The Party System in the USA

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The Party System

There are several different theories about the nature of the political system in the USA. These have been based on the outcomes of presidential and congressional elections together with the nature of the federal system and the impact it has on the ability of parties to control the electoral process:

A Two-Party System

This has been suggested because every President since 1856 has either been a Democrat or a Republican and in all elections since 1916 the combined Democrat and Republican vote has exceeded 80%, on occasions reaching 99%. Three main reasons have been suggested for this:

  • The first-past-the-post system makes it difficult for national third parties. Their support is usually widespread but shallow. They pick up a fraction of the vote in almost every state but under a winner-take-all system they receive no reward at all. A national third-party candidate merely lowers the percentage of the vote needed by the major party candidate to win the election.
  • When the two major parties encompass such a wide ideological spectrum there is little room for third candidates to attract substantial support.
  • Primary elections help to make the major parties more responsive to the electorate, minimising the need for protest voting where third parties may do well.

A Fifty-Party System

This has been suggested because every state has its own constitution and its own political structure decided upon by its population and the party system represents the states' specific interests.

A One-Party System

It has been argued that the US is a one-party system because in some states there is total dominance by one party. For example, in Massachusetts (which has traditionally been a Democrat stronghold) the Republicans have only won the state once in a presidential election in 50 years, in the Reagan landslide of 1980. Likewise in Wyoming, a Republican stronghold, the Democrats have only won once in the Johnson landslide of 1964.

A No-Party System

It has been suggested that the USA no longer has a party sustem due to the development of candidate-based elections in which Democrat and Republican labels are adopted and discarded by individuals running for office for the purposes of convenience and credibility, and do not have any real value.

Third Parties Examples


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