Political parties


Political parties are important in all democracies. However, in the USA they are less important than in many other democracies such as the UK. First, the USA is so vast that organising a political party across the length of the country is rather different from organising a party in the UK. In the USA parties are more state-based than national. Second, elections in the USA have come much more candidate-centred than they are in the UK. In the UK people vote for labour or conservative, in the USA people tend to vote Obama or McCain for example.

Party Organisation, Philosophy, Ideology and Partisanship

National Organisation

The USA has a federal system of government. Federalism is a decentralised form of government. Some powers are vested in the national government, but other equally important powers are vested in the state governments. The more centralised the government, the more centralised the party system. The less centralised the government, the less centralised the party system. Thus, US political parties are decentralised. There is some national organisation, but it does not amount to very much. US political parties are principally state based.

The two major US parties - the Democrats and the Republicans - do have something of a national party organisation, but it is fairly limited. Each has a National Committee. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Republican National Committee (RNC) are each headed by a party chairperson. He or she acts as a spokesperson for the national party, especially in the media, and is repsonsible for the day-to-day running of the party. Although the DNC and RNC meet in full session only twice a year, they are permanent organisations with offices in Washington DC. And each party holds a National Convention every 4 years. 

State Organisation

Everything else is done at the state or local level. At that level, the organisation of each party looks something like this:

  • State Party Convention
  • State Party Committee
  • County Committees
  • District Committees
  • City Committees
  • Ward Committees
  • Precinct Committees

US political parties have no one who can truly be called the 'party leader'. The President might be said to be 'the leader' of the party, but that doesn't mean very much. They party not in control of the White House does not even have that level of national leadership. Except for the period between the National Party Convention and the holding of the Presidential election, when both parties do have someone who maybe looks and sounds like a national leader, US national parties are pretty leaderless.

Philosophy and ideology

In terms of philosophy and…


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