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Introduction to Political Parties in the U.S.
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Introduction to Political Parties in the U.S.


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  • 1. Political Parties
  • 2.
    • “ A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.”
    • John Stuart Mill (1859)
    • British Philosopher
  • 3.  
  • 4.  
  • 5.  
  • 6.
    • Where do you think you fall on the political spectrum?
    • Why? How can you tell?
    • Let's find out how you score...
  • 7. Parties and What They Do
    • “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
    • Vince Lombardi
    • This can be said for the attitudes of the Democratic and Republican parties
    • Competing and Winning are two main goals of political parties
  • 8.
    • Political Party – a group of people who seek to control government through the winning of elections and the holding of public office
    • The two Major Parties in the U.S. are:
      • Republican
      • Democratic
  • 9.
    • Political parties are essential to democratic government
      • They are the medium through which options are presented to the people
      • Serve as a link between the people and their government
      • Some argue they are the principle means by which the will of the people is made known to government
  • 10. 5 Major Functions
    • Nominating Candidates for public office
      • THE major function
      • Select candidate and present them to the voters
      • Work to help their candidate win elections
      • Best tool for finding candidates and gathering support
      • Sets political parties apart from other groups in politics
  • 11.
    • Informing and Activating Supporters
      • Activate interest and participation in public affairs
      • Primarily by:
        • Campaigning for their candidates
        • Taking stands on issues
        • Criticizing the candidates/positions of their opponents
      • Inform voters the way THEY want them to be informed
        • Advertising
  • 12.
    • Act as a Bonding Agent
      • Ensures the good performance of its candidates and officeholders
      • Tries to make sure they are men and women who are both qualified and of good character
      • Prompts its successful candidates to perform well in office
        • If they fail to do so, both party and candidate may suffer the consequences in future elections
  • 13.
    • Governing
      • Public officeholders are regularly chosen on the basis of party
      • Congress and State legislatures are organized on party lines
        • Partisanship – government action based on firm allegiance to a political party
      • Legislative and Executive branches must cooperate in order to accomplish anything:
        • Political Parties provide the channel for these branches to work together
  • 14.
    • Watchdog
      • The party NOT in power closely watches the actions of the party in power*
        • * Party that controls the executive branch of government; i.e., the Presidency at the national level, or the governorship at the State level
      • Party out of power tries to convince the voters that they should be the ones making the decisions
      • Often makes those in power more responsive to the wishes and concerns of the people
  • 15. The Two-Party System
    • Two’s company, but three’s a crowd!
  • 16.
    • The two major political parties dominate American politics
    • &
    • The minor parties* do not have nearly as much power and influence as the major parties
      • * political parties without widespread support
      • Examples of minor parties include: Libertarian Party, Communist Party USA, Green Party of the United States
  • 17. Historical Basis
    • U.S. has historically always been a two-party system
      • Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists after the ratification of the Constitution
      • Federalists vs. Democratic-Republicans formed at the beginning of John Adam’s presidency (Federalist)
      • Set the model for the Democrats
      • vs. Republicans we know today
  • 18. The Force of Tradition
    • Human institutions often become self-perpetuating
      • The fact that the nation began with a two-party system is a leading factor for the retention of it
    • Most Americans accept the idea of a two-party system simply because there has always been one.
      • Can explain why challenges from minor parties have made very little headway
  • 19. The Electoral System
    • Features of the American electoral system promote the existence of two major parties
      • Single-member districts – elections are contests in which only one candidate is elected to each office on the ballot
    • Discourages minor parties
      • Voters often see votes for a minor party as a wasted vote because of the influence of &
  • 20.
    • Much of American election law is purposely written to discourage non-major party candidates
      • Nearly all election law in this country is State law
      • Almost all of the 7,600+ State legislators are either
      • or
    • The two major parties deliberately shape election laws to preserve, protect, and defend the system in a bipartisan* way
      • * Bipartisan – two major parties find a common ground on an issue
  • 21.
    • Both major parties are generally alike
      • Both tend to be moderate
      • Both are build on compromise
      • Regularly seek to occupy the “middle of the road”
      • Seek the same prize: the votes of a majority of the electorate
    • To do so, they both must win over essentially the same people
      • Take policy positions that do not differ from one another
    • But they do have their differences…
  • 22.
    • Much more likely to:
      • Favor the play of private market forces in the economy
      • Argue that the Federal
      • Government should be less
      • extensively involved in
      • social welfare programs
  • 23.
    • More likely to support:
      • Social welfare programs
      • Government regulation of business practices
      • Efforts to improve the status of minorities
  • 24. One-Party Aspects of the U.S.
    • Effective two-party competition has spread rapidly in the past 40 years or so
      • Until the 1950s:
        • dominated the South
        • had controlled much of New England and Mid-West
      • Now:
        • win offices in every Northern state
        • are heavily influential in the South
  • 25.
    • About 1/3 of the States can be said to have a one-party system*
      • * One of the major parties regularly wins most elections in those states
  • 26. Party Membership Patterns
    • Each of the major parties ( & ) have always been composed of a cross-section of the population
      • However, some segments generally tend to align themselves with one or the other
        • : white males, Protestants, and business community, historically higher income
        • : African Americans, Catholics and Jews, Union Members, historically lower income
  • 27. Minor Parties in the U.S.
    • Sometimes difficult to describe and classify because of their number and variety
    • Some limit their efforts to small geographic regions, while others try to influence the nation
    • Most are short-lived, but a few have existed for decades
    • There are four distinct types of interest groups
  • 28.
    • Ideological Parties
      • Based on a particular set of beliefs
        • Social, economic, and political matters
          • Built around some variety of Marxist thought
            • ex: Socialist, Socialist Labor, Socialist Worker, Communist parties
            • Emphasize individualism
            • Call for doing away with most of government’s present functions and programs
        • ex: Libertarian Party
    • Rarely are able to win any votes
  • 29.
    • Single-Issue Parties
      • Concentrate on only one public-policy matter
      • Names usually indicate their primary concern
      • ex: “Know Nothing” Party, Right to Life Party
    • Do not stick around very long:
        • Die away as events pass by
        • Themes often fail to attract voters
        • One or both major parties take their key issues as their own
  • 30.
    • Economic Protest Parties
      • Rooted in periods of economic discontent
      • Proclaim their disgust with the major parties and demand better times
      • Focus their anger on such real or imagined enemies as:
        • The monetary system
        • “ Wall Street bankers”
        • Railroads
        • Foreign Imports
    • Draw their strength mostly from the agricultural South & West
    • Tend to fall away as the nation climbs out of the difficult economic period in which that party arose
  • 31.
    • Splinter Parties
      • Parties that have split away from one of the major parties
      • Most of the more important minor parties in our politics have been splinter parties
      • Most splinter parties are formed around a strong personality
          • Most often around someone who has failed to win his/her major party’s nomination
            • These parties most often fade or collapse when the leader steps aside