-1Ch.6 - Political Parties, Campaigns and Elections
Many people equate democracy with the presence of competitive political organizations. In a democratic
political system, parties have four major functions: (1) nominating candidates for election to public office,
(2) structuring the voting choice in elections, (3) proposing alternative government programs, and (4)
coordinating the actions of government officials.
Political party activity in the United States has consistently revolved around two major parties alternating in
power. The Federalists, Democratic Republicans, and Whigs formed the basis of two-party systems earlier
in our history. Today, the long traditions of the Democratic Party, founded in 1828, and the Republican
Party, formed in 1854, virtually close out the field to any serious challenge from a young, upstart party.
The balance between the Democrats and Republicans in the current party system has shifted over time, with
the most pronounced changes following three
A rough balance of power between the
parties followed the 1860 election. The 1896 election led to the Republicans’ emergence as the majority
party. The 1932 election led to a majority of voters identifying themselves as Democrats. More recently,
the once solid Democratic South has become notably more Republican.
Minority parties fall into four categories: (1) bolter parties, which are split-off factions from a major party;
(2) farmer-labor parties, which have a populist, working-class orientation; (3) parties of ideological protest,
such as the Socialist and Libertarian parties; and (4) single-issue parties, such as the Prohibition Party
during the twentieth century. Minority parties on the whole have not been strong vote getters, but they have
had some success as policy advocates. They also serve as a political safety valve by giving discontented
groups the opportunity to air their policy views.
a sense of psychological attachment to a political party, should be distinguished
from voting, which is a behavior. Most Americans readily identify with one of the two political parties, and
this predisposition is the most important long-term force affecting U.S. elections. Short-term factors,
however—such as candidate attributes and policy positions—may lead a voter to abandon his or her party’s
nominee and vote instead for a candidate of the opposing party.
Although both the Democrats and the Republicans support the concept of capitalism, a definite ideological
gap exists between government roles favored by the parties. Furthermore, Democratic activists are more
liberal than the average Democrat, and Republican activists are more conservative than the average
Neither Republicans nor Democrats have a hierarchical party structure, and the national party has little