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American Political Parties. What are Political Parties ?. A political party is a group of voters, activists, candidates, and office holders who identify with a party label. Parties recruit and run candidates for public office under the party label.

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What are political parties
What are Political Parties?

  • A political party is a group of voters, activists, candidates, and office holders who identify with a party label.

  • Parties recruit and run candidates for public office under the party label.

  • Parties try to organize and coordinate the activities of government officials under the party name.

The role of political parties in a democracy
The Role of Political Parties in a Democracy

  • Many political scientists believe that parties are essential to democracy.

  • The political party is seen by some as the main instrument of popular sovereignty and majority rule.

  • Parties provide a way for the people to keep elected officials responsive and responsible through competitive elections.

Parties and majority rule
Parties and Majority Rule

  • Parties’ mobilizing activities contribute to democracy by educating people about politics.

  • Elections create an incentive for parties to include as many voters as possible under their “umbrella”, with winning support from a majority being the goal of each party.

  • Parties try to broaden their appeal by running candidates from many ethnic, racial, and religious groups.

The two party system
The Two-Party System

  • Most nations have either one-party systems or multiparty systems.

  • Most Western democracies have multiparty systems.

  • But two parties have dominated the political scene in the United States since 1836.

Why only 2 american parties
Why Only 2 American Parties?

  • Winner-take-all electoral system:

    • Legislative seats are awarded only to first place finishers in each “district”.

  • Institutional rules:

    • Congress and State legislatures provide no power base for minor parties.

The evolution of american party democracy
The Evolution of American Party Democracy

  • Hamilton and Jefferson, as heads of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist groups respectively, are often considered 'fathers' of the modern party system.

  • By 1800, this country had a party system with two major parties that has remained relatively stable ever since.

Democrats and republicans
Democrats and Republicans

  • From the presidential elections of 1860 to the present, the same two major parties have contested elections in the United States:

    • Democrats

    • Republicans.


  • 1854 Anti-slave activists met in Ripon, WI

  • 1854 “Republicans” first met in Jackson., MI. The name emphasizes a connection to the Democratic-Republican Party.

  • 1856 John Fremont was first presidential candidate of a national Republican Party.

  • 1860 Lincoln is the first Republican elected President as Republicans replace Whig Party as one of the 2 major national parties.


  • 1792 Thomas Jefferson organized opposition to Federalists

  • 1798 Officially named the Democratic-Republican Party

  • 1824 4-way split among D-R

  • 1832 Reunification of Democrats under Andrew Jackson presidency. “Jacksonian Democrats”

  • 1844 Officially re-named the Democratic Party

  • 1848 Democratic National Committee established.

What the party symbols mean
What the party symbols mean.

  • To A Republican

    • Elephant: dignified, strong, intelligent

    • Donkey: stubborn, silly, ridiculous

  • To A Democrat

    • Elephant: bungling, stupid, pompous

    • Donkey: humble, smart, courageous, lovable

History of party competition
History of Party Competition

  • 1860 -1876 -- Republican Dominance

  • 1876 -1896 -- “Competitive” Republican

  • 1896 -1932 -- Republican “Dominance”

  • 1932 -1952 -- Democratic Dominance

  • 1952 -1968 -- “Competitive” Democrat

  • 1970 - 2000 -- Neither party dominant

  • 2004 - Start of Republican domination?

  • 2006 – Looking toward a competitive 2008?

Realignments and critical elections
Realignments and Critical Elections

  • Each period begins with a “critical election”, a landslide by one party.

    • 1860, 1896, 1932, ???

  • Each critical election leads to permanent “realignment” of voter preferences

  • Cycle of dominance - about 40 years

    • 1860 to 1896

    • 1896 to 1932

    • 1932 to 1968

Modern politics wither the realignment
Modern Politics –Wither the Realignment?

  • We’ve actually been waiting for the realignment to follow 1932 for about 30 years.

  • We live in a “de-aligned” world. Party is not as important a cue to voting as it once was.

The roles of american parties
The Roles of American Parties

  • The two party system has been used to resolve political and social conflicts.

    • Mobilizing Support and Gathering Power

    • A Force for Stability

    • Unity, Linkage, Accountability

    • The Electioneering Function

    • Party as a Voting and Issue Cue

    • Policy Formulation and Promotion

3 views of the political party
3 Views of the “Political Party”

  • Party as Organization

  • Party in Government

  • Party in the Electorate

The party in government
The Party in Government

  • The Congressional Party

  • The Presidential Party

  • The Parties and the Judiciary

  • The Parties in State & Local Government

The party in the electorate
The Party-In-The-Electorate

  • The party-in-the-electorate is the mass of potential voters who identifywith specific party.

  • American voters often identify with a specific party, but rarely formally belong to it.

American political parties

Historical Parties

American Independence


Bull Moose

Free Soil



Contemporary Parties

Libertarian Party

Green Party

Reform Party

American Nazi

Socialist Labor

Socialist Worker

American Constitutional

Third parties their impact on american politics
Third Parties: Their Impact on American Politics

  • Rarely win elections. Rarely last long.

  • But, they bring new groups and people into politics who often stay involved.

  • Two-party system discourages extreme views.

Third parties electoral impact
Third Parties: Electoral Impact

  • Minor parties are not a threat to the two major parties today (although they may influence who wins).

  • Only eight third parties have won any electoral votes in a presidential contest.

  • The third parties that have had some “success” (aside from Ralph Nader in 2000) include…

Impact of 3 rd parties on issues
Impact of 3rd Parties on Issues

  • Prohibition (Prohibition Party)

  • Women’s Right to Vote (Prohibition & Socialist Parties)

  • Immigration Restrictions (Populist Party)

  • Child Labor (Socialist Party)

  • 40 Hour Work Week (Populist & Socialist Parties)

  • Progressive Income Tax (Populist & Socialist Parties)

  • Social Security (Socialist Party)

  • Crime Control (American Independence Party)

The republicans as a 3 rd party
The Republicans as a 3rd Party

  • Of course, despite modest electoral successes and policy impact via “adoption”, most third parties aspire to share or hold power.

  • Some make it. The Republicans did not start as a major party but became the beneficiary of the 1850’s battle over slavery between Whig and Democratic Parties.

Q how do our parties enhance democracy and government effectiveness
Q: How do our parties enhance democracy and government effectiveness?

Four Answers:

  • The responsible party model

  • The retrospective voting model

  • The median voter model

  • Overcoming the separation of powers

Proposals to improve the parties
Proposals to improve the parties effectiveness?

  • Make the party elements stronger

  • Strengthen ties between elements of the parties

  • More power to the party centers; more hierarchical

  • Make better ties to the public; party sentiments strengthened in the public.

Critics reactions to party reform

Parties are already too strong; increases public discontent. effectiveness?

Proposals to strengthen parties are by those who want big govt.

Critics: Reactions to Party Reform