An ongoing coalition of interest joined
together in an effort to get its candidate for
public office elected under a common label.
“It is the competition of parties that
provides the people with an opportunity
to make a choice. Without this
opportunity popular sovereignty amounts
Chapter 8 Main Points
Political competition in the United States has centered
on two parties, a pattern that is explained by the nature
of America’s electoral system, political institutions, and
To win an electoral majority, candidates of the two
major parties must appeal to a diverse set of interest;
this necessity normally leads them to advocate
moderate and somewhat overlapping policies.
U.S. party organizations are decentralized, fragmented
The ability of America’s party organizations to control
nominations and election to office is weak, which in
turn enhances the candidates’ role.
Candidate-centered campaigns are based on the media
and utilize the skills of professional consultants.
The History of U.S. Parties
The history of democratic government is
virtually synonymous with the history of
parties. When the United States was founded
over two centuries ago, the formation of
parties was the first step toward the building
of its democracy. The reason is simple: it is
the competition among parties that gives
popular majorities a chance to influence how
they will be governed.
America’s early political leaders mistrusted parties:
George Washington warned the nation of the “baneful
effects” of political parties in his farewell address.
America’s parties originated in the rivalry within George
Washington’s administration between Thomas Jefferson
(who supported states’ rights and small landholders) and
Alexander Hamilton (who promoted a strong national
government and commercial interest). Hamilton’s idea
eventually prevailed in Congress. Jefferson and his
followers formed a political party, the Republicans
(Jeffersonians). Hamilton responded by organizing his
supporters into a formal party – the Federalists. Thus,
America’s first competitive party system was born.
Republican Versus Democrats:
After the Civil War, the nation settled into the
pattern of competition between the Republican
and Democratic parties that has prevailed ever
since. The durability of these two parties is due
not to their ideological consistency but to their
remarkable ability to adapt during periods of
Party Realignment – An election or set of elections
in which the electorate responds strongly to an
extraordinary powerful issue that has disrupted
the established political order.
Civil War Realignment
The Republicans replaced the
Democrats as the nation’s majority
party. The Republicans were the
dominant party in the larger and
more populous North, while the
Democratic party was left with a
stronghold in what became none as
the “Solid South”. Lincoln wins
election with only 40% of the
The Great Depression
The republican Herbert Hoover was president
when the stock market crashed in 1929, and
many Americans blamed Hoover, his party, and
its business allies for the economic catastrophe
that followed. The Democrats became the
country’s majority party. Their political and
policy agenda called for an expanded social and
economic role for the national government.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency began a 32
year period of Democratic presidents that was
interrupted only by Dwight D. Eisenhower’s two
terms in the 1950’s.
Today’s Party Alignment
and Its Origin
Today, most top officials in the southern states are
Republican. The Northeastern states have become
more Democratic. The shift is partly attributable to the
growing size of minority populations in the Northeast.
The GOP (short for “Grand Old Party” and another
name for the Republican Party) has held the presidency
for twice as many years as the Democrats since 1968.
Dealignment – A partial but enduring weakening of
party members who don’t feel strongly enough about
their party to go to the polls and vote.
Electoral and Party Systems
The United States has traditionally had a two
EX. Federalist v. Jeffersonian Republicans,
Whigs v. Democrats, Democrats v. Republicans
Two – Party System – Only two political parties
have a real chance of acquiring control of
government. (A two party system is the
exception / not the rule.)
Multi – Party System – Three or more political
parties have the capacity to gain control of
government separately or in coalition.
System of Election
Single-Member Districts – The form of
representation in which only the candidate
who gets the most votes in a district wins
office. This system discourages minor
European Democracies (Belgium, France,
Germany, Italy, Denmark, Sweden,
Proportional Representation – Seats in the
legislature are allocated proportionally
according to each political party’s share of
the popular vote.
System of Election
**Best described as a “Hierarchical
Structure” because it provides smaller
parties an incentive to organize and
compete for power.
Germany 2002 Election – Green Party
receives 9% of popular vote and 55
seats in the German Parliament. Under
the U.S. system, they would have won
Politics and Coalitions in the
Two – Party System
The overriding goal of a major American
political party is to gain power by getting its
candidates elected to public office.
American political parties are “creatures of
compromise”. In other words, moderation is
always the best policy.
Anytime a party makes a pronounced shift
toward the extreme, the political center is
left open for the opposing party.
Politics and Coalitions in the
Two – Party System
Example - 1972 Presidential Election
George McGovern – Democratic nominee
who took drastic positions on Vietnam and
income security that alarmed many
McGovern lost the election in one of the
greatest landslides in political history.
Popular Vote - 37% Democratic
(McGovern) 63% Republican (Nixon)
Electoral Vote - 3% Democratic
(Only Massachusetts and D.C. voted Democratic)
Moderation is the best policy.
When the public’s mood changes,
parties must also shift in a way
not to alienate its members.
Party Coalitions – The groups and
interests that support a political party.
Americas two-party system requires each
party to accommodate a wide range of
interest in order to gain the voting
plurality necessary to win elections.
There are only a few sizeable groups that
are tightly aligned with a party. African
Americans are the clearest example; they
vote about 90% Democratic in national
If a party did not stand for something – if it never took
sides – it would lose all support. Since the 1930’s, the
major policy differences between the Republicans and
the Democrats have involved the national governments
role in solving social and economic problems.
Democratic Coalition – Usually draws support
from society’s underdogs.
** African Americans, Union Members, the
Poor, City Dwellers, Hispanics, Jews and
other minorities – Northeastern States.
Consists mainly of white middle-class
Protestants. A party of tax cuts and
business incentives that supports school
prayer and opposes abortion and same-sex
marriages. – Southern States
Although the U.S. electoral system discourages
the formation of third parties, the nation has
always had minor parties – more than a thousand
over the nation’s history.
Main Purpose – Making the major parties more
responsive to the public’s concerns by pulling
votes away from them.
Three Types of Minor Parties:
1. Factional Parties
2. Single-Issue Parties
3. Ideological Parties
Internal conflict within a party leads a
faction to a break away and form a party.
** 1968 George Wallace’s “American
Independent Party” – Formed by white
southern Democrats angered by
northern Democrats support of civil
rights for African Americans.
Parties that form around a single issue
of overriding interest to it’s supporters.
Right to Life Party – Opposed abortion
Prohibition Party – Contributed to the
ratification of the Eighteenth
Parties characterized by a broad and radical
The Green Party – Ideological party that holds
liberal views on the environment, labor,
taxation, social welfare and other issues.
Ralph Nader – 2000 Presidential Election –
Nader received 3% of the national vote. Most of
his support came form voters who would have
voted for Democratic candidate Al Gore. Thus,
tipping the election toward Republican nominee
and current president, George W. Bush.
** Main Purpose – the contesting of elections.
► Nomination – Refers to the selection of the individual who will run
as the party’s candidate in the general election.
► Early Twentieth Century – Nominations were entirely the
responsibility of party organizations
► ** Led to extortion from those seeking political favors – “To the
victors go the spoils”.
► Patronage – Rewarding party workers for their loyalty with jobs /
► Reform – Minded Progressives – Argued the power to nominate
should rest with ordinary voter rather than with the party –
► Primary Elections – A form of election in which voters choose a
party’s nominees for public office.
Forms of Primary Elections
Closed Primary – Participation is limited to voters
registered or declared at the polls as members of
the party whose primary is being held. (Held by
Open Primary – Independents and voters of either
party to vote in a party’s primary.
Primaries are the severest impediment to the
strength of the party organization. If primaries did
not exist, candidates would have to work through
party organizations in order to get nominated.
The Parties And Money
** The parties’ major role in campaigns is the raising
and spending of money.
A party can legally give $10,000 to a House candidate
and $37,500 to a Senate candidate. This funding,
along with the money a candidate receives from
individual contributors ($2,000 maximum per
contributor) and interest groups ($5,000 maximum
per group) is termed Hard Money. It goes directly to
the candidate and can be spent as he or she
Soft Money – Campaign contributions that are not
subject to legal limits and are given to parties rather
than directly to candidates.
The Money Chase
Campaigns for high office are expensive,
and the costs keep rising. In 1980, about
$250 million was spent on all Senate and
House campaigns combined. The figure
topped $1 Billion in 2000.
A U.S. Senator must raise $20,000 a week
on average throughout the entire six-year
term in order to raise the $6 Million that it
takes to run a competitive Senate
campaign in many states.