Political Science

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Will the continued development of electronic media and Internet campaigning further diminish the power of political parties to influence the course of elections, or has the power of the candidate to determine the course of a campaign reached its zenith?

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Electronic media have affected the nature of the political process in many countries. A striking feature of this in European countries with multiparty systems has been the sudden rise of various new parties such as the Five Star Movement in Italy, La République En Marche! in France, and Ciudadanos and Podemos in Spain. While North America has not had such growth of new parties, there have been movements such as the Bernie Sanders movement and democratic socialism within the Democratic Party and Trumpism and the Tea Party within the Republican party. Especially in the case of populist movements, social media and electronic communications have facilitated the speed with which they have been organized.

On a separate level, party affiliation and identification have been trending downward in most OECD countries, with more voters considering themselves independent. This decline in party affiliation is paralleled by a decline in participation in other types of civic groups such as service organizations, clubs, and traditional churches. This suggests that electronic media and other forms of temporary online affiliation may increase in relative importance and the influence of parties may decline.

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I would argue that political parties are not going to get any stronger.  However, I do not believe that candidates will get stronger.  I think that candidates will lose more control over their campaigns.  That control, I would argue, will go to rich donors more than to political parties.

I do not believe that political parties are going to take more power over campaigns.  We can see, for example, in the splits within the Republican Party that the party establishment cannot control its membership.  The “Tea Party” seems to be able to defeat the more establishment-oriented candidates every time.  With the internet and electronic media, it is easier than ever for groups that are not affiliated with parties to get together, raise money, make ads, and generally run campaigns.  The parties are not returning to dominance.

However, the candidates are not going to keep getting stronger.  Recent court decisions have made it easier than ever for rich donors to take over the course of campaigns.  They can put so much money into ad campaigns that they can completely change the trajectory of elections.  These rich donors are the ones who are going to keep getting stronger; it will not be the parties or the candidates.

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