Wherever we find competitive elections -- we find parties.The major American parties have a pretty complete “lock” on national-level offices -- President, Vice-President, Congress. They select the candidates -- who compete for these offices. However, in a certain respect the parties are weakwhen it comes to nominatingcandidates.Presidential primaries and caucuses, every four years -- are a good example. Parties asorganizationswould seem to have little to do with the outcome. Instead -- a sort of “free-for-all” among just whoever shows up to take part in the primaries and caucuses. Parties as organizations -- have given up a great deal of power over nominations to activists who show up for these primaries and caucuses. “Whoever controls nominations -- ownsthe party.”Furthermore -- Congress is organized along party lines.Party competition provides a way of resolving conflict. Elections settle who will hold office and control the government -- for a limited period of time. Conflict resolution can also take place withinparties as well as betweenthem. Such “intra-party” conflict settlement can be especially important for a diverse party -- which may now be characteristic of bothof the major parties
Slide 6Another way of thinking about the functions of parties – is to look at the three aspectsofparties that have been identified by political scientists. For this unit, we are concerned primarily with the party organization – “the party itself.” “The party in the electorate” refers to the party as it exists in the minds of the voters who identify with it – which we discussed in our unit on political participation. “The party in government” refers to thosewho hold public office as representatives of one party or another – which we will discussin our units on Congress and the presidency.Since America is given credit for having “invented” parties -- are our parties a modelfor the rest of the world? We might think so -- but actually the answer is “no.” As a matter offact -- American parties are quite exceptional.In fact -- American parties may not seem to amount to very much, especially compared to the parties in European party systems -- nations to which Americans frequently compare themselves. Typically, in Europe the parties make much more of an effort to reach outto the public. They invitepublic participation, emphasize public information. Numerous youth groups, auxiliary organizations. Tight chain of command from national to local level. By comparison -- there are many things that American parties lack. They lack card-carrying, dues-paying membership -- “membership” in a party for most American simply means psychological identification with the party, or “party ID.” American parties lack central organizations and uniformity, and -- arguably -- a coherent, consistent program
and ideology. It can be argued, however -- that they have become more “ideological” in recent years.