COMMENTARY: Vote for the party, not the person

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c. 1998 Religion News Service

(Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist and a sociologist at the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center. Check out his home page at or contact him via e-mail at agreel(at)

UNDATED _ The conventional wisdom is that one should vote for the man, not the party.

However, this wisdom, based perhaps on too many high school civics courses or too much college-generated ignorance, is a recipe for governmental gridlock and irresponsible political behavior.

One should vote for the party, not the person, because parties at least stand for something and you can never be sure what an individual is going to support or oppose. The decline of responsible government over the last 30 years is the result of the ticket splitting which has become fashionable among the half-educated over the last four decades.

It is argued by the ticket-splitters that they vote for the better person whatever party he may represent. In truth you cannot tell who the better person is in these days of media merchandising, spin doctoring, image-making. But you can tell in general what a party represents.

Obviously, there is overlap at the end of each party continuum in which the party of the candidate may not make a difference. Some of the rare liberal Republicans are little different from conservative Democrats.

Nevertheless the parties are different in their tendencies, propensities, their orientations. Let me count some of the ways.

The Republicans, for example, are fundamentally the party of the affluent; the Democrats the party of the less-than-affluent. The Republicans favor the expenditure of as little as possible on health and education; the Democrats believe the health and education of the country are too important to be left to the marketplace.

Democrats favor special protection for the poor, the elderly, and those who have been victims of past oppression, while Republicans will tell you _ truthfully _ that there is no such thing as a free lunch and the poor, but also that the elderly, and the oppressed should learn to take care of themselves. Democrats emphasize communal responsibility, Republicans individual rights.

The GOP opposes legal abortion and gay rights. The Democrats, on the other hand, support them both. The Republicans endorse voucher systems for education, while the Democrats oppose them.

The Democrats generally support the right to privacy, the Republicans, or more precisely, the”Christian”wing of the Republican party, believes the government should impose morality every way it can. There is some inconsistency in this last inclination because the Republicans have traditionally been the party of individualism.

But there is also a current inconsistency in the Democratic party’s support for affirmative action which generally hurts the working class, the party’s traditional base.

Democrats have traditionally been on the side of unions, Republicans on the side of the rich, though some”New Left”Democrats treat working people with snobbish contempt, and some Republicans find”populist”support among working people.

Indeed it is the members of the white working class who have been the swing voters in recent elections. The Democrats, for whom the white working class has been a traditional base, tend to ignore them because the working class is neither fashionable nor politically correct. The Republicans exploit their frustrations, but really don’t intend to do anything for them.

Republican tax cuts, oddly enough, favor the rich and the super rich and not the ordinary people. Republicans are wonderful at moral self-righteousness. Democrats are often victims of intellectual fashions.

It does matter, therefore, which party is in power. It makes a lot of difference, especially if you are concerned about social security or health care or education or tobacco or guns.

Neither party is perfect, neither has a monopoly on virtue, neither can command the allegiance of any voter on every issue. One has to support what one thinks is most important and hold one’s nose on the other matters.

But one ought not to deceive oneself: The candidate is not nearly as important as the party.

In all my life, I have never split a ticket, though I have had to hold my nose on occasion. I fear my immortal soul might be in danger if I did.

Moreover, my parents would be very angry at me.


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