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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Social Coalition Character of the Democratic and Republican Precinct Cadres in Detroit, 1956-1984

  • Author(s): Eldersveld, Samuel J.
  • et al.

Political parties are alliances of socio-economic interest groups. One cannot understand party organizational dynamics in any community without identifying the critical coalitional subgroups of the organization, assessing their relative strengths, and analyzing their ideologies and behaviors. This is a position we elaborated long ago in our 1956 Detroit study of the Republican and Democratic hierarchies (Eldersveld 1964). The effectiveness of party structures in electoral democracies depends on their linkages to the significant socio-economic interest sectors of the electorates whose support they seek to exploit and mobilize in order to acquire, and to remain in, power. Hence, the viability of local party cadres depends greatly on their capacity for adaptation to the changing character of their electorates. By adaptation we mean not only their response in terms of the numerical representation of social interests in precinct cadres, but also the qualitative performance of precinct cadres, and their orientations to party politics, including their ideological commitments.

It is most interesting, therefore, to study the changes in party cadres over time, concurrently with observations concerning the social and populational changes in a community. Of course, the focus in this must be not only on the changing social complexion of the party coalitions, but on the relationship of such change to the mobilist role of the party structures--are they continuously effective, are they still relevant, or are they in a state of decline? To try to answer such questions for Detroit, the studies we have conducted from 1956 to the present are of some utility. Periodically we have returned to Detroit to interview a sample of precinct leaders of both major parties; most recently in the fall of 1980, 1982, and 1984. Therefore, we can compare Detroit party cadres of the 1950s and the 1980s--a 30-year perspective.

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