Political Parties

US Political Parties: Overview

  • Political parties in the US are generally more loosely organised than those in other Western nations.
  • The US effectively operates under a two-party system, dominated by the Democratic and Republican parties.
  • These parties have platforms that represent different ideological platforms and attract distinct demographic coalitions.

Evolution of US Political Parties

  • The Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party were the first two political parties in the US.
  • The Democrats have their roots in the Democratic-Republican Party and the Republicans were founded in 1854, primarily opposing the spread of slavery.
  • Since the Civil War, these two parties have been the most dominant although third parties, such as the Greens and Libertarians, have occasionally impacted state or national politics.

Structure of US Political Parties

  • Both the Democratic and Republican parties have a federal structure, with state and local party organisations maintaining significant influence.
  • They have similar structures with a National Committee at the top, followed by state level committees, county committees, city committees and then local committees.
  • The National Convention, conducted every four years, is the highest authority in the party where the party platform is accepted and the presidential nominee is officially selected.

Party Ideologies and Constituencies

  • Democrats tend to have a more liberal platform and prioritize issues such as social justice, climate change, and labour rights. They traditionally perform well among minority voters, urban populations, and younger voters.
  • Republicans lean conservatively on economic and social issues, emphasizing free market principles, limited government, and traditional social values. They often garner core support from rural areas, older voters, and white voters.

Role of Parties in Elections

  • Political parties play a central role in nominating candidates, setting policy agendas and mobilizing voters in all levels of government elections.
  • The primary elections held by each party represents the fundamental process through which presidential candidates are chosen.
  • The winning candidate from each party then compete in the general election with the aim to win Electoral College votes, which ultimately decides the presidency.

Impact of Parties on US Politics

  • With the presence of parties, voters have a clear choice between competing policy platforms.
  • Parties also play a key role in organizing government business in Congress and state legislatures.
  • However, the polarization of parties and the consequential gridlock has been often criticized as a major problem in US politics.