Opinion Another important source of political val- ues is the social groups to which individuals belong. Social groups include those that individuals haven’t chosen (national, religious, gender, and racial groups, for example) and those they join willingly (such as political parties, labor unions, the military, and environmental, educational, and occupational groups). Group mem- bership gives individuals experiences and perspectives that shape their views of political and social life.

Race and Ethnicity Among the most important of these is race. Blacks, for example, are a minority and have been victims of persecution and discrimination throughout American history. Blacks and whites thus often have different occupa- tional opportunities, live in separate communities, and may attend separate schools. Such differences tend to produce distinctive political outlooks. That black and white Americans have different views is reflected in public perception of fair treatment across racial groups in the United States (see Figure 5.3).

In 2009, 80 percent of African Americans said blacks and other minorities do not get equal treatment under the law; the number of whites giving this response was just 40 percent.18 In the past few years, however, widely publicized incidents of excessive use of police force against African Americans around the country, often resulting in their deaths, have begun to cause a shift in public opinion on this issue. By 2015, 90 percent of African Americans agreed that blacks and whites are not treated equally by police and 54 percent of whites felt the same way, showing that while there is still a racial divide on this issue, opinions on it have changed signifi- cantly over the past few years.19 Strikingly, half of all Americans now agree that racism is a big problem, compared to only 26 percent in 2009.20

Ethnicity also affects policy attitudes. Latinos are the fastest-growing minority population in the United States. Latinos’ shared Hispanic ethnicity contributes to a group consciousness that shapes opinions. Unsurprisingly, immigration is one of the most important policy issues among Latinos, with significant majori- ties of Latinos concerned about restrictive immigration politics and the threat of deportation. With respect to ideology, Latinos typically are supportive of govern- ment policy to improve the lives of citizens and to reduce prevailing inequality, which includes favoring public funding for education, health, and welfare. While Latinos tend to be fairly religious, Latino Decision surveys find they do not allow their religious beliefs to dictate their political decisions—they are thus less likely to vote for conservative politicians because of social issues.21 This helps explain why a majority of Latinos supported Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.

Gender Men and women have important differences of opinion as well. Reflecting differences in social roles and occupational patterns, women tend to oppose military


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Perception of Fair Treatment across Racial Groups In the United States, racial groups may not perceive race relations in precisely the same way. How, according to the data in this figure, do blacks and whites differ in their views on race relations? Which group is more likely to think that race relations are good? What factors help to account for these differences in perception?

SOURCE: Brakkton Booker, “How Equal Is American Opportunity? Survey Shows Attitudes Vary by Race,” National Public Radio, September 21, 2015, www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/21/442068004/how-equal-is -american-opportunity-survey-shows-attitudes-vary-by-race (accessed 3/11/16); Samantha Neal, “Views of Racism as a Major Problem Increase Sharply, Especially among Democrats,” Pew Research Center, August 29, 2017, www.pewresearch.org (accessed 5/23/18).

In dealing with the police

On the job or at work

In local public schools

When voting in elections









38-point difference



36-point difference

Think “slavery and discrimination have created conditions that

make it dif�cult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class”

Support af�rmative action





40-point difference

54-point difference

Think “blacks should get by without special favors, just like

Irish, Italians, and Jews did”


34% 35-point difference

Support Black Lives Matter movement



30-point difference

36-point difference

35-point difference

Black respondentsWhite respondents


wtp12e_ess_ptr_ch05_144-175.indd 155 11/28/18 4:28 PM

intervention more than men, are more likely than men to favor policies to protect the environment, and are more likely to support government education and social programs. Perhaps because of these differences on issues, women are more likely than men to vote for Democratic candidates. This tendency of men’s and women’s opinions to differ is known as the gender gap. In 2018, only 30 percent of women approved of the job Donald Trump was doing as president, compared to 46 percent of men. This 16 percent gender gap is wider than for any other modern president.22 Table 5.1 shows that across different policy areas, men’s and women’s opinions vary from a 5- to 20-point difference.

Religion Religion is a more important predictor of opinion than previously recog- nized. Religious individuals are usually defined in surveys by religious affiliation, frequency of church attendance, and the belief that religion and prayer are impor- tant in their lives. One of the fastest-growing groups in America are those without religious affiliation, rising from 5–6 percent of the population in the 1990s to almost 25 percent today.23 Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants tend to be even more conservative than Catholics. A 2014 study found that only 32 percent of evangelical Protestants believe abortion rights for women should always be permitted, compared to 75 percent of those without religious affiliation. Similarly sharp differences in opinion are also found when it comes to other social issues, such as same-sex marriage.24 White evangelicals and weekly churchgoers are much more likely to hold conservative views and be Republican, while the religiously unaffiliated are more likely to hold liberal views and favor the Democratic Party.

Party Affiliation Political party membership or loyalty is one of the most important factors affecting political orientation.25 We can think of partisanship as red-tinted


Disagreements among Men and Women on Public Policy Issues

On many policy issues, there is an approximately 5- to 20-point gap between the opinions of men and women. What might explain this consistent difference?


Support cutting defense spending 38 43 5 points

Support cutting domestic spending 43 34 9 points

Favor raising the minimum wage 68 81 13 points

Favor background checks to purchase guns 82 92 10 points

Support banning assault rifles 51 71 20 points

SOURCE: Brian Schaffner and Stephen Ansolabehere, “CCES Common Content, 2014,” Harvard Dataverse, V2, http://dx.doi.org/10.7910/DVN/XFXJVY (accessed 5/4/16).


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(referring to the Republican Party) or blue-tinted (referring to the Democratic Party) glasses that color opinion on a vast array of issues. Partisans tend to rely on party leaders and the media for cues on the appropriate positions to take on major political issues.26

According to recent studies, differences between Democratic and Republican partisans on a variety of political and policy questions are greater today than during any other period for which data are available. For example, 72 percent of Republi- cans oppose granting legal citizenship to immigrants with jobs in the United States, but only 34 percent of Democrats do. Seventy-six percent of Democrats strongly favor government policies to protect the environment compared to 30 percent of Republicans.27 Wide differences in public opinion exist based on partisanship involving energy, income inequality, infrastructure, job creation, immigration, cli- mate change, national defense, budget deficit, taxes, terrorism, trade, and much more. Democrats and Republicans also have different policy priorities.

Political Environment The conditions and events that exist when individuals and groups enter political life shape their political attitudes and values. Although politi- cal beliefs are influenced by family background and group membership, the content and character of these views are, to a large extent, determined by political circum- stances. For example, the baby-boom generation that came of age in the 1960s was exposed both to the Vietnam War and to widespread antiwar protests, which has made that generation suspicious of foreign wars. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the war on terrorism contributed to shaping the political lives of those who came of age during that time, making them more concerned about security and safety and less opposed to foreign wars.

Political Knowledge Is Important in Shaping Public Opinion

What best explains whether citizens are generally consistent in their polit- ical views or inconsistent and open to the influence of others? In general, knowledgeable citizens are better

able to evaluate new information and determine if it is relevant to and consistent with their beliefs and opinions.28 As a result, better-informed individuals can rec- ognize their political interests and act consistently to further those interests. But political knowledge is generally low in America. In one widely reported survey, 71 percent of Americans could not name their own member of Congress.29

This raises the question of how much political knowledge is necessary for one to act as an effective citizen. In an important study of political knowledge in the United States, researchers found that the average American exhibits little knowl- edge of political institutions, processes, leaders, and policy debates.30 They also found that political knowledge is not evenly distributed throughout the popula- tion. Those with higher education, income, and occupational status and who are

Explore when and why public opinion changes and the role that political knowledge plays


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members of social or political organizations are more likely to know about and be active in politics. Do these gaps or advantages in political knowledge matter? An interest in politics reinforces an individual’s sense of political efficacy (the belief that their actions and opinions matter) and provides an incentive to acquire addi- tional knowledge and information about politics. As a result, individuals with higher income and education also have more knowledge and influence and thus are better able to get what they want from government. For less-informed individuals, the media and political leaders may play a larger role in influencing public opinion. Low-informed individuals are more susceptible to fake news, partisan news, and political propaganda than more informed individuals.

Shortcuts and Cues Because being politically informed requires a substantial investment of time and energy, most Americans seek to acquire political informa- tion and to make political decisions “on the cheap,” making use of shortcuts for political evaluation and decision-making rather than engaging in a lengthy process of information-gathering. Researchers have found that individuals rely on cues and information from party elites and the media to aid them in attitude formation.31 Other “inexpensive” ways to become informed include taking cues from trusted friends, social networks and social media, relatives, colleagues, or religious leaders.32 By means of these informational shortcuts, average citizens can form political opinions that are, in most instances, consistent with their underlying preferences. Studies show that even individuals with low levels of political knowledge are able to make relatively informed political choices by relying on these voter cues.

The public’s reliance on elite cues has taken on new significance in today’s era of party polarization. As the political parties and elected officials have become increasingly polarized, has this change affected the way that citizens arrive at their opinions? Researchers have found stark evidence that polarized political environ- ments fundamentally change how citizens make decisions and form opinions. Notably, polarization between the parties means that party endorsements (such as of an issue or candidate) have a larger impact on public opinion formation than they used to. At the same time, polarization decreases the impact of other infor- mation on public opinion—that is, party polarization may actually reduce levels of political knowledge. Thus, elite polarization may have negative implications for public-opinion formation.33

Skim and Scan Another factor affecting political knowledge is the form in which people consume information. The transformation of political information in the digital era has had a profound effect on the way the news is reported and how citizens learn about politics, as more Americans get political news and information online. Recent research also indicates a trend in journalism toward shorter articles and flashier headlines. Americans today are likely to read the news by scanning and skimming multiple headlines online, in bits and bytes, rather than by reading long news articles.34 Today, tweets from elected officials are an increasingly important source of news; Donald Trump relies on Twitter far more extensively than other elected officials, typically tweeting multiple times a day.


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Political knowledge matters because it may protect individuals from exposure to misinformation than can distort public opinion. While social media has cre- ated new platforms for discussing politics and organizing, it has been associated with increased misinformation. Fake news on Facebook—with a billion users globally—was extensive in the 2016 election. A study found that the top 10 fake news stories circulated on Facebook were shared more widely than the top 10 authen- tic news stories about the election. Additionally, Russian Twitter “bot” accounts have been linked to the posting of many of the fake news stories benefiting Trump and attacking Clinton. Since the election both Google and Facebook have imple- mented new protocols to block content from deceptive outlets, and Twitter deleted thousands of fake accounts. Misinformation from elected officials and online news has encouraged more Americans to seek websites such as PolitiFact.com, FactCheck.org, and Snopes.com to verify the content of political information. It has also encouraged more Americans to turn to established media outlets, such as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, or the New York Times, for news.

Costs to Democracy? If political scientists are correct in their findings that many citizens base their opinions (and votes) on inadequate knowledge, fake news sources, and an overreliance on cues from political elites, this raises a critical question: If political knowledge is necessary for effective citizenship, how does a general lack of such knowledge affect the way we govern ourselves?

Although understandable and per- haps inevitable, low levels of political knowledge and engagement weaken American democracy in two ways. First, those who lack political informa- tion cannot effectively defend their own political interests and can easily become losers in political struggles. The presence of large numbers of politically inattentive or ignorant individuals means that political power can more easily be manipulated by political elites, the media, and wealthy special interests. But other research has shown that individuals are quite stable and rational in their policy for- mation. Notice that even when pub- lic opinion has shifted, as in the case of same-sex marriage, the shifts have been relatively steady; we don’t see dramatic jumps up and down.

Second, if knowledge is power, then a lack of knowledge can contrib- ute to growing political and economic

After political opinions form, they remain relatively stable. The most knowledgeable people are gener- ally able to discern whether or not new information fits or contradicts their previously held beliefs. Do you think the people in this protest (top) would change their opinions about tax cuts after seeing President Trump’s tweet (bottom)?


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inequality. When individuals are unaware of their interests or how to pursue them, it is virtually certain that political outcomes will not favor them.

The Media and Government Mold Opinion When individuals attempt to form opinions about particular political issues, events, or personalities, they seldom do so in isolation. Typically,

they are confronted with—sometimes bombarded by—the efforts of a host of indi- viduals and groups seeking to persuade them to adopt a particular point of view. During the 2016 presidential election, someone trying to decide what to think about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump could hardly avoid an avalanche of opin- ions expressed through the media, in meetings, or in conversations with friends. The marketplace of ideas is the interplay of opinions and views that occurs as competing forces attempt to persuade as many people as possible to accept a particular position on a particular issue. Given this constant exposure to the ideas of others, it is virtu- ally impossible for most individuals to resist some modification of their own beliefs. Three forces that play important roles in shaping opinions in the marketplace are the government, private groups, and the news media.35


All governments try to influence, manipulate, or manage their citizens’ beliefs. But the extent to which public opinion is actually affected by governmental public rela- tions can be limited. Often, governmental claims are disputed by the media, by interest groups, and at times even by opposing forces within the government itself.

This hasn’t stopped modern presidents from focusing a great deal of attention on shaping public opinion to boost support for their policy agendas. Franklin Delano Roosevelt promoted his policy agenda directly to the American people through his famous “fireside chat” radio broadcasts. The George W. Bush administration devel- oped an extensive public-relations program to bolster popular support for its poli- cies, including its war against terrorism. These efforts included presidential speeches, media appearances by administration officials, numerous press conferences, and thousands of press releases presenting the administration’s views.36 Using the runway of an aircraft carrier as his stage, a confident Commander in Chief Bush, dressed in a flight suit, proclaimed the end of the Iraq War in 2003. His statement was prema- ture by eight years but was effective at maintaining public support for the Iraq War. Like his predecessors, President Obama was effective in shaping public opinion. He built support for his administration’s initiatives in domestic and foreign policy. But Obama’s White House was unique in using social media to promote the president’s policy agenda. Hourly posts on Facebook promoted Obama’s policies and campaign and served to personalize the president. Obama was the first to make use of Twitter, with 77 million followers.

Describe the major forces that shape public opinion


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Though Obama used Twitter, Donald Trump is the nation’s first Twitter presi- dent; he uses it promote his policy agenda, make government announcements, attack opponents, defend himself, vent his dismay, and shape public opinion. Often tweeting in the early morning hours, Trump communicates his sentiments on politics like no other president in modern history. Laced with emotions and frequent typos, his tweets are authentic, if not always factually correct. New scholarship argues political leaders like Trump prefer social media to tra- ditional media because it allows them to control the content unfiltered by the mainstream press.37


Important political ideas in political life are developed and spread not only by gov- ernment officials but also by important economic and political groups searching for issues that will advance their causes. One especially notable example is abortion, which has inflamed American politics over the past 40 years. The notion of a fetal “right to life,” whose proponents seek to outlaw abortion and overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, was developed by conservative politicians who saw the issue of abortion as a means of uniting Catholic and Protestant conserva- tives and linking both groups to the Republican Party, along with various right- to-life groups.38 Catholic and evangelical Protestant religious leaders organized to denounce abortion from their church pulpits and, increasingly, from their televi- sion, radio, and internet pulpits, including the Christian Broadcasting Network. Religious leaders have also organized demonstrations, pickets, and disruptions at abortion clinics throughout the nation.39 These efforts have helped win the enact- ment of stricter abortion laws in many states.


The media are among the most powerful forces operating in the marketplace of ideas. As we shall see in Chapter 6, the mass media are not simply neutral messen- gers for ideas developed by others. Instead, they are very much opinion makers and have an enormous impact on popular attitudes. For example, since the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times and the exposure of the Watergate scandal led by the Washington Post in the early 1970s, the national news media have relentlessly investigated personal and official wrongdoing on the part of politicians and public officials. The continual media presentation of corruption in government has undoubtedly contributed to the general attitude of cynicism and distrust that prevails in much of the general public.

At the same time, the ways in which media coverage interprets or “frames” specific events can have a major impact on popular responses and opinions about these events (see Chapter 6). For example, President George W. Bush went to great lengths to persuade the media to follow its lead in their coverage of Amer- ica’s response to terrorism in the months following the September 11, 2001, attacks. The media mostly went along, presenting the administration’s military


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campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as its domestic antiterrorist efforts, in a positive light. Even supposedly liberal newspapers such as the New York Times, which had strongly opposed Bush in the 2000 election, praised his leadership and published articles supportive of the president’s bellicose rhetoric against the Iraqi regime prior to March 2003, when President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. From the time Congress authorized military action in late 2002 to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, months of presidential messages and media cov- erage focused on the threat of terrorism boosted public support from 50 percent to over 70 percent.40


Studies generally suggest that elected officials pay attention to the preferences of the public.41 For example, one study explored the relationship between changes in opinion toward various political issues and the policy outcomes that most closely correspond to the issues.42 The results show that shifts in public opin- ion on particular issues do in fact tend to lead to changes in public policy. One such example is in health care. A July 2009 Pew survey found that 65 percent of Americans favored a law “requiring all Americans to have health insurance, and government aid for those unable to afford it.”43 The federal government adopted the Affordable Health Care Act in 2010, which required health insurance for all citizens.

However, there is reason to question whether prevailing public opinion causes politicians to make policies that reflect the general will or whether government policy in fact causes changes in public opinion. The relationship between govern- ment policy and opinion may be dynamic, wherein policy responds to opinion but opinion also shifts based on new government policies.44 Studies of whether govern- ment policy can affect public opinion have found it to have an effect in various policy areas, such as the environment, health care, welfare reform, the death penalty, and smoking bans.

To what extent do political leaders listen to the opinions of their constituents? To what extent should they listen? Is Calvin’s father right that leaders should do what they believe is right, not what the public wants?


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Of course, sometimes public opinion and policy do not align, and officials may act on their own preferences or judgment if they believe it will benefit government or society.45 The bailout of the banks in 2008, for example, was carried out despite polls showing that a majority of Americans opposed this policy. When elected officials pursue policies not aligned with centrist opinion, it is often because they view particular groups of the electorate as more important than others. Inevitably, loyal voting blocs or interest groups that regularly contribute to a candidate may have their interests more closely represented than those of the general public.46

Measuring Public Opinion Is Crucial to Understanding What It Is

Today public officials make extensive use of public-opinion polls to help them decide whether to run for office, what policies to support, how to vote on important legislation, and what types

of appeals to make in their campaigns. All recent presidents and other major polit- ical figures have worked closely with polls and pollsters, as do major media outlets and other private organizations.


It is not feasible to interview the more than 300 million Americans residing in the United States on their opinions of who should be the next president or what should be done about important policy issues. Instead, pollsters take a sample of the population and use it to make inferences (e.g., extrapolations and educated guesses) about the preferences of the population as a whole. For a political survey to be an accurate representation of the population, it must meet certain require- ments, including an appropriate sampling method, a sufficient sample size, and the avoidance of selection bias.47

Representative Samples One way to obtain a representative sample is what stat- isticians call a simple random sample (or probability sample), in which every individual in the population has an equal probability of being selected as a respondent. Since we don’t have a complete list of all Americans, pollsters use census data, lists of households, and telephone numbers to create lists, drawing samples from regions and then neighborhoods within regions. Just as in a simple random sam- ple, everyone has an equal chance of being selected for the survey. Rolls of reg- istered voters are often used in political surveys designed to predict the outcome of an election.

Another method for drawing samples of the national population is a technique called random digit dialing of home landline and cell phone numbers. In this method,

Describe basic survey methods and other techniques researchers use to measure public opinion


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Confidence in Democratic Institutions Parliaments, political parties, and the press are three institutions that play an important role in making democracy work. Parliament is the branch of government that most directly represents the voters; it serves as a major forum for policy debate and prevents abuse of executive power. Political parties offer different ideological goals, thereby helping to organize government, mobilize voters, and ensure political competition and accountability. Finally, the press plays an important “watchdog” role in politics,

informing voters and helping them hold their leaders accountable for their actions.

While these institutions are important to all democracies, we do notice that Americans tend to be much less confident in these institutions than are citizens in other democracies. This raises two important questions: Why are the u.S. scores so low, and what does it mean for politics when a large percentage of a population loses confidence in the institutions that keep its democracy functioning?

United States

Australia Mexico Brazil Japan Germany South Africa


23 13

20 16 13

28 30 22 25


16 21 20

44 44 54

36 43




24 15



The Press Political Parties Parliament

SOURCE: R. Inglehart et al. (eds.), “World Values Survey: Round Six—Country-Pooled Datafile Version,” 2014, www.worldvaluessurvey.org (accessed 6/5/18).

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respondents are selected at random from a list of 10-digit telephone numbers, with every effort made to avoid bias in the construction of the sample. A computer random-number generator is used to produce a list of 10-digit telephone numbers. Given that 98 percent of Americans have telephones (cell phones or landlines), this technique usually results in a random national sample. Telephone surveys are fairly accurate, cost-effective, and flexible in the type of questions that can be asked; but many people refuse to answer political surveys, and response rates—the percent of those called who actually answer the survey—have been falling steadily and average less than 15 percent.48

Sample Size A sample must be large enough to provide an accurate representation of the population. Surprisingly, though, the size of the population being measured doesn’t matter, only the size of the sample. A survey of 1,000 people is just as effec- tive for measuring the opinions of all Texans, a state with 28 million residents, as the opinions of all Americans, with over 325 million residents.

Flipping a coin shows how this works. After tossing a coin 10 times, the num- ber of heads and tails may not be close to 5 and 5. After 100 tosses of the coin, though, the percentage of heads should be close to 50 percent, and after 1,000 tosses, very close to 50 percent. In fact, after 1,000 tosses, there is a 95 percent chance that the number of heads will be somewhere between 46.9 percent and 53.1 percent. This 3.1 percent variation from 50 percent is called the sampling error (or margin of error)—a polling error that arises based on the small size of the sam- ple. That is, it is the amount of error we can expect with a typical 1,000-person survey. Normally, samples of 1,000 people are considered sufficient for accurately measuring public opinion through the use of surveys. When the media refer to a “scientific poll” conducted by a highly respected polling firm, they actually mean a poll that has followed the steps just outlined: a poll based on a random (representative) sample of the population that is sufficiently large and avoids selection bias.

Survey Design and Question Wording Even with a good sample design, surveys may fail to reflect the true distribution of opinion within a target population. One frequent source of measurement error is the wording of survey questions. The pre- cise words used in a question can have an enormous impact on the answers that question elicits. The reliability of survey results can also be adversely affected by poor question format, faulty ordering of questions, poor vocabulary, ambiguity of ques- tions, or questions with built-in biases.

Often, seemingly minor differences in the wording of a question can convey vastly different meanings to respondents and, thus, produce quite different response patterns (see Box 5.1). For example, for many years the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center has asked respondents whether they think the federal government is spending too much, too little, or about the right amount of money on “assistance for the poor.” Answering the question posed this way, about two-thirds of all respondents seem to believe that the government is spending too little. However, the same survey also asks whether the government spends too much,


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too little, or about the right amount for “welfare.” When the word welfare is substi- tuted for assistance for the poor, about half of all respondents indicate that too much is being spent.49 Today, pollsters are increasingly turning to the use of online surveys, often using similar techniques to those of telephone surveys. But while internet surveys can be more efficient, less costly, and can have much larger samples, many online surveys do not use probability sampling (random sampling) and thus are not representative of the American population.


The history of polling over the past century contains many instances of getting it wrong and learning valuable lessons in the process. As a result, polling tech- niques have grown more and more sophisticated, and pollsters have a more and more nuanced understanding of how public opinion is formed and how it is revealed.

Social Desirability Effects Political scientists have found that survey results can be inaccurate when the survey includes questions about sensitive issues for which individuals do not wish to share their true preferences. For example, respon- dents tend to overreport voting in elections and the frequency of their church attendance. Why? These activities are deemed socially appropriate, so even if the respondents do not vote or attend church regularly, they may feel social pressure to do so and thus may respond inaccurately on a survey. This is called

BOX 5.1

It Depends on How You Ask

THE SITUATION The public’s desire for tax cuts can be hard to measure. In 2000, pollsters asked what should be done with the nation’s budget surplus and got different results depending on the specifics of the question.

THE QUESTION President Clinton has proposed setting aside approximately two-thirds of an expected budget surplus to fix the Social Security system. What do you think the leaders in Washington should do with the remainder of the surplus?

VARIATION 1 Should the money be used for a tax cut, or should it be used to fund new government programs?

VARIATION 2 Should the money be used for a tax cut, or should it be spent on programs for education, the environment, health care, crime fighting, and military defense?

SOURCE: Pew Research Center, reported in the New York Times, January 30, 2000, WK 3.


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the social desirability effect, whereby respondents report what they expect the interviewer wishes to hear or whatever they think is socially acceptable rather than what they actually believe or know to be true.50 On other topics, such as questions about income or alcohol and drug use, respondents may feel self-conscious and so choose not to answer.

Many questioned the accuracy of public opinion polls during the 2016 presi- dential election, when Donald Trump performed better at the ballot box than in the polls. Because Trump is a polarizing and controversial figure, some people may have been reluctant to tell interviewers they supported Trump or his policies. The fact that Hillary Clinton won nearly 3 million more votes than Trump nationwide suggests that the 2016 election polls were right after all, but polls did fail to predict that several key swing states would go to Trump.

Questions that ask directly about race or gender are particularly problematic. “Social desirability” makes it difficult to learn voters’ true opinions about touchy subjects such as racial attitudes because respondents hide their preferences from the interviewer for fear of social retribution. However, surveys can be designed to tap respondents’ latent or hidden feelings about sensitive issues without directly asking them to express overt opinions.

Selection Bias The importance of accurate sampling was brought home early in the history of political polling when a 1936 Literary Digest poll predicted that the Republican presidential candidate, Alf Landon, would defeat the Democratic incumbent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in that year’s presidential election. The actual election ended in a Roosevelt landslide. The main prob- lem with the survey was what is called selection bias in drawing the sample. The pollsters had relied on telephone directories and automobile registration rosters to produce the survey sample. During the Great Depression, though, only wealth- ier Americans owned telephones and automobiles. Thus, the millions of working- class Americans who constituted Roosevelt’s base of support were excluded from the sample.

Selection bias was also at play in preelection polls in the 2016 presiden- tial election. As noted above, although most polls predicted the direction of the popular vote correctly in Hillary Clinton’s favor, they failed to pre- dict the size of the vote margin. Additional reasons for the polling inaccu- racies included the use of “likely voter models,” which left out some groups that ended up voting at higher-than-usual rates, such as rural, non-college- educated, blue-collar voters who supported Trump in large numbers. Selection bias may have been at play, as well as nonresponse bias, where Trump supporters were less likely to respond to surveys.

In recent years, the issue of selection bias has been complicated by the fact that growing numbers of individuals refuse to answer pollsters’ questions, or they use such devices as voicemail and caller ID to screen unwanted callers. If pollsters could be certain that those who responded to their surveys simply reflected the views of those who refused to respond, there would be no problem. Studies suggest that the views of respondents and nonrespondents can differ, especially along social class


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lines. Additionally, women are significantly more likely to answer telephone surveys than men. This can lead to incorrect inferences of public opinion.

Push Polling Push polls are not scientific polls and are not intended to yield accurate information about a population. Instead, they involve ask- ing a respondent a loaded question about a political candidate designed to elicit the response sought by the pollster and, simultaneously, to shape the respondent’s perception of the candidate in question. One of the most notorious uses of push polling occurred in the 2000 South Carolina Republican presidential primary, in which George W. Bush defeated John McCain and went on to win the presidency. Callers working for Bush supporters asked conserva- tive white voters if they would be more or less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child. Because McCain often cam- paigned with a daughter whom he and his wife had adopted from Mother Teresa’s

Though public opinion is important, it is not always easy to interpret, and polls often fail to predict how Americans will vote. In 1948 election-night polls showed Thomas Dewey defeating Harry S. Truman for the presidency, which caused the Chicago Daily Tribune to incorrectly print a banner announcing Dewey’s win. In 2016 polls considerably favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, causing many to doubt the possibility of Trump winning the election.


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orphanage in Bangladesh, many voters accepted the premise of the “poll.” The purpose of such push polls is not to solicit opinions as much as to plant negative ideas about the opposing candidate—to, in this case, “push” McCain voters away from him.

The Bandwagon Effect Sometimes polling can even create its own reality. The so-called bandwagon effect occurs when polling results convince people to support a candidate marked as the probable victor. This is especially true in the presidential nomination process, where there may be multiple candidates within one party vying to be the party’s nominee. A candidate who has “momentum”—that is, one who demonstrates a lead in the polls—usually finds it considerably easier to raise cam- paign funds than a candidate whose poll standing is low. And with these additional funds, poll leaders can often afford to pay for television time and other campaign activities that will generate positive media attention and thus cement their advan- tage. Wanting to highlight the momentum he felt he had in the 2016 election, Trump frequently cited his lead in the polls to mobilize his base and give them confidence that he would win.

Public Opinion WHAT DO WE WANT? A major purpose of democratic government, with its participatory procedures and rep-

resentative institutions, is to ensure that political leaders will heed the public will.

And, indeed, a good deal of evidence suggests that they do.51 However, it is not always

clear what the public will is. Mass shootings heighten the preferences of supporters

of both gun control and gun rights. Whose preferences prevail when attitudes differ

among groups? Or when they differ between the public and elites? Or between the

affluent and the poor? Some political scientists argue, however, that government pol-

icy is much less responsive to public opinion on the issues that really count and that

when the interests of elites are at stake, government officials are much more likely to

represent the opinions of the affluent than of the poor.52 People in lower-income groups

are less likely to actively seek out ways to express their political opinions than are

wealthier people (see the “Who Participates?” feature on p. 171).

New technology may be able to help. The migration of politics online has greatly

expanded the amount of information available and the ease of becoming informed.

Given this new media environment, we might expect public opinion to be more accu-

rate, even about the nuances of public policy. Digital citizenship offers the promise of a

more informed electorate, with citizens having multiple venues in which to translate their

opinions into political action and demand improved representation from political leaders.

The use of social media by students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to

argue for greater gun regulations shows digital citizenship in action.


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At the same time, social media raises concerns about the accuracy and consis-

tency of public opinion. Some research finds that the gap between the haves and

the have-nots in terms of political knowledge actually increases with the availability

of more information. The implications are significant, given the explosion of political

coverage online. The research suggests that with more information, public opinion may

actually be less consistent.53

Of course, technological change will continue; the media of 2040 will not be the

same as the media of 2020. Young adults will face a changing media environment,

just as their parents did. Such technological evolution may bring yet further changes

to our understanding of the relationship between public opinion, government, and the

media. New media may make it easier than ever for citizens to stay informed (or easier

to be misled) about the actions of their elected leaders or for leaders to learn about

their constituents’ preferences. What can citizens do to stay informed and make their

views known amid a changing media and political environment?


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< $20,000 $20,000−$39,999 $40,000−$74,999 $75,000+By income group

Attended a town or city council meeting

26% 25% 28% 35%

Tried to contact a member of Congress

7% 9% 10% 15%

Attended a protest march

4% 4% 4% 3%

Signed a petition

19% 24% 24% 28%

Who Expresses Their Political Opinions?

SOURCE: American National Election Study 2016 time series, www.electionstudies.org (accessed 11/4/17).

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Practice Quiz

1. The term public opinion is used to describe (p. 147) a) the collected speeches and

writings made by a president during his or her term in office.

b) the analysis of events broadcast by news reporters during the evening news.

c) the beliefs and attitudes that people have about issues, events, elected officials, and policies.

d) decisions of the Supreme Court. e) any political statement that is

made by a citizen outside of his or her private residence or place of employment.

2. Today, the term refers to someone who generally supports the social and economic status quo and is suspicious of efforts to introduce new political formulas and economic arrangements. (p. 150) a) libertarian b) liberal c) conservative d) democrat e) Whig

3. Socialism refers to (p. 151) a) a political ideology that empha-

sizes social ownership, strong government, and reducing eco- nomic inequality.

Be an Informed Consumer of Opinion Polls


When you encounter information from opinion polls, consider the source of the poll, the question wording, and whether individuals were randomly selected to participate. Learn more at www.umich.edu/~numbers/polls.

Go to www.realclearpolitics.com to see polls about the same issues from different sources. Note the margins of error, and notice how aggregating polls makes a difference.

If asked, consider responding to an opinion poll—or take the initiative and express your views through one of the actions above.

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b) a political ideology that emphasizes freedom and voluntary association with small government.

c) a political ideology that argues for the need to place strict limitations on voting rights and civil liberties.

d) a political ideology that argues a single ruler should have total control over every aspect of people’s lives.

e) a political ideology that argues gov- ernments are inherently repressive and should be abolished entirely.

4. The process by which Americans learn political beliefs and values is called (p. 152) a) brainwashing. b) propaganda. c) indoctrination. d) political socialization. e) political development.

5. Which of the following is not an agent of socialization? (p. 152) a) the family b) social groups c) education d) the political environment e) All of the above are agents of


6. The fact that women tend to oppose military intervention more than men do is an example of (p. 156) a) the rally around the flag effect. b) partisan polarization. c) the peace paradox. d) the bandwagon effect. e) the gender gap.

7. Which of the following are the most important external influences on how political opinions are formed in the marketplace of ideas? (p. 160) a) the government, private groups,

and the news media b) the unemployment rate, the Dow

Jones Industrial Average, and the NASDAQ composite

c) random digit dialing surveys, push polls, and the bandwagon effect

d) the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and The Federalist Papers

e) the legislative branch, the execu- tive branch, and the judicial branch

8. Which statement best describes the relationship between public opinion and government policy? (p. 163) a) Public opinion almost never

influences government policy. b) Government policy almost never

influences public opinion. c) The relationship between govern-

ment policy and public opinion is dynamic, wherein government policy responds to public opinion but public opinion also shifts based on new government policies.

d) Public opinion always influences government policy because lawmak- ers are legally bound to enact the majority’s preferences.

e) Government policy never influences public opinion because most Americans pay very little attention to politics.

9. Which of the following is the term used in public-opinion polling to denote the small group representing the opinions of the whole population? (p. 163) a) control group b) sample c) micropopulation d) respondents e) median voters

10. A push poll is a poll in which (p. 168) a) the questions are designed to

shape the respondent’s opinion rather than measure the respond- ent’s opinion.

b) the questions are designed to measure the respondent’s opinion rather than shape the respondent’s opinion.

c) the questions are designed to reduce measurement error.

d) the sample is chosen to include only undecided or independent voters.

e) the sample is not representative of the population it is drawn from.

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Key Terms

agents of socialization (p. 152) social institutions, including families and schools, that help to shape individuals’ basic politi- cal beliefs and values

attitude (or opinion) (p. 147) a specific preference on a particular issue

bandwagon effect (p. 169) a shift in electoral support to the candidate whom public- opinion polls report as the front-runner

conservative (p. 150) today this term refers to those who generally support the social and economic status quo and are suspi- cious of efforts to introduce new political formulae and economic arrangements; conservatives believe that a large and powerful government poses a threat to citizens’ freedom

democracy (p. 149) a system of rule that permits citizens to play a significant part in the governmental process, usually through the election of key public officials

equality of opportunity (p. 148) a widely shared American ideal that all people should have the freedom to use whatever talents and wealth they have to reach their fullest potential

gender gap (p. 156) a distinctive pattern of voting behavior reflecting the differences in views between women and men

liberal (p. 150) today this term refers to those who generally support social and political reform, governmental intervention in the economy, more economic equality,

the expansion of federal social services, and greater concern for consumers and the environment

libertarian (p. 150) someone who empha- sizes freedom and believes in voluntary association with small government

liberty (p. 148) freedom from governmental control

marketplace of ideas (p. 160) the public forum in which beliefs and ideas are exchanged and compete

political ideology (p. 149) a cohesive set of beliefs that forms a general philosophy about the role of government

political socialization (p. 152) the induction of individuals into the political culture; learning the underlying beliefs and values on which the political system is based

public opinion (p. 147) citizens’ attitudes about political issues, leaders, institutions, and events

public-opinion polls (p. 163) scientific instruments for measuring public opinion

push polling (p. 168) a polling technique in which the questions are designed to shape the respondent’s opinion

random digit dialing (p. 163) a polling method in which respondents are selected at random from a list of 10-digit telephone numbers, with every effort made to avoid bias in the construction of the sample

11. A familiar polling problem is the “bandwagon effect,” which occurs when (p. 169) a) the same results are used over and

over again. b) polling results influence people to

support the candidate marked as the probable victor in a campaign.

c) polling results influence people to support the candidate who is trailing in a campaign.

d) background noise makes it difficult for a pollster and a respondent to communicate with each other.

e) a large number of people refuse to answer a pollster’s questions.

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sample (p. 163) a small group selected by researchers to represent the most impor- tant characteristics of an entire population

sampling error (or margin of error) (p. 165) polling error that arises based on the small size of the sample

selection bias (surveys) (p. 167) polling error that arises when the sample is not repre- sentative of the population being studied, which creates errors in overrepresenting or underrepresenting some opinions

simple random sample (or probability sample) (p. 163) a method used by poll- sters to select a representative sample in

Asher, Herbert. Polling and the Public: What Every Citizen Should Know. 9th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2016.

Bartels, larry. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton university Press, 2008.

Berinsky, Adam. Silent Voices: Public Opinion and Political Participation in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton university Press, 2005.

Bishop, George. The Illusion of Public Opinion. New York: Rowman and littlefield, 2004.

Clawson, Rosalee, and zoe Oxley. Public Opinion: Democratic Ideals and Democratic Practice. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2012.

erikson, Robert, and Kent Tedin. American Public Opinion. 9th ed. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Fiorina, Morris. Culture War: The Myth of a Polarized America. New York: longman, 2005.

Gallup, George. The Pulse of Democracy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1940.

Ginsberg, Benjamin. The American Lie: Government by the People and Other Political Fables. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2007.

Jacobs, lawrence R., Fay lomax Cook, and Michael X. Delli Carpini. Talking Together. Chicago: university of Chicago Press, 2009.

lee, Taeku. Mobilizing Public Opinion. Chicago: university of Chicago Press, 2002.

lippman, Walter. Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1922.

Norrander, Barbara, and Clyde Wilcox. Understanding Public Opinion. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2009.

zaller, John. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge university Press, 1992.

which every individual in the population has an equal probability of being selected as a respondent

social desirability effect (p. 167) the effect that results when respondents in a survey report what they expect the interviewer wishes to hear rather than what they believe

socialist (p. 151) someone who generally believes in social ownership, strong govern- ment, free markets, and reducing economic inequality

values (or beliefs) (p. 147) basic principles that shape a person’s opinions about politi- cal issues and events

For Further Reading

175STuDY Gu IDe

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The Media

060606 chapter

WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES AND WHY IT MATTERS When the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, proposed

to end “net neutrality” in 2017, teenagers across the country leapt into

action. Many had lived their entire lives in an era of neutrality, aspects of

which began in 2006 and were codified by President Barack Obama in 2015.

Under net neutrality, internet service providers were regulated like a utility.

They could not block websites, slow some data transmission while imposing

fees for fast transmission, or charge consumers to connect to certain sites.

Chairman Pai asserted that such rules overregulated the internet. But many

teenagers, who get the majority of their news and information from the inter-

net, disagreed. They used social media to coordinate letter-writing, tweet, and

protest efforts.

Sixteen-year-old student Will Howes led a protest in front of a Verizon store

in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (Pai formerly worked for Verizon), arguing, “They

can throttle your Netflix, they can change your Google results. The right to

access information online is threatened.” His fellow protesters worried that

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The Media Net neutrality—the principle that all data and content on the web must be treated equally and not blocked or slowed for certain users—has been a hot-button issue. Anooha Dasari is just one of many young people who have spoken out and organized in support of net neutrality.


rural South Dakotans might get priced out of internet service, which was

already limited there. Teen protesters in front of a Keene, New Hampshire,

Verizon store had similar concerns about the price and availability of high-

speed internet, holding signs asking, “Hey Siri, how much does this sentence

cost?” As high school senior Harrison Hicks said, “The internet is imperative

to my education, and it’s really hard to be a self-starter and to teach yourself

the information you need without the internet especially since we’re the first

generation who’s grown up with the internet having been around our entire

lives.” Anooha Dasari, a high school junior from Mundelein, Illinois, who sent

classmates links for emailing the FCC, said, “For research, for news, to com-

municate with friends, the internet is a big part of my life. It has formulated

my personality, opinions and political ideology. If it is controlled, my generation

of students could be inclined to be just on one part of the spectrum. That’s

dangerous.” In December 2017, Chairman Pai cast the deciding vote to end

the neutrality rules. Dasari vowed to continue to fight: “I will tweet and email

and call and stay in the process.”

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The sharing of information, whether via traditional or digital media, is an

essential component of American democracy. So central is information to

citizen participation that the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees free-

dom of the press, and most Americans believe that a free press is an essen-

tial condition for both liberty and democratic politics. Today, as the means

of communication has expanded, the media continue to play a central role

in American politics, not only in setting the agenda of topics that Americans

think about and discuss but also in shaping public opinion on political issues

and politicians. The political implications of this media system are significant.

Politics is increasingly defined by the individuals and groups who are best

able to blend older and newer media—using, for example, both television and

digital media to promote their message.

Discussing the right of press freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The basis

of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should

be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should

have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government,

I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”1 As the nature of media

has evolved, its centrality to government and politics has never waned. In

fact, in an era when politicians accuse each other and media members of

promoting “Fake News,” and people fight for or against control of internet

communications, a full understanding of America’s dynamic media landscape

may be more important than ever.

★ Describe the key roles the media play in American political life (pp. 179–82)

★ Discuss how digital media have transformed how citizens learn about politics (pp. 182–90)

★ Analyze the ways the media can influence public opinion and politics (pp. 191–97)



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Media Have Always Mattered in a Democracy

Freedom of the press is protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, along with the most cherished individual rights in

American democracy, including freedom of speech and religion. The freedom to speak one’s mind in public is one of the most cherished of American political values.

Freedom of the press is the right to circulate information and opinions in print and digital media without censorship by the government. In the United States citizens and private companies have the right to publish newspapers, magazines, and other forms of digital media with few government restrictions. In many author- itarian countries there is no freedom of the press and the government controls the news and political information through state-sponsored media.

The media serve three important roles in American democracy: to help inform the public about current political issues and events; to provide a forum through which candidates, politicians, and the public can debate policies and issues; and to act as a watchdog on the actions of the government and political actors.

Without the work of journalists and the media, democracy and self-government would not be possible. Individuals learn about politics, current events, government policy, and political candidates and parties from the news media. The information presented by the media allows citizens to cast informed decisions in elections and to form opinions about policy issues. This communication ensures that elected officials adopt policies consistent, for the most part, with the preferences of the citizens and serves as a counterweight to communication among elites, the wealthy, and corporations.

Perhaps most important, the media serve as a watchdog for the public, scrutiniz- ing the actions of elected officials on behalf of citizens, most of whom do not have the opportunity to closely follow the actions of politicians and government. The media are like an alarm system for a home—notifying the public of actions taken by government that may harm them. Important political news is reported on page 1 of print newspapers or in news alerts on your mobile phone. The media prioritize cov- ering major decisions by the government. They inform the public about important policy issues and expose those individuals and groups that exert power in politics, including their tactics and strategies. They reveal scandalous and illegal behavior of politicians, and therefore serve as a check on political power.


Most practicing journalists receive training in schools of journalism and mass com- munication. Journalists are guided by standards in reporting the news in the public interest, known as the principles of journalism. Above all the news media seek to report the truth via fact-checking, verification of sources, and investigative jour- nalism. This includes reporting factual claims by relying on legitimate sources, and

Describe the key roles the media play in American political life


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citing people with credible positions, eyewitnesses and participants in events, and documents associated with recognizable and credible institutions. The traditional news media aim to balance coverage of current events by providing objective treat- ment of opposing sides and avoiding including personal views of reporters or editors.


The media are sometimes referred to as the fourth branch of government, as they provide a check on the power of government and political leaders.

Public broadcasting refers to television, radio, and digital media that receive funding from the public through license fees, subsidies, or tax dollars. In most other democratic countries public broadcasting plays a major role in informing the public about politics and current events. In contrast, public broadcasting in the United States—such as National Public Radio or PBS—plays a very small role in the media system, at just 2 percent of market share, compared to 35 percent in France, 40 percent in Germany, and 65 percent in Denmark.

For-profit private companies dominate U.S. political media. Media companies earn most of their revenue from advertising, rather than subscriptions, although revenue from subscriptions has been increasing. This means media actors—from journalists to editors to the owners of media companies—are motivated by what audiences want, because higher ratings generate more advertising revenue. Because of the need to reach wide audiences to sell advertisements, the U.S. media are more focused on soft news—such as entertainment, sports, and celebrity news— than are European media, which provide more hard news coverage of politics and civic events. And when it comes to political news, American media tend to focus increasingly on dramatic, highly conflictual events and issues. Sensational stories of scandals or candidate attacks often generate more interest—and thus revenue— than the stories of everyday governing and details of public policy. Nonetheless, objectivity is still the goal, and standard practice is that news, opinion, and ads should be separate and distinct; that is why the opinions of editors are reserved for the opinion pages.

The profit motive of the news industry may have contributed to Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the 2016 election. Due to the novelty of a television celebrity running for president, Trump’s campaign was a financial boon for the media indus- try. His candidacy received double the media coverage of his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and his Republican challengers in the primaries. CBS head Les Moonves said the Trump phenomenon “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. . . .” The money to the television station was “rolling in.”2


A key feature of the traditional media in the United States is the concentration of its ownership. A small number of giant corporations control a wide swath of media holdings, including television networks, movie studios, record companies, cable channels and local cable providers, book publishers, magazines, newspapers,


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and increasingly online and digital media outlets. Large global corporations own much of the media offline and online.3 Media monopolies, such as that of The Walt Disney Company, have prompted questions about whether enough competition exists among traditional media to produce a truly diverse set of views on political matters.4 In 2019, for example, Disney purchased 21st Century Fox to become the third largest media company in the United States. As major newspapers, television stations, and radio networks fall into fewer hands, the risk increases that politicians and citizens who express less popular or minority viewpoints will have difficulty finding a public forum.

The actual number of traditional news-gathering sources operating nationally is actually quite small—several wire services, four broadcast networks, a few elite print newspapers, and a smattering of other sources, such as a few large local papers and several small, independent radio networks. More than three-fourths of the daily print newspapers in the United States are owned by large media conglomerates such as the Hearst, McClatchy, and Gannett corporations. Much of the national news that is published by local newspapers is provided by one wire service, the Associated Press. More than 500 of the nation’s television stations are affiliated with one of just four networks and carry that network’s evening news programs.

The trend in concentration of traditional media ownership occurred in large part due to the relaxation of government regulations in the 1980s and ’90s. The

Though the media generally attempt to remain unbiased, a number of media figures and outlets are distinctly left- or right-leaning, such as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Tucker Carlson of Fox News. Consumers are increasingly turning to partisan media, reflecting a tendency to self-select information that already conforms with their beliefs, making it more difficult to objectively evaluate information.


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enactment of the 1996 Telecommunications Act opened the way for additional consolidation in the media industry, and a wave of mergers and consolidations has further reduced the field of independent media across the country. But as more digital-only news sources come online, these trends toward concentration in media ownership may reverse.

The Media Today The past three decades have resulted in a massive transformation of the U.S. news media. New competition from free digital sources has put pres- sure on traditional subscription-based

news sources as Americans have migrated to reading the news online. Today 93 percent of adults have read the news online.5 This picture is very different from the early 2000s, when most Americans said that after television, print newspapers were their main source for news, and less than 20 percent read the news online.6 Though not replacing losses in subscription and traditional advertising revenue, digital advertising revenue continues to grow.7

Despite the digital transformation of the news media, much of what makes the media important in American politics remains the same. Major newspapers and TV networks—even if their content is increasingly delivered in digital form—remain pop- ular and important sources of news. Political leaders are successful in making head- line news and setting the news agenda. And journalists trained in professional schools create and develop much of what we consume as news, including original reporting.

But more and more, the media are online companies facing an environment where anyone with access to an internet connection can publish the news. There are still only a small number of organizations that have credibility and the largest audi- ences, however.8 The leading newspapers in the United States, such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, receive some of the highest traffic online.

Before the internet, journalism organizations largely controlled the news through original reporting, writing and production, packaging and delivery, and selecting editors. Over time, technology companies like Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon have become major players in the content and delivery of the news. These companies are partners in the business of journalism, from the financial side to how the news is produced and delivered to consumers. They report the news using advanced technol- ogy, engineering, and market research to push specific news alerts to specific people, based on their interests and preferences. And it seems to be working: Facebook and Google, for example, generate the most digital advertising revenue for newspapers.9

The interdependence between technology and media companies continues to grow, representing a major change in the industry. In one of the latest trends, technology companies and their CEOs have been purchasing or developing major news media companies, such as the creation of the Intercept by Ebay founder Pierre

Discuss how digital media have transformed how citizens learn about politics


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Omidyar, or the purchase of the Washington Post by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Both the Intercept and the Washington Post have a reputation for forceful investiga- tive journalism and original reporting. And at Facebook, editors control trending topics in the news on the global platform, a key editorial role in what makes the headline news.

Beyond making the news profitable again, these high-tech collaborations are changing how Americans learn about current events. The tech world has long valued transparency, networked environments, and participation.10 This is evident in the growing number of Americans who read news by using social network platforms, such as Twitter or Facebook. How citizens read the news has changed in the digital age, but the role of the media in politics remains as important today as during the founding of our nation.

Americans get their news from (1) newspapers and magazines; (2) broadcast media (radio and television); and, increasingly, (3) digital media. Each of these three sources—newspapers, broadcast, and digital—has distinctive characteristics.


Newspapers are the oldest medium for the dissemination of the news, though most Americans read digital versions of print media today. Newspapers have an especially influential audience because they help set the political agenda for the nation. Their audience of political elites relies on the detailed coverage provided by professional journalists to inform their views about public matters.

The emergence of newspapers (and later radio and television networks) as mass-production businesses driven primarily for profit had major implications for the role of the media in politics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The development of standardized reporting and writing practices emphasizing objec- tivity in political news coverage was motivated in part as a way to generate revenue for media organizations. The owners of large newspaper companies determined that the best way to make a profit was to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, which meant not alienating potential readers who held liberal or conservative politi - cal views. This, in turn, required methods to train and “discipline” reporters to pro- duce a standardized, seemingly neutral news product. In contrast, some native digital news is much less likely to be value neutral like journalism from legacy media outlets.

These journalistic practices were successful in attracting audiences, and for a long time, most cities and towns in the country had their own newspaper. However, for most traditional newspapers, recent decades have been financially challenging. Competition from broadcast media and free content online, com- bined with simultaneous declines in advertising revenue and circulation levels, have undermined the traditional business model of newspapers.11 In 2018 there were roughly 39,210 working journalists, down from a high of 60,000 a decade before.12 Estimates indicate daily newspaper print circulation has declined by over 30 percent over the past 20 years.13 Lower circulation leads to lower advertising revenue.


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Following the 2016 election, however, some major U.S. newspapers reported a sharp increase in digital subscriptions.14 The New York Times added more than 500,000 digital subscriptions in 2016—a 47 percent increase from the previous year—while the Wall Street Journal had a 23 percent increase over the previous year and the Chicago Tribune a 76 percent increase. The newspaper industry as a whole, however, continues to face declines in circulation and ad revenue. The New York Times saw a 9 percent decline in advertising revenue but a 3 percent rise in circula- tion revenue, for an overall revenue decline of 2 percent in 2016.15

For most newspapers today, non-ad revenue comes mainly from digital subscrip- tions rather than print circulation. This model allows a certain number of free visits before requiring users to pay and appears to be a viable business model for the digital press. Digital subscription models have not been as viable for many smaller or mid- sized local, regional, and even big-city papers, however. Legacy newspapers face the greatest competition from digital-only news outlets, such as Bloomberg News, the Drudge Report, and a host of others. And the pace of technological change in the news media shows no signs of slowing down.16


Television news reaches more Americans than any other single news source (Figure 6.1). It is estimated that over 95 percent of Americans have a television, and tens of millions of people watch national and local news programs every day. Television news, however, generally covers relatively few topics and provides little depth of coverage. It serves the important function of alerting viewers to issues and events—headline news—via brief quotes and short characterizations of the day’s events. Furthermore, broadcast media do very little of their own reporting, instead relying on leading newspapers or digital media to set their news agenda. Print and digital media, as written text, also provide more detailed and complete information than radio or television media, offering a better context for analysis.

Because they are aware of the character of television news coverage, politicians and others often seek to manipulate the news by providing the media with sound bites that will dominate news coverage. Sound bites can work for or against poli- ticians. During the 2016 presidential election, calls for deporting undocumented immigrants were a frequent sound bite topic from candidates such as Donald Trump.

Twenty-four-hour cable news stations such as MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News offer more detail and commentary than the half-hour evening news shows found on the three broadcast news stations—ABC, NBC, and CBS. Pew reports that com- bined average viewership for the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening newscasts remained stable in 2016 at about 24 million.17

Politicians generally consider local broadcast news a friendlier venue than the national news. National reporters are often inclined to criticize and question, whereas local and state reporters are more likely to accept the pronouncements of national leaders at face value. Local TV continues to be a major source of news, especially for older Americans, though its importance as a news source is decreas- ing among the younger generation in favor of social media such as Facebook.


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Generally, however, Americans’ reliance on television does not appear to be going away.


Radio is another broadcast news source that has evolved with the popularity of podcasting. In the 1990s talk radio became an important source of commentary as well as entertainment. Conservative radio hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, have huge audiences and have helped to mobilize support for conserva- tive political causes and candidates. In the political center or center left, National Public Radio (NPR) is a coveted source for in-depth political reporting. In recent years radio news listening has experienced significant growth; in 1990 there were 400 radio stations, a number that has grown to over 2,000 today.

Broadcast radio includes traditional AM/FM radio and digital formats such as online radio and podcasting. While AM/FM radio reaches almost all Americans and


Americans’ Main Sources for News The media landscape for news has seen remarkable shifts in a short period of time. Twenty years ago, more than 80 percent of Americans watched news on television and more than half read news in a newspaper. Today, fewer Americans watch news on TV and just over one- quarter read the newspaper. What media source has gained rather than lost its audience?

SOURCE: “Americans’ Online News Use Is Closing in on TV News Use,” Pew Research Center, September 5, 2017, www.pewresearch.org (accessed 5/23/18).

1991 1995 1999 2003 2007 2011 2013 2015 2017



Newspaper Internet














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remains steady in its revenue, online radio and podcasting have expanded rapidly in the past decade, steadily growing to 64 percent of Americans who tuned in during the last month of 2018, up from 12 percent in 2007. While public broadcasting has a much smaller share of the total media market in the United States than in other countries, National Public Radio is still popular and an important way for people to learn about politics. In 2017 there were 5.4 million unique downloads of NPR podcasts every week, a number that continues to grow.18 Mobile devices, including satellite radio and cell phones, have triggered a growth in radio use as online radio listening can occur nearly anywhere. Listening to radio news while commuting is a primary way many Americans become informed about politics.19

Comedy Comedy talk shows with political content, such as The Daily Show, The Late Show, and Saturday Night Live, attract millions of television viewers. These shows use humor, sarcasm, and social criticism to discuss serious topics, gener- ally covering almost every major political event. Pew surveys have shown that these talk shows are important sources of political news, especially for young people and liberals, and that followers of comedic talk shows are well informed about politics.20


The impact of the internet in mass communication in the twenty-first century parallels that of the printing press in nineteenth-century America, which saw the rise of the penny press and widespread literacy.21 Today, even as the print newspaper business has consolidated, readership of online news has soared. Digital media have become the media of choice for all age groups below 50. In 2000 just 35 percent of adult internet users said they looked for news or information about politics or the upcoming campaigns online.22 As of 2016 that number had risen to 9 in 10 Americans.23

News aggregators, such as Google News, Reddit, and RealClearPolitics, generally compile and repackage stories that were created by other sources, and then deliver them online to consumers in convenient formats. They serve as a platform that allows users to share and comment on the news. Some of this content is produced by digital-only news organizations, mainstream media, social movement organizations, ordinary users, and other “amateurs,” as well as powerful political groups, govern- ments, candidates, nonprofits, corporations, and professional media organizations. News aggregators cover thousands of news stories each day, as well as the latest public-opinion polls and their own synthesis of the headline news.

Rather than merely providing a forum to connect with friends and family, social media are spaces for learning about politics and now a primary source for news—a dramatic change from just a few years ago. A majority of American adults— 67 percent—gets news on social media (Figure 6.2).24 The trend in using social media for political information continues to grow at a rapid rate across all demo- graphic groups.


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Online media are more diverse and have created a more participatory press, one in which citizens and nonprofit organizations now play a prominent role, and jour- nalists regularly interact with readers via social media, especially Twitter. Readers can now post comments online, upload videos, and participate in a community, providing feedback on almost all online news articles. Digital media have created more information and a more vibrant media environment.

The term digital citizenship refers to the ability to participate in culture and poli- tics online. In much the same way that education and literacy promoted democracy and economic growth in the nineteenth century, today’s internet has the poten- tial to benefit society as a whole by facilitating political participation and social inclusion through greater access to political information and news.25 The internet


Social Media and the News Many Americans who use social media use those sites as a way to obtain political news. This graph shows the percentage of American adults who use each social media site compared with the percentage who report getting news from that site. What are the advantages of getting news on social media, and what are some potential drawbacks?

SOURCE: Jeffrey Gottfried and Elisa Shearer, “News Use across Social Media Platforms 2017,” Pew Research Center, September 7, 2017, www.journalism.org/2016/05/26/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2017/ (accessed 5/15/18).

Facebook YouTube Twitter LinkedIn redditInstagram


18% 15%





5% 6% 4%




Use the social networking site Get news from the site


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helps provide the information and skills needed for democratic engagement and economic opportunity.26

However, regular and effective use of the internet requires high-speed access and digital literacy to evaluate and use information online.27 Individuals without access or the skills to use the internet may be increasingly uninformed and excluded from the world of politics online. In 2018, 73 percent of Americans were digital citizens, individuals with home high-speed access and the technology and literacy skills to use it. Access to the internet is also shaped by income and education. While only half of the working poor (those earning less than $20,000 a year) had home broad- band, 85 percent of those earning more than $100,000 a year did. Sixty-three percent of high school graduates have home broadband compared with almost 90 percent of college graduates.28 These data suggest that there are significant ine- qualities in access to digital media, what is called the digital divide.29 Because digital media are essential to participation in society, some argue that government has a responsibility to provide affordable and universal access, as provided by most other democratic countries.

Digital-Only News Organizations The last decade has seen the rise of niche journal- ism and digital-only publications, or “born digital” news outlets. Bloomberg News, one of the most successful specialty online sources, has hundreds of thousands of readers paying an annual fee for detailed business-related news. In politics, the Hill, the Blaze, Vice, Vox, BuzzFeed, and the Drudge Report are the niche leaders, with detailed political reporting. FiveThirtyEight specializes in data journalism, provid- ing election forecasts but also broad coverage including sports, science, and lifestyle. Breitbart News, formerly under the leadership of Steve Bannon (Donald Trump’s chief strategist for the 2016 campaign) has become a key source of political informa- tion for far-right populist conservatives.

Social Media and Filtering While television remains the main source of news for one in two Americans, young people ages 18–33 increasingly learn about politics and news online and are significantly less likely than older Americans to turn to local TV. Seventy-eight percent of people under age 50 get their news from social media. What factors might account for these generational differences?

Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, tend to be a secondary source for news after television for many Americans, but are a primary source for the young. The high rate of exposure to political news via social media is notable since young Americans overall are less engaged in politics—just 46 percent of people ages 18–29 voted in the 2016 election compared to 59 percent for the 30–44 age group.30 As the web becomes an increasingly important source for political news, young people may become more engaged in politics.

Because they are more personalized and interactive than anonymous news organizations, social media allow Americans to learn about politics and political news from each other. Growing use of social media for news is evident across all demographic groups, including older people, women and men, and groups defined by race, education, and income. Two-thirds of Americans use social


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media.31 With President Trump tweeting multiple times per day, as well as its use by congressional leaders and other politicians, social media have become news sources in their own right, as well as forums to share news published in the main- stream media.

Facebook provides a more interactive forum for learning about politics than does Twitter, with users more likely to post and respond to news about government and politics. Twitter’s strength is in providing news coverage as it happens, focusing on live events. More than two-thirds of users of both sites say they have posted about news at least at some point. Compared to passively watching television or reading the news, this is a high rate of engagement.32

Social media also provide a platform for citizens to be directly engaged with political candidates and elected officials, who have been quick to adopt Facebook and Twitter as means of communicating with their supporters and filtering the daily news for them. In their book Tweeting to Power, Jason Gainous and Kevin Wagner argue that using social media is how citizens learn about politics: “Social media alters the political calculus in the United States by filtering who controls information, who consumes information, and how that information is distributed.” Because the networks operate outside of traditional media and users can pick their own friend networks and avoid disagreeable ideas and information, parties, groups, and political candidates are able to directly dictate the content of these informa- tion networks. Their study finds individuals who are more active politically online and read the news using social media hold stronger partisan opinions. This means using social media for reading the news can exaggerate party polarization among the mass public.33


Digital news is creating a new generation of whistle-blowers, enhancing the media’s traditional role as a watchdog for the people against government cor- ruption. A distinguishing feature of this phenomenon is the development of citizen journalism, which is interactive and participatory. Citizen journalism includes news reporting and political commentary by ordinary citizens and even crisis coverage from eyewitnesses on the scene, thus involving a wider range of voices in gathering news and interpreting political events. The near-universal availability of cameras on cell phones gives millions of Americans the capacity to photograph or record events, thus providing eyewitness accounts. At the same time, social media permit users to upload videos that can be viewed by hundreds of thousands of subscribers or relayed by the mainstream media for even wider dissemination.

Citizen journalism supplements the work of professional journalists in many important ways. The diversity of online media has created new opinion leaders and new voices and has even, at times, improved information. In recent years, for example, bloggers have uncovered major factual errors in media reports and forced the networks and newspapers to issue corrections. Furthermore, because bloggers and social media users do not have editorial boards, they can post a story


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within minutes. This ability to scoop the mainstream media means bloggers can frame stories about political candidates before those stories break in the main- stream media.34 By sharply lowering the technological and financial barriers that previously prevented all but a few individuals from reaching mass audiences, blogs increase the ability of ordinary people to engage in effective political action. On the other hand, the freewheeling nature of blogging and social media often means that there is no quality control like that employed by professional journalists and traditional media.35


While online news holds significant promise for improving access to political infor- mation, the shift toward online media has also given rise to several major concerns. These potential disadvantages include a decline in investigative journalism, uneven quality in news content, and negative effects on knowledge and tolerance. Two pri- mary concerns dominate the debate about online news: fake news, and the impact on tolerance.

Fake News Political candidates and political leaders are particularly susceptible to attack when negative stories go viral and spread quickly without fact-checking and respect for the privacy of public figures. In contrast to legitimate new stories, fake news are false stories circulated to generate ad revenue or to benefit one political candidate or party over another. The most widely publicized fake news story in the 2016 election, the top fake news story circulated on Facebook, was that the Pope had endorsed Trump for president (he did not). Circulation of the top 10 fake news stories on Facebook was more widespread than circulation of the top real news stories about the election. A study published by Stanford University found fake news stories on social media in the 2016 presidential election disproportion- ately favored Trump over Hillary Clinton, and there is growing evidence that the Russian government was involved in generating many of the fake news stories in order to discredit Clinton and her campaign. Websites such as FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, and PolitiFact.com are devoted exclusively to checking the veracity of political claims.

Knowledge Up, Tolerance Down? The variety of online news may actually lower tolerance for social, religious, and political diversity, leading to more partisan polar- ization and societal conflict. Digital media often do not abide by traditional media’s principle of objective journalism. Instead, the specialization of information online and on cable television means that liberals and conservatives alike can self-select media that are consistent with their underlying assumptions and avoid exposure to information that might challenge their preconceived beliefs.36 The natural ten- dency to select news that conforms with our own beliefs is exacerbated by the way search engines cater to our individual preferences—called the “filter bubble,” or “self-selection bias”—which screens out exposure to information that might challenge or broaden our worldview.37


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The Media Affect Power Relations in American Politics

The content and character of news and public affairs programming— what the media choose to present and how they present it—can have

far-reaching political consequences. The media can shape and modify, if not fully form, the public’s perception of events, issues, and institutions. Media coverage can rally support for, or intensify opposition to, national policies on important matters such as health care, the economy, and international wars.


Traditional and digital media influence American politics in a number of important ways. The power of the media lies in their ability to shape what issues Americans think about (setting the agenda) and what opinions Americans hold about those issues (framing and priming).

Agenda-Setting and Selection Bias The first source of media power is agenda- setting—that is, the power of the media to bring public attention to particular issues and problems. Groups and forces that wish to bring their ideas before the public in order to generate support for policy pro- posals or political candidacies must secure media coverage. If the media are persuaded that an idea is newsworthy, they may declare it an “issue” that must be confronted or a “problem” to be solved, thus clearing the first hurdle in the policy-making process. If, on the other hand, an idea lacks or loses media appeal, its chance of resulting in new programs or policies is diminished.

For example, in the lead-up to the 2016 election, the mainstream media and Donald Trump focused extensively on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State, and its possible risk of jeopardizing government secrets. Clinton’s email use dominated the media agenda, especially in the 10 days before the election when FBI director James Comey reopened the inves- tigation into her email server.

Through agenda setting, the media have the power to influence which issues the public pays attention to. After FBI director James Comey released a letter indicating the reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server days before the 2016 election, the media’s intense coverage of the investigation caused the Clinton campaign to respond to the letter publicly.

Analyze the ways the media can influence public opinion and politics


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Because the media are businesses and because the media seek to attract the largest possible audiences, they naturally tend to cover stories with dramatic or entertainment value, giving less attention to important stories that are less compelling. News coverage thus often focuses on crimes and scandals, especially those involving promi nent individuals. This selection bias—the tendency to focus news coverage on only one aspect of an event or issue, avoiding coverage of other aspects—means that the media may provide less information about important political issues. The age-old journalistic instinct for sensational stories to tell often trumps the media’s responsibility to inform the public about what really matters— and the public’s responsibility to demand that from the media.

What the mainstream media decide to report on and what they ignore have important implications. For example, the mainstream media provided little coverage of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 (or their extension under President Obama in 2009), although they dramatically increased the federal budget deficit and widened the gap between the super-rich and most other Americans in terms of wealth.38 It is not surprising that public-opinion polls showed that 40 percent of Americans had no opinion on whether they favored the massive tax cuts in 2001.

Framing Framing is the media’s ability to influence how the American people interpret events and policies. Politicians take care to choose language that presents their ideas in the most favorable light possible. Public opinion on politics naturally changes with facts, but few citizens read legislation; so when forming opinions about policy and politics, the public relies on media coverage. This means that arguments made by elected officials and other political actors, or “frames,” are critical to the process of forming opinions. For example, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump framed Hillary Clinton as a criminal for her use of a private email server even though no charges were ever brought.

Priming Another source of media influence on opinion, related to framing, is priming. Priming involves “calling attention to some matters while ignoring others.”39 As a result, the public will be primed to use certain criteria when evaluating a politician or an issue and to ignore other criteria. In the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election, for example, the serious economic recession took much of the spotlight. As a result, the economy—far more than other issues— was a more important lens through which the public evaluated the candidates rather than national security.

In the case of political candidates, the media have considerable influence over whether a particular individual will receive public attention and whether a particular individual will be taken seriously as a viable contender. Thus, if the media find a candidate interesting, they may treat him or her as a serious contender despite possible weaknesses and shortcomings. For example, the media were criticized in the 2016 presidential race for covering Donald Trump—a reality TV star known for his inflammatory comments and disdain for political correctness—much more than other candidates. Many people believed that Trump’s unexpected victory in the Republican primaries was due in part to widespread media coverage.


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News media are not alone in agenda-setting, framing, and priming; elected officials, interest groups, and other political players compete over all three in hopes of influencing public opinion.


The media may report information that is leaked by government officials. A leak is the disclosure of confidential information to the news media. Leaks may ema- nate from a variety of sources, including whistle-blowers or lower-level officials who hope to publicize what they view as their bosses’ improper activities. In 1971, for example, a minor Defense Department staffer named Daniel Ellsberg sought to discredit official justifications for U.S. involvement in Vietnam by leaking top-secret documents to the press. The Pentagon Papers—the Defense Department’s own secret history of the war, differing widely from the Pentagon’s public pronouncements—were published by the New York Times and the Washington Post after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government could not block their release.40 Pentagon credibility was severely damaged, hastening the erosion of public support for the war.

Most leaks, though, originate not with low-level whistle-blowers but rather with senior government officials, prominent politicians, and political activists. These individuals cultivate long-term relationships with journalists, to whom they reg- ularly leak confidential information, knowing that it is likely to be published on a priority basis in a form acceptable to them. In turn, of course, journalists are likely to regard high-level sources of confidential information as valuable assets whose favor must be retained.

Digital media has taken leaks to a new level. WikiLeaks, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to publishing classified information, posts leaked documents to its website and uses an anonymous system so that leak- ers cannot be identified. In recent years, WikiLeaks has released thousands of secret government documents involving instances of government corruption, such as war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the 2016 presidential campaign, WikiLeaks released thousands of stolen emails from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. WikiLeaks shares its treasure trove of leaked government documents with major international papers, including the New York Times.

In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), dis- closed thousands of classified digital documents to journalists and international media. The leaks disclosed widespread global surveillance programs by the U.S. government working with telecommunication companies. The world learned the NSA was searching millions of email and instant messaging con- tact lists and tracking and mapping the locations of cell phones. For revealing the mass surveillance programs, Snowden has been called a hero, a whistle-blower, a dissident, and a traitor. The leaks garnered intense media attention and


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sparked heated public debate over government surveillance and privacy of information for individuals.

Critics of WikiLeaks and Snowden argue that posting government documents online is not journalism, that governments must have some secrets, and that the release of some gov- ernment documents may jeopardize national security as well as American soldiers and their local allies by revealing their identities.


The political power of the news media vis-à-vis the government has greatly increased in recent years through the growing prominence of “adversarial journalism,” an aggressive form of investigative journalism that attempts to expose and antagonize the status quo.

The national media’s aggressive use of the techniques of investigation, publicity, and exposure allow them to inform the public about major news stories. Without such aggres- sive media coverage, we might never have known of Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair or of Richard Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President’s illegal break-in to the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate building. We might never have known that Iraq did

not have weapons of mass destruction, despite claims to the contrary by then- president George W. Bush. Without aggressive media coverage, would we know about Russian interference in the 2016 elections? It is easy to criticize the media for their aggressive tactics, but would our democracy function effectively without the critical role of the press? Independent media are needed as the watchdogs of American politics. Digital technology has provided a new means by which the media can be watchdogs.


In many countries, such as China, the government controls media content. In other countries, the government owns the broadcast media (for example, the BBC in Britain) but does not tell the media what to say.

In the United States, the print media are essentially free from government inter- ference. The broadcast media, on the other hand, are subject to federal regula- tion. American radio and television are regulated by the Federal Communications

Leaks of classified information have sparked significant debate over what the government should classify as “secret” and what deserves to be public knowledge. After Edward Snowden leaked thousands of classified doc- uments, he fled the United States in order to escape arrest and prosecution. His actions have been both defended and denounced.


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Commission (FCC), an independent regulatory agency established in 1934. Radio and TV stations must have FCC licenses, which must be renewed every five years. Licensing provides a mechanism for allocating radio and TV frequencies to prevent broadcasts from interfering with and garbling one another.

Through regulations prohibiting obscenity, indecency, and profanity, the FCC has also sought to prohibit radio and television stations from airing explicit sexual and excretory references between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., the hours when children are most likely to be in the audience. Generally speaking, FCC regulation applies only to the “over-the-air” broadcast media. It does not apply to cable television, the inter- net, or satellite radio.

In 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act, a broad effort to do away with most regulations in effect since 1934. The legislation loosened restrictions on media ownership and allowed telephone companies, cable television providers, and broadcasters to compete with one another for telecommunication services. Follow- ing the passage of the act, several mergers between telephone and cable companies and among different segments of the entertainment media produced an even greater concentration of media ownership than had been possible since regulation of the industry began in 1934.

Though the act loosened many regulations, it did include an attempt to regu- late the content of material transmitted over the internet. This law, known as the Communications Decency Act, made it illegal to make “indecent” sexual material on the internet accessible to those under 18 years old. The act was immediately denounced by civil libertarians and became the subject of lawsuits. The case reached

The debate over net neutrality highlights fundamental questions about democracy. If the media are intended to be a marketplace of ideas, what should the government do to regulate that marketplace? Should any single entity be allowed to exert more influence or control, or should everyone be allowed to participate equally?

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The Internet and Global Democracy The internet and social media play an increasing role in elections, as demonstrated in this chapter. Critics of this trend have raised concerns that a lack of “quality control” allows the spreading of fake news by unscrupulous groups.a A number of foreign and domestic actors have used the open nature of this media to manipulate campaign rhetoric for political gain. The British government opened investigations into the spread of false news during the “Brexit” vote on leaving the european Union,b and russia used internal techniques to manipulate elections in the United States and europe.c

Supporters, however, point out that the internet and social media have allowed voters to connect better with their political systems. In Kenya, biometric voter registra- tion has made it more difficult for people to cast multiple ballots, and real-time texting has improved oversight on election counts, helping to combat voter fraud.d

While internet and social media are certainly transforming politics, it is important to remember that not all global citizens are part of this trend. If the future of politics is online, then many poor and older people around the world may be increasingly left behind.

SOURCE: World Bank, “Individuals Using the Internet (% of Population),” 2016, data.worldbank.org (accessed 5/21/18).


Under 33% 33–66% Over 66%

a Thomas B. Edsall, “Opinion: Democracy, Disrupted,” March 2, 2017, New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2017/03/02/ opinion/how-the-internet-threatens-democracy.html (accessed 5/21/18). b “What Are the Links between Cambridge Analytica and a Brexit Campaign Group?” Reuters, March 21, 2018, www.reuters .com/article/us-facebook-cambridge-analytica-leave-eu/what-are-the-links-between-cambridge-analytica-and-a-brexit -campaign-group-idUSKBN1GX2IO (accessed 5/21/18). c Constanze Stelzenmüller, “Testimony: The Impact of Russian Interference on Germany’s 2017 Election,” June 28, 2017, www.brookings.edu/testimonies/the-impact-of-russian-interference-on-germanys-2017-elections/ (accessed 5/21/18). d Loren Treisman, “How Kenyans Are Using Tech to Stop Election Fraud,” August 3, 2017, CNN, www.cnn.com/2017/07/27/ africa/kenya-elections-technology/index.html (accessed 5/21/18).

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the Supreme Court in 1997, and the act was ruled an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech (see Chapter 4).

Although the government’s ability to regulate the content of electronic media on the internet has been questioned, the federal government has used its licensing power to impose several regulations that can affect the political content of radio and TV broadcasts. The first of these is the equal time rule, under which broadcasters must provide candidates for the same political office equal opportunities to communicate their messages to the public. Under the terms of the Telecommunications Act, dur- ing the 45 days before an election, broadcasters are required to make time available to candidates at the lowest rate charged for that time slot.

The second regulation affecting the content of broadcasts is the right of rebuttal, which requires that individuals be given the opportunity to respond to personal attacks made on a radio or television broadcast. In the 1969 case of Red Lion Broad- casting Company v. Federal Communications Commission, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s determination that a radio station was required to provide a liberal author with an opportunity to respond to a conservative com- mentator’s attack that the station had aired.41

For many years, a third important federal regulation was the fairness doctrine. Under this doctrine, broadcasters who aired programs on controversial issues were required to provide time for opposing views. In 1987, however, the FCC revoked the fairness doctrine on the grounds that there were so many radio and television stations—to say nothing of newspapers and newsmagazines—that in all likelihood many different viewpoints were already being presented without each station’s being required to try to present all sides of an argument.

The rise of online media challenges our thinking about regulation of the media as it is more difficult—some say impossible—to regulate political content online. In 2011 the United Nations declared that access to the internet is a human right.42 While this came in response to threats by authoritarian governments against internet access, the UN’s position demonstrates the significance of information technology in modern life.

The Media WHAT DO WE WANT? The freedom of the press is essential to democratic government. Ordinary citizens

depend on the media to investigate wrongdoing, publicize and explain governmen-

tal policy, evaluate politicians, and bring to light matters that might otherwise be

known to only a handful of governmental insiders. In short, without free and active

media, democratic government would be virtually impossible. Citizens would have few

means through which to know or assess the government’s actions—other than the

claims or pronouncements of the government itself. Moreover, without active (indeed,

aggressive) media, citizens would be hard-pressed to make informed choices among


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competing candidates at the polls. That is one reason that the teenaged defenders of

net neutrality we discussed at the beginning of the chapter hoped to keep the internet

open as a source of information on public affairs.

Today’s media are not only adversarial but also increasingly partisan. Blogs, digital-

only news websites, social media, and others can be unabashedly partisan. To some

extent, increasing ideological and partisan stridency is an inevitable result of the

expansion and proliferation of news sources. When the news was dominated by

three networks and a handful of national papers, each sought to appeal to the entire

national audience. This required a moderate and balanced tone so that consumers

would not be offended and transfer their attention to a rival network or newspaper.

Today, there are so many news sources that few can aim for a broad-based national

audience. Instead, many target a partisan or ideological niche and aim to develop

a strong relationship with consumers in that audience segment by catering to their

biases and predispositions.

The rise of digital media has fundamentally changed how political information is

gathered and distributed. News today is participatory and involves citizens as well as

professional journalists. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia founded by Jimmy

Wales, has millions of pages compiled by legions of volunteers and provides relatively

unbiased content on virtually every political topic imaginable. Social media, Wikipedia,

and all Wiki-type sites involve people working collaboratively to write and create infor-

mation and transmit knowledge. Social media also enable citizens to express their

political opinions. (The “Who Participates?” feature on the facing page shows some

of the ways Americans participate in politics via social media.) Is such a system the

future of the news media?

The media can make or break reputations, help to launch or destroy political

careers, and build support for or rally opposition to programs and institutions.43 Wher-

ever there is so much power, at least the potential exists for its abuse or overly zealous

use. All things considered, free media are so critically important to the maintenance of

a democratic society that Americans must be prepared to take the risk that the media

will occasionally abuse their power. Governmental controls that would prevent the

media from misusing their power would also limit freedom. The ultimate beneficiaries

of free and active media are the American people.


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Civic Engagement in the Digital Age

SOURCE: American National Election Study 2016 time series, www.electionstudies.org (accessed 11/4/17).

In the last 12 months, did you send a message on Facebook or Twitter about political issues?







42% 30%


Income group


$20K – <$40K

$40K – <$75K



32% 35%






36% 33%





30% 36%


< High school

Some college

College graduate



37% 25%


Race / ethnicity




Hispanic /Latino


28% 25%


Percentage who said “yes” to this question

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Practice Quiz

1. Public broadcasting outlets that receive government funding through license fees, subsidies, or tax dollars (p. 180) a) are prohibited by the Constitution

from operating in the United States. b) account for less than 5 percent of

media market share in the United States.

c) account for nearly one-third of media market share in the United States.

d) account for approximately half of media market share in the United States.

e) account for more than two-thirds of media market share in the United States.

2. More than three-fourths of daily print newspapers are owned by (p. 181) a) large media conglomerates. b) the national government. c) small local companies. d) private individuals. e) the employees who run them.

3. Digital citizenship requires (p. 188) a) a subscription to one or more online

newspapers. b) high-speed internet access and the

technical and literacy skills to eval- uate and use information online.

c) high-speed internet access only. d) a social media account, such as

Facebook or Twitter. e) maintaining a political blog.

Be an Informed Consumer of Media


Gather information from a variety of news sources rather than relying on just one. You can set up a news aggregator with a variety of free downloadable apps, including Flipboard (www.�ipboard.com) and Feedly (www.feedly.com).

Check media watchdog organizations such as the Columbia Journalism Review (www.cjr.org), Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (www.fair.org), and Accuracy in Media (www.aim.org) for reports of media bias and censorship.

For information on the factual accuracy of what is said by political players, go to www.factcheck.org. For investigative journalism in the public interest, go to www.propublica.org. For reporting on the accuracy of news rumors, go to www.snopes.com.

200 STUDy GU IDe

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4. The fact that almost 90 percent of college graduates have home broad- band access but only 63 percent of high school graduates do is an example of (p. 188) a) the “college chasm.” b) the “online opening.” c) the “download disparity.” d) the “digital divide.” e) the “BA bump.”

5. Which of the following is not a reason that many Americans appear to prefer online news? (p. 190) a) the depth of the information

available online b) the diversity of online viewpoints c) the convenience of getting news

online d) the accuracy and objectivity com-

pared to traditional media outlets e) the up-to-the-minute currency of

the information available online

6. Media’s powers to bring public attention to a particular issue or problem is known as (p. 191) a) agenda-setting. b) framing. c) priming. d) adversarial journalism. e) selection bias.

7. Most leaks originate with (p. 191) a) low-level government whistle-

blowers. b) senior government officials, promi-

nent politicians, and political activists. c) members of the public who witness

misbehavior. d) ambassadors from foreign countries. e) members of the media.

8. Adversarial journalism refers to (p. 194) a) the recent shift in American society

away from general-purpose sources of information and toward narrowly focused niche sources.

b) an era in American history when political parties provided all of the financing for newspapers.

c) an aggressive form of journalism that attempts to expose and antag- onize the status quo.

d) a form of reporting in which the media adopt an accepting and friendly posture toward the government and public officials.

e) the process of preparing the public to take a particular view of an event or political actor.

9. In general, FCC regulations apply only to (p. 195) a) cable television. b) internet websites. c) over-the-air broadcast media. d) satellite radio. e) newspapers and magazines.

10. In Red Lion Broadcasting Company v. Federal Communications Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that a radio station (p. 197) a) could not legally charge Democratic

and republican gubernatorial candi- dates different prices for commer- cials aired at the same time of day.

b) could legally charge Democratic and republican gubernatorial candi- dates different prices for commer- cials aired at the same time of day.

c) was required to provide a liberal author with an opportunity to respond to a personal attack broadcast by one of the station’s conservative commentators.

d) was not required to provide a liberal author with an opportunity to respond to a personal attack broadcast by one of the station’s conservative commentators.

e) was not required to secure a license from the FCC if it accepted no money in grants or tax credits from the federal government.

11. The now-defunct requirement that broadcasters provide time for oppos- ing views when they air programs on controversial issues was called (p. 197) a) the equal time rule. b) the fairness doctrine. c) the right of rebuttal. d) the response rule. e) the free speech doctrine.


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Key Terms

agenda-setting (p. 191) the power of the media to bring public attention to particular issues and problems

broadcast media (p. 183) television, radio, or other media that transmit audio and/or video content to the public

citizen journalism (p. 189) news reported and distributed by citizens, rather than by professional journalists and for-profit news organizations

digital citizen (p. 188) a daily internet user with high-speed home internet access and the technology and literacy skills to go online for employment, news, politics, entertainment, commerce, and other activities

digital divide (p. 188) the gap in access to the internet among demographic groups based on education, income, age, geo- graphic location, and race/ethnicity

equal time rule (p. 197) the requirement that broadcasters provide candidates for the same political office equal opportu- nities to communicate their messages to the public

framing (p. 192) the power of the media to influence how events and issues are interpreted

media (p. 179) print and digital forms of communication, including television, news- papers, radio, and the internet, intended to convey information to large audiences

news aggregator (p. 186) an application or feed that collects web content such as

news headlines, blogs, podcasts, online videos, and more in one location for easy viewing

niche journalism (p. 188) news reporting devoted to a targeted portion (subset) of a journalism market sector or for a portion of readers or viewers based on content or ideological presentation

penny press (p. 186) cheap, tabloid-style newspaper produced in the nineteenth cen- tury, when mass production of inexpensive newspapers first became possible due to the steam-powered printing press; a penny press newspaper cost one cent compared with other papers, which cost more than five cents

priming (p. 192) process of preparing the public to take a particular view of an event or political actor

right of rebuttal (p. 197) a Federal Com- munications Commission regulation giving individuals the right to have the opportunity to respond to personal attacks made on a radio or television broadcast

selection bias (p. 192) the tendency to focus news coverage on only one aspect of an event or issue, avoiding coverage of other aspects

social media (p. 188) web-based and mobile-based technologies that are used to turn communication into interactive dialogue between organizations, communi- ties, and individuals; social media technolo- gies take on many different forms including blogs, Wikis, podcasts, pictures, video, Facebook, and Twitter

202 STUDy GU IDe

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Boydstun, Amber e. Making the News: Politics, the Media, and Agenda Setting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Campbell, richard, Christopher Martin, and Bettina Fabos. Media and Culture. New york: St. Martin’s Press, 2009.

Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New york: W. W. Norton, 2011.

Fenton, Tom. Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All. New york: HarperCollins, 2005.

Fox, richard, and Jennifer ramos. iPolitics: Citizens, Elections and Governing in the New Media Era. New york: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Graber, Doris, and Johanna Dunaway. Mass Media and American Politics, 9th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2014.

Iyengar, Shanto. Media Politics: A Citizen’s Guide, 3rd ed. New york: W. W. Norton, 2015.

Iyengar, Shanto, and Donald Kinder. News That Matters: Television and American Public Opinion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New york: New york University Press, 2008.

MacArthur, John. Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the 1991 Gulf War. Berkeley and los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004.

Spitzer, robert J., ed. Media and Public Policy. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993.

West, Darrell M. Air Wars: Television Advertising and Social Media in Election Campaigns, 1952–2016, 7th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2017.

For Further Reading


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070707 chapter

Political Parties, Participation, and Elections WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES AND WHY IT MATTERS Political parties play a variety of important roles in American democracy. They

mobilize people to participate in the political arena and to vote. They convey

information about what policies candidates support. And they are broader than

interest groups, which generally seek narrow policy objectives. Political parties

are capable of mobilizing many more voters to win control of government.

For all their important mobilizing and information conveying functions,

parties, like other aspects of government and politics, can seem far from

ordinary people. But ordinary people can have a big impact in political parties.

Early in 2009, before the term “Tea Party” was coined, Keli Carender was a

conservative blogger in Seattle. She became concerned that the stimulus

bill that Congress was considering to address the financial crisis and ensu-

ing recession was simply more of “big government” trampling on her “free-

dom and liberty.” After calls and emails to her congressional representative

were ignored, she organized a “Porkulus Protest” in Seattle without support

from any national organization. “I just got fed up and planned it. . . . I had

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Individuals can have profound effects on political parties. Keli Carender took her belief in limited government and her anger over excessive government spending and started the Tea Party movement, which has strongly influenced the direction of the Republican Party.

Political Parties, Participation, and Elections


120 people show up, which is amazing for the bluest of blue cities I live in,

and on only four days’ notice!! This was due to me spending the entire four

days calling and emailing every person, think tank, policy center, university

professors (that were sympathetic), etc. in town, and not stopping until

the day came.” She also contacted conservative author Michelle Malkin, who

publicized the rally on her blog. At a second rally later that month, twice

as many people showed up, in part because Carender had collected email

addresses at the first rally. Her advice to other would-be organizers: “Num-

ber one: just get it done. Do you need a permit? Find out and then just get

it. Do you want a guest speaker? Get on the phone and call anyone you can

think of and get them there. You will need to alert the media, so just get that

done. . . . Let people help you. Almost immediately I had two women email me

and say, what can I do? And boom, I had two other organizers to start helping

me with the next event.”1

Carender’s protests were among the first events in what became known as

the Tea Party movement, which gained steam when CNBC business analyst

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★ Explain the roles that parties play in American elections and government (pp. 207–10)

★ Describe the American party system and how it has changed over time (pp. 210–20)

★ Describe the major forms of traditional and digital participation in politics (pp. 220–27)

★ Examine the factors that influence voters’ decisions (pp. 227–29)

★ Explain the major rules, levels, and types of elections in the United States (pp. 229–32)

★ Analyze the strategies, issues, and outcomes of the 2016 and 2018 elections (pp. 232–36)

★ Describe how candidates raise the money they need to run (pp. 237–39)


Rick Santelli called for a “tea party” protest of the Obama administration’s

plans for addressing the Great Recession. Many political candidates associ-

ated with the Tea Party gained office beginning in the 2010 midterm elections,

and Donald Trump courted Tea Party supporters during his presidential cam-

paign in 2016. As we will see in this chapter, political parties and elections

are all about who controls the government; participation is about who gets

involved and why. Revolts against the political parties by rank-and-file mem-

bers occur very rarely in American history. But sometimes, parties are shaken

up by grassroots activity like Keli Carender’s. Her story, and others like it,

show that individuals can make a difference if they participate. The key is to

“just get it done.”


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Parties and Elections Have Been Vital to American Politics and Government

Political parties, like interest groups (see Chapter 8), are organized groups that seek influence over the govern­ ment. A party seeks to control the

entire government by electing its members to office. Interest groups, by comparison, don’t control the operation of government and its personnel but rather try to influ­ ence government policies, often through lobbying elected officials and campaign contributions.


Although the Founders did not envision the rise of political parties and George Washington was elected the nation’s first president without association with a politi cal party, parties quickly became a core feature of the American political sys­ tem. Historically, parties form in one of two ways. The first, which could be called “internal mobilization,” occurs when political conflicts prompt officials and compet­ ing factions within government to mobilize popular support. This is precisely what happened during the early years of the American Republic. Competition in Con­ gress between northeastern merchants and southern farmers led first the southerners and then the northeasterners to attempt to organize their supporters. The result was the foundation of America’s first national parties: the Jeffersonians, or Antifederal­ ists, whose primary base was in the South, and the Federalists, whose strength was greatest in the New England states.

The second way that parties form is called “external mobilization,” which takes place when a group of politicians outside government organizes popular support to win governmental power. For example, during the 1850s, a group of state politi­ cians who opposed slavery, especially the expansion of slavery in America’s territorial possessions, built what became the Republican Party by constructing party organi­ zations and mobilizing popular support in the Northeast and West.

America’s two major parties now, of course, are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Both trace their roots back over 150 years, and both have evolved over time. Since they were formed, the two major parties have undergone significant shifts in their policy positions and their membership. These changes have been prompted both by issues and events (economic change, the civil rights movement, immigration, etc.) and by demographic and social developments in the United States.

Political parties play an important role in elections. They recruit candidates to run for office, get their loyal party members out to vote, and work in a variety of ways to promote the causes and issues of the party. In earlier times the parties had near total control over the electoral process. In recent decades, however, they

Explain the roles that parties play in American elections and government


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have lost their monopoly to candidates who decide not to work within the party, to political action committees (PACs) that raise and distribute millions of dollars for candi­ dates, and to direct appeals through the media.


One of the most important party activities is the recruitment of candidates to run for office. Where they do not have an incumbent running for re­election, party leaders attempt to identify strong candidates and to interest them in entering the campaign.

An ideal candidate will have a strong leadership record and the capacity to raise enough money to mount a serious campaign. Party leaders are usually not willing to provide financial backing to candidates who are unable to raise substantial funds on their own. For a U.S. House seat, this can mean several hundred thousand dollars; for a Senate seat, a serious candidate must be able to raise several million dollars. Presidential candidates raise hundreds of millions of dollars, an amount that conti­ nues to rise with every election cycle.

Often, party leaders have difficulty finding attractive candidates and persuad­ ing them to run. Candidate recruitment has become particularly difficult in an era in which incumbents (candidates running for re­election to positions that they already hold) are hard to beat. Over 20 percent of races for the House of Rep­ resentatives, for example, are uncontested (meaning there is only one candidate from one party on the ballot) because challenging incumbents in the House and winning is so difficult. On average, incumbents in the House have more than double the money for their political campaigns than challengers, while Senate incumbents have on average 50 percent more. Other barriers to recruiting qual­ ity candidates include lengthy political campaigns that often involve mudsling­ ing, and the fact that candidates must assume that their personal lives will be intensely scrutinized on social media, in the press, and in negative campaign ads run by their opponents.2


Nomination is the process by which a party selects a single candidate to run for each elective office. The party nomination process varies from state to state and office to office, but it usually involves a primary election among multiple candidates from the same party. Voters in the primary election select just one candidate to go on to general election. Scholars have found that although the nomination process appears democratic in that average citizens have a say, party elites play an outsized role in selecting the candidates nominated by their party for president of the United States. In 2016, however, the Republican Party insiders had less control over the process; outsider businessman and reality­TV star Donald Trump secured the nomination despite the fact that many members of the party emphatically opposed him.


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The formal general election begins immediately after the nominations conclude. Throughout American history, the general election competition is a time of heightened partisanship, when popular support for the political parties is high. All the paraphernalia of party committees—from signs, bumper stickers, and buttons to social media slogans and YouTube ads—are on display, and all the committee members are activated into local party workforces.

The first step involves voter registration. Party workers collaborate with nonprofit organizations, local community groups, and other organizations to turn out the vote. The parties and candidate campaigns still mail notices, call voters, organize voter­registration drives on college campuses, and knock on doors to ensure citizens are registered.

The next step is turning out the vote: after all, it doesn’t matter which party has more support if that party’s voters stay home on Election Day. Convincing voters to actually show up and vote on Election Day is one of the hardest tasks that the parties face, as it usually involves getting individuals to go to the polls, stand in line, and vote for the party’s candidates. If they are voting by mail—one in three Americans now vote by absentee ballots or mail voting—voters still have to request the ballot, fill it out, and return it. Voter mobilization, once an art, has now become a science. Research has shown that face­to­face, in­person contacts are much more effective than mailings, robocalls, or TV advertising in mobilizing voters. Campaigns now organize large­scale voter­mobilization drives and field offices with hundreds of thousands of party workers and volunteers contacting millions of voters. In recent years, parties have developed extensive databases of

People are more likely to turn out to vote if someone asks them face to face. Direct mail and impersonal phone calls are less likely to have an effect on turnout.


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over 240 million potential adult voters. Modern political campaigns can predict who you will vote for and are extremely effective at turning out the voters who are most likely to vote for their candidates. One way campaigns use this data is through micro-targeting. Micro­targeting involves tailoring campaign messages to individuals in small, homogenous groups (e.g., suburban stay­at­home mothers or fans of NASCAR) and emphasizing specific issues, rather than a one­size­fits­all campaign message. This technique enables political parties to target candidates’ strategies and messages to these very specific groups.


Congress depends more on the party system than is generally recognized. For one thing, power in Congress is organized along party lines. The speakership of the House is essentially a party office because the Speaker is chosen by the majority party— that is, the party that holds the majority of seats in the House or Senate. (The other party is known as the minority party.) When the majority party presents a nominee to the entire House, its choice is usually ratified in a straight vote along party lines.

The committee system of both houses of Congress is also a product of the two­ party system; the party with the most seats chairs the congressional committees, setting the policy agenda. Each party is also assigned a quota of members for each committee, depending on the percentage of total seats held by the party. As we will see in Chapter 9, the assignment of individual members to committees is a party decision. Granting a member of Congress permission to transfer to another com­ mittee is also a party decision, as is advancement up the committee ladder toward serving as committee chair.

America Is One of the Few Nations with a Two-Party System

In his 1796 Farewell Address, Presi­ dent George Washington warned his countrymen to shun partisan politics. Nonetheless, a two-party system—a political system in which only two

parties have a realistic opportunity to compete effectively for control of the government—emerged early in the history of the new Republic. Beginning with the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans in the late 1780s, two major parties have dominated national politics, although which particular two parties they have been has changed with the times and issues.

However, the term party system refers to more than just the number of parties competing for power or the set of parties that are important at any given time. It also includes the organization of the parties, the balance of power between and within party coalitions, the parties’ social and institutional bases, and the issues and policies around which party competition is organized. Seen from this broader

Describe the American party system and how it has changed over time


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perspective, the character of a nation’s party system can change even if the number of parties remains the same and even when the same two parties seem to be competing for power. Today’s American party system is very different from the country’s party system of 100 years ago, but the Democrats and Republicans continue to be the two major competing forces. Over the course of American history, changes in political forces and alignments have produced six distinctive party systems (see Figure 7.1).

The First Party System: Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans The first party system emerged in the 1790s and pitted the Federalists, who favored a strong national government, against the Jeffersonian Republicans, or Antifederalists, who favored a weak national government and strong states. The Federalists were the establishment party at the time, and the Antifederalists were the outsiders. The Federalists represented New England merchants and supported a program of protec­ tive tariffs to encourage manufacturing, forgiving states’ Revolutionary War debts, the creation of a national bank, and commercial ties with Britain. The Jeffersonians, led by southern agricultural interests, opposed these policies and instead favored free trade, the promotion of agricultural over commercial interests, and friendship with France. Over the years the Federalists gradually weakened and disappeared alto­ gether, especially after the pro­British sympathies of some Federalist leaders during the War of 1812 led to charges of treason against the party.

From the collapse of the Federalists until the 1830s, America had only one politi­ cal party, the Jeffersonian Republicans, who gradually came to be known as the Democrats. This period of one­party politics had an absence of party competition. Throughout this period, however, there was intense factional conflict within the Democratic Party, particularly between the supporters and opponents of General Andrew Jackson, America’s great military hero of the War of 1812. Jackson was the first populist president with a wide base of mass support; he sought to give rank­ and­file members more say in party politics. Jackson’s opponents denied him the presidency in 1824, but Jackson won election in 1828 and again in 1832. Jackson’s base of support was in the South and the West, and he espoused a program of free trade and other policies that appealed to those regions. During the 1830s groups opposing Jackson united to form a new political force, the Whig Party, thus giving rise to the second American party system.

The Second Party System: Democrats and Whigs Both the Democrats and the Whigs built party organizations throughout the nation, and both sought to enlarge their bases of support by expanding the right to vote. They increased the number of eligible voters—though only white males—through the elimination of property restrictions and other barriers to voting. Support for the new Whig Party was stronger in the Northeast than in the South and West and among merchants than among small farmers. Hence, in some measure, the Whigs were the successors of the Federalists. Yet conflict between the two parties revolved more around per­ sonalities than policies. The Whigs were a diverse group, united more by opposition to the Democrats than by agreement on programs. In 1840 the Whigs won their first presidential election by nominating a military hero, General William Henry


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How the Party System Evolved During the nineteenth century, the Democrats and the Republicans emerged as the two dominant parties in American politics. As the American party system evolved, many third parties emerged, but few of them remained in existence for very long.

*Or in some cases, fourth parties; most of these parties lasted through only one term. **The Anti-Masonics had the distinction of being not only the first third party but also the first party to hold a national nominating convention and the first to announce a party platform.

1788 1790 1804 1808 1812 1816 1820 1824 1828 1832 1836 1840 1844 1848 1852 1856 1860 1864 1868 1872 1876 1880 1884 1888 1892 1896 1900 1904 1908 1912 1916 1920 1924 1928 1932 1936 1940 1944 1948 1952 1956 1960 1964 1968 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004 2008 2012 2016 2018

Jeffersonian Republicans (Democratic- Republicans)



Democrats National






Wallace’s American



National Unity Anderson’s

States’ Rights (Dixiecrats)



Free Soil

Greenback Labor

Union Labor

American Constitutional


Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive (Bull Moose)

Progressive Party

Perot’s United We Stand


Green Party Reform Party

Independent Party

Third Parties* and



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Harrison. The Whig campaign carefully avoided issues—since the party could agree on almost none—and emphasized the personal qualities and heroism of the can­ didate. The Whigs also invested heavily in campaign rallies and entertainment to win over voters. The 1840 campaign came to be called the “hard cider” campaign because of the practice of using food and especially drink to win votes.

During the late 1840s and early 1850s, conflicts over slavery produced sharp divisions within both the Whig and the Democratic parties. By 1856 the Whig Party had all but disintegrated under the strain, and many Whig politicians and voters, along with antislavery Democrats, joined the new Republican Party, which pledged to ban slavery from the western territories. In 1860 the Republicans nomi­ nated Abraham Lincoln for the presidency. Lincoln’s victory strengthened southern calls for secession from the Union and, soon thereafter, for all­out civil war.

The Civil War and Post–Civil War Party System: Republicans and Democrats During the course of the war, President Lincoln depended heavily on Republi­ can governors and state legislatures to raise troops, provide funding, and maintain popular support for a long and bloody military conflict. The secession of the South had stripped the Democratic Party of many of its leaders and supporters, but the Democrats remained politically competitive throughout the war and nearly won the 1864 presidential election against Republican Lincoln because of northern war weariness. With the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865, some Republicans sought to use Reconstruction to grant the vote to newly freed slaves in order to create a large pro­Republican voting bloc. This Reconstruction program failed in part because of violent resistance by southern whites. With the end of Reconstruction, the former Confederate states regained full membership in the Union and full control of their internal affairs. Throughout the South, African Americans were deprived of hard­won political rights, including the right to vote, despite post– Civil War constitutional guarantees to the contrary. The post–Civil War South was solidly Democratic in its political affiliation because of its resentment of Lincoln’s Republican Party, and with a firm southern base, the national Democratic Party was able to confront the Republicans on a more or less equal basis. From the end of the Civil War to the 1890s, the Republican Party remained the party of the North, with strong business and middle­class support, while the Democrats were the party of the South, with support also from northern working­class and immigrant groups.

The System of 1896: Republicans and Democrats During the 1890s profound and rapid social and economic changes led to the emergence of a variety of pro­ test parties, including the Populist Party, which appealed mainly to small farmers, western mining interests, and urban workers. In the 1892 presidential election, the Populist Party carried four states and elected governors in eight. In 1896 the Popu­ list Party effectively merged with the Democrats, who nominated William Jennings Bryan, a Democratic senator with pronounced Populist sympathies, for the presi­ dency. The Republicans nominated the conservative senator William McKinley. In the ensuing campaign, northern and midwestern businesses made an all­out effort


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to defeat what they saw as a radical threat from the Populist–Democratic alliance. By the time the dust settled, the Republicans had won a resounding victory and confined the Democrats to their smaller bases of support in the South and far West. For the next 36 years, the Republican Party was the nation’s majority party, carrying seven of nine presidential elections and controlling both houses of Congress in 15 of 18 contests. The Republican Party was pro business, advocating low taxes, high tariffs on imports, and a minimum of government regulation.

The New Deal Party System: Reversal of Fortune Soon after the Republican presidential candidate Herbert Hoover won the 1928 presidential election, the nation’s economy collapsed. The Great Depression, which produced unprecedented

Following the Civil War, the Republican Party remained dominant in the North. This poster supporting Republican Benjamin Harrison in the 1888 election promises protective tariffs and other policies that appealed to the industrial states in the North.


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economic hardship, stemmed from many causes; but from the perspective of millions of Americans, the Republican Party did not do enough to promote eco­ nomic recovery. In 1932, Americans elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and a solidly Democratic Congress. FDR developed a program for economic recov­ ery that he dubbed the “New Deal,” under which the size and reach of America’s national government increased substantially. The federal government took respon­ sibility for economic management and social welfare to an extent that was unprece­ dented in American history. FDR designed many of his programs specifically to expand the political base of the Democratic Party. He rebuilt and revitalized the party around a nucleus of unionized workers, upper­middle­class intellectuals and professionals, southern farmers, Jews, Catholics, and African Americans—the so­called New Deal coalition that made the Democrats the nation’s majority party for the next 36 years. Groping for a response to the New Deal, Republicans often wound up supporting popular New Deal programs such as Social Security in what was sometimes derided as “me­too” Republicanism. Even the relatively conserva­ tive administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s left the principal New Deal programs intact.

The New Deal coalition was severely strained during the 1960s by conflicts over civil rights and the Vietnam War. The struggle over civil rights divided northern Democrats who supported the civil rights cause from white southern Democrats who defended the system of racial segregation. The struggle over the Vietnam War further divided the Democrats, with upper­income liberal Democrats strongly opposing the Johnson administration’s decision to greatly expand the numbers of U.S. troops fighting in Southeast Asia. These schisms provided an opportunity for the Republicans’ “Grand Old Party,” or GOP, which returned to power in 1968 under the leadership of Richard Nixon.

The Contemporary American Party System Although the number of Americans identifying as Democrats remained higher than those identifying as Republicans in the 1960s and ’70s, the Republican Party widened its appeal in the second half of the twentieth century (see Figure 7.2). In 1964, for example, the conservative Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater argued in favor of substan­ tially reduced levels of taxation and spending, less government regulation of the economy, and the elimination of many federal social programs. Though Goldwater was defeated by Lyndon Johnson, his ideas continued to be major themes for the Republican Party. It took Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” to give the GOP the votes it needed to end Democratic control of national politics. Nixon appealed to disaffected white southerners, and with the help of the independent candidate and former Alabama governor George Wallace, he sparked the shift of voters that gave the Republican Party a strong position in all the states of the former Confederacy. During the 1980s, under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan, Republicans added two important groups to their coalition. The first were religious conser­ vatives, who were offended by Democratic support for abortion and gay rights and who felt the Democrats were not protecting traditional cultural and religious values. The second were working­class whites, who were drawn to Reagan’s tough


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approach to foreign policy and his positions against affirmative action. Many Republicans consider Reagan’s tenure in office as a “golden era” that saw deregula­ tion of many industries, reduced government intervention in the economy, and strong economic growth.

While Republicans built a political base around economic and social conserva­ tives and white southerners, the Democrats appealed strongly to Americans con­ cerned with inequality, abortion rights, gay rights, women’s rights, the environment, and other progressive social causes.

In 2008, Democrats won the presidency and maintained control of Congress for the first time since 1995. Democrat Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, united racial and ethnic minorities, the youth, and liberals with older white moderates in a powerful national coalition, winning popular


Trends in Party Identification, 1970–2017 Over time, the Democrats have lost strength as more Americans identified themselves as Republicans and independents. Since 2004, however, the number of Democrats has held steady and the number of Republicans has declined, while the number of Americans identifying as independent of either party has increased to an all-time high. Why do you think this is?

SOURCE: Pew Research Center, “Party Identification,” March 20, 2018, www.people-press.org/2018/03/20/party- identification-trends-1992-2017/ (accessed 5/15/18).








1970 1976 1982 1988 1994 2000 2006 2012 2018





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majorities in the 2008 and 2012 elections. Democrats lost control of the House in 2010, however, and the Senate in 2014. And in 2016 Republicans retained both chambers and Donald Trump captured the presidency in a tight race, signaling that sharp partisan differences and intense party conflict would continue to characterize American politics.


While party polarization, or the depth of divisions between Republicans and Demo crats, is at an all­time high, the divisions within each political party may be nearly as important. Political parties are diverse and represent many people with competing interests for power and influence. For leaders in Congress and state legislatures, keeping these different groups working toward shared goals can be difficult. And when this effort is not successful, a party’s internal divisions can weaken it.

The Republican Party today is divided in four ways. Pro­business conservatives are traditional Republicans, generally a relatively affluent group that supports small government and lower corporate taxes but also favors global free trade. Far­right conservatives tend to be social conservatives who are opposed to immigration and U.S. involvement in the global economy and institutions like the United Nations. Religious conservatives are primarily driven by their socially conservative values, such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage. Finally, libertarians believe in small government and reduced government regulations, and emphasize individual freedom.

The 2016 presidential election also revealed serious divides within the Demo­ cratic Party between its liberal wing (whose members supported Bernie Sanders) and traditional Democrats, who supported Hillary Clinton and who tend to be older and hold a mix of moderate and liberal values. Such divisions within the Party may have contributed to the Democrats losing the White House and Congress in 2016.


Transitions between party systems in American history are sometimes called electoral realignments, the points in history when a new party replaces the ruling party, becoming in turn the dominant political force. During these periods, the coalitions that support the parties and the balance of power between the parties are redefined. In historical terms, realignments occur when new issues, combined with economic or political crises, mobilize new voters and persuade large numbers of voters to per­ manently shift their support from one party to another.

There is general agreement that five realignments have occurred since the Founding. The first took place around 1790–1800, when the Jeffersonian Republicans defeated the Federalists and became dominant. The second realignment occurred in about 1828, when the Jacksonian Democrats took control of the White House and the Congress.


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In the third period of realignment, centered on the 1860 election, the newly founded Republican Party, led by Abraham Lincoln, won power and in the process destroyed the Whig Party. Many northern voters who had supported the Whigs or the Demo­ crats on the basis of their economic policies shifted their support to the Republicans as slavery replaced tariffs and economic concerns as the central issue on the nation’s polit­ ical agenda. Many southern Whigs shifted their support to the Democrats.

In the fourth realignment, the Republican candidate, William McKinley, empha­ sizing business, industry, and urban interests, defeated the Democrat, William Jennings Bryan, in 1896, who spoke for sectional interests, farmers, and miners. Republican dominance lasted until the fifth realignment, during the period 1932–36, when the Democrats, led by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, took control of the White House and Congress. Despite sporadic interruptions, the Democrats maintained control of both through the 1960s. Since that time, American party politics has been characterized primarily by party polarization and by divided government, wherein the presidency is controlled by one party while the other party controls one or both houses of Congress.

Major partisan realignments are rare in the United States, occurring on aver­ age about once every 50 years. There are frequent false alarms, when pundits describe elections as realignments and they turn out not to be. When realign­ ments do occur, it is often the result of new issues or societal problems, coupled with economic or political crises that weaken the established political elite and allow new groups of politicians to create coalitions capable of capturing the reins of governmental power. In the 2016 presidential election, significant factions of the Republican Party were in disagreement over Donald Trump’s candidacy, lead­ ing some observers to question whether the election was the beginning of a new party realignment. Many high­profile Republican politicians refused to support Trump, but in his first two years congressional Republicans have generally sup­ ported Trump’s agenda.


Although the United States has a two party–dominant system, the country has always had more than two parties. Typically, third parties in the United States (parties that organize to compete against the two major American political parties) have represented social and economic interests that, for one reason or another, were not given voice by the two major parties.3 Such parties often provide new ideas and even party realignment. The Populists, a party centered in the rural areas of the West and Midwest, and the Progressives, spokespeople for the urban middle classes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are the most important examples in the past 100 years. The most successful recent third­party candidate was H. Ross Perot, who ran in 1992 for president as an independent and in 1996 as the Reform Party’s nominee. Perot won the votes of almost one in five Americans in 1992. In the extremely close 2000 presidential election, third­party candidate Ralph Nader won just 3 percent of the popular vote; but that was enough to swing the election to


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Republican George W. Bush. Table 7.1 lists the top presidential candidates in 2016. Third­party candidates fared better in 2016 than in the last three presidential elec­ tions, leading some observers to suggest that third parties were one reason Clinton lost key battleground states and thus the election.

Although the Republican Party was the only American third party ever to make itself permanent (by replacing the Whigs), some third parties have enjoyed influence far beyond their electoral size. This was because large parts of their programs were adopted by one or both of the major parties, who sought to appeal to the voters mobilized by the new party to expand their own electoral strength. The Democratic Party, for example, became a great deal more liberal when it adopted most of the Pro­ gressive program early in the twentieth century. Many Socialists felt that FDR’s New Deal had adopted most of their party’s program, including old­age pensions, unem­ ployment compensation, an agricultural marketing program, and laws guaranteeing workers the right to organize into unions.

Some proponents of election reform argue that two major parties are not suf­ ficient to represent the varied interests of America’s 325 million people and that more political parties would improve representation. Many nations have proportional representation. Under this kind of system, many competing political parties field multiple candidates in each district and are awarded legislative seats in rough pro­ portion to the percentage of popular votes that each party wins. A party that wins, say, 20 percent of the popular vote receives roughly 20 percent of the seats in the parliament or other representative body. Unlike a plurality system, a party’s candi­ dates need not come in first to win seats.

In the United States, state ballot­access laws are often a major impediment for third parties, imposing barriers such as registration fees or petition require­ ments in which a certain number of voters must sign a petition for a third­party or


Parties and Candidates in 2016



Hillary Clinton Democratic 65,853,652 48%

Donald Trump Republican 62,985,134 46

Gary Johnson Libertarian 4,489,235 3

Jill Stein Green 1,457,226 1

Other candidates 1,186,153 0.9

*Preliminary counts as of December 1, 2016.

SOURCE: U.S. Election Atlas, “2016 Presidential General Election Results,” www.uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/ national.php?year=2016&minper=0&f=0&off=0&elect=0 (accessed 7/16/18).


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independent candidate to gain ballot access. States with lower access hurdles, such as Minnesota, have more third­party candidates. Supporters of the current two­ party system contend that it creates stability in governing and prevents the need for coalition government, where multiple small parties work together to form a majority to govern.


One reason parties are so important is that many voters develop party identification— an individual voter’s psychological ties to one party or another. Party identifica­ tion has been compared to wearing blue­ or red­tinted glasses; it colors voters’ understanding of politics in general and is the most important cue as to how to vote in elections. That is, most Republicans vote for Republican Party candi­ dates, and most Democrats vote for Democratic Party candidates. Although it is an emotional tie, party identification also has a rational component. Voters gene rally form attachments to parties that reflect their views and interests. Once those attachments are formed, however, they are likely to persist and even to be handed down to children, unless some very strong factors convince individuals that their party is no longer an appropriate object of their affections. Figure 7.3 indicates the relationship between party identification and a number of social characteristics.

Political Participation Takes Both Traditional and Digital Forms

Political participation refers to activ­ ities designed to influence govern­ ment, politics, and policy. These activities include traditional forms of par ticipation, such as voting and

volunteering, as well as newer online forms of participation.


Elections are the hallmark of political participation in a democracy. For most citi­ zens today, voting is the most common form of participation in politics. In addition to voting, citizens can give money to politicians or political organizations, volun­ teer in campaigns, contact political officials, sign petitions, attend public meetings, join organizations, display campaign signs and pins, write letters to the editor, pub­ lish articles, attend rallies, or lobby their representatives in Congress. They can also join interest groups (see Chapter 8). These other forms of political action generally require more time, effort, or money than voting.

Describe the major forms of traditional and digital participation in politics


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Digital political participation is rapidly changing the way Americans experience politics. The internet and social media give citizens greater access to political inform­ ation about candidates and campaigns, and a greater role in politics, than ever before. Many forms of online participation build on traditional forms of participation, but the internet makes many of these activities easier and gives them greater poten­ tial as community­building tools. Online participation in elections includes dis­ cussing issues or mobilizing supporters through email and social media, posting


Who Identifies with Which Party? Party identification varies by income, race, and gender. For example, as these statistics from 2016 show, Americans with higher incomes are more supportive of the Republican Party than are Americans with lower incomes. Women are significantly more likely than men to identify with the Democratic Party, whereas more men identify as independents.

NOTE: Percentages do not add to 100 because the category “Other/Don’t know” is omitted.

SOURCE: American National Election Study 2016 time series, www.electionstudies.org (accessed 11/4/17).

Income $75K+

Income $40–75K

Income $20–40K

Income <$20K


College graduate

Some college

High school diploma or less



Black, non-Hispanic

White, non-Hispanic

Age 65+

Age 50–64

Age 30–49

Age 18–29



Democrat Independent Republican

28% 40% 31%

39 34 27

35 41 24

34 41 25

34 34 32

34 37 29

28 37 35

73 23 4

34 39 27

46 39 16

35 39 26

31 39 30

31 34 35

44 33 24

40 40 20

38 39 23

32 37 31

32 35 34


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comments on blogs and online news stories, contributing money to candidates, visiting candidate and political party websites, creating and viewing online campaign ads, campaigning on social networking sites, and organizing face­to­face neighborhood meetings through social media.

Digital media’s effectiveness works through emotional appeals, immediacy, per­ sonal networks, and social pressure. Social connections are much more important in political participation than was previously understood. Research reveals that indi­ vidual factors such as income and education are imperfect predictors of turnout, but one’s social network is strongly predictive of political participation. When members of a social network indicate they have voted in an election or contributed to a candidate, for example, that can motivate others to do the same. Peer social pressure allows mem­ bers of a social network to model and mimic actions of other members of their group.4

Social media in particular has become a key networking tool for politics and a pre­ ferred platform of candidates and political organizations. Sixty­two percent of Ameri­ cans get news on social media.5 One in three social media users have encouraged others to vote, and roughly the same percentage have shared their own thoughts or comments on politics or government using social media.6 Social media is character­ ized by tiny acts of political participation—sharing, following a candidate or organi­ zation, liking a post, commenting—that can scale up to dramatic changes, leading to real world political protests, voter mobilization drives, and the election of candidates and parties to government.7 Small acts of political participation made possible by social media may give those uninterested in politics or who are rarely engaged a way of getting involved easily, which can than encourage them to do more.8

Politicians, too, make much use of social media. In 2016 every serious presiden­ tial candidate had a Facebook page and Twitter account, with millions of fans who received frequent updates from the campaigns and candidates. These fans, in turn, signaled to their “friends” which candidates they supported for elected office, mak­ ing politics part of everyday discussion. Donald Trump’s supporters receive emails from his organization, follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and turn out for rallies and campaign events. While Twitter is how Trump talks to the people, Facebook was how his campaign won the election. Based on a survey analysis of 65,000 registered voters and holding all other demographic factors constant, frequent social media users were more likely to vote for Trump than any other candidate in 2016.9

Unlike traditional social movements that gain momentum slowly over time, digi­ tal politics, and the use of social media especially, can create punctuated explosive bursts of collective action. For example, Bernie Sanders’s supporters relied heavily on Reddit to organize rallies and rock concerts during the 2016 presidential primaries on behalf of the Vermont senator.

An important question is whether online political participation influences offline participation, especially voting. A growing body of research finds that online activities such as reading digital news, commenting on blogs, and using email or social media for politics increases the likelihood of voting. Digital politics is associated with contributing to political campaigns, volunteering on behalf of candidates, and even contacting elec­ ted officials. Online participation is also linked with discussing politics with friends or family, developing an interest in politics in general, and being politically knowledgeable.


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Today, voting rights are granted to all American citizens aged 18 and older, although some states revoke this right from those who have committed a felony or are mentally impaired. Despite granting the right to vote, or suffrage, to women, racial minorities, and young adults, however, the percentage of eligible individuals who actually vote in America, or turnout, is low. Only 6 in 10 eligible Americans vote in presidential elections, and turnout for midterm elections (elections that fall between presidential elections) is typically lower, about one­third of eligible voters; for local elections, turnout is even lower10 (see Figure 7.4). Turnout in state and local races that do not


Voter Turnout in Presidential and Midterm Elections, 1892–2018 Since the 1890s, participation in elections has declined substantially. One pattern is consistent across time: more Americans tend to vote in presidential election years than in years when only congressional and local elections are held. What are some of the reasons that participation rose and fell during the last century?

*Percentage of voting-eligible population

SOURCES: Erik Austin and Jerome Clubb, Political Facts of the United States since 1789 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986); United States Election Project, www.electproject.org (accessed 11/9/18).

Presidential election

Midterm election

2000 2012 20241904 1916 1928 1940 1952 1964 1976 1988











After 1960, political parties grew weaker and less likely to mobilize voters. In the early 1970s, trust in federal government declined with the Watergate scandal.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, reforms such as requirements for voter registration discouraged voters from going to the polls.

During the New Deal era, politicians and unions mobilized urban immigrants to vote for the €rst time.



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coincide with national contests is typically much lower. In most European coun­ tries and other Western democracies, by contrast, national voter turnout is usually between 70 and 90 percent.11


Three factors organize our understanding of voting in elections: (1) a person’s social and demographic background and attitudes about politics, (2) the political environ­ ment in which elections take place and whether an election is contested among at least two political candidates, and (3) the state electoral laws that shape the political process.

Social Background Americans with higher levels of education, more income, and higher­level occupations—collectively, what social scientists call higher socioeco- nomic status—participate much more in politics than do those with less education and less income.12 Education level is the single most important factor in predicting whether an individual will vote or engage in most other kinds of participation. Unsurprisingly, income is an important factor when it comes to people making cam­ paign contributions. Those with money, time, and capacity to participate effectively in the political system are more likely to do so.13 Other individual characteristics also affect participation. For example, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos are less likely to participate than are whites, although when differences in education and income are taken into account, African Americans participate at similar levels to whites.14 Finally, young people are far less likely to participate in politics than are older people. Individuals with strong partisan ties to one of the major political par­ ties are more likely to vote than nonpartisans or independents.

The Political Environment, Mobilization, and Competition Political environments— defined by social networks, communities and neighborhoods, states, and region— matter a great deal in understanding individual political behavior. Whether or not people feel engaged or are recruited to participate in politics depends on their social setting—their friends and family, where they live, what associations they belong to. A critical aspect of political environments is whether people are mobilized—by parties, candidates, campaigns, interest groups, and social movements. A recent comprehen­ sive study of the decline in political participation in the United States found that half of the drop­off could be accounted for by reduced mobilization efforts—the process by which large numbers of people are organized for a political activity.15

An additional factor is whether elections are competitive—that is, whether there are at least two candidates actively contesting a position in government.16 Competi­ tive elections, and the campaign spending and mobilization efforts that go along with them, directly affect turnout rates.17 To be motivated to vote, individuals must be interested in the election and knowledgeable about the candidates. In competi­ tive elections, when candidates and political parties spend more effort and money to compete for an elected office, more information becomes available to voters in the form of media ads, news coverage, door­to­door campaigns, online campaigns, and


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more. Electoral competition reduces the cost to individuals of becoming informed, leading to higher turnout. Conversely, if elections are uncompetitive, or uncon­ tested, they generate little political infor­ mation. Limited exposure to competitive elections may be one reason for the lower levels of turnout recorded since the 1960s.

State Electoral Laws State electoral laws, which vary widely from state to state, create formal barriers to voting that can reduce participation. In most other democratic nations, where voting rates are higher, citizens are automatically registered to vote; but the United States generally requires a two­step process: registering to vote and then voting. (Thirteen states plus Washington, D.C., have adopted automatic voter registration, whereby eligible residents are automatically registered to vote.) Eighteen states and D.C. allow voters to register and cast a ballot on the same day, but most states require registration in advance of Election Day. Registration require­ ments particularly reduce voting by the young, those with low education, and those with low incomes because registration requires higher political involvement, planning, and effort than does the act of voting itself. Those with relatively little education may become interested in politics once the issues of a particular campaign become salient, but by then it may be too late for them to register, especially if they live in states that require registration up to a month before the election. And because young people tend to change residences more often than older people, registration requirements place a greater burden on them. (Information on registering to vote in your state is provided in the back of the book.)

In addition to registration, other election regulations have an impact on turnout. For example, in most other nations elections are held on weekends, when most peo­ ple are not working, or their election day is treated as a holiday. The United States holds elections during the work week. Many states maintain residency requirements that result in citizens’ losing their registration if they move their residences even short distances. Most states purge their voter­registration rolls of voters who fail to vote for a given period of time. America holds many different elections, often at staggered times throughout the year, such as primary elections and elections for local offices and school budget votes, rather than consolidating elections at a single time. A relatively recent barrier is a requirement that voters provide proof of iden­ tity. As of 2018, 34 states require all voters to show some form of ID before voting. Seven of these states require a photo ID, while another 10 request photo ID but may count the vote with nonphoto ID under some circumstances. In the remaining states, nonphoto forms of ID are acceptable.18 Voter ID laws in the states may dis­ proportionately reduce voter turnout of certain groups: racial minorities, the elderly, and the poor.19

Convenience voting, such as early voting and voting by mail, removes the need to stand in a potentially long line to cast a vote and may result in increased voter turnout.


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Voter Turnout in Comparison Over the past 20 years, voter turnout in U.S. national elections has hovered around 45 percent of the voting-age population. while the number is significantly higher in presidential elections than in midterm elections (in the 2018 midterm elections, turnout was roughly 49 percent),a voting rates in the United States still lag behind those in many other democratic countries.

why does voter turnout vary so much from country to country?

One explanation relates to the rules governing elections. In many democracies,

citizens are automatically registered to vote when they reach a certain age; in contrast, U.S. citizens generally must register themselves, reregister if they move, and, in many states, register a certain number of days before the election. Many countries hold their elections on a Sunday, send their ballots through the mail, or declare their election day a national holiday. Voting is also compulsory in many countries. Australia, for instance, charges a $20 fine (about US$16) unless a citizen can provide a good excuse for why she did not vote.b

aInternational Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Voter Turnout Database, www.idea.int/data-tools/ data/voter-turnout (accessed 4/12/18). bNicole Hasham, “Election 2016: Voter Turnout Lowest since Compulsory Voting Began in 1925,” The Sydney Morning Herald, August 8, 2016, www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/election-2016-voter-turnout-lowest-since-compulsory-voting-began-in -1925-20160808-gqnij2.html (accessed 4/12/18).

Compulsory voting

Weekend or holiday voting

Automatic or compulsory registration




United Kingdom



United States








SOURCES: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) voter turnout database, www.idea.int/vt/viewdata.cfm, and the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, www.aceproject.org/epic-en/ CDMap?question=VR008&f= (accessed 3/27/18).

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Some states have taken steps to make voting easier, such as same­day and auto­ matic registration discussed above. Additionally, some western states use an all­mail voting system, thus eliminating polling places altogether. Many states now offer early voting, which allows registered voters to cast a ballot at their regular polling place up to 40 days before the election.

Voters Decide Based on Party, Issues, and Candidate

Three key factors influence voters’ decisions at the polls: party loyalty, issue and policy concerns, and candidate characteristics. The promi­

nence of these three bases for electoral choice varies from contest to contest and voter to voter.


Partisan identification predisposes voters in favor of their party’s candidates and opposes those of the other party (see Figure 7.5). At the level of the presidential contest, issues and candidate personalities may become very important, although even here many Americans support presidential candidates primarily because of party loyalty. But partisanship is more likely to be a factor in the less visible races, where issues and the candidates are not as well known. State legislative races, for example, are often decided by voters’ party ties. Once formed, voters’ partisan loyalties seldom change. Voters tend to keep their party affiliations unless some crisis causes them to reexamine the bases for their loyalty and decide to support a different party, such as happened at the beginning of the New Deal era, between 1932 and 1936, when millions of former Republicans transferred their allegiance to FDR and the Democrats.

After the 1960s, many analysts expressed concern that American parties had become too weak to play their role in converting popular political participation into effective government. These scholars noted such trends as a decline in partisan attachment within the electorate, a growth in the number of voters identifying as independents, and a rise in so­called split­ticket voting. This overall trend, some­ times termed “dealignment,” was seen as a product of growing social diversity and educational attainment, which made voters less reliant on parties to guide their political decision­making. The growth of the mass media, particularly television, also seemed to reduce the role of parties in elections as television tends to focus on the personalities of individual candidates rather than the “institution” of the party. Today, party loyalties in America continue to be in a state of flux. On the one hand, the percentage of voters who declare no party loyalty remains at an all­time high.20 On the other hand, party identification among a large number of the most active voters has grown stronger.21

Examine the factors that influence voters’ decisions


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Issues and policy preferences are a second factor influencing voters’ choices at the polls. Voters may cast their ballots for the candidate whose position on economic issues they believe to be closest to their own or the candidate who has what they believe to be the best record on foreign policy or immigration. Issues are more important in some races than in others.

In 2016, for example, Donald Trump made curbing immigration and building a wall along the U.S.­Mexico border a key issue of the presidential campaign. Demo­ cratic candidate Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, supported comprehensive immi­ gration reform, including an easier path to full and equal citizenship and ending family detention. If candidates actually do “take issue” with one another—that is, articulate and publicize very different positions on important public questions—voters are more likely to be able to identify and act on whatever policy preferences they may have.

Voters’ issue choices usually involve a mix of their judgments about the past beha­ vior of competing parties and candidates and their hopes and fears about candidates’ future behavior. Political scientists call choices that focus on future behavior prospect- ive voting, whereas those based on past performance are called retrospective voting. Retrospective economic voting, in which voters evaluate candidates on the strength of the economy, has been found to be more important than prospective voting.


The Effect of Party Identification on the Vote, 2016 In 2016 about 90 percent of Democrats and Republicans supported their party’s presiden- tial candidate. Should candidates devote their resources to converting voters who identify with the opposition or to winning more support among independents? What factors might make it difficult for candidates to simultaneously pursue both courses of action?


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Candidates’ personal attributes always influence voters’ decisions. The important candidate characteristics that affect voters’ choices include race, ethnicity, religion, gender, geography, and social background. In general, voters may be proud to see someone of their ethnic, religious, or geographic background in a position of leadership, and they may presume that such candidates are likely to have views and perspectives close to their own. This is why, for many years, politicians sought to “balance the ticket,” making certain that their party’s ticket included members of as many important groups as possible.

Just as candidates’ personal characteristics may attract some voters, they may repel others. Many voters are prejudiced against candidates of certain ethnic, racial, or religious groups. And for many years voters were reluctant to support the candi­ dacies of women, although this appears to be slowly changing. Indeed, that the 2008 Democratic candidate was a black man, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate a Mormon, and the 2016 Democratic candidate a woman indicates the increasing diversity of candidates for public office.

Voters also pay attention to candidates’ personality characteristics, such as “deci­ siveness,” “honesty,” and “vigor.” In recent years integrity has become a key election issue. In the 2016 presidential election, many Americans questioned the trustwor­ thiness of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Nonetheless, Trump supporters saw their candidate as unafraid to speak his mind. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, admired her ambition, toughness, and discipline.

The Electoral Process Has Many Levels and Rules

Three types of elections are held in the United States: primary elections, general elections, and initiative and referendum elections; the last are where proposed laws are placed on the ballot for a popular vote.

Primary elections are elections within a political party to select each party’s candi­ dates for the general election. In the case of local and statewide offices, the winners of primary elections face one another as their parties’ nominees in the general election. At the presidential level, however, primary elections are indirect because they are used to select state delegates to the national conventions, at which the major party presi dential candidates are chosen. The United States is one of the few nations in the world to use primary elections. In most countries, nominations are controlled by party officials. The primary system was introduced at the turn of the twentieth century by Progressive reformers who hoped to weaken the power of party leaders; the introduction of primary elections for the first time enabled voters, rather than party elites, to pick the candidates to compete in the general election.

Explain the major rules, levels, and types of elections in the United States


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Under the laws of most states, only registered members of a political party may vote in a primary election to select that party’s candidates. This is called a closed primary. Other states allow all registered voters to choose on the day of the primary in which party’s primary they will participate. This is called an open primary. In nominating presidential candidates, though most states hold primary elections, about one­third use caucuses instead, which are essentially party business meetings held to select candidates.

The primary is followed by the general election, a regularly scheduled election involving most districts in the nation or state, in which voters decide who wins office; in the United States, general elections for national office and most state and local offices are held on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November in even­numbered years (every four years for presidential elections).

Beyond presidential and congressional elections, 24 states also provide for the initiative process. Ballot initiatives allow citizens to circulate petitions to place policy change or proposed laws directly on the ballot for a popular vote. If a ballot measure receives majority support, it becomes law. In recent years voters in several states have voted to raise taxes on the wealthy, prohibit social services for undocumented immigrants, end affirmative action, provide universal health care, create nonpartisan redistricting, protect open space and the environment, and prevent offshore drilling. At the turn of the twentieth century, ballot initiatives were used to grant women suffrage (the right to vote), prevent child labor, limit the workday to eight hours, adopt progressive taxes, and allow voters to elect U.S. senators directly (rather than having them chosen by state legislatures).

Voters often turn out in higher numbers when there are controversial initiatives on the ballot. In 2016, Californians voted on a total of 18 ballot measures, including whether to legalize recreational marijuana, which ultimately passed.


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All 50 states have the legislative referendum, in which the state legislature refers certain laws to the voters for a popular vote. Ballot measure campaigns often involve high spending by proponents and opponents and mass media campaigns that can rival those of congressional and presidential candidates within a state.

The general referendum and initiative are called direct democracy because they allow voters to govern directly without intervention by government officials or the political parties. The validity of ballot measure results, however, is subject to judicial action. If a court finds that an initiative violates the state or national constitution, it can overturn the result. This happened in the case of a 1995 California initiative curtailing social services to undocumented aliens and again in 2012 when the federal courts overturned California’s Proposition 8 banning same­sex marriage.22 Hundreds of initiatives and referenda appear on state elec­ tion ballots every two years.

Eighteen states also have legal provisions for recall elections, which allow voters to remove governors and other state officials from office prior to the expiration of their terms. Generally, a recall effort begins with a petition campaign. In California, for example, if 12 percent of those who voted in the last general election sign petitions demanding a special recall election, one must be held. In 2003 many California voters blamed Governor Gray Davis for the state’s $38­billion budget deficit, and he was turned out of office in a recall election. Federal officials, such as the president and members of Congress, are not subject to recall.


In the early history of popular voting, nations often made use of indirect elections. In these elections, voters would choose the members of an intermediate body. These members would, in turn, select public officials. The assumption underlying such pro­ cesses was that ordinary citizens were not really qualified to choose their leaders and could not be trusted to do so directly. The last vestige of this procedure in America is the electoral college, the group of electors who formally select the president and vice president of the United States.

When Americans go to the polls on Election Day, they are technically not voting directly for presidential candidates, even though they mark ballots as such; they are instead choosing among slates of electors selected by each state’s party and pledged, if elected, to support that party’s presidential candidate. Electors are allocated to each state based on the size of the state’s congressional delegation (senators and House members); larger­population states thus have more votes in the electoral college. North Dakota, for example, has 3 votes in the electoral college (based on its 2 senators plus 1 representative), while California has 55 (2 senators plus 53 representatives).

The presidential candidate who receives a majority of the electoral college’s 538 votes (a majority is 270) becomes president—not necessarily the candidate with the most votes from the people. This is in part because the electoral college and most elections in the United States are governed by plurality, or winner­take­all, rules. With only two exceptions, each state awards all of its electors to the candidate who


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receives the most votes in the state.23 Thus, Trump received all 29 of Florida’s elec­ toral votes, though he won only 49 percent of the votes in the state.

Only four times in the nation’s history has the winner in the electoral college not won the popular vote. Since electoral votes are won on a state­by­state basis, it is mathematically possible for a candidate who receives a nationwide popular plurality to fail to carry states whose electoral votes would add up to a majority. Thus, in 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes was the winner in the electoral college despite receiving fewer popular votes than his rival, Samuel Tilden. In 1888, Grover Cleveland received more popular votes than Benjamin Harrison but fewer electoral votes, so Harrison was elected. In 2000 a lengthy legal battle over recounting votes in Florida ultimately ended with the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore that handed George W. Bush the presidency.24 But while Bush had won a majority in the electoral college, Democratic candidate Al Gore had won more votes nationwide. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won almost 3 million more votes, but Donald Trump won in the electoral college. These controversial elections generated new calls for electoral reform.

The 2016 and 2018 Elections In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton faced Republican Donald Trump in a dramatic and bitterly fought presiden­ tial race. Despite media predictions of Democratic success, Trump won a sur­

prise victory with a majority of votes in the electoral college, though Clinton won the popular vote, receiving 2.9 million more votes than Trump. The GOP also retained control of both houses of Congress. In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats won control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010. Republicans, however, were able to expand their majority in the U.S. Senate.


After closely contested and often rancorous nomination battles, former first lady, senator, and secretary of state Hillary Clinton and real estate mogul, reality TV star, and first­time candidate Donald Trump faced one another in the general election. Clinton seemed to possess several advantages, especially her experience in public office and the Democrats’ seeming advantage in the electoral college. Based on voting patterns in recent elections, states with a total of roughly 217 electoral votes were considered “blue states,” either safely Democratic or favorable to the Democrats. States with another 32 electoral votes leaned toward the Democrats, potentially putting the Democratic candidate within 21 of the 270 votes needed to win. The Republicans, by contrast, could generally only count on around 191 electoral votes from reliably “red” states. Democratic candidates, moreover, usually receive sup­ port from the most rapidly growing segments of the electorate—namely, minority voters—along with women and young people.

Analyze the strategies, issues, and outcomes of the 2016 and 2018 elections


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The Trump campaign was confident it could overcome the Democrats’ advantages. Trump believed his appeal to blue­collar white voters, especially men, would make him competitive in Democratic strongholds in Midwestern states. He also calculated that he would increase Republican support among white voters sufficiently to offset the Democratic edge among nonwhite voters. Moreover, Trump hoped that his pro­ vocative style would continue to encourage extensive free media coverage, offsetting Clinton’s fund­raising advantage and ability to spend freely on paid campaign ads.

Gender played a significant, though ultimately not decisive, role in 2016. Not only did this election see the first female presidential candidate representing a major party, but gender issues were also headline news throughout much of the election. Donald Trump made comments about women that many people deemed offensive and similar past comments of his were unearthed. The Trump campaign countered that Clinton’s husband had also treated women inappropriately. Nonetheless, by November, exit polls showed a gender gap of 13 percentage points, with 54 percent of women supporting Clinton compared with 41 percent of men.

The media played an outsized role in 2016. In the general election, Trump received more than double Clinton’s free media attention.25 He excelled on the cam­ paign trail, tweeting his daily campaign messages and effectively writing his own headline news. At the same time, some people, including Trump himself, believed that the news media’s political bias favored Clinton. Trump began declaring that the mainstream media published and broadcast “fake news” and should be ignored.

Lastly, money mattered—and it didn’t. Clinton raised and spent twice as much as the Trump campaign and had superior organization, with more field offices than Trump in almost every state. However, Trump’s enormous free media coverage (estimated to be worth as much as $2 billion) more than offset Clinton’s financial edge. Almost every morning, a new and ever more outrageous Trump tweet or Facebook post would dominate the news, leaving little space for Clinton to set the media agenda.


In the end, the 2016 presidential election was a historic upset in which the national media and the polling forecasts were mistaken. Many Americans who had been following the opinion polls and media analyses before the election were stunned by Trump’s surprise win and by the Republicans’ success in retaining control of both houses of Congress. Trump’s unexpected success in the northern industrial states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—all of which had gone to Obama in 2012—ultimately tipped the balance, leading to his victory in the electoral college (see Figure 7.6). For only the fourth time in U.S. history, the candidate who won a majority in the electoral college did not win the popular vote. Republicans also retained control of both houses of Congress as well as a majority of the state legislatures.

Russian Hackers Meddled in the 2016 Elections Soon after the conclusion of the campaign, Democrats charged that Trump had been helped by Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton emails and “trolls” mounting

233THE 2016 AND 2018 ELECT IONS

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Distribution of Electoral Votes in the 2016 Election NOTE: Maine and Nebraska allocate electoral college votes by congressional district. Donald Trump won one of Maine’s four electoral votes.

SOURCE: “Presidential Election Results: Donald J. Trump Wins,” New York Times, www.nytimes.com/elections/ results/president (accessed 11/18/16).

CA 55

CT 7

NJ 14

RI 4

NY 29

VT 3

NH 4

WA 12

MI 16

OH 18

VA 13

WV 5

MN 10

IA 6

OR 7

MD 10

MA 11

ME 4

HI 4

IL 20

IN 11

WI 10

NM 5

AZ 11

NC 15

AK 3

CO 9

ID 4

UT 6

MT 3

WY 3

ND 3

SD 3

TN 11

NE 5

OK 7

TX 38

SC 9

NV 6

FL 29

AL 9

LA 8

GA 16

AR 6

KY 8

KS 6

MO 10

MS 6

PA 20

DC 3

DE 3

For Trump/Pence (R)For Clinton/Kaine (D)

a social media campaign aimed at defeating Clinton. Multiple reports from the national intelligence agencies confirmed the Russian government did seek to inter­ vene in the 2016 election. For example, in October 2018, Twitter released millions of tweets from some 3,400 accounts linked to a Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency run by the Kremlin.26 At this agency, approximately 1,000 Russian agents, working 24 hours a day spent more than a million dollars a week creating thousands of social media accounts impersonating Americans. These agents also purchased thousands of political ads promoting their posts on Facebook and other platforms. Russian groups also organized campaign rallies in the United States on behalf of Donald Trump and sought to discredit Hillary Clinton, portraying her as a criminal and untrustworthy.

The fact that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election raised questions about whether the Trump campaign had knowledge of Russian efforts or in any way worked with the Russians. To answer these questions, a probe led by Special


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Counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller was launched in May 2017. As a result of the Mueller probe, a half dozen Trump campaign officials have been indicted for various federal crimes and violations of campaign laws. President Trump has vehemently denied allegations of impropriety and denounced the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt” organized by his political foes. At the time of this writing the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russian govern­ ment remains unclear.


The 2018 election, more than most midterm contests, revolved around the president. Trump’s outsized personality and frequent inflammatory rhetoric inspired anger on the part of some voters and fierce loyalty on the part of others. Between 2016 and 2018, across the nation, hundreds of thousands of Democrats who had never previously been much involved in politics, especially women and young people, entered the political arena to oppose Donald Trump. These Democrats engaged in political activity by signing petitions, attending rallies and protests, and contact­ ing public officials. In addition, an unusually large number of women launched campaigns for national and state office. These women saw the GOP, and President Trump in particular, as insufficiently attentive to issues of sexual harassment. This view was underscored by Republican support for Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court despite allegations of sexual assault made against him.

While Democrats mobilized their blue wave, the Republicans also planned their campaigns. President Trump made the Kavanaugh fight along with such other hot­button issues as Trump’s deter­ mination to stop a caravan of Central American immigrants from crossing the U.S. border, major themes as he crisscrossed the country speaking to large and usually raucous Republican rallies. In 2016, Trump had promised to build a wall on America’s south­ ern border to hold back immigrants. That wall was never built, but now President Trump was attempting to build a red wall around GOP strong­ holds to hold back the Democrats’ blue wave.

The Outcome On November 6, 2018, the blue wave crashed against Trump’s red wall with mixed results. Demo­ crats won control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 2010, Republicans expanded their

After the 2018 elections there will be a record number of female members of Congress, most of them Democrats. Here, Sharice Davids (left) celebrates after ousting Republican Kevin Yoder. With this victory, Davids became Kansas’ first openly gay member of Congress and the first Native American woman elected to Congress. (She shares the latter distinction with New Mexico’s Deb Haaland, another Native American Democrat elected to Congress in 2018.)

235THE 2016 AND 2018 ELECT IONS

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majority in the Senate, and Democrats defeated Republican incumbents in seven governor’s races.27 The 2018 elections saw 49 percent voter turnout—the highest level since 1966 and a strong increase over recent midterm elections. Youth voter turnout, which is historically very hard to increase, soared by 10 percentage points to 31 percent of voters aged 18–29. Women were critical to Democratic victo­ ries. Women made up more than half the 2018 electorate and supported Demo­ cratic candidates by margins of as much as 20 percentage points. The new 116th Congress would include over 100 women in the House and more than 20 in the Senate, an all­time record. In the Senate, two seats previously held by Republicans went to the Democrats, but the GOP won other critical races and extended their control over the chamber.


The mixed results of the 2018 election were something of a disappointment to Demo­ crats who thought they would hand President Trump a crushing defeat. As Demo­ crats had hoped, however, voter turnout increased sharply in 2018. Some 114 million Americans or 49 percent of the nation’s eligible voters participated. In the last midterm election in 2014, voter turnout was only 36 percent. A majority of the nation’s voters, according to exit polls, saw the election as a referendum on President Trump’s perfor­ mance in office. Given Trump’s low levels of public approval, this should have helped the Democrats and, indeed, many more voters said they cast their votes to oppose Trump than voted to support him. On a national basis, Democrats received a clear majority of the votes cast in congressional elections, approximately 5 million more than were cast for Republicans.

Despite losses in the Senate, taking control of the House of Representatives was an important achievement. With control of the House, Democrats are in a position to block Trump’s legislative efforts and to conduct investigations into the president’s conduct as well as the activities of Trump appointees in the execu­ tive branch. The president will almost certainly feel compelled to rely ever more heavily on executive orders and other forms of executive action that bypass the Congress. With the Senate firmly in Republican hands, Trump will continue to use his appointment powers to reshape the bureaucracy and the courts. The stage seems set for two more years of the partisan struggle that characterizes American democratic politics.

The 2018 elections also made clear that if the Republican Party is to remain competitive nationally it must develop a message that appeals to voters outside its current base of older white men in America’s small towns and rural areas. The Democrats have built a coalition that includes women, minorities, and young people. It is no accident that the first Muslim and Native American women elected to Congress along with the first openly gay governor are all Democrats. The Demo­ cratic electorate is growing while the GOP’s base represents a shrinking percentage of the national electorate and even of the electorate in rapidly growing red states like Texas where as formidable a Republican politician as Senator Ted Cruz had to scramble to avoid defeat. If the Republican Party cannot find a way to expand its constituency, 2018 may be the last time the red wall can hold back the blue wave.


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Money Is Critical to Campaigns Modern national political campaigns are fueled by enormous amounts of money. The 2016 election shat­ tered previous records for campaign

spending. Combined spending by candidates, parties, and interest groups on the congressional and presidential races was $6.5 billion in 2016 compared with $6.2 billion in 2012 and $5.3 billion in 2008. Of the $6.5 billion, $4.3 billion was spent on congressional races and $2.6 billion on the presidential race.


According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the $6.5 billion spent in 2016 included money from leadership PACs, Super PACs, and 501(c)(4) “dark money” groups (who can shield donor identities). The two presidential candidates raised $1.3 billion combined, including about $500 million by Hillary Clinton’s cam­ paign and $190 million from outside groups supporting her. Donald Trump raised only about $250 million with another $59 million from outside groups.28

Individual Donors Politicians spend a great deal of time asking people for money. Money is solicited via direct mail, through the internet, over the phone, and in numerous face­to­face meetings. Under federal law, individuals may donate as much as $2,700 per candidate per election, $5,000 per PAC per calendar year, $33,400 per national party committee per calendar year, and $10,000 to state and local com­ mittees per calendar year. There is no limit on the number of candidates that an individual can give to, however.29

Political Action Committees PACs are organizations established by corporations, labor unions, or interest groups to channel the contributions of their members and employees into political campaigns. Under the terms of the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act, which governs campaign finance in the United States, PACs are permitted to make larger contributions to any given candidate than individuals are allowed to make. Moreover, allied or related PACs often coordinate their campaign contributions, greatly increasing the amount of money a candidate actually receives from the same interest group. More than 4,600 PACs are registered with the Federal Election Commission, which oversees campaign finance practices in the United States. Nearly two­thirds of all PACs represent corporations, trade associations, and other business and professional groups. Alliances of bankers, lawyers, doctors, and merchants all sponsor PACs.

Outside Spending—Super PACs and Dark Money 527 committees (Super PACs) and 501(c)(4)s (dark money) are independent groups that are not covered by the campaign­spending restrictions imposed in 2002 by the Bipartisan Campaign

Describe how candidates raise the money they need to run


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Reform Act, but now raise much of the money used for political campaigns. These groups, named for the sections of the tax code under which they are organized, can raise and spend unlimited amounts so long as their efforts are not coordinated with those of any candidate’s campaign. As a result, each presi­ dential campaign raises millions from sympathetic outside groups. A 527 is a group established specifically for the purpose of political advocacy and is required to report to the IRS. A 501(c)(4) is a nonprofit group that also engages in campaign advocacy but may not spend more than half its revenues for political purposes. Unlike a 527, a 501(c)(4) is not required to disclose where it gets its funds or exactly what it does with them. As a result, its funding has earned the name “dark money” and has raised growing concern that the lack of transparency in campaign funding threatens fair elections. Indeed, it has become a common practice for wealthy and corporate donors, as well as foreigners, to route cam­ paign contributions through 501(c)(4)s to avoid the legal limits on contributions through other channels.

Super PACs came about after the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that the government could not restrict inde­ pendent expenditures by corporations or unions to political campaigns. Following that decision, SpeechNow v. FEC permitted individuals and organizations to form committees that could raise unlimited amounts of money to run advertising for and against candidates so long as their efforts were not coordinated with those of the candidates.30

In 2014 the Supreme Court removed additional limits on individuals’ campaign contributions in its decision in McCutcheon et al. v. Federal Election Commission.31 Outside spending via 527s and 501(c)(4)s played an unprecedented role in the 2012 and 2016 presidential races as groups ran extensive television ads. Super PACs on both sides relied on very large contributions. In 2016, Super PACs supporting candidates’ campaigns spent a total of $594 million. A growing concern is that elections in the United States can be bought with big money from corpo­ rations and wealthy donors, who will then hold significant influence when that candidate is elected.

Public Funding The Federal Election Campaign Act also provides for public funding of presidential campaigns. As they seek a major­party presidential nomi­ nation, candidates become eligible for public funds by raising at least $5,000 in individual contributions of $250 or less in each of 20 states. Candidates who reach this threshold may apply for federal funds to match, on a dollar­for­dollar basis, all individual contributions of $250 or less that they receive. In 2016 candidates who accepted matching funds could spend no more than $48.7 million, includ­ ing matching funds, in their presidential primary campaigns. The funds are drawn from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. Taxpayers can contribute $3 to this fund, at no additional cost to themselves, by checking a box on the first page of their federal income tax returns. Major­party presidential candidates receive a lump sum (about $96 million in 2016, although neither Clinton nor Trump accepted this money) during the summer prior to the general election, and they must meet


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all their general expenses from this money. Third­party candidates are eligible for public funding only if they received at least 5 percent of the vote in the previous presidential race.

Under current law, no candidate is required to accept public funding for either the nominating races or the general presidential election. Candidates who do not accept public funding are not bound by any expenditure limits. In 2008, John McCain accepted public funding for the general­election campaign, receiving $84 million, but Barack Obama declined, choosing to rely on his own fund­raising prowess. Obama ultimately outspent McCain by a wide margin. The 2008 race was the last time that major­party presidential candidates limited their own fund­raising in favor of public funding. Neither major party candidate accepted public funding in 2012 or 2016.

The Candidates Themselves On the basis of the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, the right of individuals to spend their own money to campaign for office is a constitutionally protected matter of free speech and is not subject to limitation.32 Thus, extremely wealthy candidates often contribute millions of dollars to their own campaigns. The only exception to the Buckley rule concerns presidential candidates who accept federal funding for their general­election campaigns. Such individuals are limited to $50,000 in personal spending.

In 2014, Shaun McCutcheon successfully challenged the federal limit on the amount of money any one individual can donate to political campaigns and candidates. Many people worry that recent Supreme Court decisions overturning campaign spending limits reinforce the influence of the very affluent in American politics at the expense of everyone else.


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Political Parties, Elections, and Participation WHAT DO WE WANT? while party leaders exercise great control over party platforms, the party message,

candidate funding, who holds elected office, and who wins the nomination for presi-

dent, many aspects of party politics have been turned upside-down with the digital

revolution in communication and by “outsider” candidates running for president who

have exploited digital platforms to advance their campaigns. Four resources that

political parties use to contest and win elections (time, money, expertise, and

organization) have all been altered by the internet. New media are decentralizing party

power as citizens like Keli Carender (described at the beginning of this chapter) can

volunteer, communicate, and give money to the party of their choice or even start their

own group without ever being contacted by a party official. Online fund-raising allows

millions of donors to give small contributions to parties, and new media allow the party

to spread its message far and wide online. This is beneficial for parties because more

people are involved, but there are more divergent opinions that must be recognized

and appeased. At the same time, huge contributions from a handful of very wealthy

individuals have increased. will the ability of the mass public to make their desires

known to party leaders mean that party leaders pay more attention to these prefer-

ences? Is the two-party system the optimal system for American politics, or should

electoral reforms encourage more parties to form and, hence, provide more choice

for voters?

The important role played by private funds in American elections affects the bal-

ance of power among contending economic groups. Politicians need large amounts of

money to campaign successfully for major offices. This fact inevitably ties their inter-

ests to the interests of the groups and forces that can provide this money: the affluent.

In a nation as large and diverse as the United States, to be sure, campaign contribu-

tors represent many different groups and, often, clashing interests. The fact remains,

however, that those with more money will be able to give more and speak with a louder

voice. Since 2000 a series of highly competitive presidential elections has spurred

political campaigns to pay more attention to drawing greater numbers of voters from

a variety of backgrounds into the political process; even so, many Americans still do

not participate in politics. The “Who Participates?” feature shows who participated in

the 2016 election.


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14.3% 11.0% 12.2% 13.3% Displayed a campaign button, lawn sign, or bumper sticker

Gave money to a candidate, party, or other group

Talked about voting for or against a candidate or party

Went to political meetings, rallies, or speeches


Percentage of each age group who…

SOURCE: American National Election Study, 2016 Time Series, www.electionstudies.org (accessed 12/20/17).

18–24 45–6425–44 65+Age group

46.2% 45.3% 52.6% 54.4%

10.8% 20.1%7.1%6.7%

70.4% 88.6% 93.9%82.3%

8.0%9.4% 6.3% 6.3%

Who Participated in the 2016 Presidential Election?



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Practice Quiz

1. A political party is different from an interest group in that a political party (p. 207) a) seeks to control the government

by nominating candidates and electing its members to office.

b) is constitutionally exempt from taxation.

c) is entirely nonprofit. d) has a much larger membership. e) has a much smaller membership.

2. which party was formed in the 1830s in opposition to Andrew Jackson’s presidency? (p. 211) a) American Independent b) Federalist c) Jacksonian Republican

d) Democratic e) whig

3. The so-called New Deal coalition was severely strained (p. 215) a) during the 1860s by conflicts over

slavery and southern secession. b) during the 1890s by conflicts over

the gold standard. c) during the 1930s by conflicts

over the Great Depression and America’s involvement in world war II.

d) during the 1960s by conflicts over civil rights and the Vietnam war.

e) during the 1990s by conflicts over abortion and affirmative action.

In most states you can register to vote using the National Mail Voter Registration Form found at www.eac.gov. The Election Assistance Commission website also includes various tips about registering and voting.

Many states allow online registration. Go to www.ncsl.org and search "online voter registration" to �nd a list of these states with links to their websites.

Register to Vote

Find out when you need to register in order to vote in the next election. Visit www.usa.gov/register-to-vote for a list of registration deadlines.

If you’ve moved to attend college or for another reason, you can register with your new address.



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4. The periodic episodes in American history in which an “old” dominant political party is replaced by a “new” dominant political party are called (p. 217) a) constitutional revolutions. b) divided governments. c) unified governments. d) dealignments. e) electoral realignments.

5. In a __________ electoral system, political parties are awarded legislat- ive seats in rough approximation to the percentage of popular votes that each party wins. (p. 219) a) plurality b) proportional representation c) split-ticket d) straight-ticket e) open primary

6. which of the following factors is not currently an obstacle to voting in the United States? (p. 225) a) registration requirements b) that elections occur on weekdays c) the restriction of voting rights for

people who have committed a felony d) literacy tests e) voter identification laws

7. An open primary is a primary election in which (p. 230) a) one’s vote is made public. b) only registered members of the

party may vote. c) all registered voters are allowed to

choose on the day of the primary which party’s primary they will participate in.

d) there are no limits on campaign spending.

e) only superdelegates are allowed to vote.

8. If a state has 10 members in the U.S. House of Representatives, how many votes in the electoral college does that state have? (p. 231) a) 2 b) 10 c) 12 d) 20 e) The number of votes cannot be

determined from this information.

9. The main difference between a 527 committee and a 501(c)(4) is that (p. 237) a) a 527 is not legally required to

disclose where it gets its money, while a 501(c)(4) is legally required to do so.

b) a 501(c)(4) is not legally required to disclose where it gets its money, while a 527 is legally required to do so.

c) a 527 can only contribute to one campaign, while a 501(c)(4) can contribute to many.

d) a 501(c)(4) can only contribute to one campaign, while a 527 can contribute to many.

e) a 527 can legally coordinate its spending with a candidate’s campaign, while a 501(c)(4) cannot.

10. Public funding of presidential campaigns was (p. 238) a) outlawed by the Federal Election

Campaign Act. b) declared unconstitutional by the

Supreme Court in McCutcheon et al. v. Federal Election Commission.

c) accepted by both major-party presidential candidates in 2016.

d) rejected by all four major-party presidential candidates in 2012 and 2016.

e) limited to only $25 million in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

11. In Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court ruled that (p. 239) a) PAC donations to campaigns are

constitutionally protected. b) candidates cannot spend

any of their own money to run for office.

c) the right of individuals to spend their own money to campaign is constitutionally protected.

d) there is no limit to the number of candidates that an individual can contribute money to.

e) the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act is unconstitutional.


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Key Terms

ballot initiative (p. 230) a proposed law or policy change that is placed on the ballot by citizens or interest groups for a popular vote

caucus (political) (p. 230) a normally closed political party business meeting of citizens to select candidates, elect officers, plan strategy, or make decisions regarding legislative matters

closed primary (p. 230) a primary election in which voters can participate in the nomination of candidates but only of the party in which they are enrolled for a period of time prior to primary day

divided government (p. 218) the condition in American government wherein the presi dency is controlled by one party while the opposing party controls one or both houses of Congress

electoral college (p. 231) the electors from each state who meet after the popular election to cast ballots for president and vice president

electoral realignment (p. 217) the point in history when a new party supplants the ruling party, becoming in turn the dominant political force

501(c)(4)s (dark money) (p. 237) politically active nonprofits; under federal law, these nonprofits can spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns and not disclose their donors as long as their activities are not coordinated with the candidate campaigns and political activities are not their primary purpose

527 committees (Super PACs) (p. 237) non- profit independent groups that receive and disburse funds to influence the nomination, election, or defeat of candidates; named after Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, which defines and provides tax-exempt status for nonprofit advocacy groups

general election (p. 230) a regularly sched- uled election involving most districts in the nation or state, in which voters decide who wins office; in the United States, general

elections for national office and most state and local offices are held on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November in even-numbered years (every four years for presidential elections)

incumbent (p. 208) a candidate running for re-election to a position that he or she already holds

majority party (p. 210) the party that holds the majority of legislative seats in either the House or the Senate

micro-targeting (p. 210) when political campaigns tailor messages to individuals in small homogenous groups based on their group interests to support a candidate or policy issue

minority party (p. 210) the party that holds the minority of legislative seats in either the House or the Senate

mobilization (p. 224) the process by which large numbers of people are organized for a political activity

nomination (p. 208) the process by which political parties select their candidates for election to public office

open primary (p. 230) a primary election in which the voter can wait until the day of the primary to choose which party to enroll in to select candidates for the general election

party identification (p. 220) an individual voter’s psychological ties to one party or another

political action committee (PAC) (p. 208) a private group that raises and distributes funds for use in election campaigns

political parties (p. 207) organized groups that attempt to influence the government by electing their members to important government offices

primary elections (p. 229) elections within a political party to select the party’s candid- ate for the general election


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Aldrich, John H., et al. Change and Continuity in the 2016 Elections, washington, DC: CQ Press, 2018.

Brewer, Mark D., and L. Sandy Maisel. Parties and Elections in America. 7th ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Cohen, Marty, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller. The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations before and after Reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Ginsberg, Benjamin, and Martin Shefter. Politics by Other Means: Institutional Conflict and the Declining Significance of Elections in America. New York: w. w. Norton, 1999.

Maisel, L. Sandy. Political Parties and Elections: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

McCarty, Nolan, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.

Milkis, Sidney. The President and the Parties: The Transformation of the American Party System since the New Deal. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Patterson, Thomas E. The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty. New York: Vintage Books, 2003.

wayne, Stephen. Is This Any Way to Run a Democratic Election? 6th ed. New York: Routledge, 2018.

west, Darrell. The Next Wave. washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2011.

For Further Reading

proportional representation (p. 219) a multiple-member district system in which many competing political parties are awarded legislative seats in rough propor- tion to the percentage of popular votes that each party wins.

recall (p. 231) a procedure to allow voters to remove state officials from office before their terms expire by circulating petitions to call a vote

referendum (p. 231) the practice of refer- ring a measure proposed or passed by a legislature to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection

socioeconomic status (p. 224) status in society based on level of education, income, and occupational prestige

suffrage (p. 223) the right to vote; also called franchise

third parties (p. 218) parties that organize to compete against the two major American political parties

turnout (p. 223) the percentage of eligible individuals who actually vote

two-party system (p. 210) a political system in which only two parties have a realistic opportunity to compete effectively for control of the government


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Interest Groups WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES AND WHY IT MATTERS After graduating from college with a degree in physics, 25-year-old Ben Brown was

working in New York City in the energy business when he read a news-

paper article quoting former senator Alan Simpson, Republican of Wyoming.

Simpson asserted that young people would lack political power until a young

person “could walk into his office and say, ‘I’m from the American Associa-

tion of Young People. We have 30 million members, and we’re watching you,

Simpson.’”1 He was referencing the political clout of AARP, formerly known as

the American Association of Retired Persons, the largest membership orga-

nization in the country. AARP is known for its formidable defense of Social

Security, Medicare, and other issues of interest to older Americans.

In contrast, young Americans have not had a broad-based membership

group representing their interests, and in 2016 Brown decided to found one.

Individuals can join the Association of Young Americans for $20 per year and

enjoy discounts on transportation and movies, much as AARP members have

long enjoyed travel and insurance services. While those benefits are intended

080808 chapter

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Interest Groups Interest groups have a strong influence in American political life, but whose interests do these groups serve? Young people have struggled to have a strong voice in politics, but Ben Brown founded the Association for Young Americans to change that.

to entice members, the real purpose of AYA is to lobby on issues such as

preserving net neutrality, stopping unpaid internships, and protecting student

debt repayment programs. The organization has a weekly newsletter and pro-

vides a “Contact Our Reps” tool to “make it easy for anyone to connect with

their elected officials” and make their preferences known. “We work to insert

the voices of the 80 million Americans ages 18 to 35 into everyday politics,”

the group’s website says.2

Tens of thousands of organized groups have formed in the United States,

ranging from civic associations to huge nationwide organizations such as the

National Rifle Association (NRA), whose chief cause is opposition to restrictions

on gun ownership, and Common Cause, a public interest group that advocates for

such issues as limits on campaign spending. Despite the array of interest groups

in American politics, however, not all interests—like those of young people—

are represented equally, and the results of competition among various interests

are not always consistent with the common good. Indeed, Alexis de Tocqueville,

a famous nineteenth-century French writer, once wrote that America was “a


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★ Describe the major types of interest groups and whom they represent (pp. 249–54)

★ Describe how groups organize (pp. 254–58)

★ Analyze why the number of interest and advocacy groups has grown in recent decades (pp. 258–59)

★ Explain how interest groups try to influence government (pp. 259–67)


nation of joiners.”3 This defining characteristic of American political life has not

changed since Tocqueville made his observation. Americans are much more

likely to join political and social organizations than people in other countries, and

America has more organized interest groups than other nations.

Many believe this unique trend has a positive impact on democracy. But

others worry that the power and money wielded by these groups can dominate

Congress, the president, and the political process—such as elections—at the

expense of average citizens and the public welfare. Another concern is that

despite the array of interest groups in American politics, not all interests—like

those of young people—are represented equally, and the results of competition

among various interests are not always consistent with the common good. In

this chapter we will examine the nature and consequences of interest group

politics in the United States.


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Interest Groups Form to Advocate for Different Interests

The framers of the U.S. Constitu- tion feared the power that could be wielded by organized interests. Yet they believed that interest groups

thrived because of liberty—the freedom that all Americans have to organize and express their views. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, organized groups were called “associations.” The Federalists and the Antifederalists themselves were organized groups of political elites that had different views about how to create America’s new democracy. Both the Federalists and Antifederalists agreed that if the government were given the power to regulate, restrict, or forbid efforts by organized interests to impose themselves in the political process, it would in effect have the power to suppress individual liberty. The solution to this dilemma was presented by James Madison in the Federalist Papers, no. 10:

Take in a greater variety of parties and interests [and] you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens. . . . [Hence the advantage] enjoyed by a large over a small republic.4

According to the Madisonian theory, a good government encourages multi- tudes of interests so that no single interest can ever dominate the others. The basic assumption is that many competing interests will regulate one another, producing a kind of balance.5 Today, this Madisonian principle of regulation is called pluralism. According to pluralist theory, all interests are and should be free to compete for political influence. While an interest group may lose on one issue, it may win on the next; and overall the majority of society will be represented in government. Moreover, according to the theory of pluralism, the outcome of this competition is compromise and moderation since no group is likely to be able to achieve any of its goals without accommodating itself to some of the views of its many competitors.6 Another assumption of pluralism is that all groups have equal access to the political process and that achieving an outcome favorable to a particular group depends only upon that group’s strength and resources, not upon biases inherent in the political system. But, as we shall see, group politics has worked and continues to work more to the advantage of some types of interests than others.

Critics of pluralism point out that not all interests are equally represented in the competition for political influence. Some interests speak with loud voices (for example, large corporations), while others can barely make themselves heard (for example, Midwest farmers). Pluralism does not guarantee political equality. Indeed, important research indicates that economic elites have considerably more influence than mass-based forces in the American political process. This version of pluralism is called elite pluralism and more accurately describes American politics.

An interest group is a group of individuals who organize to influence the govern- ment’s programs and policies. This definition includes membership organizations

Describe the major types of interest groups and whom they represent


wtp12e_ess_ptr_ch08_246-273.indd 249 11/28/18 4:30 PM

composed of average citizens but also businesses, corporations, labor unions, uni- versities, and other institutions that restrict membership to particular occupational groups or other categories of persons. Individuals form groups in order to increase the chance that their views will be heard and their interests treated favorably by the government.

Interest groups are sometimes referred to as “lobbies” or “special interests.” They are also sometimes confused with political action committees (PACs), which are private groups that raise and distribute funds for use in election campaigns. Many interest groups create PACs in their name to be the money-giving arm of the interest group. The purpose of PACs is to influence elections rather than to influence the elected. Another distinction is that interest groups are also different from political parties: interest groups tend to focus on the policies of government; parties tend to con- cern themselves with the personnel of government. Parties organize to win elected office and interest groups do not, although interest groups are increasingly engaged in political campaigns and seek to help candidates supportive of their policy goals win elections.


Economic Groups Interest groups come in as many shapes and sizes as the inter- ests they represent. The most obvious are groups with a direct economic interest in government policy. Businesses and corporations make up over a third of those with lobbying offices in Washington; trade associations comprise another 23 percent and labor unions just 2 percent of groups registered to lobby.7 Trade associations are generally supported by groups of producers or manufacturers in a particular eco- nomic sector, such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Farm Bureau Federation. Combined, over 6 in 10 groups lobbying in Washington represent businesses, corporations, or trade associations. Trade associations spent more than $716 million to lobby the federal government and Congress in 2017.8 Some of the biggest spenders included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the American Medical Association, Boeing, and AT&T.

Labor Groups Labor organizations are also active in lobbying government. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the United Mine Workers, and the Teamsters are all groups that lobby on behalf of organized labor. Other groups have organized to further the interests of public employees, such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has 1.4 million members. However, as mentioned above, labor unions represent just 2 percent of the total number of registered lobby groups in Washington.9 Despite being out-lobbied, labor unions continue to exercise influence in Washington. Union members vote, and organized labor can have a significant impact on elections.

Professional Associations Professional lobbies such as the American Bar Asso- ciation and the American Medical Association have been particularly successful at


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furthering their members’ interests in Congress and state legislatures. Accountants, real estate agents, dentists, teachers, and even college faculty have professional asso- ciations. Financial institutions, represented by organizations such as the American Bankers Association and the National Savings and Loan League, although often less visible than other lobbies, also play an important role in shaping legislative policy. These groups comprise just over 10 percent of all lobby groups in Washington.

Public Interest Groups Recent years have witnessed the growth of a powerful “public interest” lobby, purporting to represent the general good rather than its own economic interests. Public interest groups have been most visible in the con- sumer protection and environmental policy areas, although public interest groups cover a broad range of issues. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and Common Cause are all examples of citizen groups. Citizen groups comprise 20 percent of groups with lobbying offices in Washington. Claims to represent only the public interest should be viewed with caution, however: it is not uncommon to find decidedly private interests hiding behind the term public interest. For example, the benign-sounding Partnership to Protect Consumer Credit is a coalition of credit card companies fighting for less federal regulation of credit abuses.10

Ideological Groups Closely related to and overlapping public interest groups are ideological groups, organized in support of a particular political or philosophical

Although public school teachers are a minority of the total population, they are an influential interest group in many states because they are highly informed and act as a group in support of issues related to their profession, including teachers’ salaries.


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Civil Society around the World Political scientists who study democracy around the world emphasize the important role society may play in shaping democracy. Interest groups are part of what is known more broadly as civil society: organizations outside the state that help people define and promote their interests. These groups play an important role in maintaining the overall health of democracy. Countries with an active civil society may be more likely to transition to democracy. South Africa’s strong civil

society played a major role in protesting for democracy against a repressive Apartheid regime. In contrast, civil society membership was heavily co-opted by authoritarian regimes in Germany and Japan; rebuilding the independence and engagement of these groups remains a major democratic challenge to this day. So, while de Tocqueville may have been writing about the United States as a “nation of joiners,” many other democracies have also joined this club.

SOURCE: R. Inglehart et al., eds., “World Values Survey: Round Six—Country-Pooled Datafile Version,” 2014, www .worldvaluessurvey.org (accessed 5/28/18).



1 4




7 7


9 10


13 35





South Africa

United States

1% 6

2 8

7 50

0% 3


2 4


6 5 6








Consumer organization Professional association

Labor union

Environmental organization

Art, music, or educational organization

Church or religious organization

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perspective. The National Right to Life Committee and the Christian Coali- tion focus on conservative social goals, such as opposing abortion. The National Taxpayers Union and Americans for Tax Reform campaign to reduce the size of the federal government. Liberal-leaning groups, including EMILY’s List and MoveOn. org, support causes such as protecting national parks and public lands, climate action, free college, and increasing the minimum wage.

Public-Sector Groups The perceived need for representation on Capitol Hill has generated a public-sector lobby in the past several years, including the National League of Cities, the National Conference on State Legislatures, and the “research” lobby. This latter group includes universities and think tanks that have an interest in obtaining government funds for research and support, such as Harvard University and the American Enterprise Institute. These groups represent about 10 percent of Washington lobby groups.


It is difficult to categorize unrepresented interests precisely because they are not organized and are not able to present to governments their identity and their demands. The political scientist David Truman referred to these interests as “poten- tial interest groups.”11 He is undoubtedly correct that at any time, as long as there is freedom, it is possible that any interest shared by a lot of people can develop through “voluntary association” into a genuine interest group that can demand some rep- resentation. But the fact remains that many interests—including some very widely shared interests—do not get organized and recognized. Two such groups are the homeless and the poor.12 Both groups have shared interests in policy outcomes, such as job programs and affordable housing, but lack organization through which to push for government policy to address these concerns.13


Despite the benefits of interest groups in terms of mobilizing and educating the public and the arguments in favor of pluralism, there are concerns about the influ- ence of special interests in the United States. One long-standing critic is E. E. Schattschneider, who argued in a famous quote that “the flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent.”14 Critics contend that interest group politics is heavily skewed in favor of corporate, business, and upper-class groups, leaving those with lower socioeconomic status less able to participate in and influence politics.

This is because people with higher incomes, more education, and management or professional occupations are much more likely to become members of groups than those who occupy the lower rungs on the socioeconomic ladder.15 Well- educated, upper-income business- and professional people are more likely to have the time, money, information, and skills that are needed to play a role in a group or association. Moreover, for business- and professional people, group


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membership may provide personal contacts and access to information that can help advance their careers. At the same time, of course, corporations and businesses usually have ample resources to form or participate in groups that seek to advance their interests.

The result of this elitist tendency is that interest group politics in the United States has a very pronounced class bias. Certainly, there are many interest groups and political associations that have a working- or lower-class membership (labor organizations or welfare rights organizations, for example), but the great majority of interest group members are drawn from the middle and upper-middle classes. Even when interest groups take opposing positions on issues and policies, the conflicting positions they take on policy issues usually reflect divisions among upper-income strata rather than conflicts between the upper and lower classes. Many policy issues critical to working and middle-class people—quality public education, efficient transportation, affordable housing, safe neighborhoods—are often ignored by government. Thus, when the political system is run by interest groups, democracy will be unequal and many issues important to average Americans will be ignored.

The Organizational Components of Groups Include Money, Offices, and Members

Although interest groups are many and varied, most share certain key organizational components. These

include leadership, money, an agency or office, and members. Leadership and decision-making structure is vital for group organization. For

some groups, this structure is very simple. For others, it can be quite elaborate and involve hundreds of local chapters that are melded into a national apparatus. Political entrepreneurs initially organize and lead groups. Later, these leaders are replaced by a paid professional staff. For example, MoveOn.org initially formed in 1998 as an email group by software entrepreneurs Joan Blades and Wes Boyd to oppose the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Beginning as a ragtag band of liberal activists, MoveOn.org in the past two decades has raised millions of dollars for candidates and progressive policy issues such as legislation protecting consumers, the environment, immigrants, and the working class. Today MoveOn.org has millions of members and 250 local chapters in every state.

Today every group needs a social media strategy. Both progressive and conserv- ative online advocacy groups often have a streamlined staff structure with little bureaucracy. As computer scientist Clay Shirky explains in Here Comes Everybody, the internet has given rise to a proliferation of online organizations without formal organizing structures.16 Examples include Wikipedia, whose content is provided by volunteers from around the world. But the real impact of the digital media revolu- tion is the advent of new forms of organization. Leadership remains a priority for online organizations. Entrepreneurship and leadership are important for all interest

Describe how groups organize


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groups but especially so for those with little staff and formal organization as the leader holds the organization together.

A second key organizational component of interest groups is a financial structure capable of sustaining an organization and funding the group’s activities, although the costs of maintaining an online organization are lower. Most interest groups rely on mem- bership dues and voluntary contributions from sympathizers. Many also sell services or benefits to members, such as insurance and vacation tours. In addition, most groups establish an agency that carries out the group’s tasks, which may be a research organiza- tion, a public-relations office, or a lobbying office in Washington or a state capital.

Finally, all interest groups must attract and keep members. Somehow, groups must persuade individuals to invest the money, time, energy, or effort required to take part in the group’s activities. Members play a larger role in some groups than in others. In membership associations, group members play a substantial role, serving on committees and engaging in group projects. In the case of labor unions, members pay dues and may march on picket lines; and in the case of political or ideological groups, members may participate in demonstrations and protests. In another set of groups, staff organizations, a professional staff conducts most of the group’s activities. Members are called upon only to pay dues and make other contributions. Among well-known public interest groups, some, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW), are membership groups, whereas others, such as Defenders of Wildlife and the Children’s Defense Fund, are staff organizations.

The “Free-Rider” Problem Whether they need individuals to volunteer or merely to write checks, interest groups need to recruit and retain members. Yet many groups find this task difficult, even when it comes to recruiting members who agree strongly with the group’s goals. Why? As economist Mancur Olson explains, the benefits of a group’s success are often broadly available and cannot be denied to nonmembers.17 Such benefits are called collective goods. Following Olson’s own example, suppose a number of private property owners live near a mosquito- infested swamp. Each owner wants this swamp cleared. But if only a few of the own- ers were to clear the swamp, their actions would benefit all the other owners as well, without any effort on the part of those other owners. Each of the inactive owners would be a free rider on the efforts of the ones who cleared the swamp; they would enjoy the benefits of collective goods but without having participated in acquiring them. Thus, there is a disincentive for any of the owners to undertake the job alone.

Since the number of concerned owners is small in this particular case, they might eventually be able to organize themselves to share the costs as well as enjoy the benefits of clearing the swamp. But suppose the number of interested people increases. Suppose the common concern is not the neighborhood swamp but polluted air or groundwater involving thousands of residents in a region or millions of residents in a whole nation. National defense is the most obvious collective good whose benefits are shared by all residents, regardless of the taxes they pay or the sup- port they provide. As the size of the group increases, the free-rider problem becomes greater. Individuals do not have much incentive to become active members and supporters of a group if they are already benefiting from the group’s activities.


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Why Join Groups? To overcome the free-rider problem, interest groups offer numerous incentives to join. Most important, they make “selective benefits” avail- able only to group members. These benefits can be information-related, material, solidary, or purposive—or a combination of benefits. Table 8.1 gives some examples of the range of benefits in each of these categories.

Informational benefits are the most widespread and important category of selective benefits offered to group members. Information is provided through conferences, training programs, online communications, newsletters, and other periodicals sent automatically to those who have paid membership dues.

Material benefits include anything that can be measured monetarily, such as special goods, services, and even money, provided to members of groups to entice others to join. These benefits often include discount purchasing, shared advertising, and, perhaps most valuable of all, health and retirement insurance.

Another option identified in Table 8.1 is that of solidary benefits. These are selective benefits of group membership that include friendship, networking, and consciousness-raising, which provide the satisfaction of working toward a com- mon goal with like-minded individuals. One example of the latter are the claims of many women’s organizations that active participation conveys to each female


Informational benefits Conferences Professional contacts Training programs Publications Coordination among organizations Research Legal help Professional codes Collective bargaining

Material benefits Travel packages Insurance Discounts on consumer goods

Solidary benefits Friendship Networking opportunities

Purposive benefits Advocacy Representation before government Participation in public affairs

SOURCE: Adapted from Jack Walker, Jr., Mobilizing Interest Groups in America: Patrons, Professions, and Social Movements (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), 86.


Selective Benefits of Interest Group Membership


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member of the organization an enhanced sense of her own value and a stronger ability to advance individual as well as collective rights. Members of associations based on ethnicity, race, or religion also derive solidary benefits from interact- ing with individuals they perceive as sharing their own backgrounds, values, and perspectives.

A fourth type of benefit involves the appeal of the purpose of an interest group. These purposive benefits emphasize the purpose and accomplishments of the group. For example, people join religious, consumer, environmental, or other civic groups to pursue goals important to them.

Many of the most successful interest groups of the past 20 years have been citizen groups or public interest groups, whose members are brought together largely around shared ideological goals, including government reform, election and cam- paign reform, civil rights, economic equality, “family values,” and even opposition to government itself.

AARP and the Benefits of Membership One group that has been extremely successful in recruiting members and mobilizing them for political action is AARP (formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons). AARP was founded in 1958 as a result of the efforts of a retired California high school principal, Ethel Percy Andrus, to find affordable health insurance for herself and the thousands of members of the National Retired Teachers Association.

Today, AARP is a large and powerful organization with 38 million members and an annual income of $900 million. In addition, the organization receives $90 million in federal grants. Its national headquarters in Washington, D.C., staffed by nearly 3,000 full-time employees, is so large that it has its own zip code.

How did this large organization overcome the free-rider problem and recruit 38 million older people as members? First, no other organization has ever pro- vided more successfully the selective benefits necessary to overcome the free-rider problem. It helps that AARP began as an organization to provide affordable health insurance for aging members rather than as an organization to influence public policy. But that fact only strengthens the argument that members need short-term individual benefits if they are to invest effort in a longer-term and less concrete set of benefits. As AARP evolved into a political interest group, its leadership added more selective benefits for members. They provided guidance against consumer fraud, offered low-interest credit cards, evaluated and endorsed products that were deemed of best value to members, and provided auto insurance and a discounted mail-order pharmacy. The membership fee is only $16 (or less with a multi-year membership).


Digital communication is changing how interest groups foster participation in politics and sustained collective action by citizens. For example, liberal-leaning MoveOn.org and conservative-leaning Americans for Prosperity have arisen over


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the past two decades to play an increasingly important role in citizen participation in politics. These grassroots online activist organizations have redefined membership and fund-raising practices via innovative methods for communicating with their members, measuring the opinions of their members, and moving their members into action—in terms of both influencing public opinion and working on behalf of the organization.

Traditional interest groups are expensive to organize (which is one reason group membership has an upper-class bias), and they rely on professional advocates and direct mail. They are also slow to change. By contrast, today’s advocacy groups are quick to adapt to an ever-changing world of politics and have lower costs than traditional interest groups because they have fewer staff, who often work from virtual offices. This less expensive staff structure engages in different work routines that prioritize communication with members through email, Twitter, and other digital platforms.

Today’s advocacy groups employ grassroots strategies to pressure elected offi- cials, including using social media to organize rallies, and generate news head- lines, fund-raising events, letter-writing campaigns, boycotts, and protests. In the aftermath of a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, for example, students there used social media, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, to mobilize Americans across the nation in support of stronger gun laws. Under the label “March for Our Lives,” these students suc- cessfully coordinated a mass rally in Washington, D.C., and subsequent rallies around the country. Largely as a result of their efforts, and those of supporters they attracted, several states enacted tougher gun laws.18 Online advocacy groups may improve representation for citizens, counteracting the disproportionate influence of business and corporate interests in Washington. Both liberal and conservative groups alike, as well as economic interest groups, have been better able to organize and affect government policy in the past decade with the help of the internet and social media.

The Number of Groups Has Increased in Recent Decades

Over the past several decades, there has been an enormous increase both in the number of interest groups seeking to play a role in the American political process and in the extent of

their influence over that process. This explosion of interest group activity has two basic origins: first, the expansion of the role of government during this period and, second, the coming-of-age of a new dynamic set of political forces in the United States—forces that have relied heavily on public interest groups to advance their causes.

Analyze why the number of interest and advocacy groups has grown in recent decades


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Modern governments’ extensive economic and social programs have powerful polit- icizing effects, often sparking the organization of new groups and interests. In other words, interest groups often form as the result of, or in response to, government actions, rather than groups pressing the government to take on new responsibilities. For example, during the 1970s, expanded federal regulation of the automobile, oil, gas, education, and health care industries impelled each of these interests to increase substantially its efforts to influence the government’s behavior. These efforts, in turn, spurred the organization of other groups, either to support or to oppose the activities of the first.19 Similarly, federal social programs have sparked political organization and action by affected groups. For example, federal programs and court decisions in such areas as abortion, school prayer, and same-sex marriage helped spur the rise of fundamentalist religious groups. Thus, the expansion of government in recent decades has also stimulated increased group activity and organization.


The second factor accounting for the explosion of interest group activity was the emergence of a new set of forces in American politics that can collectively be called the “New Politics” movement.

The New Politics movement is made up of upper-middle-class professionals and intel- lectuals for whom the civil rights and anti–Vietnam War movements of the 1960s were formative experiences. The crusade against racial discrimination and the Vietnam War led these young men and women to see themselves as a political force, focusing their attention on such issues as environmental protection, women’s rights, and nuclear dis- armament. In recent years, these citizens have focused attention on issues such as envi- ronmental protection, economic inequality, and rights for the LGBTQ community.

Members of the New Politics movement founded or bolstered public interest groups such as Common Cause, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, Physicians for Social Responsibility, NOW, and the various organizations formed by consumer activist Ralph Nader. Through these groups, New Politics forces were able to influence the media, Congress, and the courts, and enjoyed a remarkable degree of success, play- ing a major role in gaining the passage of environmental, consumer, and occupational health and safety legislation. Today, the internet and digital platforms, including social media and blogs, reduce the cost and increase the reach of organizing activities.

Interest Groups Use Different Strategies to Gain Influence

As we have seen, interest groups work to improve the likelihood that their interests will be heard and treated favorably by the government.

Explain how interest groups try to influence government


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The quest for political influence or power takes many forms, but among the most frequently used strategies or “tactics of influence” (see Figure 8.1) are lobby- ing, gaining access to key decision makers, using the courts, mobilizing public opinion, and using electoral politics. Many groups employ a mix of insider and outsider strategies.


How Interest Groups Influence Congress

Activate constituents whose jobs or businesses are affected; provide them with information and arguments; help them organize, write letters, leaflets, etc.

Alliances and logrolls


PAC funds, endorsements, information campaigns,


Letters, emails, phone calls,

letters to news editors, visits to

Washington, work in elections

Gain access— information, develop personal contacts and ties, favors


Direct lobbying

Mobilize public opinion— release favorable research findings, news releases, public relations campaigns, tips to reporters

News stories and editorials favorable

to interest group

Congressional staff

Targeted members of Congress


Interest group

Other members of Congress


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Lobbying is a strategy by which organized interests seek to influence the passage of legislation or other public policy by exerting direct pressure on members of the legislature. Lobbying encompasses a wide range of activities that groups engage in with all sorts of government officials and the public as a whole.

Lobbyists first and foremost provide information to lawmakers about their interests and the legislation at hand.20 They often testify on behalf of their clients at congressional committee and agency hearings. Lobbyists talk to reporters, place ads in newspapers, and organize letter-writing and email campaigns. They also play an important role in fund-raising, helping to direct clients’ contributions to members of Congress and presidential candidates.

Traditionally, the term lobbyist referred mainly to individuals who sought to influence the passage of legislation in the Congress. The First Amendment to the Constitution provides for the right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” But as early as the 1870s, lobbying became the common term for “petitioning.” And since petitioning cannot take place on the floor of the House or Senate, petitioners must confront members of Congress in the lobbies of the legisla- tive chamber—hence the term lobbying. Although interest groups do not necessarily buy votes, they do buy time, expertise, and influence. Studies have found that those interest groups providing the most money to representatives are more likely to be consulted by that representative and asked to provide information and expertise in discussing a bill pertaining to that group’s area of interest. This, in essence, gives interest groups a voice in shaping how legislation is written, and while it cannot ensure votes for laws preferred by the group, it is an effective means for organized interests to influence policy.

The influence of lobbyists, in many instances, is based on personal rela- tionships and the behind-the-scenes services they are able to perform for lawmakers. Many of Washington’s top lobbyists have close ties to important members of Congress or are themselves former members of Congress, thus vir- tually guaranteeing that their clients will have direct access to congressional leaders.

What happens to interests that do not engage in extensive lobbying? They often find themselves “Microsofted”; that is, marginalized in the political process. In 1998 the software giant was facing antitrust action from the Justice Department and had few friends in Congress. One member of the House, Representative Billy Tauzin (R-La.), told Microsoft’s chair, Bill Gates, that without an extensive invest- ment in lobbying, the corporation would continue to be “demonized.” Gates responded by quadrupling Microsoft’s lobbying expenditures and hiring lobbyists with strong ties to Congress. The result was congressional pressure on the Justice Department that led to a settlement of the Microsoft suit on terms favorable to the company.21


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In many areas, interest groups, government agencies, and congressional com- mittees routinely work together for mutual benefit. The interest group provides campaign contributions for members of Congress, lobbies for larger budgets for the agency, and provides policy expertise to lawmakers. The agency, in turn, pro- vides government contracts for the interest group and constituency services for friendly members of Congress. The congressional committee or subcommittee, meanwhile, supports the agency’s budgetary requests and the programs the inter- est group favors. This so-called iron triangle has one angle in an executive branch program, another angle in a Senate or House legislative committee or subcom- mittee, and a third angle in some highly stable and well-organized interest group. The angles in the triangular relationship are mutually supporting, especially if a committee member has seniority in Congress. Figure 8.2 illustrates one of the most important iron triangles in recent American political history: that of the defense industry. Iron triangles explain how interest groups have influence over


The Iron Triangle in the Defense Sector Defense contractors are powerful actors in shaping defense policy; they act in concert with defense committees and subcommittees in Congress and executive agencies concerned with defense.


House National Security and Senate Armed Services committees, and Defense

Appropriations subcommittees; Joint Committee on Defense Production; Joint Economic Committee; House and

Senate members from districts with interests in defense industry

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman,

Raytheon, General Dynamics

Executive Agencies

Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and

Space Administration, Department of Energy

Defense Contractors


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both Congress and the government agency directly regulating their interests in many policy areas.

A number of important policy domains, such as environmental and tax policies, are controlled not by highly structured iron triangles but by a jumble of issue networks. These networks consist of like-minded politicians, consultants, public officials, political activists, and interest groups having some concern with the issue in question. Activists and interest groups recognized as being involved in the area (the “stakeholders”) are customarily invited to testify before congres- sional committees or give their views to government agencies considering action in their domain.

Regulating Lobbying Lobbyists’ extensive access to members of Congress has led to repeated calls for reform. In 2007 congressional Democrats secured the enactment of a new package of ethics rules designed to bring an end to lobbying abuses. The new rules prohibited lobbyists from paying for most meals, trips, parties, and gifts for members of Congress. Lobbyists were also required to disclose the amounts and sources of small campaign contributions they collected from clients and “bundled” into large contributions. And interest groups were required to disclose the funds they used to rally voters to support or oppose legislative proposals. According to the Washington Post, however, within a few weeks lobbyists had learned how to circum- vent many of the new rules, and lobbying firms were as busy as ever.22


Interest groups sometimes turn to litigation when they lack access or when they feel they have insufficient influence to change a law or policy. Interest groups can use the courts to affect public policy in at least three ways: (1) by bringing suit directly on behalf of the group itself, (2) by financing suits brought by individuals, and (3) by filing a companion brief as an amicus curiae (literally “friend of the court”) to an existing court case.

Among the best-known illustrations of using the courts as a strategy for political influence is found in the history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The most important of such court cases was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that legal segregation of the schools was unconstitutional.23 Later, extensive litigation spearheaded the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and the rights of gays and lesbians since the 1990s.

The 1973 Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade, which took away a state’s power to ban abortions, sparked a controversy that brought conservatives to the fore on a national level.24 Since 1973, conservative groups have made extensive and successful use of the courts to whittle away at the scope of the privacy doctrine upon which the ruling in Roe v. Wade was based. They won rulings, for example, that prohibit the use of federal funds to pay for voluntary abortions. In 1989, right-to-life groups were able to use the case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services to restore the right of states to place restrictions on abortion, thus partly undermining the Roe v. Wade


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decision (see Chapter 4).25 The Webster case brought more than 300 interest groups on both sides of the abortion issue to the Supreme Court’s door. The movement to extend rights for gays and lesbians also found success in the courts. In 2015, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court declared that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited states from refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.26

Litigation involving large businesses is voluminous in such areas as taxation, anti- trust, interstate transportation, and product quality and standardization. Often a business is brought to litigation against its will by virtue of initiatives taken against it by other businesses or by government agencies. But many individual businesses bring suit themselves in order to influence government policy.


Going public is a strategy that attempts to mobilize the widest and most favorable climate of opinion and is a favored strategy of public interest groups, membership groups, or online advocacy groups. Many groups consider it imperative to maintain political pressure at all times. Online advocacy groups rely heavily on mobilizing their members via social media, Twitter campaigns, and targeted email messages on short notice. On any given day a new viral media story may become headline news, and in most cases an interest group is behind the story. Such groups span the ideological spectrum, from liberal to conservative, and can wield significant pressure on elected officials to act.

Institutional Advertising One of the best-known ways of going public is the use of institutional advertising—advertising designed to create a positive image of an organ- ization. A casual scanning of important mass-circulation magazines, newspapers, and television provides numerous examples of expensive and well-designed ads by the major oil and gas companies, automobile and steel companies, other large cor- porations, and trade associations. The ads attempt to show how much these organi- zations are doing for the country. Their purpose is to create and maintain a strongly positive public image in the hope of drawing on these favorable feelings as needed for specific political campaigns later on.

Protests and Demonstrations Many groups resort to going public because they lack the resources, the contacts, or the experience to use other political strategies. The sponsorship of boycotts, sit-ins, mass rallies, and marches by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and related organizations in the 1950s and ’60s is one of the most significant and successful cases of going public to create a more favorable climate of opinion by calling attention to abuses. The success of these events inspired similar efforts by women’s groups.

The 2010 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives began with the spontaneous self-organization of the Tea Party movement in 2009 as an angry response to the Obama administration’s health care initiatives. In 2011


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the Occupy Wall Street movement sparked demonstrations across America and around the world by those who were outraged by economic inequality. In 2014 the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum after the shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Shootings of black people by police across the country have led to major demonstrations under the banner of the movement.

Grassroots Mobilization Another form of going public is grassroots mobilization. In such a campaign, a lobby group mobilizes its members throughout the country to contact government officials in support of the group’s position.

Among the most effective users of the grassroots lobby effort in contemporary American politics is the religious right. Networks of evangelical churches have the capacity to generate hundreds of thousands of letters and phone calls to Congress and the White House. Similarly, the NRA maintains a powerful grassroots lob- bying effort, spending more on mobilization of its members than on professional lobbyists. The NRA’s 3.5 million dues-paying members can be mobilized to flood congressional offices with letters and phone calls, and few members of Congress are eager to pick a fight with the group.27 As discussed earlier, the interests of the NRA were seriously challenged in 2018 when high school students and teachers gained national attention and garnered massive support by launching the March for Our Lives movement to demand stricter regulations on gun ownership after a string of school shootings.

Seeking to reform the criminal justice system and call attention to continued racism in the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement formed in 2013 and earned national attention following a series of high-profile shootings of African Americans by white police officers.


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In addition to the techniques already discussed, interest groups seek to use the elec- toral process to elect sympathetic legislators in the first place and to ensure that those who are elected will owe them a debt of gratitude for their support. While groups invest far more resources in lobbying than in electoral politics, financial support and campaign activism can be important tools for organized interests.

Political Action Committees and Super PACs By far the most common electoral strategy employed by interest groups is that of giving financial support to political parties or to candidates running for office. But such support can easily cross the threshold into outright bribery. Therefore, Congress has occasionally attempted to regulate this strategy, but with limited success. The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (amended in 1974) limits campaign contributions and requires that each candidate or campaign committee itemize the full name and address, occupation, and principal business of each person who contributes more than $100. These provisions create an open record of which organizations and individuals fund the campaigns of candidates for public office.

Reaction to campaign spending abuses in the 1972 Watergate scandal produced further legislation on campaign finance in 1974 and 1976, but the effect has been to restrict individual rather than interest group campaign activity. In the 2017–18 election cycle, individuals could contribute no more than $2,700 to any candidate for federal office in any primary or general election. A PAC, however, can contribute $5,000, provided it contributes to at least five different federal candidates each year. Beyond this, the laws permit corporations, unions, and other interest groups to form PACs and to pay the costs of soliciting funds from private citizens for the PACs.

The flurry of reform legislation in the 1970s attempted to reduce the influence that interest groups had over elections, but the effect has been the exact opposite. Electoral spending by interest groups has been increasing dramatically. The number of PACs has also increased significantly—from 480 in 1972 to over 7,000 in 2016. Opportunities for legally influencing campaigns are now widespread.

Given the enormous costs of television commercials, polls, computers, and other elements of the new political technology, most politicians are eager to receive PAC contributions and are at least willing to give a friendly hearing to the needs and interests of contributors. Most politicians do not simply sell their votes to the inter- ests that fund their campaigns. But there is considerable evidence to support the contention that interest groups’ campaign contributions do influence the overall pattern of political behavior in Congress and in the state legislatures.

Concern about PACs grew through the 1980s and ’90s, creating a constant drum- beat for reform of federal election laws. This resulted in the enactment of the “McCain- Feingold bill” (the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002). When it was originally proposed, the bill was aimed at reducing or eliminating PACs. But in a stunning about-face, when the act was adopted, it did not restrict PACs in any significant way.

In addition, several court rulings, including the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case in 2010, struck down limits on corporate political spending which gave rise to so-called Super PACs.28 Super PACs cannot donate to candidates or parties directly,


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but they can spend unlimited sums of money on campaigns to influence an elec- tion in favor of candidates or parties, as long as their activity (for example, cam- paign ads or mobilization efforts) is not coordinated with the candidates or parties. Because there are no limits on the amount of money Super PACs may raise from corporations, unions, interest groups, and individuals to then spend to influence elections, they have become more important than PACs and have had the effect of strengthening interest groups. These organizations’ expenditures are viewed as “issue advocacy” and are protected by the First Amendment. Citizens United dramatically increased the flow of money from Super PACs by removing restric- tions on corporate and union political spending, freeing the Super PAC to back whatever politicians it chooses.29

In the 2016 presidential election, independent expenditures totaled about $1.3 billion, of which $594 million came from Super PACs. Candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump raised $1.5 billion total, and the Super PACs supporting them raised $618 million, according to the Center for Responsive Government.30 In 2016, Super PACs spent more than $1.1 billion on House and Senate races.31 In the 2018 election there were 2,224 Super PACs, which together spent $815 million.32 Super PACs now account for a major amount of the money spent in elections. The unlimited money raised and spent by independent political committees makes the formal regulations on PACs and individual contributions almost irrelevant.

The Initiative Another political tactic sometimes used by interest groups is sponsor- ship of ballot initiatives at the state level. The initiative, a device adopted by a num- ber of states around 1900, allows proposed laws to be placed on the general-election ballot and submitted directly to the state’s voters, bypassing the state legislature and governor. The initiative was originally promoted by late nineteenth-century Populists and Progressives as a mechanism that would allow the people to govern directly—an antidote to interest group influence in the legislative process.

Some studies have suggested that, ironically, many initiative campaigns today are actually sponsored by interest groups seeking to circumvent legislative opposition to their goals. In recent years, for example, initiative campaigns have been spon- sored by the insurance industry, trial lawyer associations, and tobacco companies.33 Liberal activists have developed their own issue campaigns to promote issues such as increasing the minimum wage, promoting clean energy, strengthening environmen- tal protection laws, and decriminalizing of marijuana.

Groups and Interests WHAT DO WE WANT? We would like to think that government policies are products of legislators represent-

ing the public interest. The truth of the matter is that few programs and policies ever

reach the public agenda without the vigorous efforts of important national interest


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groups. In the realm of economic policy, social policy, and international trade policy,

the activity of interest groups is of critical importance.

James Madison wrote that “liberty is to faction as air is to fire.”34 By this he meant

that the organization and proliferation of interests are inevitable in a free society. As

long as competition among different interests was free, open, and vigorous—that is,

as long as pluralism thrived—there would be some balance of power among them,

and no one interest would be able to dominate the political or governmental process.

Indeed, there is considerable competition among organized groups in the United

States. Prochoice and antiabortion forces, for example, continue to be locked in a

bitter struggle, as are the NRA and gun control groups. Nevertheless, interest group

politics is not as balanced as Madison’s theory and pluralism might suggest. Although

the weak and poor do occasionally become organized to assert their interests, inter-

est group politics is generally a form of political competition best suited to the wealthy

and powerful.

Moreover, although groups sometimes organize to promote broad public concerns,

they more often represent relatively narrow, selfish interests. Small groups seeking

narrow interests can be organized much more easily than large and diffuse collec-

tives. The members of relatively small groups—say, bankers or hunting enthusiasts—

are usually able to recognize their shared interests and the need to pursue them in

the political arena. Members of large and diffuse groups—say, consumers or the

unemployed—often find it difficult to recognize their shared interests or the need to

engage in collective action to achieve them.35 Whether Ben Brown’s new Association

of Young Americans (discussed at the start of the chapter) can grow and achieve leg-

islative success remains to be seen, as younger Americans’ activism may be undercut

by the diverse array of interests they have and by the many immediate concerns that

dominate their time (school, work, and family, among others).

Organized interest groups sometimes seem to have a greater impact than voters

on the government’s policies and programs, especially through lobbying and financial

contributions to political candidates. (The “Who Participates?” feature on the facing

page shows how much major groups spend on lobbying activities.) Yet, before we

decide that we should do away with interest groups, we should think carefully: If there

were no organized interests, would the government pay more attention to ordinary

voters? Would young people be better or worse off if there were no interest groups in

the United States? Or would the government simply pay less attention to everyone?

In his work Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville argued that the proliferation

of groups promoted democracy by encouraging governmental responsiveness. Does

group politics foster democracy or impede democracy? It does both.


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= $1,000,000Lobbying Expenditures, 2016 (top spenders)



SOURCE: Center for Responsive Politics, www.opensecrets.org/lobby (accessed 11/21/17).

How Much Do Major Groups Spend?

U.S. Chamber of Commerce $103,950,000

National Association of Realtors $64,821,111

Blue Cross/Blue Shield $25,006,109

Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America

$19,730,000 American Medical Association

$19,410,000 Boeing Co. $17,020,000

National Association of Broadcasters

$16,438,000 American Hospital Association


AT&T Inc. $16,370,000

Comcast Corp. $14,330,000

Northrop Grumman $12,050,000

ExxonMobil $11,840,000

Amazon.com $11,354,000

FedEx Corp. $12,541,000

The Internet & Television Association (NCTA)


Alphabet Inc. $15,430,000

Lockheed Martin $13,615,811

Dow Chemical $13,635,982

Business Roundtable

$15,700,000 Southern Co. $13,900,000

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Practice Quiz

1. The theory that competition among organized interests will produce balance, with all the interests regulat- ing one another, is called (p. 249) a) pluralism. b) elite power politics. c) democracy. d) socialism. e) libertarianism.

2. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the National Civic League, and the Common Cause are all examples of (p. 251) a) membership associations. b) citizen groups. c) professional associations. d) ideological groups. e) public-sector groups.

3. Benefits sought by groups that are broadly available and cannot be denied to nonmembers are called (p. 255) a) purposive benefits. b) informational benefits. c) solidary benefits. d) material benefits. e) collective goods.

4. Discount purchasing and health insurance are examples of (p. 256) a) purposive benefits. b) informational benefits. c) solidary benefits. d) material benefits. e) member dues.

Get Involved with Interest Groups and Lobbying


Find an interest group that appeals to you at votesmart.org/interest-groups, then follow that group on Facebook or Twitter.

Find out which groups give the most money to your representatives in Congress by clicking “Congress” at www.opensecrets.org/politicians. You can look up your representatives by zip code.

Contact your Center for Campus Life to �nd out if groups you’re interested in have chapters on your campus. Many groups will gladly help students start campus chapters.


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5. Friendship and networking are examples of (p. 256) a) purposive benefits. b) informational benefits. c) solidary benefits. d) material benefits. e) member dues.

6. Which of the following is an important reason for the enormous increase in the number of groups seeking to influence the American political system? (p. 258) a) the decrease in the size and

activity of government during the last few decades

b) the increase in the size and activity of government during the last few decades

c) the increase in the amount of soft money in election campaigns in recent decades

d) the increase in legal protection provided to interest groups as a result of the Supreme Court’s evolving interpretation of the First Amendment

e) the increase in the number of people identifying themselves as an independent in recent decades

7. The term “Microsofted” refers to (p. 261) a) an individual having their identity

stolen as a result of a data breach at a major technology company.

b) a company becoming marginalized in the political process as a result of insufficient efforts to lobby policy makers.

c) a member of Congress accepting monetary bribes in exchange for protecting a company’s monopoly status.

d) interest groups filing lawsuits against privately owned companies in order to promote social change.

e) wealthy business people, such as Bill Gates, using their wealth to finance the creation and lobbying efforts of public interest groups.

8. A stable, cooperative relationship between a congressional committee, on administrative agency, and one or more supportive interest groups is called (p. 262) a) an issue network. b) a public interest group. c) a political action committee. d) pluralism. e) an iron triangle.

9. Which of the following best describes the federal government’s rules regarding lobbying? (pp. 261–3) a) Federal rules allow lobbying but

only on issues related to taxation. b) Federal rules allow lobbying but

only if the lobbyists receive no monetary compensation for their lobbying.

c) Federal rules strictly prohibit any form of lobbying.

d) Federal rules require all lobbyists to disclose the amounts and sources of small campaign contributions they collect from clients and “bundle” into large contributions.

e) There are no rules regulating lobby- ing because the federal government has never passed any legislation on the legality of the activity.

10. Which of the following is a way that interest groups use the courts to influence public policy? (p. 263) a) supplying judges with solidary

benefits b) joining an issue network c) creating an iron triangle d) forming a political action committee e) filing amicus briefs

11. Which of the following are examples of the “going public” strategy? (pp. 264–5) a) free riding, pluralism, and issue

networking b) donating money to political

parties, endorsing candidates, and sponsoring ballot initiatives

c) institutional advertising, grassroots advertising, and protests and demonstrations


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Key Terms

collective goods (p. 255) benefits, sought by groups, that are broadly available and cannot be denied to nonmembers

free riders (p. 255) those who enjoy the benefits of collective goods but did not participate in acquiring them

grassroots mobilization (p. 265) a lobbying campaign in which a group mobilizes its membership to contact government officials in support of the group’s position

informational benefits (p. 256) special newsletters, periodicals, training programs, conferences, and other information provid- ed to members of groups to entice others to join

institutional advertising (p. 264) advertising designed to create a positive image of an organization

interest group (p. 249) individuals who organize to influence the government’s programs and policies

iron triangle (p. 262) the stable, cooperative relationships that often develop among a congressional committee, an administrative agency, and one or more supportive inter- est groups; not all of these relationships

d) providing informational benefits, providing solidary benefits, and providing material benefits

e) filing an amicus brief, bringing a lawsuit, and financing those who are filing a lawsuit

12. One of the major differences between PACs and Super PACs is that (p. 266) a) a PAC has a maximum contribu-

tion limit of $500 per candidate in each election cycle while a Super PAC has a maximum contribution limit of $1,000.

b) a PAC has a maximum contribution limit of $1,000 per candidate in each election cycle while a Super

PAC has a maximum contribution limit of $5,000.

c) a PAC has a maximum contribution limit of $5,000 per candidate in each election cycle while a Super PAC has a maximum contribution limit of $10,000.

d) a PAC has a maximum contribution limit of $5,000 per candidate in each election cycle while a Super PAC cannot donate to candidates directly.

e) a Super PAC has a maximum contribution limit of $5,000 per candidate in each election cycle while a PAC cannot donate to candidates directly.

are triangular, but the iron triangle is the most typical

lobbying (p. 261) a strategy by which organized interests seek to influence the passage of legislation or other public policy by exerting direct pressure on mem- bers of the legislature

material benefits (p. 256) special goods, services, or money provided to members of groups to entice others to join

membership association (p. 255) an organized group in which members actually play a substantial role, sitting on committees and engaging in group projects

New Politics movement (p. 259) a political movement that began in the 1960s and ’70s, made up of professionals and intellectuals for whom the civil rights and antiwar movements were formative experiences; the New Politics movement strengthened public interest groups

pluralism (p. 249) the theory that all inter- ests are and should be free to compete for influence in the government; the outcome of this competition is compromise and moderation


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Ainsworth, Scott. Analyzing Interest Groups. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.

Baumgartner, Frank, Jeffrey M. Berry, Beth L. Leech, David C. Kimball, and Marie Hojnacki. Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Berry, Jeffrey M., and Clyde Wilcox. Interest Group Society. 5th ed. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Cigler, Allan J., and Burdett A. Loomis, eds. Interest Group Politics. 9th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2015.

Drutman, Lee. The Business of America Is Lobbying: How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Goldstein, Kenneth. Interest Groups, Lobbying, and Participation in America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Herrnson, Paul, and Christopher Deering. Interest Groups Unleashed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2012.

Karpf, David. The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Lowi, Theodore J. The End of Liberalism. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979.

Olson, Mancur, Jr. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Strolovitch, Dara. Affirmative Advocacy: Race, Class, and Gender in Interest Group Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

For Further Reading

political action committee (PAC) (p. 250) a private group that raises and distributes funds for use in election campaigns

public interest groups (p. 251) groups that claim they serve the general good rather than only their own particular interest

purposive benefits (p. 257) selective benefits of group membership that emphasize the purpose and accomplishments of the group

solidary benefits (p. 256) selective benefits of group membership that

emphasize friendship, networking, and consciousness-raising

staff organization (p. 255) type of membership group in which a professional staff conducts most of the group’s activities

Super PACs (p. 266) an independent political action committee that may raise unlimited sums of money from corpora- tions, unions, and individuals but is not permitted to contribute to or coordinate directly with parties or candidates


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Congress WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES AND WHY IT MATTERS As the nation’s chief legislative body, Congress affects Americans every day with its

decisions. Guy Berkebile, founder of the Guy Chemical Company of Somerset,

Pennsylvania, was thrilled with the Tax Cut and Jobs Act passed by Congress

in late 2017. The bill lowers taxes for both large corporations and small busi-

nesses like Guy Chemical, which manufactures silicone and epoxy adhesives.

Berkebile noted that high business taxes had presented a challenge for him

as a small business owner. “I did not draw a salary from my company for

five years when I started it because the survival of my business in paying my

employees was always more important than how much I was making at the

time,” noted Berkebile, who mortgaged his house seven times to help finance

the business. He will face a lower tax rate under the new law.1

Congressional inaction affects Americans as well. Hazel Hoffman is a

5-year-old Illinois girl who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy, which

frequently sends her to the hospital with powerful seizures and which requires

expensive medications. Adding Hazel to her mother’s health insurance at work

090909 chapter

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Congress Congress’s actions—or lack of action—deeply affect the lives of everyday Americans. Taxes and children’s health insurance are two issues that Congress has tackled recently.

would cost $6,000 per year and would only cover half her health care costs.

Instead, Hazel is enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP),

created in 1997 to cover children in families with incomes too high for Medi-

caid but who can’t afford private coverage. It has widely been viewed as a suc-

cess, insuring nearly 9 million children for $13.6 billion in 20162 (in contrast,

Medicare for older people and the permanently disabled insures 57 million

people for $588 billion—six times the people for 43 times the cost).3 CHIP

was due for renewal in September 2017, but Congress declined to take action

for months, unable to agree on a spending bill and contemplating a federal

government shutdown. With CHIP money running out, officials in a number

of states were forced to draft letters to families terminating their coverage.

Finally, in January 2018, Congress broke its log jam and reauthorized CHIP for

six years, but not before sending families into a panic about what they would

do for health insurance if CHIP collapsed.

Congress has vast authority over many aspects of American life. Laws

related to federal spending, taxing, regulation, and federal judicial appointments


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all pass through Congress. While the debates over these laws may seem hard

to follow because they are often complex and technical or because heated,

partisan struggles distract from the substance of the issue, it is important

for the American people to learn about what Congress is doing. Actions

taken—or not taken—in Congress affect the everyday experiences we take for

granted. With its power to spend and tax, Congress also affects the choices

that people face and the opportunities they can expect in life. Making laws

is a complex and often messy process. Even so, it is vital for citizens to

monitor what Congress does. With so much information about Congress

available on the internet, it is not hard to get beyond the heated rhetoric and

simplistic headlines and ask your own questions about a proposed law. How

will it affect my life and the lives of people I care about? What is the impact

on my country?

★ Describe who serves in Congress and how they represent their constituents (pp. 277–88)

★ Explain how party leadership, the committee system, and the staff system help structure congressional business (pp. 288–93)

★ Outline the steps in the process of passing a law (pp. 293–97)

★ Analyze the factors that influence which laws Congress passes (pp. 297–303)

★ Describe Congress’s influence over other branches of government (pp. 303–5)



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Congress Represents the American People

Congress is the most important rep- resentative institution in American government. Each member’s primary responsibility in theory is to the dis- trict, to the constituency (the residents

in the area from which an official is elected), not to the congressional leadership, a party, or even Congress itself. Yet the task of representation is not a simple one. Views about what constitutes fair and effective representation differ, and constituents can make very different kinds of demands on their representatives. Members of Congress must consider these diverse views and demands as they represent their districts.


The framers of the Constitution provided for a bicameral legislature—that is, a leg- islative body consisting of two chambers or houses. The 435 members of the House are elected from districts apportioned according to population; the 100 members of the Senate are elected in a statewide vote, with two senators from each. Sena- tors have much longer terms in office and usually represent much larger and more diverse constituencies than do their counterparts in the House (see Table 9.1).

Both formal and informal factors contribute to differences between the two chambers of Congress. Differences in the length of terms and requirements for hold- ing office specified by the Constitution in turn generate differences in how members of each body develop their constituencies and exercise their powers of office. The small size and relative homogeneity of their constituencies and the frequency with

Describe who serves in Congress and how they represent their constituents


Minimum age of member 25 years 30 years

U.S. citizenship At least 7 years At least 9 years

Length of term 2 years 6 years

number representing each state 1–53 per state (depends on population)

2 per state

Constituency Local Local and statewide


Differences between the House and the Senate


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which they must seek re-election—every two years—make House members more attuned to the legislative needs of local interest groups. The result is that members of the House most effectively and frequently serve as the agents of well-organized local interests with specific legislative agendas—for instance, used-car dealers seek- ing relief from regulation or farmers looking for higher subsidies. Because House members seek re-election every two years, they are interested in doing what their constituents want right now.

Senators, on the other hand, serve larger and more heterogeneous constituencies. As a result, they are somewhat better able than members of the House to serve as the agents for groups and interests organized on a statewide or national basis. Moreover, with longer terms in office (six years), senators have the luxury of considering “new ideas” or seeking to bring together new coalitions of interests rather than simply serving existing ones.


We have become so accustomed to the idea of representative government that we tend to forget what a peculiar concept representation really is. A representative claims to act or speak for some other person or group. But how can one person be trusted to speak for another? How do we know that those who call themselves our representatives are actually speaking on our behalf rather than simply pursuing their own interests?

There are two circumstances under which one person reasonably might be trusted to speak for another. The first of these occurs if the two individuals are so similar in background, character, interests, and perspectives that anything said by one would very likely reflect the views of the other as well. This principle is at the heart of what is sometimes called sociological representation—a type of representation in which representatives have the same racial, gender, ethnic, religious, or educational back- grounds as their constituents. The assumption is that sociological similarity helps promote good representation; thus, the composition of a properly constituted rep- resentative assembly should mirror the composition of society.

The second circumstance under which one person might be trusted to speak for another occurs if the two are formally bound together so that the representative is in some way accountable to those she purports to represent. If representatives can somehow be punished or held to account for failing to represent their constituents properly, then they have an incentive to provide good representation even if their own personal backgrounds, views, and interests differ from those of the people they represent. This principle is called agency representation—the sort of representation that takes place when constituents have the power to hire and fire their representatives.

Both sociological and agency representation play a role in the relationship between members of Congress and their constituencies.

The Social Composition of the U.S. Congress The extent to which the U.S. Congress is representative of the American people in a sociological sense can be seen by examining the distribution of important social characteristics in the House and Senate today.


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African Americans, women, Latinos, and Asian Americans have increased their congressional representation in the past two decades (see Figure 9.1); but for most of American history, these groups had no representatives in Congress. Even now, their representation in Congress is not comparable to the proportions in the general population. After the 2018 elections, Congress was 9 percent African American, 8 percent Latino, and 2 percent Asian American. By contrast, the American population was far more diverse, with 13.3 percent African Americans, 17.6 percent


Diversity in Congress, 1971–2019 Congress has become much more socially diverse since the 1970s. How closely does the number of female, African American, and Latino representatives reflect their proportion of the total U.S. population?

SOURCES: Harold W. Stanley and Richard G. Niemi, eds., Vital Statistics on American Politics 2003–2004 (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2003), 207, Table 5–2; Jennifer E. Manning, Membership of the 113th Congress: A Profile, Congressional Research Service 7-5700, January 13, 2014, www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42964.pdf (accessed 2/24/14); Jennifer E. Manning, Membership of the 114th Congress: A Profile, Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, September 17, 2015, www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43869.pdf; R. Eric Petersen, Representatives and Senators: Trends in Member Characteristics since 1945, Congressional Research Service 7-5700, February 17, 2012, www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42365.pdf (accessed 9/28/15), 2019 data were calculated by the authors.


African Americans









1971 2003 2007 2011 2015 20191999199519911987198319791975








Asian Pacific Islander


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Latinos, and 5.6 percent Asian Americans.4 Similarly, the number of women in Congress continues to trail far behind their proportion of the population. Following the 2018 elections, the 116th Congress (2019–21) included over 100 women in the House of Representatives and at least 23 women in the Senate, an all-time high. Since many important contemporary issues do cut along racial and gender lines, a considerable clamor for reform in the representative process is likely to continue until these groups are fully represented.

The occupational backgrounds of members of Congress have always been a matter of interest because many issues cut along economic lines that are relevant to occupations and industries. The legal profession is the dominant career of most members of Congress prior to their election, and public service or politics is also a significant background. In addition, many members of Congress have important ties to business and industry.5

Is Congress still able to legislate fairly or take account of a diversity of views and interests if it is not a sociologically representative assembly?

Representatives as Agents A good deal of evidence indicates that whether or not members of Congress share their constituents’ sociological characteristics, they do work very hard to speak for their constituents’ views and serve their constitu- ents’ interests in the governmental process. The idea of representative as agent is similar to the relationship of lawyer and client. True, the relationship between the

To more effectively promote a legislative agenda addressing issues that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority groups, members of Congress from those groups have formed caucuses. Here, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N. Mex.), former chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, speaks out about Donald Trump’s proposed changes to immigration policies.


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House member and an average of 710,767 “clients” in the district, or the senator and millions of “clients” in the state, is very different from that of the lawyer and client. But the criteria of performance are comparable. One expects at the very least that each representative will constantly be seeking to discover the interests of the constituency and will take those interests into account.6 Whether members of Con- gress always represent the interests of their constituents is another matter, as we will see later in this chapter.

There is constant communication between constituents and congressional offices, and the volume of email from constituents and advocacy groups has grown so large so quickly that congressional offices have struggled to find effective ways to respond in a timely manner.7 At the same time, members of Congress have found new ways to communicate with constituents. They have created websites describing their achievements, established a presence on social networking sites, and issued e-newsletters that alert constituents to current issues. Many have also set up blogs and Twitter accounts to establish a more informal style of communi- cation with constituents.

The seriousness with which members of the House behave as representatives can be seen in the amount of time spent on behalf of their constituents. Well over one-quarter of their time and nearly two-thirds of the time of their staff members is devoted to constituency service (called “casework”). This service includes talk- ing to constituents, providing them with minor services, presenting special bills for them, attempting to influence decisions by regulatory commissions on their behalf, helping them apply for federal benefits such as Social Security and Small Business Administration loans, and assisting them with immigration cases.8

In many districts there are two or three issues that are top priorities for constit- uents and, therefore, for the representatives. For example, representatives from dis- tricts that grow wheat, cotton, or tobacco will likely give legislation on these subjects great attention. In oil-rich states such as Oklahoma, Texas, and California, senators and members of the House are likely to be leading advocates of oil interests. For one thing, representatives are probably fearful of voting against their district interests; for another, the districts are unlikely to have elected representatives who would want to vote against them. On the other hand, on many issues, constituents do not have very strong views, so representatives are free to act as they think best. Foreign policy issues often fall into this category.

The influence of constituencies is so pervasive that both parties generally agree that members should not be pressured to vote against their constituencies if doing so would endanger the re-election chances of any member. Party leaders obey this rule fairly consistently by not asking any member to vote in a way that might conflict with a district interest.


The sociological composition of Congress and the activities of representatives once they are in office are very much influenced by electoral considerations. Two factors related to the U.S. electoral system affect who gets elected and what they do once


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in office. The first factor is that of incumbency advantage. The second is the way congressional district lines are drawn, which can greatly affect the outcome of an election. Let us examine more closely the impact that these considerations have on representation.

Incumbency—holding a political office for which one is running—plays a very important role in the American electoral system and in the kind of representation citizens get in Washington. Once in office, members have access to an array of tools that they can use to aid their re-election. The most important of these is constitu- ency service—taking care of the problems and requests of individual voters. Con- gressional offices will intervene on behalf of constituents when they have problems with federal programs or agencies, in such areas as Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits, and passports. When congressional offices contact federal agencies dealing with such matters, the offices usually respond with extra speed, knowing that mem- bers of Congress can embarrass or penalize an agency that doesn’t do its job prop- erly. Through such services and through regular e-newsletters, the incumbent seeks to establish a “personal” relationship with the constituents. The success of this strat- egy is evident in the high rates of re-election for congressional incumbents, which are as high as 98 percent for House members and 90 percent for members of the Senate in recent years (see Figure 9.2). It is also evident in what is called “sophomore surge”—the tendency for incumbent candidates to win a higher percentage of the vote when seeking future terms in office.

The precarious economy and the backlash against the party in power made 2008 and 2010 difficult election years for some incumbents, particularly Democrats, given that their party controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress in a year when economic woes contributed to strong anti-incumbent sentiment.9 In 2016, Trump’s surprise victory in the presidential race benefited Republican incum- bents, who had appeared to be in danger of losing their seats.

Incumbency can also help a candidate by scaring off potential challengers. In many races, potential candidates may decide not to run because they fear that the incumbent simply has too much money or is too well liked or too well known. Potentially strong challengers may also decide that a district’s partisan leanings are too unfavorable. The efforts of incumbents to raise funds to ward off potential challengers start early. In addition to incumbents’ own efforts, each political party makes a special effort to reelect incumbents viewed as especially vulnerable. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) places vulnerable incumbents in its “Frontline” program to receive extra funding, choice committee assignments, and high-profile speaking engage- ments. For the 2018 midterm elections, the DCCC placed 19 incumbents on its Frontline list, many of whom had won in 2016 in districts carried by Trump. For its part, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee (RCCC) named ten members to its own incumbent protection program.10 In 2018, approxi- mately 93 percent of incumbents in the House and 86 percent in the Senate were re-elected. Seventy-six of the 435 House races were decided by a margin of less than 10 percent. Five incumbents in the Senate, and 20 in the House lost their seats in 2018.


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The advantage of incumbency thus tends to preserve the status quo in Congress. This fact has implications for the social composition of Congress. Women who run for open seats (that is, seats for which there are no incumbents) are just as likely to win as male candidates.11 However, the incumbency advantage makes it harder for women to increase their numbers in Congress because most incumbents are men. Supporters of term limits (legally prescribed limits on the number of terms an elected official can serve) argue that such limits are the only way to get new faces into Congress.

Apportionment and Redistricting Another major factor that affects who wins a seat in the House of Representatives is the way congressional districts are drawn (senators, on the other hand, represent entire states). Every 10 years, state legisla- tures must redraw election districts and redistribute legislative representatives to reflect population changes or in response to legal challenges to existing districts. Because the number of congressional seats has been fixed at 435 since 1929, redis- tricting is a zero-sum process; for one state to gain a seat, another must lose one. The process of allocating congressional seats among the 50 states is called apportionment. Over the past several decades, the shift of the American population to the South


The Power of Incumbency Members of Congress who run for re-election have a very good chance of winning. Has the incumbency advantage generally been greater in the House or in the Senate? What are the consequences of the incumbency advantage for who serves in Congress?

SOURCE: Norman J. Ornstein et al., eds., Vital Statistics on Congress, 1999–2000 (Washington, DC: AEI Press, 2000), 57–58; “Reelection Rates over the Years,” opensecrets.org.










40 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020

Increased political competition in the post-Watergate era created a large turnover in the Senate between 1974 and 1980.

Voter dissatisfaction with the Iraq War caused incumbents to lose ground in 2006, although the overwhelming majority were re-elected.


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and the West has greatly increased the size of the congressional delegations from those regions. This trend continued after the 2010 census and will likely continue after 2020 (see Figure 9.3). Texas is likely to gain three seats (after gaining four after 2010), and Florida will likely gain two. States in the Northeast and “rust belt” are likely to lose seats. Latino voters are nearly three times as prevalent in states that gained seats than in states that lost seats, suggesting that the growth of the Latino population is a major factor in the American political landscape.12

States that gain or lose seats must then redraw their congressional district bor- ders. This is a highly political process: districts are shaped to create an advantage for the party with a majority in the state legislature, which controls the redistricting pro- cess. In this complex process, those charged with drawing districts use sophisticated computer technologies to come up with the most favorable district boundaries. Redistricting can create open seats and pit incumbents of the same party against one


Projected Congressional Reapportionment, 2020 States in the West and parts of the South will likely be the big winners in the reappor- tionment of House seats following the 2020 census. The old manufacturing states in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions will be the biggest losers. Is this shift likely to favor Democrats or Republicans?

SOURCE: Rebecca Tippett, “2020 Congressional Reapportionment: An Update,” December 21, 2017, Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina, demography.cpc.unc.edu (accessed 6/8/18).

MT 1

ID 2

UT 4

CO 8

NM 3

AZ 10

NV 4

WY 1

WA 10

OR 6

CA 53

ND 1

KS 4

OK 5

TX 39

MN 7

IA 4

WI 8

IL 17


6MS4LA 6

MI 13

IN 9

MO 8

NE 3

SD 1

VT 1

NH 2

MA 9

RI 1 CT 5

NJ 12

MD 8 DE 1

GA 14

FL 29

SC 7

NC 14

OH 15

KY 6

TN 9

VA 11

PA 17

NY 26

2 WV

ME 2

Gain 2 seats Gain 1 seat No change Lose 1 seat Lose 2 seats

Gain 3 seatsAK 1 HI



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another, ensuring that one of them will lose. Redistricting can also give an advantage to one party by clustering voters with certain ideological or sociological characteris- tics in a single district or by diluting the influence of voter blocs by separating those voters into two or more districts. The manipulation of electoral districts to serve the interests of a particular group is known as gerrymandering.

Since the passage of the 1982 amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, race has become a major (and controversial) consideration in drawing voting districts. These amendments, which encouraged the creation of districts in which members of racial minorities have decisive majorities, have greatly increased the number of minority representatives in Congress. After the 1990 redistricting cycle, the num- ber of predominantly minority districts doubled, rising from 26 to 52. Among the most fervent supporters of the new minority districts were white Republicans, who used the opportunity to create more districts dominated by white Republican vot- ers. These developments raise thorny questions about representation. Some analysts argue that the system may grant minorities greater sociological representation, but it has made it more difficult for them to win substantive policy goals, while others dispute this argument.13

In the case of Miller v. Johnson (1995), the Supreme Court limited racial redis- tricting by ruling that race could not be the predominant factor in creating elec- toral districts.14 The distinction between race being a “predominant” factor and its being one factor among many is hazy. As a result, concerns about redistricting and

Redrawing legislative districts is a difficult task because it has implications for who will be elected. Here, the attorney for Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission discusses a possible layout with a city council member from Casa Grande. Arizona gained one congressional seat following the 2010 census.


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representation persist.15 Questions about minority representation emerged in 2011 in Texas, which gained four seats as a result of reapportionment. The Republican legislature drew a map that advantaged Republicans in three of those districts. But the plan drew a legal challenge on the grounds that it underrepresented Hispanic voters, who accounted for most of the state’s population growth. Although federal judges drew a map more favorable to minorities (and Democrats), the Supreme Court ruled that the state did not have to use the map drawn by judges. The state ultimately agreed to a map that added two Latino-dominated districts. However, federal courts ruled that this map also weakened Latino and African American polit- ical power by creating too few minority districts.

The future of race in redistricting became more uncertain after the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. That decision invalidated a section of the Voting Rights Act requiring that the Justice Department approve the redistricting plans of jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination.16 Many Democrats expressed disappointment with the decision, fearing that the previously covered states, several of which are controlled by Republican majorities, might try to redraw district lines to partisan ends and further bias districts toward Republicans.17 In 2015, Alabama’s black legislators challenged that state’s redistricting under the Vot- ing Rights Act. They charged that the Republican legislature had diluted the vote of African Americans by packing black voters into districts that already had strong minority representation, thus enhancing the chances of white Republican candi- dates in the remaining districts. The legislature claimed, on the contrary, that it was acting in accordance with the Voting Rights Act by concentrating black voters. Although the Supreme Court did not declare the districting unconstitutional, it ruled that the lower court had erred in approving the districts.18 The ruling signaled that state legislatures would not be able to use the Voting Rights Act to justify pack- ing minority voters into districts.


Members of Congress have numerous opportunities to provide direct benefits, or patronage, for their constituents. The most important such opportunity for direct patronage is in so-called pork-barrel legislation (or pork)—appropriations made by legislative bodies for local projects that may not be needed but that are created to help local representatives win re-election in their home districts. This type of legis- lation specifies a project to be funded within a particular district. Many observers of Congress argue that pork-barrel bills are the only ones that some members are serious about moving toward actual passage because they are seen as so important to members’ re-election bids.

A common form of pork-barreling is the “earmark,” the practice through which members of Congress insert into bills language that provides special benefits for their own constituents. When Democrats took over Congress in 2007, they vowed to limit the use of earmarks, which had grown from 1,439 per year in 1995 to 15,268 in 2006. More troubling, earmarks were connected to congressional scandals. For


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example, Republican House member Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) was sent to jail in 2005 for accepting bribes by companies hoping to receive earmarks in return.19 The House passed a new rule requiring that those representatives support- ing each earmark identify themselves and guarantee that they have no personal finan- cial stake in the requested project. An ethics law applied similar provisions to the Senate. Though the new requirements appeared to have had some impact, in the midst of the sharp economic downturn in 2009, Congress passed a bill designed to stimulate the economy that contained more than 8,000 earmarks. In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama called for Congress to publish a list of all earmark requests on a single website. Congress not only failed to enact such legislation, in 2010 it set a new record by passing 11,320 earmarks, worth $32 billion. But in 2011 the House and the Senate agreed to a two-year morato- rium on earmarks in spending bills and renewed the ban for the 113th and 114th Congresses.20 In 2018, President Trump suggested to Congress that it should con- sider restoring earmarks as a way of enhancing congressional power vis à vis the bureaucracy and to help “grease” the legislative wheels by giving members an incen- tive to support legislative programs. Trump’s comments were greeted favorably by many congressional leaders.21

Some analysts claim that the lack of earmarks contributes to congressional grid- lock. They argue that earmarks provide congressional leaders with incentives to promote compromise among members. Supporters of this position contend that earmarks are not inherently an abuse of power and note that they often support legitimate district projects, such as transportation and parks.22

There are a few other types of direct patronage (see Figure 9.4). One important form of constituency service is intervention with federal administrative agencies on behalf of constituents. Members of the House and Senate and their staffs spend a great deal of time seeking to secure favorable treatment for constituents and sup- porters. For example, members of Congress can assist senior citizens who are having Social Security or Medicare benefit eligibility problems. A small but related form of patronage is securing an appointment to one of the military academies for the child of a constituent. Traditionally, these appointments are allocated one to a district.

A different form of patronage is the private bill—a bill in Congress to provide a specific person with some kind of relief, such as a special exemption from immi- gration quotas. It is distinguished from a public bill, which is supposed to deal with general rules and categories of behavior, people, and institutions. As many as 75 percent of all private bills introduced (and one-third of those that pass) are con- cerned with obtaining citizenship for foreign nationals who cannot get permanent visas to the United States because the immigration quota for their country is filled or because of something unusual about their particular situation.23 Other private bills address a diverse set of issues involving a claim against the federal government, such as problems with veterans’ benefits or taxation. Private legislation is a con- gressional privilege that can be abused, but it is impossible to imagine members of Congress completely giving up one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective forms of patronage available to them. It can be defended as an indispensable part of the process by which members of Congress seek to fulfill their role as representatives.


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The Organization of Congress Is Shaped by Party

The U.S. Congress is not only a rep- resentative assembly but also a legis- lative body. To exercise its power to make laws, Congress must first bring about something close to an organi- zational miracle. The building blocks

of congressional organization include the political parties, the committee system, congressional staff, the caucuses, and the parliamentary rules of the House and Senate. Each of these factors plays a key role in the organization of Congress and in the process through which Congress formulates and enacts laws.

Explain how party leadership, the committee system, and the staff system help structure congressional business


How Members of Congress Represent Their Districts

Solving problems with government agencies

Providing jobs

Sponsoring private bills

Sponsoring appointments to service academies

Answering complaints

Providing information

Introducing legislation

Intervening with regulatory agencies

Obtaining federal grants and contracts

Helping importing or exporting

Helping secure favorable tax status

Making promotional speeches

Making symbolic gestures

Obtaining federal projects for district

Obtaining grants and contracts that promote employment in district

Supporting policies that enhance district’s

economic prosperity, safety, cultural resources, etc.

Participating in state and regional caucuses

Individual constituents

Organized interests

District as a whole

Members of Congress








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Every two years, at the beginning of a new Congress, the members of each party in the House of Representatives gather to elect their leaders. House Republicans call their gathering the conference. House Democrats call theirs the caucus. The elected leader of the majority party is later proposed to the whole House and is elected to the position of Speaker of the House, with voting along straight party lines, although in recent speaker elections some members of the speaker’s party have voted against their own candidate for the job to indicate their dissatisfaction with party leader- ship. The Speaker is the most important party and House leader and can influ- ence the legislative agenda, the fate of individual pieces of legislation, and members’ positions within the House. The House majority conference or caucus then also elects a majority leader. (In the House, the majority leader is subordinate in the party hierarchy to the Speaker of the House.) The minority party goes through the same process and selects the minority leader. Both parties also elect assistants to their party leaders, called whips, who are responsible for coordinating the party’s legislative strat- egy, building support for key issues, and counting votes.

Next in line of importance for each party after the Speaker and majority or minor- ity leader is what Democrats call the Steering and Policy Committee—Republicans have a separate Steering Committee and a separate Policy Committee—whose tasks are to assign new legislators to committees and to deal with the requests of incum- bent members for transfers from one committee to another.

Generally, members of Congress seek assignments that will allow them to influ- ence decisions of special importance to their districts. Representatives from farm districts, for example, may request seats on the Agriculture Committee.24 Seats on powerful committees such as Ways and Means, which is responsible for tax legisla- tion, and Appropriations are especially popular.

Within the Senate, the majority party usually designates a member of the major- ity party with the greatest seniority to serve as president pro tempore, a position of primarily ceremonial leadership. Real power is in the hands of the majority leader and minority leader, each elected by party conference. Together they control the Senate’s calendar, or agenda, for legislation. Each party also elects a Policy Com- mittee, which advises the leadership on legislative priorities. In recent years, party leaders in both chambers have gone around the committees to directly control the content and direction of important legislation.


The committee system is central to the operation of Congress. At each stage of the legislative process, Congress relies on committees and subcommittees to do the hard work of sorting through alternatives and writing legislation. There are several dif- ferent kinds of congressional committees; these include standing committees, select committees, joint committees, and conference committees.

Standing committees are very important arenas of congressional policy making. These permanent committees remain in existence from one session of Congress to

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the next; they have the power to pro- pose and write legislation. The jurisdic- tion of each standing committee covers a particular subject matter, such as finance or agriculture, which in most cases parallels the major departments or agencies in the executive branch. Among the most important stand- ing committees are those in charge of finances. The House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are powerful because of their jurisdiction over taxes, trade, and expensive entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. The Senate and House Appropriations com- mittees also play important ongoing roles because they decide how much

funding various programs will actually receive; they also determine exactly how the money will be spent. A seat on the Appropriations Committee allows a member the opportunity to direct funds to a favored program—perhaps one in his home district.

Except for the House Rules Committee, all standing committees receive pro- posals for legislation and process them into official bills. The House Rules Com- mittee decides the order in which bills come up for a vote on the House floor and determines the specific rules that govern the length of debate and opportunity for amendments. The Senate, which has less formal organization and fewer rules, does not have a similarly powerful rules committee.

Select committees are usually temporary and normally do not have the power to present legislation to the full Congress but rather are set up to highlight or inves- tigate a particular issue or address an issue not within the jurisdiction of existing committees. (The House and Senate Select Intelligence committees are permanent, however, and do have the power to report legislation, which means they can send legislation to the full House or Senate for consideration.) These committees may hold hearings and serve as focal points for the issues they are charged with consider- ing. Congressional leaders form select committees when they want to take up issues that fall between the jurisdictions of existing committees, to highlight an issue, or to investigate a particular problem. For example, the Senate set up the Senate Water- gate Committee in 1973 to investigate the Watergate break-in and cover-up. More recently, the House Select Committee on Benghazi was established to investigate the 2012 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya. In 2015 the committee held hearings to investigate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. Select committees set up to highlight ongoing issues have included the House Select Committee on Hunger, established in 1984, and the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, created in 2007 but abolished in 2011, when Republicans assumed control of the House.

After Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in November 2018, former House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was poised to take over the role of Speaker of the House from retiring Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). She had previ- ously served in the same position from 2007–11.


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Joint committees are formed of members of both the Senate and the House. There are four such committees: economic, taxation, library, and printing. These joint committees are permanent, but they do not have the power to report legislation. The Joint Economic Committee and the Joint Taxation Committee have often played important roles in collecting information and holding hearings on economic and financial issues. Finally, conference committees are temporary joint committees whose members are appointed by the Speaker of the House and the presiding officer of the Senate. These commit- tees are charged with working out a compromise on legislation that has been passed by the House and the Senate but in different versions. Conference committees can play an extremely important role in determining what laws are actually passed because they must reconcile any differences in the legislation passed by the House and Senate.

When control of Congress is divided between two parties, each is guaranteed significant representation in conference committees. When a single party controls both houses, the majority party is not obligated to offer such representation to the minority party. In 2003, Democrats complained that Republicans took this power to the extreme by excluding them and adding new provisions to legislation at the con- ference committee stage. Democrats even prevented several conference committees from convening to protest their near exclusion from conference committees on major energy, health care, and transportation laws. After the Democrats returned to power in 2007, they largely bypassed the conference committees; when their early efforts to reach compromises in the conference were derailed by partisan differences, the Demo crats began making closed-door agreements between top leaders in the House and the Senate. Although the process facilitated compromises across the two cham- bers, it meant that important changes to bills were made in private, without the trans- parency that would have been part of the conference committee process. After 2010, Congress continued to avoid conference committees. Instead, the Republican House and Democratic Senate leaders exchanged amendments as they sought to reach agree- ment on the final version of a bill, a practice known informally as “ping-ponging.”25

Within each committee, hierarchy is based on seniority. Seniority is the ranking given to an individual on the basis of length of continuous service on a commit- tee in Congress. In general, each committee is chaired by the most senior member of the majority party. But the principle of seniority is not absolute. Both Demo- crats and Republicans have violated it on occasion. In 1995, when the Republicans won control of the House, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich instituted a new practice of frequent seniority violations, often selecting committee chairs based on loyalty or fund-raising abilities, a practice that subsequent Republican leaders have main- tained. In 2007 the Democrats returned to the seniority principle to select com- mittee chairs but altered traditional practices in other ways by offering freshman Democrats choice committee assignments to increase their chances of re-election.26


The congressional institution second in importance only to the committee sys- tem is the staff system. Every member of Congress employs a large number of staff members, whose tasks include handling constituent requests and, to a large

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Women’s Parliamentary Representation Worldwide

April 2018 marked the first time in U.S. history that women comprised 20 percent of Congress, with 19.3 percent of the House and 23 percent of the Senate being women.a When we look around the world however, we find that the United States ranks 102 out of 188 countries in women’s parliamentary representation.

Why? research suggests women candidates benefit from gender quotas instituted (in

several countries) and may be at a dis- advantage in “winner-take-all” elections like those in the United States.b In rwanda, women comprise 61 percent of parliament, and there is both a gender quota (30 percent of the legislature is required to be women) and proportional representation (election rules where parties receive seats based on the percentage of the vote they received).

a The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), “With Election of Debbie Lesko (AZ-08), Record Number of Women in Congress,” April 24, 2018, cawp.rutgers.edu/sites/default/files/resources/18.4.24_pr_lesko_az08.pdf (accessed 5/18/18). b Lena Wängnerud, “Women in Parliaments: Descriptive and Substantive Representation,” Annual Review of Political Science 12 (2009): 51–69.

Very low (0–15%) Low (15.1–30%) Medium (30.1–45%)

High (45.1%+) No data available


SOURCE: The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), “Women in National Parliaments,” April 1, 2018, archive.ipu.org (accessed 5/18/18).

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and growing extent, dealing with legislative details and the activities of adminis- trative agencies. Increasingly, staffers bear the primary responsibility for formu- lating and drafting proposals, organizing hearings, dealing with administrative agencies, and negotiating with lobbyists. Indeed, legislators typically deal with one another through staff rather than through direct, personal contact. Today, staffers develop policy ideas, draft legislation, and have a good deal of influence over the legislative process.

Representatives and senators together employ over 12,000 staffers in their Washington and home offices. In addition, Congress employs more than 2,000 com- mittee staffers. These individuals make up the permanent staff, who stay attached to every House and Senate committee regardless of turnover in Congress and who are responsible for organizing and administering the committee’s work, including researching, scheduling, organizing hearings, and drafting legislation. Committee staffers also play key roles in the legislative process.

Rules of Lawmaking Explain How a Bill Becomes a Law

The institutional structure of Con- gress is one key factor that helps shape the legislative process. A second and equally important set of factors is the

rules of congressional procedure. These rules govern everything from the introduc- tion of a bill (a proposed law that has been sponsored by a member of Congress and submitted to the clerk of the House or Senate) through its submission to the president for signing (see Figure 9.5). Not only do these regulations influence the fate of each and every bill but they also help determine the distribution of power in the Congress.


Even if a member of Congress, the White House, or a federal agency has spent months developing and drafting a piece of legislation, it does not become a bill until it is submitted officially by a senator or representative to the clerk of the House or Senate and referred to the appropriate committee for deliberation. Bills can originate in the House or the Senate, but only the House can introduce “money bills”: those that spend or raise revenues. The framers inserted this provision in the Constitution because they believed that the chamber closest to the people should exercise greater authority over taxing and spending. No floor action on any bill can take place until the committee with jurisdiction over it has taken all the time it needs to deliberate. During the course of its deliberations, the committee typically refers the bill to one of its subcommittees, which may hold hearings, listen to expert testimony, and amend the proposed legislation before referring the bill to the full committee for consideration. The full committee may accept the recommendation of the subcommittee or hold its own hearings and prepare its own amendments. Or,

Outline the steps in the process of passing a law


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How a Bill Becomes a Law *Points at which a bill can be amended. **If the president neither signs nor vetoes a bill within 10 days, it automatically becomes law. †Points at which a bill can die.

Speaker of House receives bill



Hearings Committee markup*†



Hearings Committee markup*†

President of Senate receives bill

Rules Committee*Speaker*

House floor*† House Bill

House amends Senate bill

House floor Senate floor

Senate amends House bill

Senate Bill

Senate floor*†

Majority leader*

Conference committee*

Conference report*†

Adoption by both houses

House approves Senate amendment

Senate approves House amendment

White House**


House and Senate floor*

Veto override




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even more frequently, the committee and subcommittee may do little or nothing with a bill that has been submitted to them. Many bills are simply allowed to “die in committee” without serious consideration given to them. In a typical congressional session, 80–90 percent of the roughly 10,000 bills introduced die in committee—an indication of the power of the congressional committee system.

In the House, the relative handful of bills that are reported out of committee must, in the House, pass one additional hurdle within the committee system: the Rules Committee, which determines the rules that will govern action on the bill on the House floor. In particular, the Rules Committee allots the time for debate and decides to what extent amendments to the bill can be proposed from the floor. In recent years, the Rules Committee has become less powerful because the House leadership exercises so much influence over its decisions.


In the House, virtually all the time allotted for debate on a given bill is controlled by the bill’s sponsor and by its leading opponent. In almost every case, these two people are the committee chair and the ranking minority member of the committee that processed the bill—or those they designate. These two participants are, by rule and tradition, granted the power to allocate most of the debate time in small amounts to members who are seeking to speak for or against the measure. Preference in the alloca- tion of time goes to the members of the committee whose jurisdiction covers the bill.

The Filibuster In the Senate, the leadership has much less control over floor debate. Indeed, the Senate is unique among the world’s legislative bodies for its commitment to unlimited debate. Once given the floor, a senator may speak as long as she wishes. On a number of memorable occasions, senators have used the right to talk without interruption for as long as they want to prevent action on legislation they opposed. Through this tactic, called the filibuster, members of the Senate can prevent action on legislation they oppose by continuously holding the floor and speaking until the majority backs down (or the filibustering senator gives up). A vote of three-fifths of the Senate, or 60 votes, is required to end a filibuster. This procedure to end a filibuster is called cloture. For much of American history, senators only rarely used the filibuster, though during the 1950s and ’60s, opponents of civil rights legislation often used filibusters to block its passage. In the last 20 years, the filibuster (or the mere threat of a filibuster) has become so common that observers routinely note that it takes 60 votes to get anything passed in the Senate. The 113th Congress (2013–15) set a new record, with 218 cloture votes (the vote to end a filibuster). The number fell to 192 in the 115th Congress (2017–19).27

In 2013 the Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid (Nev.) mobilized his party to alter the filibuster rules for the first time in many decades. Frustrated by the repeated failure of the Senate to vote on many of President Obama’s nominees to fill posi- tions in the executive branch, as well as judgeships to important federal courts, Reid invoked what senators had come to call “the nuclear option,” a change to the filibus- ter rules in the middle of the session by simple majority vote. Under the new rules,


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nominees for executive branch appointments and federal court nominees—except the Supreme Court—cannot be filibustered, meaning that they can be approved by a simple majority vote. (Filibusters of legislation were still allowed.) Not surprisingly, the two parties had different views on the decision. Reid defended it as necessary, due to what he called “unbelievable, unprecedented obstruction.” Repub- licans denounced the new rule, stating, in the words of Pat Roberts (R-Kans.), “We have weakened this body permanently.”28 After winning control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2016, however, Republicans expanded Reid’s rule to include Supreme Court justices and so were able to secure the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch, who would undoubtedly have been blocked by Senate Democrats under the old rules. Legislation is still subject to filibuster, though some Republicans, along with President Trump, have declared that it is time to bring an end to the filibuster altogether.

Voting Once debate is concluded on the floor of the House and the Senate, the leaders schedule it for a vote on the floor of each chamber. By this time, congres- sional leaders know what the vote will be; leaders do not bring legislation to the floor unless they are fairly certain it is going to pass. As a consequence, it is unusual for the leadership to lose a bill on the floor. On rare occasions, the last moments of the floor vote can be very dramatic as each party’s leadership puts its whip organization into action to make sure that wavering members vote with the party.

In 2015 the House of Representatives failed to pass a spending bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, hours before the agency was to run out of money and begin to shut down. Despite having a majority in the chamber and an early vote that suggested that the bill would pass easily, House GOP leaders failed to prevent the most conservative members of the party from suddenly abandoning the bill over objections that it left out provisions to block President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. As midnight approached, the House agreed on a one-week exten- sion to keep the department open.29 Leaders later secured sufficient support to enact longer-term funding for Homeland Security. The importance of being able to attract wavering members with “pork” for their districts is one reason President Trump urged Congress in 2018 to restore earmarks, which have been banned since 2011.


Getting a bill out of committee and through both houses of Congress is no guarantee that it will be enacted into law. Before a bill can be sent to the president, both houses must pass it in the identical form. Frequently, bills that began with similar provi- sions in both chambers emerge with little resemblance to each other. Alternatively, a bill may be passed by one chamber but undergo substantial revision in the other chamber. In such a case, a conference committee composed of the senior members of the committees or subcommittees that initiated the bill from both houses may be convened to iron out differences between the two pieces of legislation.

When a bill comes out of conference, it faces one more hurdle. Before it can be sent to the president for signing, the House–Senate conference committee’s version


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of the bill must be approved on the floor of each chamber. Usually such approval is given quickly. Occasionally, however, a bill’s opponents use this round of approval as one last opportunity to defeat a piece of legislation. In recent years, polarization in Congress has led to much less reliance on conference committees. Instead, leaders exchange amendments in hopes of reaching agreement.


Once adopted by the House and Senate, a bill goes to the president, who may choose to sign it into law or veto it. If the president neither signs nor vetoes it within 10 days and Congress is in session, the bill automatically becomes law. The veto is the presi- dent’s constitutional power to reject a piece of legislation. To veto a bill, the president returns it unsigned within 10 days to the house of Congress in which it originated. If Congress adjourns during the 10-day period, such that congressional adjournment prevents the president from returning the bill to Congress, the bill is also considered to be vetoed. This latter method is known as the pocket veto. Unlike a regular or return veto, a pocket-vetoed bill cannot be overridden; the bill simply dies. The possibility of a presidential veto affects how willing members of Congress are to push for different pieces of legislation at different times. If they think a proposal is likely to be vetoed, they might shelve it for a later time or alter it to suit the president’s preferences.

A presidential veto may be overridden by a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. Successful overrides are rare but are a blow to the president.

Several Factors Influence How Congress Decides

What determines the kinds of leg- islation that Congress ultimately produces? According to the simplest theories of representation, members

of Congress respond to the views of their constituents. In fact, creating a legisla- tive agenda, drawing up a list of possible measures, and deciding among them is a complex process in which a variety of influences from inside and outside govern- ment play important roles. External influences include a legislator’s constituency and various interest groups. Influences from inside government include party lead- ership, congressional colleagues, and the president. Let us examine each of these influences individually and then consider how they interact to produce congres- sional policy decisions.


Because members of Congress, for the most part, want to be re-elected, we would expect the views of their constituents to be a primary influence on the decisions those legislators make. Yet most constituents pay little attention to politics and often

Analyze the factors that influence which laws Congress passes


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do not even know what policies their representatives support. Nonetheless, mem- bers of Congress spend a lot of time worrying about what their constituents think because these representatives realize that the choices they make may be scrutinized in a future election and used as ammunition by an opposing candidate. Because of this possibility, members of Congress do try to anticipate their constituents’ policy views.30 In 2017, despite a personal effort by President Trump to persuade dissident Republicans, the House GOP leadership could not muster enough Republican votes to pass a measure that would have repealed Obamacare. Some Republicans from swing districts feared upsetting constituents who favored Obamacare, while more conservative Republicans thought the bill did not go far enough in dismantling government-sponsored health insurance.


Interest groups are another important external influence on congressional poli- cies. Members of Congress pay close attention to interest groups for a number of reasons: interest groups can mobilize constituents, serve as watchdogs on con- gressional action, and supply candidates with money. When members of Congress are making voting decisions, those interest groups that have some connection to constituents or that can mobilize followers in particular members’ districts are most likely to be influential.

Interest groups also have substantial influence in setting the legislative agenda and helping craft specific language in legislation. Today, sophisticated lobbyists win influence by providing information about policies, as well as campaign contri-

butions, to busy members of Congress. The $1.1 trillion end-of-year spending bill passed at the end of 2014 included an amendment exempting many finan- cial transactions from federal regula- tion under the Dodd-Frank Act. The amendment language was taken from a bill originally written by Citigroup lobbyists, with 70 of 85 lines of the bill directly copying Citigroup’s language.31 After further lobbying by the banking industry, legislation enacted in 2018 loosened a number of Dodd-Frank rules and exempted regional banks from a number of remaining rules. In recent years, interest groups have also begun to build broader coalitions and comprehensive campaigns around par- ticular policy issues. These coalitions do not rise from the grass roots but instead

Representatives spend a lot of time meeting with constituents in their districts to explain how they have helped their district and learn what issues their constituents care about. Such meetings are often informal events at local restaurants or fairs, or town halls where constituents can ask questions. Here, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) meets with constituents.


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are put together by Washington lobbyists who launch comprehensive lobbying campaigns that combine simulated grassroots activity with information and cam- paign funding for members of Congress.

Concerns that special interests exert too much influence led Congress to enact new ethics legislation in 2007. Now lobbyists are required to disclose the names of the individual contributors to these political donations. Although the new law pro- vides additional transparency, it does not fundamentally alter the fact that wealthy interest groups continue to exercise tremendous influence in Congress.

Moreover, the large sums of cash raised by Super PACs (political action committees)—discussed in Chapter 7—have introduced a whole new set of ques- tions about the role of special interests in politics, especially because donors to Super PACs can remain anonymous. Although they cannot openly coordinate with candidates, Super PACs can endorse candidates by name and are often run by people close to the candidates they support. In 2016, Super PACs poured unprec- edented sums of money into the race for president, but they also targeted key con- gressional contests in an effort to affect the balance of power between the parties in Congress.


In both the House and the Senate, party leaders have a good deal of influence over the behavior of their party members. This influence, sometimes called “party disci- pline,” was once so powerful that it dominated the lawmaking process. In the 1800s party leaders could often command the allegiance of more than 90 percent of their members. A vote in which half or more of the members of one party take one posi- tion while at least half of the members of the other party take the opposing position is called a party unity vote. At the beginning of the twentieth century, nearly half of all roll-call votes (votes in which each legislator’s yes-or-no vote is recorded as the clerk calls the names of the members alphabetically) in the House of Representatives were party votes. While party voting is rarer today than a century ago, in the last decade it has been fairly common to find at least a majority of the Democrats opposing a majority of the Republicans on any given issue.

Typically, party unity is greater in the House than in the Senate. House rules give more power to the majority party leaders, which gives them more influence over House members. In the Senate, however, the leadership has few controls over its members. Party unity has been on the rise in recent years because the divisions between the parties have deepened on many high-profile issues such as abortion, affirmative action, the minimum wage, and school vouchers (see Figure 9.6) and because the majority–minority party difference has been small. In 2016, House Democrats voted with the majority 96 percent of the time, marking an all-time high, at least in modern times. Senate Democrats voted with their caucus 92 per- cent of the time. Republicans were also very united. In 2016, House Republicans voted with their party 96 percent of the time, a record high; Senate Republicans voted with their party 86 percent of the time, only five points below the record set in 2015.32


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Although party organization has weakened since the turn of the twentieth cen- tury, today’s party leaders still have resources to reward loyal members who vote with the party: (1) leadership PACs, (2) committee assignments, (3) access to the floor, (4) the whip system, (5) logrolling, and (6) the presidency.

Leadership PACs Leaders have increased their influence over members in recent years with aggressive use of leadership PACs. Leadership PACs are organizations that members of Congress use to raise funds that they then distribute to other members of their party running for election. Republican congressional leaders pioneered the aggressive use of leadership PACs to win their congressional major- ity in 1995, and the practice has spread widely since that time. Money from lead- ership PACs can be directed to the most vulnerable candidates or to candidates who are having trouble raising money. They can also be used to influence primary


Party Unity Votes by Chamber Party unity votes are roll-call votes in which a majority of one party lines up against a majority of the other party. Party unity votes increase when the parties are polarized and when the party leadership can enforce discipline. Why did the percentage of party unity votes decline in the 1970s? Why has it risen in recent years?

SOURCES: “CQ Roll Call’s Vote Studies—2013 in Review,” http://media.cq.com/votestudies (accessed 6/9/14); Eliza Newlin Carney, “Standing Together against Any Action,” CQ Weekly (March 16, 2015); and “2015 Vote Studies: Party Unity Remained Strong,” CQ Weekly (February 8, 2016); Vital Statistics, “Table 8-3 Party Unity Votes in Congress, 1953-2016,” Brookings, May 21, 2018, www.brookings.edu/multi-chapter-report/vital-statistics-on-congress/ (accessed 11/9/18).





1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020








During the 1970s, weaker party leadership was one reason that relatively few votes pitted the parties against one another.

Party unity votes have increased as partisan polarization in Congress has increased.


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elections. For example, New York Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand has used her leadership PAC to promote Democratic women candidates running for Congress. In 2016 the PAC, which she named Off the Sidelines, supplied funds to 61 candidates running for seats in the House and 10 for the Senate, all of them women.33

Committee Assignments Party leaders can create debts among members by help- ing them get favorable committee assignments. These assignments are made early in the congressional careers of most members and normally are not taken from them if they later go against party discipline (although this does happen occasionally to punish disloyalty). Nevertheless, if the leadership goes out of its way to get the right assignment for a member, this effort is likely to create a bond of obligation that can be called upon without any other payments or favors. This is one reason the Repub- lican leadership gave freshmen favorable assignments when the Republicans took over Congress in 1995. When the Democrats won control of Congress in 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave desirable and prestigious committee assignments to Democratic House members who faced competitive re-election races, to assist them in their home districts and increase their loyalty.

Access to the Floor The most important everyday resource available to the parties is control over access to the floor. With thousands of bills awaiting passage and most members clamoring for access in order to influence a bill or to publicize themselves, floor time is precious. Floor time is allocated in both houses of Congress by the majority and minority leaders. More important, the Speaker of the House and the majority leader in the Senate possess the power of recognition—that is, they decide who may and may not speak on the floor. This authority is quite formidable and can be used to stymie a piece of legislation completely or to frustrate a member’s attempts to speak on a particular issue. Because the power is significant, members of Congress usually attempt to stay on good terms with the Speaker and the majority leader in order to ensure that they will continue to be recognized.

The Whip System Some influence accrues to party leaders through the whip system, which is primarily a communications network in each house of Congress for conveying the leaders’ wishes and plans to the members. Between 12 and 20 assistant and regional whips are selected to operate at the direction of the majority or minority leader and the whip. They take polls of all the members to learn their intentions on specific bills, enabling the leaders to know whether they have enough support to allow a vote as well as whether the vote is so close that they need to put pressure on undecided members. In those instances, the Speaker or a lieutenant will go to a few party members who have indicated they will switch if their vote is essential—an expedient that the leaders try to limit to a few times per session.

The whip system helps maintain party unity in both houses of Congress, but it is particularly critical in the House of Representatives because of the large number of legislators whose positions and votes must be accounted for. The majority and


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minority whips and their assistants must be adept at inducing compromise among legislators who hold widely differing viewpoints.

Since 2010, when Republicans retook control of the House, the whip opera- tion has been faced with significant challenges from conservative members. In 2015 a small group of conservative Republicans, organized into the House Freedom Caucus, regularly disputed the positions of the party leadership. Frustrated with the lack of discipline, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) expelled several members from his whip team for failing to support party positions.34 Indeed, con- flict with these rebellious Republicans prompted Speaker John Boehner to make the stunning announcement in September 2015 of his retirement from the speakership and from the House. In 2017, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wisc.) found that he sometimes needed Democratic votes to pass measures because Freedom Caucus members would not vote with the rest of the Republicans.

Logrolling A legislative practice wherein agreements are made between legislators in voting for or against a bill is called logrolling. Unlike with bargaining, legislators who are logrolling have nothing in common but their desire to exchange support. The agreement states, in effect, “You support me on bill X, and I’ll support you on bill Y.” Since party leaders are the center of the communications networks in the two chambers, they can help members create large logrolling coalitions. Hundreds of logrolling deals are made each year, and it is the job of the leader and whips to keep track of who owes what to whom.

The Presidency Of all the influences that maintain the clarity of party lines in Congress, the influence of the presidency is probably the most important. Indeed, the office is a touchstone of party discipline in Congress. Since the late 1940s, under President Harry Truman, presidents each year have identified a number of bills to

be considered part of their administration’s program. By the mid- 1950s, both parties in Congress began to look to the president

for these proposals, which became the most significant part of Congress’s agenda. The president’s support is an impor- tant criterion for party loyalty, and party leaders are able to

use it to rally some members. Though President Trump was personally unpopular with many members of

Congress, legislators still looked to him to set the agenda and most of the major legislative initia- tives of 2017 and 2018, including border secu- rity, immigration, the repeal of Obamacare, and tax cuts originated in the White House.

In 2015 the most conservative factions of the Republican Party in Congress, frustrated that Speaker of the House John Boehner hadn’t been more effective against the Obama administration, pressured him to resign.

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Recent congresses have been notable for their inability to pass laws. The 114th Con- gress (2015–17), 113th Congress (2013–15), and the 112th Congress (2011–13) were the three least productive Congresses in modern history.35 In November 2013, Congress received the lowest levels of approval ever recorded in public opinion polls: 9 percent approval, when many high-profile bills failed to pass.36

In 2018, President Trump and congressional leaders agreed on a spending bill that provided for increased defense and domestic social spending. Though the bill was opposed by Republican “deficit hawks” and by some Democrats who demanded legislation to protect undocumented immigrants, a majority of Republicans and more than 73 House Democrats supported the legislation. In the Senate, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) briefly filibustered the bill, but it was ultimately passed by a large majority and signed into law. By increasing overall spending levels, Trump and congressional leaders provided funding for programs that each party supported. The GOP got more money for the military and the Democrats won more money for domestic programs. It was the sort of classic logroll hated by ideological purists but necessary in a democratic legislature.

Congressional Polarization Congress’s frequent inability to decide reflects the deep ideological differences that separate the two parties. Efforts to measure the ideological distance between the two parties show that since the mid-1970s Republicans and Democrats have been diverging sharply and are now more polar- ized than at any time in the last century. Democrats have become more liberal and Republicans have become more conservative on issues related to the economy and the role of government.37 The Republican Party has experienced the greatest ideological shift, becoming sharply more conservative. Moreover, because con- gressional districts are increasingly homogeneous in their ideology—in part due to gerrymandering but mainly because of natural clustering of the population—most members of Congress are in safe seats. Their constituents will not punish them for failing to compromise. Additionally, active mobilization by organizations on the right, such as the Club for Growth, means that Republican members of Congress who support compromises might be punished. These outside organizations have financed alternative candidates to challenge members who vote against the organ- izations’ positions.

Much Congressional Energy Goes to Tasks Other Than Lawmaking

In addition to the power to make the law, Congress has at its disposal an array of other instruments through which to influence the process of

Describe Congress’s influence over other branches of government


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government. The Constitution gives the Senate the power to approve treaties and appointments. And Congress has a number of other powers through which it can share with the other branches the capacity to administer the laws.


Oversight refers to the effort by Congress, through hearings, investigations, and other techniques, to exercise control over the activities of executive agencies. Oversight is carried out by committees or subcommittees of the Senate or the House, which conduct hearings and investigations to analyze and evaluate bureaucratic agencies and the effectiveness of their programs. Their purpose may be to locate inefficien- cies or abuses of power, to explore the relationship between what an agency does and what a law intends, or to change or abolish a program. Most programs and agencies are subject to some oversight every year during the course of hearings on appropriations—that is, the amounts of money approved by Congress in statutes (bills) that each unit or agency of government can spend.

Committees or subcommittees have the power to subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, cross-examine, compel testimony, and bring criminal charges for contempt (refusing to cooperate) and perjury (lying). Hearings and investigations resemble each other in many ways, but they differ on one fundamental point. A hearing is usually held on a specific bill, and the questions asked there are usually intended to build a record with regard to that bill. In an investigation, the committee or subcommittee does not begin with a particular bill but examines a broad area or problem and then concludes its investigation with one or more proposed bills.

Oversight hearings can serve as political tools. When party control between Congress and the president is divided, Congress is more likely to investigate the executive branch than when party control is unified. The Select Committee on Benghazi, for example, formed in 2014 to investigate the deaths of four Ameri- can diplomats in Libya, became enmeshed in partisan contention after Hillary Clinton—secretary of state during the attacks—announced that she would run for president. In 2015, as revelations emerged that Clinton had used a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state, the committee began to investigate whether appropriate procedures had been followed and whether national security was compromised.38 When the FBI undertook an investigation into the matter in 2016, FBI director James Comey recommended no criminal charges against Clinton but also questioned her judgment and called her actions “extremely care- less.”39 Almost as soon as Donald Trump took office in 2017, Democrats called for investigations into allegations that the Trump administration had colluded with Russian operatives to help Trump win the 2016 election. Democrats demanded the appointment of a special counsel. Over the course of the investigation, the special counsel indicted several close Trump aides for improper contacts with Russian officials. Four of Trump’s former aides pleaded guilty to crimes related to the investigation.


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The Constitution has given the Senate a special power, one that is not based on law- making. The president has the power to make treaties and to appoint top executive officers, ambassadors, and federal judges—but only “with the Advice and Consent of the Senate” (Article II, Section 2). For treaties, two-thirds of senators present must concur; for appointments, a simple majority is required.

The power to approve or reject presidential requests includes the power to set conditions. The Senate only occasionally exercises its power to reject treaties and appointments, and usually that is when opposite parties control the Senate and the White House.


The Constitution also grants Congress the power of impeachment over the presi- dent, vice president, top executive branch officials, and judicial officials. To impeach means the House of Representatives charges a government official (president or otherwise) with “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” and brings that person before Congress to determine guilt. Impeachment is thus like a criminal indictment in which the House of Representatives acts like a grand jury, voting (by simple majority) on whether the accused ought to be impeached. If a majority of the House votes to impeach, an impeachment trial is conducted in and by the Senate, which acts like a trial jury by voting whether to convict and remove the person from office (this vote requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate).

Controversy over Congress’s impeachment power has arisen over the grounds for impeachment, especially the meaning of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” It is generally understood that an impeachable offense could include commission of a crime, but also a non-criminal offense that constitutes an abuse of the powers of office. Some also note that “an impeachable offense is whatever the majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”40 In other words, impeachment, especially impeachment of a president, is a political decision.

The political nature of impeachment was very clear in the two instances of presi dential impeachment that have occurred in American history. In 1867, Presi- dent Andrew Johnson, a southern Democrat who had battled a congressional Republican majority over Reconstruction, was impeached by the House but saved from conviction by one vote in the Senate. In 1998 the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, accusing him of lying under oath and obstructing justice during the investigation of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The vote was highly partisan, with only five Democrats voting for impeachment on each charge. In the Senate, where a two-thirds majority was needed to convict the president, only 45 sena- tors voted to convict on the first count of lying and 50 voted to convict on the second charge of obstructing justice. As in the House, the vote for impeachment was highly partisan, with all Democrats and only five Republicans supporting the president’s ultimate acquittal.


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Congress WHAT DO WE WANT? Much of this chapter has described the major institutional components of Congress and

has shown how they work as Congress makes policy. But what do these institutional

features mean for how Congress represents the American public? As we saw with Guy

Berkebile and Hazel Hoffman at the beginning of the chapter, congressional actions—and

inaction—have profound effects on Americans’ lives. does the organization of Congress

promote the equal representation of all Americans? or are there institutional features of

Congress that allow some interests more access and influence than others? What can we

learn from a tax cut that passes Congress and a CHIP reauthorization that almost fails?

When Congress is ineffective, American democracy suffers. As we have seen in this

chapter, prolonged stalemates in Congress have led to a reduction in America’s credit

rating and a costly government shutdown. Moreover, Americans have lost confidence

in Congress as it has lurched from crisis to crisis. Is it time for some major changes

to make Congress work better? disillusionment with congressional gridlock has led

some to say that the United States should become a parliamentary system, where the

winning party can enact the legislation it promised in its party platform. Such a system

is more accountable to voters and less prone to stalemate. But Americans would have

to jettison the presidency and become a unicameral body to operate as a true parlia-

mentary system, like that of Britain.

Changes in the way Congress conducts its business could also promote more

bipartisan decision-making. For example, former House Speaker John Boehner de-

cided that he would only bring legislation to the floor if a majority of republicans sup-

ported it. Speaker Paul ryan also followed the same practice. The “Hastert rule,” as

this practice is called could easily be abandoned, allowing bipartisan majorities to enact

legislation. Another significant change—eliminating the filibuster in the Senate—

would heighten partisan differences but ease gridlock. As we have seen, the Senate

voted to eliminate the filibuster for executive branch appointments and judicial candi-

dates (except for the Supreme Court) in 2013. Abandoning the filibuster altogether would

allow legislation to move more smoothly through the Senate. Will any of these changes—

or other measures—be adopted? Each carries risks to political parties and to politicians.

yet, gridlock also carries political risks, as the public grows frustrated with congressional

inaction on important policy areas. What areas of public policy might suffer if Congress

continues its inability to decide? How politicians weigh these different choices will shape

how—and whether—Congress fills its central position in American democracy.

Gridlock and bitter disagreements in Congress turn some Americans off to politics.

However, as the core representative institution of government, Congress is supposed

to represent all Americans. As the “Who Participates?” feature on the facing page

shows, the electorate that turns out to vote for Congress is on average older, whiter,

and more affluent than the average American.


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WHAT YOU CAN DOWHAT YOU CAN DOWHAT YOU CAN DO SOURCES: CNN House Exit Polls, www.cnn.com/election/2018/ exit-polls (accessed 11/12/18); U.S. Census Bureau, 2014 American Community Survey, www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/data.html (accessed 10/22/15).








Gender U.S. pop. Electorate







45−64 34% 39%

65+ 19% 26%

Age U.S. pop. Electorate







Latino 17% 11%

Asian 5% 3% $100−$200k 6% 25%

Other 3% 3%

Race U.S. pop. Electorate

Under $30k






$50−$100k 20% 29%

Over $200k 2% 9%

Income U.S. pop. Electorate*

U.S. population


2018 Voters as Compared with U.S. Population

*Numbers may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

Who Elects Congress?

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Practice Quiz

1. Which of the following is a way in which the House and the Senate are different? (p. 278) a) Senators are more interested in

doing what their constituents want right now, while members of the House have more time to consider “new ideas” and bring together new coalitions of interests.

b) Members of the House are more interested in doing what their con- stituents want right now, while sen- ators have more time to consider “new ideas” and to bring together new coalitions of interests.

c) Senators serve smaller and more homogeneous constituencies than members of the House.

d) Senators are often more attuned to the legislative needs of local interest groups than members of the House.

e) There are no important differences between the House and the Senate.

2. Which type of representation is described when constituents have the power to hire and fire their representative? (p. 278) a) agency representation b) sociological representation c) philosophical representation d) ideological representation e) economic representation

Know Your Members of Congress


Vote in the next congressional election. If you haven’t registered, see page 242 for instructions on how to do so.

Discover what bills are currently under consideration in Congress by visiting www.congress.gov.

Contact your member of Congress to state your opinion. Go to www.house.gov and enter your ZIP code to �nd your representative. Go to www.senate.gov and �nd your state in the drop-down menu to �nd your two U.S. senators.

308 STUdy GU IdE

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3. Which of the following statements best describes the social composition of the U.S. Congress? (pp. 279–80) a) The majority of representatives

do not have university degrees. b) Men and women are equally

represented in Congress. c) Most members of Congress

do not affiliate with any specific religion.

d) The legal profession is the domi- nant career of most members of Congress prior to their election.

e) The number of African American, Latino, and Asian American repre- sentatives has decreased over the last 20 years.

4. Which of the following is an advantage that incumbents have in winning re-election? (p. 282) a) Challengers are not legally allowed

to spend more money campaigning than incumbents.

b) Incumbents can provide constitu- ency services during their tenure in office.

c) Term limits for incumbents mean they always know when an election will be their last.

d) The Supreme Court has ruled that a district cannot be redrawn while an incumbent remains in office.

e) Incumbents have no advantage over challengers in winning office.

5. The Supreme Court has ruled that (p. 285) a) only the House of representatives

has the constitutional authority to redraw congressional district lines

b) race can be the predominant factor in drawing congressional districts.

c) race cannot be the predominant factor in drawing congressional districts.

d) states can forgo the redistricting process if they lose more than 10 percent of their population between censuses.

e) only the Senate has the constitu- tional authority to redraw congres- sional district lines

6. An “earmark” is (p. 286) a) a rule in the House of representa-

tives that limits who can be heard during legislative debates.

b) a congressional district drawn to advantage candidates from a certain racial or ethnic group.

c) a law that grants some special privilege or exemption to a single individual.

d) language inserted into a bill by a member of Congress that provides special benefits for the member of Congress’s constituents.

e) a weekly, informal meeting between members of Congress and their constituents.

7. Which of the following types of committees includes members of both the House and the Senate on the same committee? (p. 291) a) standing committee b) conference committee c) select committee d) All committees include both House

members and senators. e) no committees include both House

members and senators.

8. Which of the following statements about the filibuster is most accurate? (p. 295) a) The filibuster was first used in 1975. b) The votes of 67 senators are cur-

rently required to end a filibuster. c) The filibuster was used far more

frequently in the 1930s and 1940s than it has been in the last two decades.

d) nominees for positions in the exec- utive branch and the federal courts cannot currently be filibustered.

e) Filibusters were declared unconsti- tutional by the Supreme Court in 2013.

9. Members of Congress take their constituents’ views into account because (p. 298) a) the Supreme Court can invalidate

laws passed without majority support in the public.

b) interest groups are forbidden from lobbying during legislative votes.

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Key Terms

agency representation (p. 278) a type of representation in which a representative is held accountable to a constituency if he or she fails to represent that constituency properly; this is incentive for the represent- ative to provide good representation when his or her personal backgrounds, views, and interests differ from those of his or her constituency

apportionment (p. 283) the process, occurring after every decennial census, that allocates congressional seats among the 50 states

appropriations (p. 304) the amounts of money approved by Congress in statutes (bills) that each unit or agency of government can spend

bicameral (p. 277) having a legislative assembly composed of two chambers or houses; distinguished from unicameral

bill (p. 293) a proposed law that has been sponsored by a member of Congress and submitted to the clerk of the House or Senate

c) most constituents pay close attention to what’s going on in Congress at all times.

d) they worry that their voting record will be scrutinized at election time.

e) they can be impeached if they go against their constituents’ policy preferences.

10. Which of the following is not a resource that party leaders in Congress use to create party discipline? (p. 299) a) leadership PACs b) committee assignments c) access to the floor d) the whip system e) party unity votes

11. An agreement between members of Congress to trade support for each other’s bills is known as (p. 302) a) oversight. b) filibuster. c) logrolling. d) patronage. e) cloture.

12. Congressional polarization (p. 303) a) has decreased since the mid-1970s. b) has increased since the mid-1970s. c) has remained the same since the

mid-1970s. d) has been driven entirely by

democrats becoming more liberal since the mid-1970s.

e) has not been measured since the mid-1970s.

13. When Congress conducts an inves- tigation to explore the relationship between what a law intended and what an executive agency has done, it is engaged in (p. 304) a) oversight. b) advice and consent. c) appropriations. d) executive agreement. e) direct patronage.

14. Which of the following statements about impeachment is not true? (p. 305) a) The president is the only official

who can be impeached by Congress.

b) Impeachment means to charge a government official with “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

c) The House of representatives decides by simple majority vote whether the accused ought to be impeached.

d) The Senate decides whether to convict and remove the person from office.

e) There have only been two instances of presidential impeachment in American history.

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caucus (political) (p. 289) a normally closed political party business meeting of citizens or lawmakers to select candidates, elect officers, plan strategy, or make decisions regarding legislative matters

cloture (p. 295) a rule or process in a leg- islative body aimed at ending debate on a given bill; in the U.S. Senate, 60 senators (three-fifths) must agree in order to impose a time limit and end debate

conference (p. 289) a gathering of House republicans every two years to elect their House leaders; democrats call their gathering the caucus

conference committees (p. 291) joint com- mittees created to work out a compromise on House and Senate versions of a piece of legislation

constituency (p. 277) the residents in the area from which an official is elected

filibuster (p. 295) a tactic used by members of the Senate to prevent action on legisla- tion they oppose by continuously holding the floor and speaking until the majority backs down; once given the floor, sena- tors have unlimited time to speak, and it requires a vote of three-fifths of the Senate to end a filibuster

gerrymandering (p. 285) the apportionment of voters in districts in such a way as to give unfair advantage to one racial or ethnic group or political party

impeachment (p. 305) the formal charge by the House of representatives that a government official has committed “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”

incumbency (p. 282) holding the political office for which one is running

joint committees (p. 291) legislative com- mittees formed of members of both the House and Senate

logrolling (p. 302) a legislative practice whereby agreements are made between

legislators in voting for or against a bill; vote trading

majority leader (p. 289) the elected leader of the majority party in the House of representatives or in the Senate; in the House, the majority leader is subordinate in the party hierarchy to the Speaker of the House

minority leader (p. 289) the elected leader of the minority party in the House or Senate

oversight (p. 304) the effort by Congress, through hearings, investigations, and other techniques, to exercise control over the activities of executive agencies

party unity vote (p. 299) a roll-call vote in the House or Senate in which at least 50 percent of the members of one party take a particular position and are opposed by at least 50 percent of the members of the other party

patronage (p. 286) the resources available to higher officials, usually opportunities to make partisan appointments to offices and to confer grants, licenses, or special favors to supporters

pocket veto (p. 297) a presidential veto that is automatically triggered if the president does not act on a given piece of legislation passed during the final 10 days of a legisla- tive session

pork-barrel legislation (or pork) (p. 286) appropriations made by legislative bodies for local projects that are often not needed but that are created so that local representatives can win re-election in their home districts

private bill (p. 287) a proposal in Congress to provide a specific person with some kind of relief, such as a special exemption from immigration quotas

redistricting (p. 284) the process of redraw- ing election districts and redistributing legislative representatives; this happens every 10 years to reflect shifts in popula- tion or in response to legal challenges to existing districts

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roll-call vote (p. 299) a vote in which each legislator’s yes-or-no vote is recorded as the clerk calls the names of the members alphabetically

select committees (p. 290) (usually) tem- porary legislative committees set up to highlight or investigate a particular issue or address an issue not within the jurisdiction of existing committees

seniority (p. 291) the ranking given to an individual on the basis of length of continu- ous service on a committee in Congress

sociological representation (p. 278) a type of representation in which representatives have the same racial, gender, ethnic, religious, or educational backgrounds as their constitu- ents. It is based on the principle that if two individuals are similar in background, char- acter, interests, and perspectives, then one can correctly represent the other’s views

Speaker of the House (p. 289) the chief presiding officer of the House of

representatives; the Speaker is the most important party and House leader and can influence the legislative agenda, the fate of individual pieces of legislation, and members’ positions within the House

standing committee (p. 289) a permanent committee with the power to propose and write legislation that covers a particular subject, such as finance or agriculture

term limits (p. 283) legally prescribed limits on the number of terms an elected official can serve

veto (p. 297) the president’s constitutional power to prevent a bill from becoming a law; a presidential veto may be overrid- den by a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress

whip (p. 289) a party member in the House or Senate responsible for coordinating the party’s legislative strategy, building support for key issues, and counting votes

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deering, Christopher, and Steven S. Smith. Committees in Congress. 3rd ed. Washington, dC: CQ Press, 1997.

dodd, Lawrence, and Bruce I. oppenheimer, eds. Congress Reconsidered. 11th ed. Washington, dC: CQ Press, 2016.

dodson, debra L. The Impact of Women in Congress. new york: oxford University Press, 2006.

Fenno, richard F. Homestyle: House Members in Their Districts. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978.

Fiorina, Morris. Congress: Keystone of the Washington Establishment. 2nd ed. new Haven, CT: yale University Press, 1989.

Fisher, Louis. On Appreciating Congress. Boulder, Co: Paradigm Publishers, 2010.

koger, Gregory. Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Mann, Thomas E., and norman J. ornstein. It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. new york: Basic Books, 2012.

Mayhew, david r. Congress: The Electoral Connection. new Haven, CT: yale University Press, 1974.

Palmer, Barbara, and denise Simon. Breaking the Political Glass Ceiling: Women and Congressional Elections. 2nd ed. new york: routledge, 2008.

Sinclair, Barbara. Unorthodox Lawmaking. 5th ed. Washington, dC: CQ Press, 2016.

Spitzer, robert J. President and Congress. new york: McGraw-Hill, 1993.

Tate, katherine. Concordance: Black Lawmaking in the U.S. Congress from Carter to Obama. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014.

For Further Reading

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The Presidency WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES AND WHY IT MATTERS Kevin Hartley of Tennessee was 21 years old in April 2017 when he collapsed and

died from cardiac arrest after using methylene chloride to strip paint from

a bathtub during a renovation job. Although the chemical was associated

with dozens of deaths dating back to the 1940s, the Environmental Protec-

tion Agency, established in 1970, had lacked the regulatory teeth to remove

such widely available products from the market. Wendy Cleland-Hamnett,

the EPA’s top official overseeing pesticides and toxic chemicals, lamented,

“How is it possible that you can go to a home improvement store and buy a

paint remover that can kill you?”1

In summer 2016, Congress passed and President Obama signed a

reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, giving the EPA more

power to regulate toxic chemicals. Passed with bipartisan support, the

new law required the EPA to evaluate both new and existing chemicals,

including the ten most toxic chemicals in wide use. In the last days of the

Obama administration in January 2017, after ten years of research, the

101010 chapter

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The Presidency

While presidents inherit policies and regulations implemented during previous administrations, they are empowered to reverse or alter them according to their beliefs. As a former businessman, President Trump rejected the regulations put in place by the Obama administration that could put restraints on some businesses.

EPA proposed banning certain uses of methylene chloride, especially by

ordinary consumers and non-industrial businesses.

But as presidential administrations switched from Obama to Trump, these

new rules remained mere proposals. As a candidate Donald Trump said

that he wanted to eliminate two regulations for every one that his agencies

enacted. And when the Trump administration took office in January 2017, it

froze rules and proposed regulations across government, including those at

the EPA. Kevin Hartley died three months later.

The Trump EPA did release new rules about toxic chemicals in the summer

of 2017. They were written by Nancy Beck, a toxicologist who, between stints

at the EPA under Presidents George W. Bush and Trump, had worked for the

American Chemistry Council, contesting EPA regulations over what she called

“phantom risks.” The new rules reflected changes that had been requested

by the chemical industry and did not include a ban on methylene chloride. The

new leadership at the EPA also overturned Ms. Hamnett’s recommendation

to ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, associated with developmental


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disabilities in children, and undermined tracking of the health effects of a chemical

once used in nonstick pans associated with birth defects and kidney cancer.

Recognizing that the agency’s leadership was going in a different direction,

Hamnett, who had worked for the EPA since 1979, under presidents of both

parties, announced her retirement. “It’s time for me to go.” In the face of

continued public concern over toxic paint strippers, then-EPA head Scott Pruitt

indicated in May 2018 that the agency would implement the methylene chlo-

ride ban. But months of inaction passed, and in October 2018 a coalition of

consumer groups threatened to sue the EPA for delaying the ban after four

more people died.

In this chapter, we examine the foundations of the American presidency

and assess the origins and character of presidential power. Presidents are

empowered by democratic political processes and, increasingly, by their ability

to control and expand the institutional resources of the office. They sit atop

the executive branch, a large bureaucracy of departments and agencies such

as the EPA. They influence policy with their appointments to the Cabinet, the

White House staff, and to the Executive Office of the President, choosing

officials who are sympathetic to their policy goals and using regulatory re-

view as with the EPA and executive orders to make policy. They set the tone

for government as well, as the sole elected official representing the entire

country. But, as we will see, presidential power is not without limit, nor should

it be. The U.S. Constitution emphasizes checks and balances among the

branches of government, not unlimited power. The framers thought a powerful

and energetic president would make the U.S. government more effective but

knew that presidential power needed to be subject to constraints to prevent

it from becoming a threat to citizens’ liberties.

★ Outline the powers the Constitution gives the president (pp. 317–27)

★ Identify the institutional resources presidents have to help them exercise their powers (pp. 327–31)

★ Explain how modern presidents have become even more powerful (pp. 331–40)



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Presidential Power Is Rooted in the Constitution

The presidency was established by Article II of the Constitution, which begins by asserting “The executive power shall be vested in a President

of the United States of America.” The president’s executive power is underscored in Section 3 of Article II, which confers upon the president the duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” The president’s oath of office at the end of Section 1, moreover, obligates—and thus empowers—the chief executive to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” This language seems to require the president to take action if constitutional government is threatened. President Abraham Lincoln cited his oath of office as justification for suspending the writ of habeas corpus at the start of the Civil War. He declared that his oath would be broken if the government was overthrown. Suspension of the writ, he said, was necessary to prevent that calamity from taking place. By vesting the executive power in the president, Article II also implies that the president serves as America’s head of state and is, therefore, entitled to special deference and respect. On the basis of Article II, presidents have three types of powers. These are called the

Outline the powers the Constitution gives the president

Abraham Lincoln, like many other presidents, cited the presidential oath of office as providing the president with the authority to take all the necessary actions to protect the nation.


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expressed powers of the office, implied powers, and delegated powers. A fourth type of power claimed by presidents does not appear in Article II. This is called the inherent power of the office.


The expressed powers of the presidency are those specifically established by the lan- guage of the Constitution. These fall into several categories:

1. Military. Article II, Section 2, provides for the power as “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.”

2. Judicial. Article II, Section 2, also provides the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

3. Diplomatic. Article II, Section 2, also provides the power “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties.” Article II, Section 3, provides the power to “receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers.”

4. Executive. Article II, Section 3, authorizes the president to see to it that all the laws are faithfully executed; Section 2 gives the chief executive the power to appoint, remove, and supervise all executive officers and to appoint all federal judges.

5. Legislative. Article I, Section 7, and Article II, Section 3, give the president the power to participate authoritatively in the legislative process.

Military The president’s military powers are among the most important exercised by the chief executive. The position of commander in chief makes the president the highest military authority in the United States, with control of the entire defense establishment. The president also directs the nation’s intelligence network, which includes not only the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) but also the National Security Council (NSC), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and a host of less well-known but very powerful international and domestic security agencies.

Military Sources of Domestic Power The president’s military powers extend into the domestic sphere. Article IV, Section 4, provides that the “United States shall [protect] every State . . . against Invasion . . . and . . . domestic Violence,” and Congress has made this an explicit presidential power through statutes directing the president as commander in chief to discharge these obligations.2 The Constitution restrains the president’s use of domestic force by providing that a state legislature (or gover- nor, when the legislature is not in session) must request federal troops before the president can send them into the state to provide public order. Yet this proviso is not absolute. First, presidents are not obligated to deploy national troops merely because the state legislature or governor makes such a request. More important, the


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president may deploy troops in a state or city without a specific request from the state legislature or governor if the president considers it necessary to maintain an essential national service during an emergency, enforce a federal judicial order, or protect federally guaranteed civil rights.

One example of the unilateral use of presidential emergency power, even when the state didn’t request it, was the decision by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957 to send troops into Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce court orders to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. The governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, had actually posted the Arkansas National Guard at the entrance of Central High School to prevent the court-ordered admission of nine black students. After an effort to negotiate with Governor Faubus failed, President Eisenhower reluctantly sent 1,000 paratroopers to Little Rock, who stood watch while the black students took their places in the all-white classrooms.

In most instances of domestic disorder, whether from human or from natu- ral causes, presidents sometimes exercise unilateral power by declaring a “state of emergency,” as President Trump did in response to the three hurricanes striking the United States in 2017, thereby making available federal grants, insurance, and direct aid.

Judicial The presidential power to grant reprieves, pardons, and amnesty involves the power of life and death over all individuals who may be a threat to the security of the United States. Presidents may use this power on behalf of a particular individual,

One of the president’s responsibilities is the maintenance of public order. President Eisenhower used this to justify sending troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce racial integration of public schools.


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as did Gerald Ford when he pardoned Richard Nixon in 1974 “for all offenses against the United States which he . . . has committed or may have committed.” Or they may use it on a large scale, as did President Andrew Johnson in 1868, when he gave full amnesty to all southerners who had participated in the “Late Rebellion.” Presidents’ use of the pardon power can be very controversial. Presi- dent Trump was criticized for pardoning former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2017 after Arpaio was found guilty in federal court of criminal contempt for ignoring a court order that directed his office to halt illegal racial profiling prac- tices. The pardon was criticized because Trump did not first consult with the Justice Department’s office of pardons, as is customary, and because it was issued before Arpaio had been sentenced.3

Diplomatic The president is America’s “head of state,” its chief representative in dealings with other nations, having the power to make treaties for the United States (with the advice and consent of the Senate) as well as the power to “recognize” other countries. Diplomatic recognition means that the United States acknowl- edges a government’s legitimacy and territorial claims. In 2015, President Obama restored American diplomatic ties with Cuba, which had been severed by President Eisenhower in 1961 after the United States’ relations with the Castro regime deteriorated. In 2017, after several staffers at the U.S. embassy in Cuba demon- strated neurological symptoms after being exposed to strange sounds, some blamed these “sonic attacks” on the Cuban government, which prompted President Trump to revisit newly restored American ties with Cuba. In 2018, President Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in an effort to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Earlier in the year North Korea and America had exchanged threats in the wake of North Korean nuclear missile tests.

In recent years, presidents have expanded the practice of using execu- tive agreements instead of treaties to establish relations with other countries.4

An executive agreement is exactly like a treaty because it is a contract between two countries that has the force of a treaty, but it does not require Senate approval. Ordinarily, executive agree- ments are used to carry out commitments already made in treaties or laws or to arrange for matters well below the level of policy. But when presidents have found it expedient to use an executive agreement in place of a treaty, Congress has typically acquiesced.

Executive Power The most important basis of the president’s power as chief exec- utive is to be found in Article II, Section 3, which stipulates that the president must see that all the laws are faithfully executed, and

As the head of state, the president is America’s chief representative in dealings with other countries. Here, President Trump meets with North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in 2018 to discuss nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula.


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Section 2, which provides that the president will appoint and supervise all executive officers and appoint all federal judges (with Senate approval; after some early controversy, presidents’ sole power to remove executive branch officials was accepted). The power to appoint the principal executive officers and to require each of them to report to the president on subjects relating to the duties of their departments makes the president the true chief executive officer (CEO) of the nation. In this manner, the Constitution focuses executive power and legal responsibility on the president. The president is subject to some limita- tions because the appointment of all such officers, including ambassadors, ministers, and federal judges, is subject to majority approval by the Senate. But these appointments are at the discretion of the president, and these appointees are generally loyal to the president.

Legislative Power Two constitutional provisions are the primary sources of the president’s power in the legislative arena. The first of these is the provision in Article II, Section 3, that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Delivering a State of the Union address may at first appear to be little more than the president’s obligation to make recommendations for Congress’s consideration. But as political and social conditions began to favor an increasingly prominent presidential role, each president began to rely on this provision in order to become the primary initiator of proposals for congressional action and the principal source for public awareness of national issues.5

The second of the president’s legislative powers is the veto power assigned by Arti- cle I, Section 7.6 The veto power is the president’s constitutional power to prevent a bill from becoming a law (see Figure 10.1). It makes the president the single most important legislative leader.7 No bill vetoed by the president can become law unless both the House and the Senate override the veto by a two-thirds vote. In the case of a pocket veto, Congress does not have the option of overriding the veto but must reintroduce the bill in the new Congress. A pocket veto is a presidential veto that is automatically triggered if the president does not act on a given piece of legislation passed during the final 10 days of a legislative session. Usually, if a president does not sign a bill within 10 days, it automatically becomes law. But this is true only while Congress is in session. If a president chooses not to sign a bill presented within the last 10 days of a legislative session and Congress is out of session when the 10-day limit expires such that returning the bill to Congress is not possible, the bill is vetoed and dies.

Use of the veto varies according to the political situation each president confronts. Ten of President Obama’s 12 vetoes occurred during his last two years in office, when Republicans held the majority in both Houses. The veto power is effective: more than 90 percent of all vetoes in history have been upheld.

Although not explicitly stated, the Constitution implies that the president has the power of legislative initiative—the president’s implied power to bring a legisla- tive agenda before Congress. Initiative implies the ability to formulate proposals


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for important policies, and the president, as an individual with a great deal of staff assistance, is able to initiate decisive action more frequently than Congress, with its large assemblies that have to deliberate and debate before taking action. With some important exceptions, Congress depends on the president to set the agenda of public policy. For example, during the weeks following September 11, 2001, George W. Bush took many presidential initiatives to Congress, and each was given nearly unanimous support.


The Veto Process *PL = public law; 107 = number of Congress (107th was 2000–01); 999 = number of the law.

Bill passes Congress

Presented to the


Bill dies (pocket veto)

No action after 10 working days

while Congress is adjourned

• Ofce of Management and Budget


Bill reviewed by • Special assistants

• Relevant department head • Key legislative leaders in president’s

• Key lobbyists close to president • Justice Department

Bill acceptable to the president

Veto recommended,

goes to

• Staff assistants • Relevant department • Speechwriters


Returned to Congress. Override requires two-thirds

vote of both houses

Bill becomes law and is given legal

designation (e.g., PL-107-999*)

President signs, usually in a public ceremony in

presence of key sponsors and supporters. Several

pens are used as souvenirs

Bill lives

Bill dies


Failure to override

No action after 10 working days while Congress is

in session


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The list of expressed presidential powers is brief, but each expressed power has become the foundation of a second set of presidential powers, the so-called implied powers of the office. An implied power is one that can be said to be necessary to allow presidents to exercise their expressed power. For example, the Constitu- tion expressly gives the president the power to appoint “all other officers of the United States . . . which shall be established by law.” Article II does not, however, expressly grant the president the power to remove such officials from office. There is no reason to assume that the power to appoint necessarily indicates the power to remove an official. From the earliest years of the Republic, though, presidents claimed that the removal power was implied by the appointment power. The Supreme Court eventually agreed that presidents did have sole removal power.

Presidents have also made much of the very first sentence of Article II, which declares, “The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” This grant of power along with the subsequent admonition to presidents to see to it that the laws are faithfully executed, as well as the president’s oath of office, have been cited by successive White Houses as justifications for actions not expressly sanctioned by the Constitution.

In recent years, the vesting clause has been said by some to support what has come to be known as the “theory of the unitary executive.”8 Unitary executive theory holds that all executive power inheres in the president except as explicitly limited by the Constitution.9 Thus, according to this view, the president is subject only to expressly stated restraints, such as Congress’s control of reve- nues, its impeachment power, and its power to override presidential vetoes. Proponents of unitary executive theory also maintain that presidents have their own power to interpret the Constitution as it applies to the executive branch and need not necessarily defer to the judiciary. This claim was advanced by President George W. Bush when he signed a Defense Appropriation Bill that included language introduced by Senator John McCain barring the use of torture on terrorist suspects. In his signing statement, Bush declared that he would construe the portion of the Act relating to the treatment of detainees “in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power.”10 The president was claiming, in other words, that particularly in the military realm, he possessed sole authority to execute acts of Congress according to his own understanding of the law.

Unitary executive theory particularly holds that the president controls all policy making by the executive branch, and that neither Congress nor the courts may intervene. But the principle of constitutional checks and balances would appear to provide Congress with powers over the many important agencies of the executive branch through “congressional oversight” of the executive arising from Congress’s Article I powers. Thus, the stage is set for conflict between the implied powers of Congress and those of the president.


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Many of the powers exercised by the president and the executive branch are not found in the Constitution but are delegated powers, the products of congressional statutes (laws) and resolutions. Over the past century, Congress has voluntarily delegated a great deal of its own legislative authority to the executive branch. This delegation of power has been an almost inescapable consequence of the expansion of government activity in the United States since the New Deal. Given the vast range of the federal government’s responsibilities, Congress cannot execute and administer all the programs it creates and the laws it enacts. Inevitably, Congress must turn to the hundreds of departments and agencies in the executive branch or, when necessary, create new agencies to implement its goals. Thus, for example, in 2002, when Congress sought to protect America from terrorist attacks, it established the Department of Homeland Security with broad powers in the realms of law enforcement, public health, and immigration.


Presidents have claimed a fourth source of power beyond expressed, implied, and delegated powers. These are powers not specified in the Constitution but said to stem from the “rights, duties and obligations of the presidency.” They are referred to as the inherent powers and are most often asserted by presidents in times of war or national emergency.

President Lincoln relied upon a claim of inherent power to raise an army after the fall of Fort Sumter. Similarly, Presidents Roosevelt (World War II), Truman (Korean War), and both Presidents Bush (Persian Gulf and Middle East Wars) claimed inherent powers to defend the nation. Since the Korean War, presidents have used their claim of inherent powers along with their constitutional power as Commander in Chief to bypass the constitutional provision giving Congress the power to declare war. Congress declared war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Since that time, American forces have been sent to fight foreign wars on more than one hundred occasions but not once was Congress asked for a Declara- tion of War. In 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution designed to restore its role in military policy. Presidents, however, have regarded the resolution as an improper limitation on the inherent powers of the presidency and have studiously ignored the provisions of the War Powers Resolution.

No president has acted so frequently on the basis of inherent powers as President George W. Bush. He claimed that the inherent powers of the presidency gave him the authority to create military commissions, designate U.S. citizens as enemy com- batants, engage in “extraordinary renditions” of captured suspects who would be moved to unknown facilities in unnamed countries for interrogation, and autho- rize the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor phone conversations between the United States and other nations.11 When challenged, some but not all of these actions were overturned by the courts. These decisions hardly put to rest the idea of inherent power. Indeed, President Obama continued to rely on the concept of


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All democracies have an executive branch, but the specific form it takes varies. In presidential systems such as the United States’, the position of the head of state (the symbolic leader of a country) and the head of government (the leader in charge of the day-to-day running of the government) is combined into one position—the president. In parliamentary systems, these roles are often held by different people, with the head of government being the more powerful position. For example, in Germany, the head of government is the prime minister (called the chancellor), while

the head of state is the president, who plays a largely ceremonial role similar to the United Kingdom’s queen.

Most democracies use parliamentary executive systems, though presidential systems are common in the Americas, in part due to the historical influence of the United States. A small but growing group of countries use a hybrid “semi-presidential” system. France, for instance, divides the executive between a powerful head of state (the president) and the head of government (the prime minister), who have different but (theoretically) equal powers.

Executive Branches in Comparison


Examples United States, Mexico, Brazil

United Kingdom, India, Germany, Japan

Executive title President Prime Minister, Chancellor, etc.

Is the executive the . . .

Head of state? yes No

Head of government? yes yes

Executive elected by . . . voters* parliament

Term in office Fixed by law Subject to support of the parliament

Separation of powers yes No; the PM is a member of the parliament

Executive role in legislating Veto power Initiates most bills

*In the United States, the president is elected by the Electoral College, not by the voters directly. Other presidential systems have the voters directly elect the president.

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inherent power in ordering drone strikes against suspected terrorists and ordering American air strikes in Libya. In 2017, President Trump’s order banning travelers from several Muslim countries was based mainly on a claim that the president had the inherent power to bar any class of immigrants whom he thought to be a threat to the United States.

Congress has endeavored to place some limits on powers that presidents claim to be inherent. One example is the case of emergency powers. Though presidents believe they have the inherent power to deal with emergencies, Congress has, by statute, sought to circumscribe and guide the use of these powers. Under the 1976 National Emergencies Act, the president is authorized to declare a national emergency in the event of major threats to the United States’ national security or economy.12 An emergency declaration relating to foreign threats allows the presi- dent to embargo trade, seize foreign assets, and prohibit transactions with what- ever foreign nations are involved. During a state of emergency, constitutional rights, including the right of habeas corpus, may be suspended. An emergency declaration, however, remains in force for only one year unless it is renewed by the president. Congress may, by a joint resolution of the two houses, terminate a state of emergency.

A closely related area in which Congress has sought to regulate matters that presidents tend to view as involving their own inherent power is the nation’s response to natural disasters. Under the 1988 Stafford Act, the governor of a state affected by a disastrous flood, hurricane, earthquake, or other calamitous event must ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a determination that the scope of the

Congress has tried to limit presidential power in the area of disaster relief, however presidents view disaster response as an inherent executive power. President Trump sent troops to Puerto Rico in 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.


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disaster is beyond the abilities of state and local authorities to handle. The president may then declare a disaster and make the state eligible for federal funds and relief. The purpose of the Stafford Act was to ensure that presidential disaster declarations were governed by statutory criteria. In recent years, however, critics have charged that presidential determinations and funding authorizations seemed, nevertheless, to be driven by political motivations.13

Institutional Resources of Presidential Power Are Numerous

Constitutional sources of power are not the only resources available to the president. Presidents have at their disposal a variety of other formal and informal resources that have impor-

tant implications for their ability to govern (see Figure 10.2). Collectively, these individuals could be said to make up the institutional presidency and to give the presi- dent a capacity for action that no single individual, however energetic, could duplicate. The first component of the institutional presidency is the president’s Cabinet.


In the American system of government, the Cabinet is the traditional but infor- mal designation for the heads of all the major federal government departments. Cabinet secretaries are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate. The Cabinet has no constitutional status. Unlike in Great Britain and many other parliamentary countries, where the cabinet is the government, the American Cabinet meets but makes no decisions as a group. The Senate must approve each appointment, but Cabinet members are responsible to the president, not to the Senate or to Congress at large, although Congress may require cabinet secretar- ies and their deputies to testify before congressional committees. Since Cabinet appointees generally have not shared political careers with the president or one another and since they may meet literally for the first time only after their selec- tion, the formation of an effective governing group out of this diverse collection of appointments is highly unlikely.


The White House staff is composed mainly of analysts and advisers who are closest to, and most responsive to, the president’s needs and preferences.14 Although many of the top White House staff members hold such titles as “adviser to the president,” “assistant to the president,” “deputy assistant,” and “special assistant” for a particular task or sector, the judgment and advice they are supposed to provide are a good deal broader and more generally political than those coming from the

Identify the institutional resources presidents have to help them exercise their powers


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Executive Office of the President or from the cabinet departments. The members of the White House staff also tend to be more closely associated with the president than are other presidentially appointed officials. They are appointed directly by the president and do not need to win Senate approval.


The Executive Office of the President (EOP) is a major part of what is often called the “institutional presidency”—the permanent agencies that perform defined manage- ment tasks for the president. Created in 1939, the EOP is composed of between


The Institutional Presidency


THE CABINET Department of Agriculture Department of Commerce Department of Defense Department of Education Department of Energy Department of Health and Human Services Department of Homeland Security Department of Housing and Urban Development Department of the Interior Department of Justice Department of Labor Department of State Department of Transportation Department of the Treasury Department of Veterans Affairs


Council of Economic Advisers Council on Environmental Quality National Security Council Ofce of Administration Ofce of Management and Budget Ofce of National Drug Control Policy Ofce of Science and Technology Policy Ofce of the United States Trade Representative President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and Intelligence Oversight Board White House Military Ofce White House Ofce

Includes: Chief of Staff Press Secretary Senior Advisers Special Assistants


Includes: Central Intelligence Agency Environmental Protection Agency Federal Labor Relations Authority General Services Administration



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1,500 and 2,000 highly specialized people who work for EOP agencies. The most important and largest EOP agency is the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Its roles in preparing the national budget, designing the president’s program, report- ing on agency activities, and overseeing regulatory proposals make OMB personnel part of virtually every conceivable presidential responsibility. The status and power of the OMB have grown in importance with each successive president. The pro- cess of budgeting at one time was a “bottom-up” procedure, with expenditure and program requests passing from the lowest bureaus through the departments to “clearance” in the OMB and hence to Congress, where each agency could be called in to reveal what its “original request” was before the OMB revised it. Now the budgeting process is “top-down”: the OMB sets priorities for agencies as well as for Congress.

The staff of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) constantly analyzes the economy and economic trends and attempts to give the president the ability to anticipate events rather than waiting for and reacting to them. The Council on Environmental Quality was designed to do for environmental issues what the CEA does for economic issues. The National Security Council (NSC) is composed of designated cabinet officials and others spanning military, diplomatic, and intelli- gence areas who meet regularly with the president to give advice on national security matters. Other EOP agencies perform more specialized tasks.


The vice presidency is a constitutional anomaly even though the Constitution created the office along with the presidency. The vice president exists for two purposes only: to succeed the president in case of death, resignation, or incapacity and to preside over the Senate, casting a tie-breaking vote when necessary.15

The main value of the vice president as a political resource for the president is electoral. Traditionally, presidential candidates choose running mates who can win the support of at least one state (preferably a large one) not otherwise likely to support the ticket. It is very doubtful that John Kennedy would have won in 1960 without his vice-presidential candidate, Texan Lyndon Johnson, and the contribu- tion Johnson made to winning his home state. Another rule holds that the vice- presidential nominee should provide some regional balance and, wherever possible, some balance among various ideological or ethnic subsections of the party. In 2016, Donald Trump chose Governor Mike Pence of Indiana as his running mate for a number of reasons. First, Pence, a former host of conservative radio and television talk shows, was well known among conservatives. His radio and television back- ground also meant that Pence was an experienced public speaker. Second, Pence served in Congress for 12 years. He worked to reassure skeptical party leaders that Trump was a qualified candidate. Third and most important, Pence is a devout Christian who is very well regarded by social conservatives. As vice president, Pence is often the person Trump relies on to smooth relations with Republican members of Congress.


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The vice president is also important because, in the event of the death or inca- pacity of the president, he or she will succeed to the nation’s highest office. During the course of American history, eight vice presidents have had to replace presidents who died in office. One vice president, Gerald Ford, found himself at the head of the nation when President Richard Nixon was forced to resign as a result of the Watergate scandal.


The president serves as both chief executive and chief of state—the equivalent of Great Britain’s prime minister and monarch rolled into one, simultaneously leading the government and representing the nation at official ceremonies and functions.

Because they are generally associated with the head-of-state aspect of America’s presidency, presidential spouses are usually not subject to the same degree of media scrutiny or partisan attack as the president. Traditionally, most first ladies have lim- ited their activities to the ceremonial portion of the presidency. First ladies greet foreign dignitaries, visit other countries, and attend important national ceremonies.

Some first spouses, however, have had considerable influence over policy. Franklin Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor, was widely popular but also widely criticized for her active role in many elements of her husband’s presidency. During the 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton often implied that his wife would be active in the administration; he joked that voters would get “two for the price of one.” After the election, Hillary Clinton

Mike Pence, who served as a member of Congress and then governor of Indiana, is devoutly Christian and socially conservative. He helped improve Donald Trump’s electoral appeal among social conservatives and establishment Republicans.


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took a leading role in many policy areas, most notably heading the administration’s health care reform effort. She also became the first first lady to win public office on her own, winning a seat in the U.S. Senate from New York in 2000. She also ran for the presidency in 2008 and 2016, having served in between as Barack Obama’s secretary of state. Melania Trump is the first foreign-born first lady in almost 200 years. With no political or public affairs experience, Mrs. Trump said that she would be a traditional first lady. Given the current expectation that the first spouse should assume some public responsibility, however, Mrs. Trump has taken on a limited public role in the Trump administration.

Party, Popular Mobilization, and Administration Make Presidents Stronger

During the nineteenth century, Con- gress was America’s dominant insti- tution of government, and members of Congress sometimes treated the

president with disdain. Today, however, no one would assert that the presidency is unimportant. Presidents seek to dominate the policy-making process and claim the inherent power to lead the nation in time of war. The expansion of presiden- tial power over the course of the past century has come about not by accident but as the result of an ongoing effort by successive presidents to enlarge the powers of the office.

Generally, presidents can expand their power in two ways: through popular mobi- lization and through the administration. First, presidents may use popular appeals to create a mass base of support that will allow them to dominate their political foes, a tactic called “going public.”16 Second, presidents may seek to bolster their control of established executive agencies or to create new administrative institu- tions and procedures that will reduce their dependence on Congress and give them a more independent governing and policy-making capability. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the use of executive orders to achieve policy goals in lieu of seeking to persuade Congress to enact legislation.

Presidents do have a third possible tool: their political party. Each president has relied on his own party to implement his legislative agenda. In 2009–10, for example, President Obama relied on congressional Democrats to prevent rejection of his agreement with Iran to pass the Affordable Care Act in the face of virtually unanimous Republican opposition. However, the president does not control his party; party members have considerable autonomy. President Trump has often been unable to rally Republican legislators to his cause, and the Republican congressional delegations were so divided that it was unclear whether GOP leaders could mobilize a majority for any set of programs. Moreover, in America’s system of separated pow- ers, the president’s party may be in the minority in Congress and unable to do much for the chief executive’s programs. Consequently, although their party is valuable

Explain how modern presidents have become even more powerful


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to chief executives, it has not been a fully reliable presidential tool. As a result, contemporary presidents are more likely to use the two other methods, popular mobilization and executive administration, to achieve their political goals.


During the nineteenth century, it was considered inappropriate for presidents to engage in personal campaigning on their own behalf or in support of programs and policies. When Andrew Johnson broke this unwritten rule and made a series of speeches vehemently seeking public support for his Reconstruction program, even some of Johnson’s most ardent supporters were shocked at what they saw as his lack of decorum and dignity. The president’s opponents cited his “inflammatory” speeches in one of the articles of impeachment drafted by the Congress pursuant to the first impeachment trial of a president in history.17

In the twentieth century, though, popular mobilization became a favored weapon in the political arsenals of most presidents. Among modern presidents, the one who used public appeals most effectively was Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). FDR was “firmly persuaded of the need to form a direct link between the executive office and the public.”18 He developed a number of tactics aimed at forging such a link. He made important use of the new electronic medium, the radio, to reach millions of Americans. In his famous “fireside chats,” the president, or at least his voice, came into every living room in the country to discuss programs and policies and generally to assure Americans that he was aware of their difficulties and working diligently toward solutions.

FDR was also an innovator in the realm of what is now called press relations. When he entered the White House, FDR faced a mainly hostile press typically controlled by conservative members of the business establishment. As the presi- dent wrote, “All the fat-cat newspapers—85 percent of the whole—have been utterly opposed to everything the Administration is seeking.”19 FDR hoped to use the press to mold public opinion, but to do so he needed to circumvent the editors and publishers who were generally unsympathetic to his goals. To this end, he worked to cultivate the reporters who covered the White House. FDR made himself available for biweekly press conferences, where he offered candid answers to reporters’ questions and made certain to make important policy announcements that would provide the reporters with significant stories for their papers.20

Every president since FDR has sought to craft a public-relations strategy that would emphasize the incumbent’s strengths and maximize his popular appeal. For John F. Kennedy, handsome and quick-witted, the televised press conference was an excellent public-relations vehicle. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama made extensive use of televised town meetings—carefully staged events that gave the presidents an opportunity to appear to consult with rank-and-file citizens about goals and policies without having to face pointed questions preferred by reporters. President Obama was a talented and effective speaker who often relied on his own speaking abilities rather than material crafted by the Communications Office.


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Going Public Online President Obama was also the first to make full use of the internet as a communication medium. Drawing on the interactive tools of the web, Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns changed the way politicians organize supporters, advertise to voters, defend against attacks, and communicate with their constituents.21 In the 2016 presidential campaign, candidates Hillary Clinton and especially Donald Trump made particular use of Twitter to communicate with millions of voters, bypassing traditional media.

The internet has changed not only the way modern presidents campaign but also how they govern. The WhiteHouse.gov website keeps the president’s constitu- ents abreast of his policy agenda with a weekly streaming video address by the president, press briefings, speeches and remarks, a daily blog, photos of the presi- dent, the White House schedule, and other information. Virtually everything the president does is recorded online. YouTube aired Obama’s press conferences and public appearances on a daily basis. Every presidential address is now streamed live online.

Over the last century, presidents and candidates have made more and more use of direct appeals to the American people. President Franklin Roosevelt made effective use of radio to build public support for his programs. Donald Trump has likewise used Twitter to promote his message, both as a candidate and as president.


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Circumventing television and other traditional media, the internet allows the president to reach citizens directly. First as a candidate and then as president, Donald Trump has transformed the use of Twitter. Every Trump legislative initiative and policy direction, as well as political controversy, includes a flurry of tweets end- lessly repeated by the broadcast and print media. Trump’s language seems tailored to the Twitter age. Calling North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man” in his tweets allowed Trump to boil down his sense of contempt and harsh posture toward North Korea into a tweet-sized threat to use force.

The Limits of Going Public Some presidents have been able to make effective use of popular appeals to overcome congressional opposition. Popular support, though, has not been a firm foundation for presidential power. The public is noto- riously fickle. President George W. Bush maintained an approval rating of over 70 percent for more than a year following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. By the end of 2005, however, Bush’s approval rating had dropped to 39 per- cent as a result of the growing unpopularity of the Iraq War, the administration’s inept handling of hurricane relief, and several White House scandals, including the conviction of Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff on charges of lying to a federal grand jury. Between the time President Obama took office in 2009 and May 2016, his public approval ranged from a high of 76 percent in January 2009 to a low of 36 percent in the fall of 2014.22 Such declines in popular approval during a president’s term in office are nearly inevitable and follow a predictable pattern.23 Presidents generate popular support by promising to undertake impor- tant programs that will contribute directly to the well-being of large numbers of Americans. Almost without exception, presidential performance falls short of promises and popular expectations, leading to a decline in public support and the ensuing weakening of presidential influence.24 It is a rare American president, such as Bill Clinton, who exits the White House more popular than when he went in. President Trump was saddled with unprecedentedly low public approval from the start of his presidency.


Contemporary presidents have increased the administrative capabilities of their office in four ways. First, they have enhanced the reach and power of the EOP. Second, they have sought to increase White House control over the federal bureaucracy. Third, they have expanded the role of executive orders. Fourth, they have made frequent use of signing statements and other instruments of direct presidential governance. Taken together, these four components of what might be called the White House “administrative strategy” have given presidents a capacity to achieve their programmatic and policy goals even when they are unable to secure congressional approval. Indeed, some recent presidents have been able to accomplish a great deal with remarkably little congressional, parti- san, or even public support.


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The Executive Office of the President The EOP has grown from six administra- tive assistants in 1939 to today’s several hundred employees working directly for the president in the White House office, along with some 2,500 individuals staffing the divisions of the Executive Office.25 The creation and growth of the White House staff give the president an enormously enhanced capacity to gather information, plan programs and strategies, communicate with constituencies, and exercise super- vision over the executive branch. The staff multiplies the president’s eyes, ears, and arms, becoming a critical instrument of presidential power.26

In particular, the OMB serves as a potential instrument of presidential control over federal spending and hence a mechanism through which the White House has greatly expanded its power. In addition to its power over the federal budget process (discussed earlier), the OMB has the capacity to analyze and approve all legislative proposals, not only budgetary requests, emanating from all federal agencies before they are submitted to Congress. This procedure, now a matter of routine, greatly enhances the president’s control over the entire executive branch. All legislation originating in the White House and all executive orders also go through the OMB.27 Thus, through one White House agency, the president has the means to exert major influence over the flow of money and the shape and content of national legislation.

Regulatory Review A second tactic that presidents have used to increase their power and reach is the process of regulatory review, through which they have sought to seize control of rule making by the agencies of the executive branch (see also Chapter 11). Whenever Congress enacts a statute, the statute’s actual implementation requires the promulgation of hundreds of rules by the agency charged with administering the law and giving effect to the will of Congress. For example, if Congress wishes to improve air quality, it must delegate to an agency—say the Environmental Protection Agency—the power to establish numerous rules and regulations that will govern the actions of the government agencies, firms, and individuals whose conduct may have an impact upon the atmosphere. The agency rule-making process is, itself, governed by a number of statutory requirements concerning public notice, hearings, and appeals, but once completed, administrative rules have the effect of law and will be enforced by the federal courts.

The discretion Congress delegates to administrative agencies has provided recent presidents with an important avenue for expanding their own power. During his administration, President Clinton issued 107 directives to administrators, ordering them to propose specific rules and regulations. In some instances, the language of the rule to be proposed was drafted by the White House staff; in other cases, the president asserted a priority but left it to the agency to draft the precise language of the proposal. President George W. Bush continued the Clinton-era practice of issuing presidential directives to agencies to spur them to issue new rules and regu- lations. The Obama administration not only issued a number of major regulatory directives to federal agencies but also launched a “look back” program. Under this program, the administration sought to eliminate several hundred existing rules it deemed obsolete.28 In 2015, Obama sought new regulations governing power plant


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emissions, overtime pay for workers, the educational practices of career (for-profit) colleges, and a host of other matters. President Trump moved aggressively to reverse these and other directives by issuing new rules or repealing existing ones to roll back environmental regulations, reduce banking regulations, eliminate workplace safety regulations, and remove protections for transgender workers, among others. Most notably, in the first year of his presidency, Trump eliminated nearly 70 environmen- tal regulations.29

Governing by Decree: Executive Orders and Memoranda Another mechanism through which contemporary presidents have sought to enhance their power to govern unilaterally is the use of executive orders and other forms of presidential decrees, including executive agreements, memoranda, national security findings and directives, proclamations, reorganization plans, signing statements, and a host of other tools.30

An executive order is a direct presidential directive to the bureaucracy to undertake some action, bypassing Congress and the legislative process. Executive orders have a long history in the United States and have been the instruments for a number of important policies including the purchase of Louisiana, the annexation of Texas, the emancipation of the slaves, the wartime internment of Japanese Americans, the desegregation of the military, the initiation of affirmative action, and the creation of a number of federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Peace Corps.31

Presidential use of executive orders is constrained by law. When presidents issue executive orders, in principle they do so pursuant to the powers granted to them by the Constitution or delegated to them by Congress. When presidents issue orders they generally must state the constitutional or statutory basis for their actions. Historically, executive orders were most often used during times of war or national emergency. In recent years, though, executive orders have become routine instruments of presidential governance rather than emergency wartime measures (Figure 10.3). In the first seven years of his presidency, Barack Obama issued 242 executive orders and 219 presidential memoranda, using some of them to reverse executive orders of his predecessor (just as Bush reversed some of those of the Clinton years). Obama’s executive orders authorized stem cell research, restored funding for international family planning organizations, opened access to presiden- tial papers, enhanced federal gun regulations, and barred improper interrogation methods of detainees captured by the United States.32 In 2014, Obama issued exec- utive orders that would protect some 4 million undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation. President Trump rescinded most of Obama’s orders on immi- gration and opened the way for the deportation of those who had been protected by Obama’s orders. Trump also issued a number of orders, including a controversial “travel ban” decree seeking to prevent travelers from several majority-Muslim coun- tries from entering the United States. Trump’s orders led to a number of lawsuits, but the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the ban.

Executive orders are one form of presidential decree. Others include adminis- trative orders, national security directives, presidential memoranda, presidential


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Presidential Executive Orders* Executive orders are a tool presidents have for influencing policy. Their use has varied considerably over time. Each bar in the graph shows the average number of executive orders each president issued per year in office. Which presidents issued the most executive orders? What events in U.S. history were occurring when those presidents were in office?

*Does not include memoranda or other forms of executive action **As of October 2018. SOURCE: Gerhard Peters, www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/orders.php (accessed 10/15/18).

Washington (1)

J. Adams (0.25)

J. Q. Adams (0.75)

Jefferson (0.5)

Madison (0.125)

Monroe (0.125)

Jackson (2)

van Buren (3)

Harrison (0)

Tyler (4)

Polk (5)

Taylor (3)

Fillmore (6)

Pierce (9)

Buchanan (4)

Lincoln (12)

Johnson (20)

Grant (27)

Hayes (23)

Garfield (12)

Arthur (27)

Cleveland (28)

Harrison (36)

Cleveland (35)

McKinley (46)

T. Roosevelt (135)

F. D. Roosevelt (282)

Taft (181)

Wilson (225)

Harding (209)

Coolidge (219)

Hoover (242)

Truman (60)

Eisenhower (61)

Kennedy (71)

Johnson (46)

Nixon (31)

Ford (48)

Carter (80)

Reagan (48)

G. H. W. Bush (42)

G. W. Bush (36)

Obama (33)

Trump (77)**

Clinton (46)


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proclamations, and presidential findings.33 Like executive orders, the other instru- ments establish policy and have the force of law, and presidents often use them interchangeably. Generally speaking, though, administrative orders apply to matters of administrative procedure and organization; directives seem most often associated with national or homeland security; memoranda are used to clarify or modify presi- dential positions and orders; and proclamations are usually used to give emphasis to an especially important presidential decree.

Congress is not entirely without power vis à vis executive decrees. Legislators can overturn presidential orders that were based on the president’s legislative authority (as opposed to constitutional authority) through legislation declaring that the order “shall not have legal effect,” or through actually repealing the statute on which the order was based. Efforts to overturn the orders of sitting presidents are, however, hindered by the fact that any such legislation can be vetoed by the president. Thus, two-thirds of the members of both houses of Congress would have to agree to the move. One study indicates that only about 4 percent of all presidential orders have ever been rescinded by legislation.34 Usually, the best Congress can do is inhibit the implementation of an executive order by preventing funds from being spent to implement the order, though this, too, is relatively unusual.35 Failure by Con- gress to act, moreover, strengthens the legal validity of a presidential order. The Supreme Court has held that congressional inaction tends to validate an order by indicating congressional “acquiescence” in the president’s decision.36 This idea raises an important question. Many presidential orders take the form of secret national

In 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order on health care. The administration claimed this would provide patients expanded options for health insurance, though many felt this order would undermine the stability of Obamacare.


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security directives and findings of which Congress is unaware. Can Congress be said to acquiesce in presidential decisions made without its knowledge?

Signing Statements To negate congressional actions to which they object, recent presidents have made frequent and calculated use of presidential signing statements.37 The signing statement is an announcement made by the president at the time of signing a congressional enactment into law, often presenting the president’s inter- pretation of the law in addition to the usually innocuous remarks about the many benefits the law will bring the nation. Occasionally presidents have used signing statements to point to sections of the law they deem improper or even unconstitu- tional and to instruct executive branch agencies how to execute the law.38 In 2013, for example, President Obama signed a bill containing a provision requiring the president to notify Congress before transferring any prisoner from Guantánamo Bay. In his signing statement, Obama declared that the provision was unconstitu- tional and ignored the legislation.


From the Constitution, presidents derive expressed, implied, and delegated powers. Claims of inherent powers are derived from the basic principles of national sover- eignty. But, while the framers sought an energetic executive, they were also con- cerned that executive power could be abused and might stifle citizens’ liberties. To guard against this possibility, the framers contrived a number of checks on executive power. The president’s term is limited to four years, though with the possibility of reelection (since 1951, presidents may only be elected twice). The Congress is empowered to impeach and remove the president, to reject presidential appoint- ments and refuse to ratify treaties, to refuse to enact laws requested by the president, to deny funding for the president’s programs, and to override presidential vetoes of congressional enactments.

The framers viewed the threat of impeachment as an important check upon executive power. The Constitution provides that a president may be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Such offenses are to be charged by the House and tried in the Senate, with the Chief Justice presiding and a two-thirds vote needed for conviction. Only two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have been impeached, though neither was convicted. A third president, Richard Nixon, would almost certainly have been impeached for his misdeeds in the Watergate affair, but Nixon chose to resign to avoid the impeachment process.

The requirement that the Senate concur in treaties and presidential appoint- ments was seen by the framers as another important check on executive power. However, in recent years severe partisan disagreements have led presidents to resort to “recess appointments.” These are authorized by Article II, Section 2, which states, “The President shall have power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” Until recent years, recess appointments were made only between Senate sessions or when the Senate was adjourned for lengthy periods. In recent


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years, however, recess appointments have become more frequent and the Senate has resorted to a strategy similar to the one employed to prevent pocket vetoes. One senator is assigned the task of calling the chamber to order for a few moments every day for a pro forma session during periods of recess so that the president cannot claim the Senate was closed for business. This procedure was found constitutional by the Supreme Court.

And, of course, under the Constitution, only the Congress has the power to enact legislation or to levy taxes or to appropriate funds. Indeed, so many were the constitutional checks on executive power that some delegates to the Constitutional Convention feared that the executive would be too weak and the potential energy of executive power lost. As we can see, however, from the many actions of presidents in recent years, presidential power has grown significantly beyond the framers’ vision.

The Presidency WHAT DO WE WANT? The framers of the Constitution created a system of government in which the Congress

and the executive branch were to share power. At least since the New Deal of the

1930s, however, the powers of Congress have waned, whereas those of the presidency

have expanded. There is no doubt that Congress continues to be able to confront

presidents and even, on occasion, hand the White House a sharp rebuff.

In the larger view, however, presidents’ occasional defeats, however dramatic, have

to be seen as temporary setbacks in a gradual but decisive shift toward increased

presidential power. louis Fisher, a leading authority on the separation of powers,

recently observed that in what are arguably the two most important policy arenas,

national defense and the federal budget, the powers of Congress have been in decline

for at least the past 50 years.39

What might the growth of presidential power mean for students reading this book

today? It might mean that policies they favor can more easily become the law of the

land. Congress works slowly, while the president can work quickly—making law by the

stroke of a pen. Presidential strength works both ways, however: for those who oppose

a particular policy or have qualms about some aspect of it, the stroke of the presiden-

tial pen might seem hasty and autocratic. The consequences can even be deadly, as

we saw in the chapter opener when a ban on a toxic chemical is at stake.

A powerful presidency, a weak Congress, and a partially apathetic electorate

make for a dangerous mix. Who we vote into the office of the president matters.

The “Who Participates?” feature on the facing page shows who voted for Donald

Trump in 2016.


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SOURCE: "2016 Election Exit Polls,” Washington Post, November 10, 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/2016-election/exit-polls/ (accessed 11/10/16).



37% 55%


53% 45%


53% 44%


42% 50%



48% 47%


41% 52%


50% 46%



53% 41%


42% 54% Other candidates




Asian AmericanHispanic

29% 65% 29% 65%


37% 56%


58% 37%

African American




Who Voted for Donald Trump in 2016?

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Practice Quiz

1. Which article of the Constitution describes the basic powers of the presidency and the means of selecting presidents? (p. 317) a) Article I b) Article II c) Article III d) Article IV e) Article V

2. Executive agreements are exactly like treaties except that (p. 320) a) executive agreements involve only

domestic, not international, affairs. b) the Constitution explicitly mentions

the president’s ability to make executive agreements.

c) executive agreements do not require the Senate’s approval.

d) executive agreements are ordinarily used to carry out commitments not already made in treaties or laws.

e) executive agreements require a two-thirds approval vote in the Senate.

3. What are the requirements for overriding a presidential veto? (p. 321) a) 50 percent plus one vote in both

houses of Congress b) two-thirds vote in both houses of

Congress c) two-thirds vote in the Senate only d) three-fourths vote in both houses

of Congress e) A presidential veto cannot be

overridden by Congress.


Contact the White House


After he or she is elected, the president is expected to represent all Americans. Ask a question or share your view on a policy with the president and White House staff via www.whitehouse.gov/contact.

Create a petition at http://petitions.whitehouse.gov regarding an issue you care about, and try to get as many signatures as possible.

Watch a few recent presidential speeches, including this year’s State of the Union address, on YouTube. Share your views with your fellow students, friends, and family.

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4. The Supreme Court has ruled that (p. 323) a) the power to remove executive

appointees belongs exclusively to the Senate.

b) the power to remove executive appointees belongs exclusively to the House of Representatives.

c) the power to remove executive appointees belongs exclusively to the president.

d) the power to remove executive appointees belongs exclusively to the federal judiciary.

e) executive appointees cannot be removed from office under any circumstance.

5. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 was an act passed by Congress that (p. 324) a) required the CIA to collect intel-

ligence on all Americans born in a foreign country.

b) outlawed presidential use of executive agreements.

c) created the National Security Council. d) granted the president the authority

to declare war. e) allowed the president to send

American troops into action abroad only if Congress had granted an authorization to use force or if military personnel were already under attack.

6. Which of the following statements about presidential declarations of national emergency is not accurate? (p. 326) a) Presidents can only declare a state

of national emergency in response to foreign threats after receiving the approval of Congress.

b) Once the president has declared a state of national emergency, constitutional rights, including the right of habeas corpus, may be temporarily suspended.

c) A declaration of national emer- gency in response to foreign threats allows the president to embargo trade, seize foreign assets, and prohibit transactions with whatever foreign nations are involved.

d) Declarations of national emergency remain in force for only one year unless they are renewed by the president.

e) Congress may, by a joint resolution of the two houses, terminate a declaration of national emergency.

7. Approximately how many people work for agencies within the Executive Office of the President? (p. 329) a) 25 to 50 b) 500 to 750 c) 1,500 to 2,000 d) 4,500 to 5,000 e) over 10,000

8. The EOP agency responsible for preparing the national budget, design- ing the president’s program, and overseeing regulatory proposals is called (p. 329) a) the Office of Management and

Budget. b) the National Security Council. c) the Council of Economic Advisers. d) the Congressional Budget Office. e) the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

9. Which of the following statements about vice presidents is not true? (pp. 329–30) a) The vice president succeeds the

president in case of death, resignation, or incapacitation.

b) The vice president casts the tie-breaking vote in the Senate when necessary.

c) The vice president also serves as an honorary member of the Supreme Court.

d) Eight vice presidents have had to replace American presidents who died in office.

e) Presidential candidates typically select a vice-presidential can- didate who is likely to bring the support of a state that would not otherwise support the ticket.

10. What are two primary ways that presidents can expand their power? (p. 331) a) avoiding popular appeals and

loosening their control of executive agencies


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b) using popular appeals and bolster- ing their control of executive agencies

c) using popular appeals and loosening their control of executive agencies

d) avoiding popular appeals and bolstering their control of executive agencies

e) weakening national partisan institutions and bolstering their control of executive agencies

11. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration were created through the use of (p. 336) a) a pocket veto. b) a signing statement.

c) an executive agreement. d) an executive order. e) executive privilege.

12. When the president makes an announcement about his interpreta- tion of a congressional enactment that he is signing into law, it is called (p. 339) a) a signing statement. b) a line-item veto. c) an executive order. d) legislative initiative. e) executive privilege.

Key Terms

Cabinet (p. 327) the secretaries, or chief administrators, of the major departments of the federal government; Cabinet secre- taries are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate

commander in chief (p. 318) the role of the president as commander of the national military and the state National Guard units (when called into service)

delegated powers (p. 324) In the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, delegated powers are described as those granted by the Constitution to the federal government; however, the term has commonly come to be used more broadly to refer to constitu- tional powers that are assigned to one gov- ernment agency but exercised by another with the express permission of the first

executive agreement (p. 320) an agreement, made between the president and another country, that has the force of a treaty but does not require the Senate’s “advice and consent”

Executive Office of the President (EOP) (p. 328) the permanent agencies that perform defined management tasks for the president; created in 1939, the EOP includes the OMB, the CEA, the NSC, and other agencies

executive order (p. 336) a rule or regulation issued by the president that has the effect and formal status of legislation

expressed powers (p. 318) specific powers granted by the Constitution to Congress (Article I, Section 8) and to the president (Article II); the term expressed powers was coined by Chief Justice John Marshall

inherent powers (p. 324) powers claimed by a president that are not expressed in the Constitution but are inferred from it

implied powers (p. 323) powers derived from the necessary and proper clause of Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution; such powers are not specifically expressed but are implied through the expansive inter- pretation of delegated powers

legislative initiative (p. 321) the president’s implied power to bring a legislative agenda before Congress

pocket veto (p. 321) a presidential veto that is automatically triggered if the president does not act on a given piece of legislation passed during the final 10 days of a legislative session


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signing statements (p. 339) announcements made by the president when signing bills into law, often presenting the president’s interpretation of the law

veto (p. 321) the president’s constitutional power to prevent a bill from becoming a law; a presidential veto may be overrid- den by a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress

Crouch, Jeffrey P. The Presidential Pardon Power. lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2009.

Dodds, Graham. Take Up Your Pen: Unilateral Presidential Directives in American Politics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

Fisher, louis. Constitutional Conflicts between President and Congress. 6th ed. lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2014.

Fisher, louis. The Law of the Executive Branch. New york: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Genovese, Michael, and Robert J. Spitzer. The Presidency and the Constitution. New york: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2005.

Ginsberg, Benjamin. Presidential Government. New Haven, CT: yale University Press, 2016.

Han, lori Cox, and Diane Heith. Presidents and the American Presidency, 2nd ed. New york: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Kernell, Samuel. Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership. 4th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2006.

Neustadt, Richard E. Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan. Rev. ed. New york: Free Press, 1990.

Spitzer, Robert J. The Presidential Veto: Touchstone of the American Presidency. Albany: State University of New york Press, 1988.

Tulis, Jeffrey K. The Rhetorical Presidency. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.

War Powers Resolution (p. 324) a resolution of Congress that the president can send troops into action abroad only by authoriza- tion of Congress or if American troops are already under attack or serious threat

White House staff (p. 327) analysts and advisers to the president, each of whom is often given the title “special assistant”

For Further Reading


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Bureaucracy WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES AND WHY IT MATTERS Lee Ann Walters couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her 4-year-old twins. They

had just moved to a new house in Flint, Michigan, and had rashes all over their

bodies. One doctor thought it was contact dermatitis, another eczema. Yet

another doctor suspected scabies, but tests were negative. Then Walters had

an epiphany: every time her sons swam in the kiddie pool in the yard, or took

a bath, the rash flared up. She told her family to stop drinking the tap water,

which was orange-brown even after running through a filter she had installed.

That was December 2014. Eight months earlier, the cash-strapped city

of Flint, under a state-appointed emergency manager, had switched its

water supply to save money. Rather than draw water from the Detroit system,

the city switched to the Flint River, which had been an indust