Political Parties

  • Created by: Q_
  • Created on: 24-04-19 23:47

Political Parties

  • Weaker and less centralised than the UK as campaigns are more candidate centred.
  • Individuals raise funds for themselves and adopt policy platforms to win the primary stage and the 'real' election.

American politics still remains dominated by two main parties and those parties have become more polarised and partisan in recent years. 

1 of 12

Political Parties

Parties are organised on a state basis, which often have their own rules.

Arguably there are not two, but 100 main parties in America. 

US parties retain an element of the 'big tent' about them, they contain a wide range of views despite the parties becoming more clearly defined over the past 20 years. 

White Democrats in the South are more likely to be pro-gun and pro-life than Democrats elsewhere.

Republicans in the North East are more likely to adopt a moderate platform than GOP (Grand Old Party) candidates elsewhere. 

The divisions within each party are best reflected by membership of congressional caucuses such as the Blue Dog Coalition by fiscally conservative Democrats, or the Freedom Caucus by the most conservative House Republicans. 

2 of 12

Political Parties

What are the main differences between the two main US parties in both their platforms and core support? 

  • Republican core supporters tend to be white, older, religious, wealthier and less keen on socially liberal policies such as gay rights. Most favour lower taxes and less money spent on welfare benefits. They champion the rights of gun owners and favour tough attitudes on foreign policy. They are supporters of Israel and are more likely to live in rural, small-town suburbs and watch Fox News
  • Democrat core supporters are more likely to be from ethnic minorities, younger, socially liberal and supporters of causes such as women's rights and LGBT rights. They are less likely to be deeply religious and are more concerned with proper support for the neediest in society, hence their support for measures such as Obamacare. They will place a higher priority on green measures and favour working with international bodies in global affairs. Most will want stricter gun laws and are more likely to live in large cosmopolitan urban areas, especially on either coast, and watch MSNBC.
3 of 12

How have US political parties developed in recent

  • They used to be broad 'big tent' parties.
  • Parties as institutions were in decline in the USA. In 1972, David Broder made a plea for a reinvigoration of the party system, less split-ticket voting and 'some unvarnished political partisanship'. 
  • US parties were essentially unideological. Their names were interchangeable: both believed in democracy and in a Republican form of government. This contrasts with the UK where the party labels - Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat etc. - clearly convey a set of values and broad ideology by their names alone.

These three statements can be said to longer be key truths or assumptions.

The reality is often what is termed 'hyper-partisanship' .

4 of 12

How have US political parties developed in recent

The new political landscape could be summarised as:

Two parties with very different core groups of supporters and clearly defined policy differences, which reflect contrasting values or ideologies. The parties are more homogenous and united in Congress, with fewer centrists or moderates in either camp.

There is increased partisanship when it comes to voting in Congress. In the Obama years, not a single Republican in either chamber voted in favour of Obamacare. Equally, in the wake of the several shooting tragedies such as at Sandy Hook and San Bernardino, only a handful of senators from either side went against the bulk of their party when voting on gun-control measures.

The polarisation is also seen in confirmation votes for Supreme Court justices. While near unanimous votes used to be quite common, the most recent ones have been much more partisan.  

5 of 12

How have US political parties developed in recent

The polarisation is also seen in confirmation votes for Supreme Court justices. While near unanimous votes used to be quite common, the most recent ones have been much more partisan.  

For example, when Elena Kagan was confirmed in 2010, the vote was 63-67, with only 4 Republicans backing her. Senate Republicans successfully blocked Obama's attempts in 2016 to nominate a successor to Antonin Scala.

Many other Senate confirmation votes reflect a strict party divide. Trump's choice of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State scraped through the Senate Foreign Relations committee in 2017 by a margin of just 11-10, with every Republican supporting him and every Democrat opposing him.

6 of 12

How have US political parties developed in recent

There is some evidence of attempts towards greater centralisation and coordination of the party structures.

Back in 1994, the Speaker of the House, Republican Newt Gingrich, helped draw up the 'Contract of America', a list of 8 reforms and 10 bills that Republicans would implement if they won control of Congress. The pledge was signed by nearly all Republican candidates.

The Democrats responded with their 'Six for 06' agenda in 2006. The central party organisations such as the DNC and RNC, as well as teh parties' groupings in Congress, also try to channel funding into key elections races they see as competitive, not least to 'shore up' vulnerable incumbents. In essence, recent years have seen party renewal rather than party decline.

7 of 12

How have US political parties developed in recent


The growth of polarisation has made it much harder to get some laws through Congress and has limited the president's 'power to persuade'.

There is little incentive for deal-making, and at its worst can lead to a shutdown of the federal government, as happened in:

October 2013 when the parties could not agree on the budget.

December 2018 - January 2019 (35 days) when Congres and Donald Trump could not agree on an appropriations bill to fund the operations of the federal government for the 2019 fiscal year, or a temporary continuing resolution that would extend the deadline for passing a bill - it was the longest US government shutdown in history.

Polarisation has probably alienated many moderate Americans, put off by the language and approach of many politicians and the two Americas, red and blue, they claim to represent.

8 of 12

Why is the USA dominated by two parties?

America remains an overwhelmingly two-party political system.

In 2017 there were no independents in the House, both independent senators caucus with the Democrats, and one of them (Bernie Sanders), sought the Democrat presidnetial nomination in 2016.

In the 2016 presidential election, third-party candidates mustered barely 5% of the overall vote.

By contrast, third parties play a large role in UK politics, with several parties being represented at Westminster, including the SNP with more than 30 MPs even after the 2017 general election and UKIP, which won the largest number of MEP seats in the 2014 European elections.

9 of 12

Why is the USA dominated by two parties?

Why are independents and third parties so weeak in America and why do the two parties remain dominant?

  • The electoral system is majoritarian (FPTP), which discriminates against third-party candidates and can lead to the 'wasted vote' syndrome. Even with 19% of the popular vote in 1992, independent candidate Ross Perot received not a single Electoral College vote.
  • The complexity and cost of ballot access laws can make it very hard for candidates that aren't from one of the two big parties to get enough nomination signatures even to get on the ballot in all 50 states. Green Party candidate Jill Stein failed to get on the ballot in three states in 2016.
  • The US parties remain broad and reflect regional differences. The primary system enables outsiders to run, without adopting a party label.
10 of 12

Why is the USA dominated by two parties?

  • Attractive policies of third parties and independents are often 'co-opted' by one or the other of the main parties. In 1992, Ross Perot's focus on reducing the budget deficit was later picked up by the main parties.
  • Their candidates are often labelled as extremists. Republicans in 1968 attacked George Wallace, saying, 'If you liked Hitler, you'll love Wallace.'
  • Third parties and independents are largely ignored by the mainstream. This creates a vicious circle, as without publicity it remains hard for them to achieve recognition - and thus they remain largely ignored by the media. Candidates need to have an average poll rating of 15% to qualify for the televised presidential debates.
  • Third parties and independents find themselves disadvantged when it comes to campaign funding and finance. Few major donors want to contribute to candidates who have little chance of success. The last successful independent, Ross Perot in 1992, was a billionaire who was largely self-funded.
11 of 12

In what ways do political parties differ in the UK

  • US parties remain broader and more decentralised, due to the sheer size and diversity of the country.
  • The UK party system in recent times has become much more of a multiparty system, not least in the regions, but also with the existence of a coalition government from 2010 - 2015. US politics, by contrast, remains dominated at every level by two parties
  • Third parties and independents remain largely impotent in America, except for their 'spoling power' in tight races. The Green Party's candidate in 2000, Ralph Nader, siphoned off enough votes in Florida to deny Democrat candidate Al Gore victory, and thus handed the whole election to George W. Bush.
  • UK parties have clear leaders and manifestos, while the US parties have no direct equivalent, although policy platforms have become increasingly uniform in both parties of late. The absence of nationwide primary elections in the UK gives more power to the party machines - locally and nationally.
  • Levels of party discipline remains higher in the UK than in the USA. This is despite Westminster backbench revolts and more cohesive voting by party in Congress.
12 of 12


No comments have yet been made

Similar Government & Politics resources:

See all Government & Politics resources »See all USA Political Parties resources »