Factors maintaining local two-party competition in a suburban community
The problem. In many Chicago suburban communities municipal elections are contested by two or more local party organizations. Political theorists have often been concerned with explaining the configuration of party systems, and American writers have shown a special interest in determining the causes of a two-party system. Few of these writers, however, have attempted to develop hypotheses specifically concerned with the causes of local, as opposed to state or national, bipartisan systems. A single political scientist has published a model which suggested conditions under which a local two-party system would be likely to appear. This model emphasized the importunes of community cleavages in the national party affiliations and the occupational, educational, religious, and ethnic characteristics of the electorate, this model was tested and confirmed by its author in Bay City, a large urban center. Political scientists interested in suburban government have offered no comparable generalizations. Few have recognized the existence of local party systems in suburban communities, emphasizing instead the nonpartisan and noncompetitive nature of most suburban municipal elections. Some writers have, however, suggested possible patterns of conflict in these communities. They have called attention to differences in length of residence and place of work as potential political cleavages. Method. A field study, designed to test the relevance of the model and other hypotheses, was conducted in s two-party suburb. Information about perceived differences between the parties, the role played by national party organizations, the activity and partisanship of various groups and individuals, and patterns of voting in the electorate was obtained through structured interviews with eight local political activists. Four members of each party were interviewed. The research setting selected, a upper-status suburb here called "Innisfree," had been the scene of two-party competition for ten years. Results. Information provided by the respondents indicated that the hypotheses had little relevance in this particular setting. Analysis indicated, however, that the presence of a two-party system in Innisfree could be explained in part by ideological differences between the parties and by a local political culture which placed a high value upon competition for public office and the two-party system. The Innisfree study did not provide a sufficient basis for generalization about the sources of two-party conflict in all Chicago suburbs. It did suggest the need for more refined and specialized theoretical tools for the study of local party systems in suburban communities.