American Political Parties and Elections: A Very Short Introduction

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Oxford University Press, Aug 10, 2007 - Political Science - 192 pages
Few Americans and even fewer citizens of other nations understand the electoral process in the United States. Still fewer understand the role played by political parties in the electoral process or the ironies within the system. Participation in elections in the United States is much lower than in the vast majority of mature democracies. Perhaps this is because of the lack of competition in a country where only two parties have a true chance of winning, despite the fact that a large number of citizens claim allegiance to neither and think badly of both. Or perhaps it is because in the U.S. campaign contributions disproportionately favor incumbents in most legislative elections, or that largely unregulated groups such as the now notorious 527s have as much impact on the outcome of a campaign as do the parties or the candidates' campaign organizations. Studying these factors, you begin to get a very clear picture indeed of the problems that underlay our much trumpeted electoral system. This Very Short Introduction introduces the reader to these issues and more, providing an insider's view of how the system actually works while shining a light on some of its flaws. As we enter what is sure to be yet another highly contested election year, it is more important than ever that Americans take the time to learn the system that puts so many in power. About the Series: Oxford's Very Short Introductions series offers concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects--from Islam to Sociology, Politics to Classics, Literary Theory to History, and Archaeology to the Bible. Not simply a textbook of definitions, each volume in this series provides trenchant and provocative--yet always balanced and complete--discussions of the central issues in a given discipline or field. Every Very Short Introduction gives a readable evolution of the subject in question, demonstrating how the subject has developed and how it has influenced society. Eventually, the series will encompass every major academic discipline, offering all students an accessible and abundant reference library. Whatever the area of study that one deems important or appealing, whatever the topic that fascinates the general reader, the Very Short Introductions series has a handy and affordable guide that will likely prove indispensable.

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Despite all the high-level media coverage that politics gets in the US, the way that American political system works is rather obscure even for someone who has been following politics for many years. There are several key aspects of this system that make it very different from other highly developed democracies around the world. The most notorious one of these aspects, the electoral system, prevents direct election of the American president, and makes only a handful of states competitive in the presidential race. Furthermore, what makes the political system particularly complicated is the fact that each one of the fifty states has its own political and electoral idiosyncrasies.
This book is a very useful first step for anyone who is serious about learning more about American politics. It covers all the main features of the system, without getting bogged down in technical details. It provides a concise and accessible overview, from both historical and contemporary points of view. The inclusion of several recent political contests makes the material relevant and approachable. It is an easy and enjoyable read and will be appreciated by anyone who is interested in the subject, whether you have been following American politics for decades or are completely new to it. I highly recommend it.

Review: American Political Parties and Elections: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions #214)

User Review  - Jesse - Goodreads

A thoughtful overview of what's right and what's wrong in American democracy. Americans who know a bit about politics will find that much of the material is already familiar, however. Read full review


1 The context of American elections and political parties
2 A brief history of American political parties
What do they look like? What do they do?
4 Who are Republicans? Who are Democrats? Who are the others?
Nominating campaigns and general elections
6 Subnational nominations and elections
7 Far from the perfect democracy
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About the author (2007)

Sandy Maisel is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government and Director of the Goldfarb Center of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby College. A former candidate for Congress, Maisel is the author or editor of 15 books on political parties and elections and is a frequent commentator on contemporary politics.

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