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Barish, Lawrence S.; Theobald, H. Rupert (ed.) / State of Wisconsin Blue Book
(1991-1992)

Wisconsin political parties,   pp. [833]-868 PDF (16.1 MB)


Page 835


POLITICAL PARTIES
835
    Throughout its history the United States has operated as a 2-party political
system, rather
 than the single-party or multi-party systems found elsewhere. Although minor
parties have
 always been a part of American politics, few have gained the support necessary
to challenge the 2
 dominant political parties at the national level, and those that did lasted
only briefly. The same
 cannot be said of politics on the state level. In Wisconsin, for example,
the Socialist Party regu-
 larly sent one or more Milwaukee representatives to the legislature between
1911 and 1937, and
 the Progressive Party was influential between 1933 and 1947 and captured
a plurality of both
 houses of the 1937 Legislature.
                                    Joining A Political Party
   The individual citizen can participate in the political process by voting,
expressing an opinion
 on a public issue, joining a special interest group, contacting a legislator,
signing a petition or
 nomination paper, or making a financial contribution to a candidate or pressure
group. How-
 ever, becoming an active member of a political party is a more direct way
to help select govern-
 ment leaders and determine the future policies of government. Party membership
can be a re-
 warding experience, and, through various youth groups associated with political
parties, it is
 possible to participate in party activity even before reaching voting age.
   Political parties need strong citizen support to be effective. When deciding
whether to join one
 party or another, the individual should determine which of them most closely
reflects the broad
 set of principles he or she believes should guide the nation or state. By
actively participating in
 the party's organizational activities and its selection of candidates, the
citizen can help the party
 obtain the majority vote needed to carry out its policies.
                                  Wisconsin's Political History
   Early in its history, Wisconsin was fortunate that its large immigrant
population, such as the
 Germans and Scandinavians, provided the state with a politically sophisticated
group of voters.
 For these citizens, a party's stand on issues became a more important determinant
of party
 loyalty than ethnic or religious factors. Temporary shifts occurred based
on personalities and
 events, but the more lasting changes in party allegiance evolved slowly
and were the result of
 fundamental social and economic issues.
   In How Wisconsin Voted, James R. Donoghue divided Wisconsin's political
history into 4 eras.
 Beginning with statehood in 1848, the first era lasted until 1855, when
the newly created Republi-
 can Party first captured a major statewide office. The Democratic Party
was the dominant politi-
 cal party of this period, and the Whig Party provided major opposition.
This was a continuation
 of the party alignment that had prevailed during the state's territorial
period.
   In 1854, the Republican Party had its national birth at Ripon, Wisconsin,
based on the condi-
 tions and events that eventually led to the Civil War. These circumstances
contributed to the
 rapid growth of the Republican Party and the demise of the Whigs.
   The second era in Wisconsin's party history was one of Republican domination
from 1856 to
 1900. When it ended at the turn of the century with the election of Governor
Robert M. La
 Follette, Sr., Wisconsin politics entered a period of complexity and confusion.
   The third era, from 1900 to 1945, was a time of great stress and change,
encompassing the
Great Depression and World Wars I and II. Until the official 1934 formation
of the Progressive
Party with a separate ballot position, political contests usually occurred
not between 2 parties,
but between 2 factions of the Republican Party  the conservative "stalwart"
Republicans and
the "progressive" (La Follette) Republicans. In effect, Wisconsin
was a 3-party state during this
period, with the 2 main contenders both labeled Republican, and the Democratic
Party in
eclipse. Political contests tended to be decided in Republican primary elections.
   After some early success within the Republican Party, the progressive
faction formally split
from the Republicans to form its own party in 1934. The new Progressive Party
won gubernato-
rial elections in 1936 and 1942. Declining popularity led, however, to its
dissolution in 1946, and
Progressive Party leadership urged its members and supporting voters to return
to the Republi-
can Party. The period 1900 to 1945 was also the time of greatest strength
for the Socialists. This
era saw the high point of third party strength in Wisconsin.
  The fourth era, from 1945 to the present, has been marked by a realignment
and polarization
of the major parties. A resurgence of the Democratic Party ended the long
Republican domina-
tion, returning the state to a more balanced, 2-party, competitive system.
In the late 1940s some


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