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Commentators, especially since the Democratic party reforms following 1968, have expressed serious concerns about the role of party activists in the American political system. Have they become so concerned with ideological purity that they are unable to nominate strong candidates? Are activists loyal only to particular interest groups, with little concern for the parties as institutions? Are the reformed nominating procedures open to takeover by new activists, who exit the party immediately after the presidential nominations fight? With such an unrepresentative set of activists, can parties adjust to changing environments?

Based on a survey of more than 17,000 delegates to state presidential nominating conventions in eleven states in 1980, this pathbreaking book addresses these questions in a comprehensive way for the first time. Heretofore most of the generalizations about party activists in the presidential nomination process have been based on studies of national convention delegates, in particular those attending the 1972 conventions. But those delegates were atypical activists, as this book shows. The state of the activist stratum of the parties differs from what many of the critics have suggested.

Ronald B. Rapoport and John McGlennon are associate professors of government at the College of William and Mary. Alan I. Abramowitz is an associate professor of political science at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

"The research presented here is impressive and sophisticated in its methods. . . The only comprehensive study of caucus delegates that I have seen."—Perspective

"A significant attempt to bring new and extensive data to the study of party activists and cadres."—Political Science Quarterly

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Presidential politics, United States politics, United States political parties, Nominating conventions


American Politics

The Life of the Parties: Activists in Presidential Politics
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