Associational Party-Building: A Path to Rebuilding Democracy

This Piece argues that Americans need to shed their anti-partyism and take a second look at parties: Political parties are the only civic associations with the capacity to organize at a scale that matters and the only intermediaries that both communicate with voters and govern. The Piece, however, advances a fundamentally different orientation to party reform—one that pushes beyond a view of parties as vehicles for funding elections, policy-demanders, or heuristic brands. Instead, it offers a conception of party strength that emphasizes political parties as organizations, and it offers a blueprint for party reform that emphasizes strengthening the organizational and associational features of political parties. Finally, the Piece offers strategies for associational party-building that do not depend on federal legislative intervention—or any legislative intervention. Throughout, it grounds the theoretical intervention in empirical evidence from recent trends in state and local party-building to show that associational party-building is a feasible direction for party reform. In sum, it explains why Americans need strong parties, how we should conceive of them, and how we might get there.