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Election Process and Political Parties, Current Trends and Issues

election turnouts, campaign spending, proposed policies, negative advertising, mudslinging

Democrats and Republicans face significant challenges in the future. Traditional means of campaigning have been changed drastically by technology and by increasing media coverage. Politicians spend less time on grassroots campaigning, such as visiting neighborhoods. Instead they employ several elements to enhance their chances of election; some of these elements were unheard of as recently as the 1950s. These include short television advertisements that cost as much as $100,000 for a minute, polls, direct mail, and political consultants who offer advice on how to shape a campaign.

Parties need to rethink how they can use a system that depends on professional public relations firms rather than on party leaders, and on direct mail advertising rather than grassroots party workers. Furthermore, party leaders need to consider how they can prevent campaigns from deteriorating into mudslinging: negative advertising about what an opponent has done wrong, rather than a presentation of what a candidate will do right. Meanwhile proposed policies have been reduced to slogans, as the brevity of television spots has limited viewers’ abilities to make choices based on information. Because they see little difference among candidates, voters often fail to cast a ballot, and election turnouts have declined.

Modern campaigns are expensive propositions, and Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with the way they are financed. Politicians depend on huge campaign contributions from corporations and powerful special interest groups. One answer to this problem is to rely entirely on public financing. Another is to limit the amount that any candidate can spend on a campaign, rather than control the amount that any individual or group can give. Yet in 1976 in the case of Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress cannot limit campaign spending because spending money on politics is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. Today there are no limits on how much money a candidate or party can spend, and no limits on how much a wealthy candidate can donate to his or her own campaign.

There are, however, limits on some kinds of contributions. For instance, $2,000 is the most any individual can give to any one candidate in any single election. A limit of $5,000 is placed on the amount that can be given to a political action committee, which then redistributes the funds to various candidates. The top amount that can be given to a national party committee in a federal election is $25,000.

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