Since 1932 elections and decision making in Chicago have been dominated by the Regular Democratic Organization of Cook County, led for a quarter of a century by the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. The extraordinary longevity of this Democratic machine provides the basis for this penetrating investigation into the nature of machine politics and grassroots party organization.
For three years, Thomas M. Guterbock participated in the daily activities of the Regular Democratic Organization in one North Side Chicago ward in order to discover how political machines win the support of the urban electorate. Guterbock's participant observation data, supplemented by a sample survey of ward residents' attitudes toward, and contacts with the machine, provide convincing evidence that the most widely accepted notions of how political machines work are no longer correct.
Contrary to conventional wisdom about the machine, Guterbock finds that the party does not secure votes by doing "favors" for people, nor do services rendered determine actual voting behavior. Instead, party loyalty is governed by such factors as social status, educational achievement, and bureaucratic competence. Guterbock finds that Democratic loyalists are drawn disproportionately from the ward's lowest strata. Ironically, the characteristics of these loyal Democrats contrast sharpely with the characteristics of those most likely to use party services.
What keeps the machine going, then? To answer this question, Guterbock takes us behind the scenes for a unique look inside the ward club. He shows how members develop loyalty and motivation beyond concern for their own pocketbooks. And he analyzes the public involvement of machine politicians in neighborhood affairs, describing the skillful—sometimes devious—ways in which they appeal to their constituents' sense of community. By focusing on the interplay of party loyalty and community attachments, Guterbock is able to explain the continued hegemony of Chicago's political machine and its enduring image of legitimacy.