Political Parties - Political Parties Although very similar...

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Political Parties Although very similar on paper, the structure of the national Democratic party differs substantially from that of the Republican party in practice. The Democrats, torn by ideological conflicts, have evolved into a factional party emphasizing the mobilization and conciliation of party activists. The Republican party has become a bureaucratic party devoted to winning elections by focusing on raising money and providing consulting services to its candidates. The result is that the Democrats have selected presidential candidates with a decidedly liberal orientation, while Republicans have fielded more moderate nominees capable of attracting middle-class voters. Thus the numerical advantage of the Democratic party has been offset by the electoral appeal of Republican candidates. These generalizations, however, apply to national-largely presidential elections. The parity of the two parties breaks down at the state and local levels where party strength varies by region. Moreover, the key organizational unit of the party structure is located at the city, county, and state levels. The national parties are little more than an affiliation of these regional entities and lack any real control over them. Five distinct types of local party organizations have developed. 1. The machine is a party organization that recruits its members by the use of tangible incentives and is characterized by a high degree of leadership control over member activity. Machines, in their heyday, were dependent on federal patronage jobs (such as in the post office), kickbacks on contracts, payments extracted from officeholders, and funds raised from businessmen. With the influx of poor immigrants the machine adopted a social welfare function. The abuses of the machine were curtailed through stricter voter registration laws, civil service reforms, competitive bidding laws, and the Hatch Act, which made it illegal for federal civil servants to take part in most political activities. More important, increased income and sophistication made voters less dependent on what the machines could offer; so did the growth of the federal welfare system. It is easy to scorn the machine as venal and self-serving; however, machines mobilized a very high level of participation. Furthermore, their interest in winning elections meant that machines supported popular candidates, regardless of ideology. 2. Ideological parties value principle above all else. Because of their unwillingness to compromise, ideological parties are typically third parties such as the Socialist, Prohibition, or Libertarian parties. However, some local organizations within the two major parties fit into this category. Ideological parties are marked by intense internal conflict over issues, and leaders have little room for maneuvering and bargaining.
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