The gist of the book goes like this:
- In the last two decades of the 19th century almost everyone who could vote, voted. While this excluded most of the women, it included every
man --even those who had not yet become US Citizens. And they voted often, as votes were planned monthly and many seats were up for election every year.
- The two parties were a part of everyday life. Everything was done to whip up support for the party, every day. This, of course, included every tactic under the sun, from those supporting their people to those ripping at the other to activities now deemed illegal and immoral (many votes were paid for back in these days).
- The benefits of winning elections were enormous for the party faithful. The parties had control of where the money went, so many benefits that came from the Government (mail, roads, infrastructure, help) went to those who supported the winning side. This also led to a corruption society in government that led to instability at various points.
- The parties were wide-ranging collections of groups. Some groups were steadfast with one party, other groups went with parties depending on what was going on around them, still others could shift around at will. Many kept a watchful eye at what was going on, and were bound to jump if they didn't see enough benefit from their support.
- The result was a very instable government, in which seats weren't held for long and the balance of power could shift wildly every two or four years. Indeed, actions meant to extend the power of the party in power would often backfire, leading to an amazing amount of instability.
- Due to various forces (some not talked about in the book, as his focus are elections activites and their effects), voting begins to go down amongst the young.
- Reforms done in the early part of the 20th century add to the dropping rates of participation by making active participation harder and harder for many. From anti-immigrant activites to centralized (government-paid) ballots to measures meant to exclude blacks from voting (and reaching onto poorer, less literate whites) in the South to the expansion of an independent civil service, the reforms make it harder and harder for people to vote.
- As a result, the parties retreat to their spheres of influence: The North goes Republican and the South goes Democrat.
It's interesting to hear the press complain about people not voting; while I'd like to see more Democratic voters (and maybe more reason to vote Democratic without holding one's nose), I wonder if anyone REALLY wants to see what it would take to get 80% or more of the voting public to actually vote.
Also leads to an understanding of how the Republicans see themselves (more on that later...).