Are the Political Parties “Fragmented” or “Networked” and Why It Matters

In a good piece, Professor Seth Masket takes issue with my argument that political power and the political parties today are highly fragmented.  Instead, he suggests we ought to see the parties more as “networked:”

The modern American party is a network in this sense: It is a collection of different sorts of political actors — candidates, officeholders, activists, major donors, media figures, and others — working together to determine who gets nominated for office and thus what direction the government moves. These different actors are connected to each other in a variety of ways, including the exchange of information and the transfer of campaign money, all of which involve picking candidates and backing them at the presidential, congressional, or local level.

The network structure makes it difficult to know just who is in charge of the party at any given point, or even who is a member of it. . . determining the chain of command can be very challenging, especially when they battle each other for influence.

Whether we describe the parties as fragmented or networked, Seth agrees that this structure makes it far more difficult to have effective, unified party leadership:

Now, it is entirely possible that a party network may be more prone to extremism than a party hierarchy. Ideological activists play a much larger role in the modern party system, and many candidates now come from their ranks.

I take Seth’s point to be that, if we understand the parties as networked, it is all the more difficult to imagine ways of re-empowering party leadership to exercise more effective unifying control.  His piece is well worth a read.

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