I. One Party Systems
Types of Dominant One Party
B. Opposition Groups in One Party Systems
II. Two Party Systems
A. Two Dominant Parties
B. Third Parties
C. Minor Parties
III. Multiparty Systems
A. Three or More Major Parties
B. Need for Coalition Governments within a Parliamentary System
C. Two Stage Elections in Presidential Systems
D. Weaknesses and Difficulties in Governing
Characteristics of the American Political Party System
I. Two-Party System on the National Level
II. Relatively Decentralized Organizational Structures
III. Relatively Non-Ideological
Historical Party Systems
Party Realignments Within the Current American Two-Party System
Since the Civil War, the Republicans and the Democrats have been the two main political parties within the American Political Party System. The Democratic Party is the older of the two dating back to President Andrew Jackson, and even before him to President Thomas Jefferson. The Republican Party ran its first Presidential Candidate in 1856. He was John C. Fremont of Deer Slayer fame. Its second candidate was Abraham Lincoln, whose election triggered the secession of the South and the American Civil War. During the course of the war, Lincoln was able to issue the Emancipation Declaration and to free the slaves in the South after the war.
While still the same two political parties, distinct periods, where the Republicans or the Democrats were dominant, can be identified.
Third Parties and Minor Parties
Within our overall two-party system, there have always been Third Parties and Minor Parties. Minor parties are often ideological fringe groups or single issue parties which rarely get more than one percent of the vote altogether. Third parties are often splinter groups off one of the major parties let by popular, charismatic leaders who did not win the major party nomination, like Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. They may also be popular movements expressing dissatisfaction with the major parties. As such they serve as a safety valve for our political system. As these third parties become more popular, one of the major parties will usually steal some of the ideals and promises of the movement.
Images of the American Parties
Political Parties are organizations which seek to win elections and become the government. They want to be the government; they want to rule. As such political parties differ profoundly from interest groups. Interest groups seek to gain a benefit for themselves. They are not interested in the big picture, in the entire society. They are selfishly seeking their group's benefit. They want a piece of the pie; they don't want to be responsible for maintaining the pie.
Political Parties are voluntary organizations. They have their rank and file membership base. In the U.S., to be a member of a political party requires that you register as a Democrat or Republican and vote in their party primaries. We do not have dues paying membership. But, obviously, a Republican or Democrat who contributes financially to his or her party is more committed than someone who merely votes usually for one or the other.
All organizations divide between leaders and followers. There can be a big split between leaders and followers. Leaders are usually more ideological and committed to the causes of their party.
Image 1: Political Parties as mass organizations. During the 1990s, bout 40% of the American voters identified themselves as Democrats and 30% as Republicans. About 30% call themselves independents. The figures for independents have been increasing while party identification has been declining.
Image 2: Political Parties can be viewed as mutual benefit societies for the election of candidates. There are more than 10,000 elective positions in America. Most are local councilmen, mayors, school board members, state legislators, and Congressmen. It should be noted that Congressmen represent about 690,000 American each. That is the population of many American counties in urban areas.
Image 3. Political Parties are decentralized. Their greatest organizational strength is at the local and county level. There are about 3000 counties in America. Most of these counties are a county chairman heading the Republican or Democratic party organization. Some of these county chairmen exercise considerable influence over their party. Some have risen to the level of boss. The two parties can be viewed as a collection of county organizations headed by their county/chairmen/bosses.
Image 4. Political Parties are relatively non-ideological. But both parties do have platforms and attract distinct groups of followers. The Republican Party is clearly the more conservative and appeals to the general business community. The Democratic Party is more liberal and appeals to labor groups, trail lawyers, the entertainment industry, and minority groups. One can look at the political parties as alliances of interest group organizations.
The main voting groups for the Republicans are the Christian Right, the Business Community (including Wall Street, Banking Industry, Oil Industry, Pharmaceutical Industry, Military-Industrial Complex, Insurance Industry, and the Agribusiness Lobby), and, historically, most of small town, rural America. The Christian Right, that is politically active Evangelical and Born Again Christians, have identified themselves solidly with the Republican Party. These voters represent about 16% of the electorate. Social or moral issues are their primary concern and they vehemently oppose abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research.
As has been said many times, the United States has a Federal system of government with many levels of government. Our political parties are highly decentralized to match our decentralized political system. They operate on the local, county, state, and national levels.
County Committee Chairman. He is often quite powerful
Township or Municipal Committee
Ward and Precinct Committee Man and Woman