Summary of "Politics by Other Means: The Declining Importance of Elections in America"

Summary of

Politics by Other Means: The Declining Importance of Elections in America

By Benjamin Ginsberg and Martin Shefter

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Politics by Other Means: The Declining Importance of Elections in America, Benjamin Ginsberg and Martin Shefter, (Basic Books, 1990), 226 pp.

Politics by Other Means will be of interest to those who seek an enhanced understanding of contemporary electoral and institutional politics. This work is divided into six chapters, and helpfully includes an index of named persons and topics. Chapters one and two discuss the causes of electoral decay, and the concomitant rise of institutional combat. The authors identify electoral deadlock, and low levels of voter mobilization as two of the key causes of this transformation.

Chapters three and four analyze the roles of the Democratic and Republican parties within the transformation, and identify those institutions which have become, respectively, Democratic or Republican bastions of power. Chapter four focuses on analyzing the "Republican offensive" of the 1980s. In chapter five the methods and tactics of contemporary institutional combat are explained in more detail, with emphasis on current struggles over fiscal policy, military and national security, and the federal judiciary.

The final chapter argues further that this transformation of contemporary politics has serious negative consequences for the nation. Politics of institutional combat "undermines the governing capacities of the nation's institutions, diminishing the ability of America's government to manage domestic and foreign affairs, and contributing to the erosion of the nation's international political and economic standing." Furthermore, it reinforces low levels of voter mobilization, ultimately undermining the very democratic nature of American politics.

Politics by Other Means is a carefully argued analysis of contemporary American politics. While the scope of its analysis is broad, the authors provide sufficient background information, often in the form of graphs and detailed examples, for this work to be quite accessible to the casual reader.