American Political Science Review

Resurgent Mass Partisanship: The Role of Elite Polarization

Marc J.  Hetherington  a1
a1 Marc J. Hetherington is Assistant Professor of Government, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME 04011 (,,

For the most part, scholars who study American political parties in the electorate continue to characterize them as weak and in decline. Parties on the elite level, however, have experienced a resurgence over the last two decades. Such a divergence between elite behavior and mass opinion is curious, given that most models of public opinion place the behavior of elites at their core. In fact, I find that parties in the electorate have experienced a noteworthy resurgence over the last two decades. Greater partisan polarization in Congress has clarified the parties’ ideological positions for ordinary Americans, which in turn has increased party importance and salience on the mass level. Although parties in the 1990s are not as central to Americans as they were in the 1950s, they are far more important today than in the 1970s and 1980s. The party decline thesis is in need of revision.