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.
3. Solidary groups