What is a political party?

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1 POLITICAL PARTIES

2 What is a political party? A group of people who work to get candidates nominated to political offices. A political party can be thought of as an organized group that tries to control government. In most countries, people form political parties because they have similar ideas about issues. They try to control government so their ideas can become policy. In the U.S., we have two major parties- those that most Americans support. They are the Democratic and Republican parties.

3 What is a political party? Each party s main goal is to gain power by winning elections. Political parties are important because they unite people and link them to government. Each party is a coalition- a union of people with diverse interests who take action to reach common goals. Parties compromise in making their goals appeal to many people. By having broad goals, they win elections.

4 Functions of Political Parties Political parties are election-oriented, not principle- or issue-oriented. Nominate candidates- parties select candidates and then present them to the voters. Examples: o Political conventions choose candidates for president and vice-president. o Primary elections select candidates for other elective offices.

5 Functions of Political Parties Inform the public- parties inform the people and stimulate their interest and participation in public affairs. Examples: o Speeches, television and newspaper advertisements, newsletters. o Appearance of Congressmen on programs such as Meet the Press and Face the Nation. Seal of Approval function- ensures the good performance of its candidates and officeholders. Party tries to see that candidates are qualified and of good character. Candidates in office are urged to perform well in office.

6 Functions of Political Parties Operate the government- the president and his top administrative officials have responsibility for carrying out the laws of the land. o Public officeholders are chosen on the basis of party affiliation and much of their business is conducted on a partisan basis. o Most appointments to executive offices are made with party considerations in mind.

7 Functions of Political Parties Watchdog Function- the party not in office has a responsibility to find and point out flaws in the majority program. Provide a sense of unity within the countrythe party platforms, the president s State of the Union address with the agenda for the coming year, and the opposition party s response to the address all help to create a sense of organization and unity to a party s program.

8 The Two-Party System The U.S. has almost always had a two-party system where most Americans support one of the two major parties (Democrat or Republican). A candidate of a minor party, one with little support, may be on the ballot but has little chance of winning.

9 Four Main Reasons for a Two-Party System 1. History- the fight over ratification of the Constitution led to our first two parties: Federalists wanted the new Constitution. Anti-Federalists did not. 2. Tradition- our nation started with two parties. People accept the system because it is the way it has always been.

10 Four Main Reasons for a Two-Party System 3. Elections- our electoral system helps keep the twoparty system in place. Nearly all elections are in single-member districts where voters choose only one winner. The winning candidate is the one who receives a plurality- the largest number of votes cast for the office (one more vote received than the opponent). o Most Americans want their vote to count. So they tend to ignore a minor party candidate who is not likely to win. o Also, American election law (most written at the state level) is written to deliberately preserve, protect, and defend the two-party system.

11 Four Main Reasons for a Two-Party System 4. Consensus- the United States is a pluralistic society- one with many different groups. Yet Americans share a broad consensus, or agreement, on most important matters. Small parties that disagree with the major parties do not get much support. o Consensus also makes both major parties look a lot like each other. Both parties regularly try to occupy the middle of the road to win votes.

12 One-Party and Multi-Party Systems One-Party system (like dictatorship) - the only ruling party has candidates on the ballot. Multi-party system- most European democracies have multi-party systems with many parties. The parties may center on a religious belief, economic class, or political idea. Multi-party systems are often unstable, though. These governments do not keep support for a long time. The people in power are always changing and so are their policies.

13 Party Membership In the U.S., no one must join a party. It is voluntary. Each party tries to win over the most voters to its side. Over time, each party tends to win support from the same groups of Americans. African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and labor union members are often Democrats. White males, Protestants, and business people are often Republicans. Most people are loyal to the same party as their parents. Lately, more people say they are independentspeople who are not loyal to any one party.

14 The Two-Party System in American History The Democratic Party, which traces its roots to Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, originally viewed a weak national government as the best way to protect and promote the rights of the people. After a long period of dominance in the first half of the 19 th century, the Democratic Party split over slavery in the 1850s and endured a long decline after the Civil War.

15 The Two-Party System in American History More recently, Franklin Roosevelt forged a coalition of the disadvantaged that has created a seemingly permanent majority of the Democrats. In a highly industrialized economy, the party has reversed its preference for laissez-faire and now supports strong government involvement in the economy and social programs as the best way to protect the well-being of the less fortunate.

16 The Two-Party System in American History The newer Republican Party began in the 1850s as a third party dedicated to stopping the extension of slavery. With the two major parties split over the slavery question, Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans promised sufficient business support to win the party s first presidential election.

17 The Two-Party System in American History Although the Republicans have maintained their strong business focus, they, like the Democrats, have reversed their position on the best method of achieving their goals. The Republicans of today, unlike their interventionist predecessors, stress deregulation as the best method of promoting industrial development and protecting the best interests of the American business. The Republicans view a strong national defense and a healthy business community as the best guarantees of the good life for everyone.

18 The Two-Party System in American History Although party platforms (written declaration of the principles and policy positions of a political party, usually adopted at that party s convention) help voters in making rational choices between the parties, they have become so long and complex that individuals find it increasingly difficult to differentiate Democrats and Republicans.

19 Our government has been characterized by single party rule from the start. This means that one party dominates both the Congress and the Presidency. Single party rule has given way to divided government since Divided government is when no party controls both the legislative and executive branches. Divided government can cause gridlock where the President and Congress have so many differences that they cannot work together and nothing gets accomplished.

20 Third/Minor Parties Four types of minor parties have played a role in American politics.

21 Third/Minor Parties 1. Ideological parties are based on certain social, economic, or political ideas. They do not often win elections, but stay around a long time. Examples: Socialist Party (1900- present). Socialist Labor Party ( ) - abolition of capitalism. Communist Party ( and ) - worker s revolution that will produce classless society and restructuring of American economic system. Libertarian Party (1971- present) - stresses individualism and calls for doing away with most of government s present function and programs.

22 Third/Minor Parties 2. Single-issue parties focus on one issue. They usually take their name from that issue. They fade away after the issue has been resolved or people lose interest. Sometimes they are able to get one of the major parties to take on their issue. Examples: Free Soil Party ( ) - opposed the spread of slavery. Know Nothing Party (1856 only) - opposed Irish-Catholic immigration in the 1850s. Prohibition Party (1869-present).

23 Third/Minor Parties 3. Economic protest parties appear during tough financial times. They appeal to people who are angry about money problems. They are not happy with what the major parties have done or plan to do. They want better prices and wages and lower taxes. Examples: Greenback Party ( ) - agrarian party formed to protect the farmer. Populist Party ( and ) - demanded big business reform. Reform party (1996-present) - founded by Ross Perot in his second run for the Presidency.

24 Third/Minor Parties 4. Splinter parties are parties that have broken away from one of the major parties. Usually they have a strong leader who did not get a major party s nomination. Bull Moose Party (1912 only)- Teddy Roosevelt s split from Republican Party American Independent Party (1968-present)- first seen in 1968 with George Wallace Dixiecrat Party (1948 only)- states rights party headed by Strom Thurmond.

25 Role of Minor Parties A minor party may become a spoiler. It may take votes away from a major party s candidate, possibly causing the candidate s defeat. Minor parties most important roles have been as critic and innovator: o Critic: Unlike major parties, they take strong stands on issues. These actions draw attention to some issue that the major parties have ignored or straddled. o Innovator: Minor parties have brought many important issues into mainstream politics and public policy (such as progressive income tax, women s suffrage, railroad and banking regulation, old-age pension). Their proposals become adopted by the major party leading to the minor party s demise.

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