An Analysis of Frymer’s Theory of American Politics

An Analysis of Frymer’s Theory of American Politics


Thesis statement

Paul Frymer’s (2010) theory on “Electoral capture” which discusses the intentional marginalization of minority groups by political parties is in tandem with Bartels’ empirical findings on how these groups benefit from the political class.

Electoral capture consists of two words with the first one referring to anything to do with elections. Capture on the other hand refers to the act of taking an animal or human being into one’s custody, perhaps by the means of a snare or a well designed trap. It is hence the act of a political party taking a minority group for granted given the fact that the opposition deems this group’s impact as negligible.

Frymer (2010) theorizes that the major political parties, Democrats and Republicans have from their very beginning chose to exclude the African American community from political participation. Frymer points out the intentional neglecting of matters pertaining to slavery in the 1850s as well as Bill Clinton’s actions more recently as evidence of this exclusion. This is tantamount to the parties using their poorer constituents as voting machines to be kept away after elections are won.

Bartels (2008) on the other hand has a theory that suggests that politicians and to be more specific senators tend to be more inclined to hearing and acting upon the concerns of their wealthier constituents at the expense of the less financially endowed despite the fact that the ones being ignored usually have more urgent issues.


One of the most controversial topics that never miss a talking point in both formal and informal forums is the Issue of politics. For some people politics is like the cliché, a “dirty game” while for others it is all about the opinion that prevails at the end of the day. The political process is all about governance and how the authority in power presides over the distribution of resources that are in a given country or other political unit. In general, the public opinion of a politician regardless of the part of the world is that of a conniving and scheming individual who uses sweet words on the electorate so that he or she can get into power for the sole purpose of self-enrichment. In the United States of America, there are two main political parties that are behemoths in the nation’s political affairs. As far as American politics go, democrats and republicans have always had a bone to pick with each other’s policies and styles of leadership. Democrats are usually referred to as liberals given their tendency to be open minded while republicans are considered and termed as conservatives for the mere fact that they are viewed as hard-liners who prefer to be stick to older ways of doing things.

For a long time, political scientists, analysts, pundits and the electorate alike have always viewed the presidential election as a two horse race which always pitches republicans against democrats despite the fact that time and time again, these parties have reached out to different minority or marginalized groups for support. However after the successful side has come to power, these groups and the goodies they were promised often get side-lined or given a raw deal compared to what was agreed as a basis for the support.

In recent presidential elections in 2012 as well as those that took place in 2008 and the previous election years, several pertinent social issues arose for discourse by the leading presidential candidates. These issues include the state of the economy, abortion, religion, legalization of same sex unions, gun control laws, immigration laws, employment, income disparities, taxation of the wealthy and the war in Iraq. These issues were discussed in great length on the ground as well as on campaign podiums with the candidates trying to tread as carefully as possible so as to ensure they garnered the necessary amount of votes to take them to the oval office.

The present literature available on American Politics dwells a lot about the gains and losses that have been associated with the two main parties with occasional mention of the independents whose impact has often been too negligible to research upon. As much as the books and journal articles inform the readers about key differences between democrats and republicans, they conveniently fail to mention the racial aspect of American politics. This is a screaming discrepancy considering the fact that politics is all about the allocation of resources and more importantly the fact that the struggle for racial equality has always been a fight for the fair distribution of the United States’ resources. In this context, one resource that has been valiantly fought for has been the fundamental freedoms including the right to vote and to be involved other political processes.

Voting is viewed as the ultimate expression of a country’s democracy or political maturity. However, when an individual casts his or her vote, the preferred candidate does not automatically or magically get to know the needs of the electorate. This is why lobby groups exist and their work is to push for legislation that will make their lives better by pilling pressure on their political representatives. Why it then that the black community for instance still has the same complaints it had in the 1960s? The two major parties still seem to be reeling from racism in that it is still so hard for African Americans to penetrate into top leadership or other positions of influence. This seems to be supported by Bartels’ observation regarding the responsiveness of senators to lobbying by those they represent in that perhaps the senators’ wealth is the main barrier to equal representation. This is because the wealthy are the once who are often contacted to sponsor various bills. Their opposition or support can often determine the fate of the lobbying since they are in the same social class as the senators Bartels (2010).

American society like many others across the globe is a highly monetized society. The manner in which financial matters are run in America make it a capitalist country where individuals strive to enrich themselves by virtually all means necessary. It is also known that many social issues can be directly linked to financial matters. This includes the gaping income disparities that plague the American public. According to Bartels (2008), Successive changes in leadership between republicans and democrats have also had an effect on the disparities. With Republican leadership in office, the gap between the rich and the poor has been increasing while democrats have reduced it though in a very negligible fashion.

During Clinton’s time, he was once reported to have distanced himself from African Americans presumably as a calculated move to bag the cotes of conservative whites who may have been displeased by his ‘unlikely’ support. During campaign periods, Democrats and Republicans alike have courted members of specific marginalized communities who seem to have one need or another. Depending on the needs of these groups, politicians in the parties will work hand in hand with strategists to ensure the concerns of the target electorate are highlighted well enough to be seen. At times, these parties take up these issues before the terms of the politicians expire so as to build symbiotic relationship where the electorate gets their piece of the national cake while the parties get the votes in exchange. To this date however, no single political party, whether democrats or republicans has been reported to have extensively fought for the cause of some minority community during their time in office. The norm is or them to appease those within their scope of influence.

For as long as America will be having the two party system, its version of democracy will remain flawed since it only caters for the majority who will continue to enjoy at the expense of those who call into the category of the captured electorate. This will not only have an effect on the legislation process but also on the country’s income disparities which in turn lead to a host of social evils that serve to increase suspicion between the haves and the have-nots. In short, harboring a two party system creates a vicious cycle whereby society creates its own monsters.

It is therefore clear that with the exception of a few details, Fryer’s theory of electoral capture is in agreement with Bartels’ empirical analysis of political representation since the former elaborates on an intentional effort by the political elites to sideline minority groups in the democratic process while the latter analyzes the same phenomena using economic status as one of the key parameters that affect a senator’s responsiveness to issues raised by his or her constituents. These views are well captured in the titles of their works, “Uneasy Alliances” and “Unequal Democracy” respectively.






Bartels, Larry. 2008.  Unequal Democracy.  Princeton: Princeton University Press

Bishin, Benjamin G. 2009. Tyranny of the Minority.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Frymer, Paul. 2010.  Uneasy Alliances. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Patterson, Thomas E. 2008. We the People: A Concise Introduction to American Politics. 8th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Latest Assignments