Mobilizing Voters in the United States and the United Kingdom: political strategies from parties and grassroots organizations (1867 – 2017)
The enfranchisement process throughout the English-speaking world has all but been a simultaneous one. In addition to the repeal of religious bans in the early 19th century, no less than six electoral reforms (Representation of the People Acts) were passed by the British Parliament between the mid-19th century and the late 1960s, first enlarging the electorate on a property basis − but still within the confines of an exclusively male electorate −, then extending the right to vote to women and finally lowering the voting age to 18 at the end of the 1960s. In the United States, the history of voting rights offers an even more fragmented picture, with − in addition to the extension of the franchise to the same categories following a similar timetable at the federal level − the inclusion or exclusion of voters from the registers on the basis of ethnicity and race through the vote of a dozen Acts between 1790 and 1965. With regards to this question, one will necessarily think of African Americans who obtained the right to vote with the 15th Amendment, in the aftermath of the Civil War, but kept fighting throughout the first half of the 20th century to actually enjoy the franchise. Nowadays, the question remains a potent issue in some States, mainly in the South, where some legal and political measures and strategies (gerrymandering, redistricting, use of voter ID…) tend to restrict the right to vote by excluding minorities.
This step-by-step enfranchisement based on property, sex, ethnicity and age quite naturally engendered fears or expectations among the main political parties or factions and led in turn to forceful attempts to attract each new electorate. Concurrently, and subsequently to some of these changes, British and American politics experienced in the 20th century periods of dealignment or realignment, when weakening or changing partisan ties seemed to threaten existing structures. Such contexts − the advent of new electorates and the loss of others − seem to have been particularly conducive to renewed efforts and innovations in terms of political communication by political parties to appeal to different types of electorate.
However, if political parties have sometimes striven to attract new voters in order to secure electoral victories and enlarge their base, very often it is civil rights organizations, as well as popular and grassroots movements that have undertaken the process of mobilizing and re-mobilizing various groups of voters, with a view of integrating them into society. Beyond the simple desire to make voters position themselves in favor of one party or another, these organizations have intended to shed light on the right to vote and on political participation as a way of helping these minorities get heard. In the past, these strategies may have been synonymous with mobilizing new voters as it was the case with feminist movements in the United States and the United Kingdom, or African Americans in the early 20th century when organizations like the NAACP, for instance, raised the voting right issue as a symbol of racial progress and integration. The question is still being raised today in the US as racial minorities are often disinterested or marginalized when it comes to political participation. This leads organizations like the National Council for La Raza or Voto Latino, to try to get Hispanics to vote, generating potentially major changes in future elections, whether it be at the local or at the federal level, while the movement “Black Lives Matter” endeavors to mobilize according to an intersectional strategy which encompasses other marginalized minorities in a larger activist and political approach. The women's vote has also, regularly, drawn people's attention on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, from long-established organizations like the League of Women Voters, NOW, or the Fawcett Society, as well as by newly emerging organizations which focus on some special groups given women's age, marital status or ethnic origins.
As a consequence, following two different and yet complementary approaches (one from the top down with parties and the other from the bottom up with grassroots organizations), we propose to compare how potential voters have been appealed to, through the use of different strategies and tools of communication”. Whether it be organizations or parties, it will be interesting to analyze how these groups either (re)connect citizens with politics or give birth to social movements which durably occupy the political landscape of the United States and the United Kingdom. Common features may be observed along with distinct approaches particularly adapted to the specificity of each country concerned.
Submissions will consist in a 300-word summary and a short bibliography.
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