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Patronage, Logrolls, and “Polarization”: Congressional Parties of the Gilded Age, 1876–1896

Studies in American Political Development

Cambridge University Press (CUP)

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      Abstract

      According to the quantitative indicators scholars use to measure political polarization, the Gilded Age stands out for some of the most party-polarized Congresses of all time. By contrast, historians of the era depict the two major parties as presenting few programmatic alternatives to one another. I argue that a large share of the party-line votes in the Congress of this period are poorly suited to the standard conceptualization as “polarization,” meaning wide divergence on an ideological continuum structuring alternative views on national policy. Specifically, the era's continuous battles over the distribution of particularized benefits, patronage, and control of political office make little sense conceived as stemming from individual members' preferences on an underlying ideological dimension. They are better understood as fights between two long coalitions competing for power and distributive gains. In short, the Gilded Age illustrates that political parties are fully capable of waging ferocious warfare over spoils and office, even despite a relative lack of sharp party differences over national policy.

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      Most cited references 18

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        Linear Probability Models of the Demand for Attributes with an Empirical Application to Estimating the Preferences of Legislators

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          An Empirical Test of Preferences for the Political Pork Barrel: District Level Appropriations for River and Harbor Legislation, 1889-1913

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            Author and article information

            Journal
            applab
            Studies in American Political Development
            Stud. Am. Pol. Dev.
            Cambridge University Press (CUP)
            0898-588X
            1469-8692
            October 2016
            June 6 2016
            October 2016
            : 30
            : 02
            : 116-127
            10.1017/S0898588X16000079
            © 2016

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