Saturday, March 20, 2010

Motives and Ideology

For my internship I am reading academic political science literature relevant to political parties, finance, and participation. One such article "The Motives-Ideology Connection Among Political Party Activists" that was published in Political Psychology Vol. 17 No. 3 1998 written by Edmond Costantini and Linda O. Valenty from the Political Science Department of the University of California in Davis. The article examines the motives and ideologies of activists in the California Democratic and Republican parties from 1964 to 1990. Though the data might be data it was still revealing. The different ideologies were a range of more liberal to conservative while the motivations were Ambition, Sociality, Purposive, Allegiance.

Ambition is an obvious motivation to enter party politics and I would be lying to myself and my loyal readers if I wrote that I did not have some ambition to enter politics. Sociality or the opportunities for social activity and friendship available in party politics is another reason I entered politics. Many of my dear friends are political junkies like myself and I met them while getting involved in party politics in Rice County. Purposive members and activists are involved to advance policies through their elected officials and ideals within the party mission. As I have mentioned several times in my earlier blog entries and conversations, I am a proponent of universal healthcare, marriage equality, and public education. It makes sense then that I am active in the Democratic party for sure, yet the study reveals that purposive activists are usually more ideologically 'radical' or 'stringent' than ambitious candidates who tend to move towards the center in pursuit of a majority of voters. Moreover, the analysis shows that purposive activists are more amateur than ambitious ones which could also contribute to the popularity of centrist politics in America. This aspect of the political culture also contributes to the continual, exponential decrease of purposive activists in political parties. However, the emergence of the 'Tea Party' might change this trend for the conservative right. The 'Tea Party' seems focused on ideology and policy. They are uncompromising and extremely active, however their impact on electoral politics has yet to be seen.

Yet it seems more and more common that compromises are made during elections. Too many politicians, notably Democrats, cave to pressure and move to the center. Being centrist helps us win elections, but it also limits the expectations for the progress government can achieve.

Finally, Allegiance is another interesting motive. Such activists feel an obligation to party leaders and the party community. My family and I were never really political. I have become a party activist on my own, yet in recent conversations with my grandmother she told me how she remembered FDR and the progress of the New Deal. She has been a Democrat for life. I do not know if I will have that kind of allegiance particularly with the persistence of many of my frustrations with the Democratic party.

All of the aforementioned motivations have been cited by my peers and neighbors as reasons for their political activity. Most times the motives are in combination and are at times challenged by the rate of progress or failures of candidates. Political party attachment however is a powerful force and is necessary for the continuation of a healthy civil society. The challenge of contemporary political parties is how to channel each of these motivations at every ideological alignment to continue strong parties to the elections of 2010, 2012, 2014 and beyond.

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