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Why Parties Matter: Political Competition and Democracy in the American South, John H. Aldrich and John D. Griffin

Reviewed by Marty Cohen

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When determining whether governments will be responsive to the public, there is a healthy debate as to the role of party competition. There are those who contend that political competition is simply unnecessary for maintaining a healthy democracy. Others go further and argue that it is actually bad for democracy. The authors of this work believe electoral competition that is born of a healthy two-party system forces the government to be responsive to the people. John H. Aldrich and John D. Griffin claim that effective democratic governance arises consistently in the presence of regular party competition for control of governmental offices. Their evidence comes from a fascinating comparison of a predominantly one- or no-party South with a robust two-party North. They compare the two regions during four distinct eras stretching back to the 1830s. The variation both within the South and between the regions affords the authors the opportunity to buttress certain theoretical claims regarding the impact of political competition on healthy democracy.

Their main argument contains four parts. First, democracies govern effectively when they perform well on valence issues and when they represent citizens’ preferences on more controversial issues. Second, regularly competitive elections in which voters can hold elected officials accountable are necessary to induce el

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