Didi Kuo (Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Stanford University) and I are excited to share our new article, Associational Party-Building: A Path to Rebuilding Democracy, which is out today in the Columbia Law Review Forum.
This Piece advances a fundamentally different orientation to democracy reform. It starts from the premise that the ultimate normative goals of democratic reform should be policy responsiveness and the restoration of confidence in government through its functionality. And it looks to ways to achieve those goals without legislative intervention. Voters should have easier access to the ballot. Legislatures must be un-gerrymandered, and economic elites, like hyper-partisan ideologues, should have less inﬂuence over politics. But, we argue, procedural reforms do little to ensure government responsiveness. Political parties, by contrast, if systematically strengthened as organizations with deeper ties to voters, have enormous potential to boost not just voter turnout, but democracy itself.
Political parties are the only civic associations with the capacity to organize at a scale that matters and the only intermediaries that both communicate with voters and govern. Yet it is no surprise that many Americans, including democracy reformers, are skeptical about political parties. They seem incapable of performing their basic representative functions. Further, pundits and scholars focus much more on parties as vehicles for funding elections, as policy-demanders, or as heuristic brands governed by political elites, rather than as intermediaries.
Our Piece argues that Americans need to shed their anti-partyism. We explain why Americans need strong parties, how we should conceive of them, and how we might get there. Distilling and further developing an argument I first made in 2019, we explain that reestablishing parties as strong intermediaries with linkages to civic groups and citizens is likely to be an effective strategy, in the long run, for rebuilding trust in democratic institutions overall. Parties with the commitment and capacity to engage in mobilization between election cycles, including through local civic groups, have the potential to bring about the responsiveness essential for democratic governance and public trust. The Piece both articulates the basis for these theoretical hypotheses and offers preliminary data to support them.
In all, we advance a fundamentally different conception of political parties in the hopes of setting a research agenda capable of more systematically testing the hypothesis. Over the next few days, I look forward to sharing more details about our argument.