Wherever we find competitive elections we find parties The major American

Wherever we find competitive elections we find

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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 weak when it comes to nominating candidates. Presidential primaries and caucuses, every four years -- are a good example. Parties as organizations would 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 -- owns the 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 within parties as well as between them. Such “intra-party” conflict settlement can be especially important for a diverse party -- which may now be characteristic of both of the major parties
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Slide 6 Another way of thinking about the functions of parties – is to look at the three aspects of parties 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 those who hold public office as representatives of one party or another – which we will discuss in our units on Congress and the presidency. Since America is given credit for having “invented” parties -- are our parties a model for the rest of the world? We might think so -- but actually the answer is “no.” As a matter of fact -- 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 out to the public. They invite public 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
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and ideology. It can be argued, however -- that they have become more “ideological” in recent years.
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