by Adrienne Fulco, Associate Professor and Director of the Public Policy and Law Program at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut
Scholars who compare European and American political parties have custom-arily characterized the two major American political parties as distinctly non-ideological coalitions of voters who come together every four years to nominate and elect a president. Nicol C. Rae recently observed that “[i]n the comparative study of political parties in twentieth century advanced democracies, the United States has always been something of a problematic outlier owing to the absence of organized, disciplined, and ideological mass political parties.” Moreover, according to Rae, when compared with other advanced industrial democracies, “American national parties have traditionally been decentralized, loosely organized, and undisciplined, with party cleavages based on cultural or regional factors rather than social class divisions.” But today, according to researchers who have explored the problem of polarization in American politics since the 1980s, there is now “widespread agreement that the Democratic and Republican parties in the electorate have become more sharply divided on ideology and policy issues in recent decades.” Commentators agree that among the factors most responsible for the sharpening of distinctions between the two parties has been the infusion of white, Protestant, conservative, religiously motivated voters into the Republican Party. Thus, not only have American political parties become more ideologically oriented, but they have also come to resemble more closely the European model, in which parties represent distinct religious and secular constituencies.
Secularization and Its Discontents: Courts and Abortion Policy in the United States and Spain