National Party Organizations and Party Brands in American Politics

Heersink, Boris, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Jenkins, Jeffery, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Milkis, Sidney, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Political scientists have traditionally dismissed the Democratic and Republican National committees as ‘service providers’ – organizations that provide assistance to candidates in the form of campaign funding and expertise but otherwise lack political power. In this dissertation, I argue that this perspective has missed a crucial role national committees play in American politics, namely that national party organizations publicize their party’s policy positions and, in doing so, attempt to create national party brands. These brands are important to party leaders – especially when the party is in the national minority – since they are fundamental to mobilizing voters in elections. In case studies covering the DNC and RNC in the period 1913-2008, I show that minority party committees prioritize their branding role and invest considerably in their publicity divisions, inaugurate new publicity programs, and create new communication tools to reach out to voting groups. Additionally, I show that in cases where the party is out of the White House, the national committees have considerable leeway in deciding what party image to publicize. Rather than being mere powerless service providers, I show that party committees have played crucial roles in debates concerning questions of ideology and issue positioning in both parties.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Democratic National Committee, Republican National Committee, Political Parties, American Political Development, Party Organizations, Party Brands
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