Political Parties


organisation of 2 major parties - national

  • US fed system of gov/ federalism - decentralised gov
  • some powers held in state govs 
  • more centralised the gov, more centralised party systems 
  • US pol parties are DECENTRALISED 
  • 2 major parties have a national party organisation, but it is lmtd 
  • each has a NATIONAL COMMITTEE  DNC & RNC headed by a party chairman
  • chairman acts as a spokesperson for each party 
  • only meet twice a year
  • permanent organisations w/ offices in W. DC 
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organisation of each party looks like:

  • State Party Convention
  • State Party Committee 
  • County Committees 
  • District Committees 
  • City Committees 
  • Ward Committees
  • Precinct Committees 
  • no one can truly be named a 'partyleader' 
  • parties have leaders in Cong(house speaker) but are pretty leaderless, their power rarely extends Capitol Hill
  • power of state parties seen at election time, to elect a candidate for electiosn to Cong
  • Republican nomination for open Senate seat in Delaware 2010, parties preffered candidate was Congman & state governor - Mike Castle, but lost in the state R primary to Christine O'Donnell, a tea party backed conservative 
  • state party that holds the upper hand, power in parties rests at state level, not national
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traditions & ideologies of 2 parties

1- form of gov: 1780s Federalists, who represented commerical & business interests, favoured a central form of gov, the Anti-Federalists represented agriculture & land-owning favoured decentralised

2- democracy: contenious issue was lvel of democ to be written into workings of gov

3- slavery: by 1860, Democrats party of South, preaching economic virtues of slavery. After Civil War loss, they became party of small farmers & urban workers, immigrants and Catholics. R party under Lincoln party of the North, opposing slavery winning Civil War and being party of big business, industrialists, Protestantism & free enterprise 

4- the economy: great depression in 1930s did for R's what Civil War had for D's. D's invented New Deal Coalition of Southern white conservatives and northeastern liberals. The R's gained support from Midwest, Plains States WASPS and white collar workers

5-civil rights: from 1950s, D's became more associated w/ promotion of civil rights through AA programmes & resources of fed gov to support rights of disadvantaged. This brought the end to Solid South 

6-role of fed gov: 1930s, parties had reversed their OG ideas. R's decentralised, D's  centralised

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Ideologies of 2 major parties

-two major parties seen as ideologically diverse - thus causing conflicts 

  • D's liberal
  • R's conservative 
  • D's many types: liberal D's, New D's, conservative D's
  • R's: moderate R's, conservative R's, Christian conservatives, compassionate conservatives
  • mostly related to geography
  • Northeast - NY, Massachusetts & Maine, likely to find 'liberal democrats' and 'moderate Republicans', same true on west coast - Cali
  • South - 'conservative Democrats' and 'conservative Republicans'
  • both parties took on different ideological colours from region to region, if they hadn't there wouldnt have been national parties
  • 1960s, Kennedy's D's contained liberal Ds pushing for Civil RIghts and conservative D's - Governor George Wallace of Alabama who many regarded as a unreformed racist
  • at the same time, R party conserative R's Barry Goldwater and liberal R's Nelson Rockefeller of NY 
  • both parties contained a mix of the pol spectrum
  • parties today less diverse 
  • D's lost conservatives to R's, moderate Republicans largely disappeared
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increasing partisanship

  • Solid South due to stronghold of Democrats, a consequence of the Civil War
  • Civil War thought of as party of the North, Democrats party of the South 

breakdown from 1960-1990 in the Solid South, in 1960:

  • house members from South were made of 99 D's and 7 R's
  • all 22 Senatores from the South were D's
  • All 11 state governors in the South were D's

by 1992, D's had majority in the 3 above groups, but was reduced, and the D support in the South has collapsed w/ the results being:

  • widen the differences between the 2 major parties
  • cause both parties to be more ideologically cohesive 
  • increase partisanship in Cong
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increasing partisanship 2

  • 21stC US politics began to talk of '50-50 nation', spilt in half between Red America and Blue America (colours used on electoral map)
  • this was seen in 2000 elections, where both parties ended w/ 49% of the pop vote, electoral college split 271-267, HofR 221-212 and senate exactly 50-50
  • commentators noticed increased partisanship in US politics as a consequence of:

1-shift of southern conservatives D's to R party

2-end of Cold War consensus in FP following demise of soviet union

3-polarising presidencies of Bill Clinton, George Bush and Obama

4- effect of the 'new media', radio, mail, cable tv & internet

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Red & Blue America


  • male 
  • white
  • protestant 
  • wealthy
  • rural & maybe suburban
  • southern or midwestern
  • Conservative


  • female
  • rainbow of white, black, hispanic & Asian
  • Catholic, not church going
  • less wealthy
  • urban
  • northeastern, great lakes or west coast
  • liberal 
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2 party system - facts

  • every pres since 1856 has been R or D
  • in every pres election since 1916, the combined D & R cotes have totalled 80% of votes cast
  • 21 of last 25 pres elections combined D & R vote has exceeded 90% of total votes, 99% in 1984&88
  • Jan '11, every member of US senate belonged to 1 of 2 major parties, except Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont who was indep, & Senator Joe Lieberman, an Indep D
  • at same time 435 members of HofR either D or R
  • of 50 state governors, 49 were D or R, 1 indep Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island
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2 party system - reasons

two main reasons as to why the US has a 2 party system:

1-FPTP, winner-takes-all electoral system

2-all-embracing nature of the 2 major parties, allows little room for 3rd parties 

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2 party system - other analyses

-50 party system, each state has own party system

-1 party system, states have 1 party that dominates to such extent that others don't exist. D party dominates Massachusetts

-no-party system, decline in important of pol parties, the USA has no parties

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changing sig of parties - theories of prty decline

David Broder popularised idea of party decline in USA. 1970s published 'party's over' book, reasons for party decline include:

  • parties lsot control over pres candidate selection, w/ rise of importance of pres primaries, parties no longer choose the candidates
  • parties have been bypassed by fed 'matching funds' in pres elections, matching funds given to candidates not parties
  • TV, opinion polls & new media have bypassed parties as the medium by which candidates communicate with voters. prty was most sig form of communication w/ politicans & voters 
  • campaigns are more candidate & issue centred than they were. voters vote for a candidate b/c they hold a certain view on an issue of importance than for the party label, this is demonstrated in split ticket voting and of 'indep voters'
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theories of party renewal

  • party decline theories exaggerated, it is still true that all presdients elected in the 20thC were D or R, all members of cong D or R, so too are state governors 
  • parties fought to regain some control over pres candidate selection process. D party introduced super delegates @ their 1984 nation convetion. (professionally election pols who are given a vote @ the convention. by 2008, super delegated accounted for 20% of the delegate votes at DNC)
  • both parties strived for moderning party structures and network. for R's, Brock Reforms significantly strenghtened standing of RNC from 80s. 90s, DNC chairman, Manatt did the same by developing direct mail facilities & perm facilities in W.DC
  • 'soft money' developed in the 80&90s, to overcome -ve effects of 'matching funds' going directly to candidates rather than parties. both D&R took to raising soft money which was unregulated & led to new abuses - banned by Campaign FInance Reform Act 2002
  • moves towards 'nationalising' of campaigns, seen in pres elections & midterms in 1994 when R's released Contract W/ America proposal. D's released Six for 06, which restablished their control of the 2 chambers 
  • increase of partisanship in Cong. no R's voted for Obamas healthcare reform act 
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3rd parties - Types

  • national - Green Party, Libertarian
  • regional - George Wallace's American Indep Party
  • state - NY conservative party
  • permanent - Green party
  • temporary - American Indep Party 
  • issue based - Green Party
  • ideological - Socialist & Constitution Party 

constitution party: founded as the US Taxpayers Party in 1992, collection of right wing indep parties. strong anti-gun control, anti-tax, anti-immigration, anti-UN, anti-gay rights, pro school prayer & life

green party: ideologically left 

libertarian party: stands for total individual liberty and is pro-drug, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-home schooling and anti-gun control, total economic freedom 

USA not have a permanent 3rd party that regularly wins 5% or more of the national vote 

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impact of 3rd parties

  • recent elections show 3rd parties to enjoy limited success 
  • last 3rd party cand to achieve success was Ross Perot for Reform Party in 1996
  • last cand to gain any pres election votes was George Wallace w/ 46 in 1968
  • 3rd parties have limited rep in Cong
  • Jan 2011, 433 of 435 cong member D or R except for Sanders, Lieberman retired in 2012
  • 49 of state governors in 2011 were D or R, except for Chaffe of Rhode Island 
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3rd Party Obstacles

  • electoral system: FPTP, winner-takes-all difficult for 3rd parties to gain reputable success. Regional 3rd parties fair better
  • federal campaign finance laws: the way in which cand's can qualify for 'matching funds' puts 3rd party cand's at a disadvantage. Major-party candidates qualify by raising at least £5000 in contributions of $250 or less in at least 20 states, 3rd party candidates qualify by getting 5% of pop vote. means party can only qualify in next election cycle 
  • state ballot access laws: method for candidates to get name on ballot paper is a barrier. States require 3rd party candidates to present a petition signed by a nummber of registered voters in the state
  • lack of resources: short of resources, find funding difficult, people are reluctant to give them money when they know they will loose 
  • lack of media coverage: 3rd parties miss out on media time, they cannot afford much if anythign in the way of TV ad's & are excluded from TV pres debates
  • lack of well-known, well-qualified candidates: again a self-fulfilling prophecy. 3rd party not household names 
  • regarded as too ideological: 2 parties all embracing, 3rd parties only left fringes of pol spectrum, linked to extremism. 'if you liked Hitler, you'll like Wallace'
  • tactics of 2 parties: if 3rd party cand wins support, other parties may copy and adopt their policies, Nixon adopted 'southern strategy' in 1972 to woo ex- Wallace voters. 3rd parties seen as 'winners' -losing elections but winning policy debate 
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