AMERICAN POLITICAL PARTIES Defined as organizations that seek to influence public policy by gaining seats in public office for their members in duly constituted elections Textbook definition of a political party: an organization that sponsors candidates for public office under the organization?s name How candidates are sponsored: they are nominated through some mechanism, and the ballot indicates the sponsoring party Parties are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution FUNCTIONS OF PARTIES Nominating candidates for public office (recruiting and screening) Structuring vote choice (reducing size of candidate field; reducing amount of information necessary to make a rational vote choice) Proposing alternative public policies Coordinating actions of public officials Informing the electorate Mobilizing the electorate RESPONSIBLE PARTIES MODEL Each party presents a clear and coherent program to voters Voters choose among the competing parties based upon their programs The party winning the election carries out its program once in office Voters hold the winning party accountable in the next election based upon whether it enacted and implemented its program METHODS OF NOMINATING CANDIDATES A caucus: a closed meeting of influential party members to choose party nominees A convention: a larger, more public meeting of elected delegates who gather to select nominees A primary: an intra-party election in which the party?s members choose nominees ELEMENTS OF PARTIES The party in government: members of the party who hold public offices (goals: re-election/election to higher office; enacting party program) The party leaders: members who hold office in the party or who are informal leaders (goal: win elections) The party?s rank-and-file members: members in the voting public who associate themselves with that party (goal: secure personally preferred public policies) ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE OF PARTIES I American parties reflect the decentralized, federal nature of the political system Most legal regulation of political parties is undertaken by the states: *state/local party organization and leadership (st. chair and committee, cong. district chairs and committees, county chairs and committees, precinct committee members) *fundraising *access to the ballot *nomination process ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE OF PARTIES II National organization and leaders *National convention?chooses presidential and vice presidential nominees, adopts party platform, chooses national party chairperson *National committee?governs party between conventions; delegates from every state *National chairperson?day-to-day party chief executive and spokesperson ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE OF PARTIES III Congressional components: *Congressional party conferences?one for each party in each chamber; they organize the party?s members in that chamber *Congressional campaign committees?one for each party in each chamber; they raise funds to support election of new party members to the chamber and re-election of current party members to their seats THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM The Democratic and Republican Parties dominate American politics (major parties) Minor parties are also present, but have trouble winning elections Common types of minor parties: *Single issue parties: the Green Party *Ideological parties: the Libertarian Party *?Bolter? parties: TR?s Progressive Party Minor parties may act as policy advocates keeping issues alive and being safety valves PRESERVING THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM Single member districts and winner-take-all elections Easy reduction of political conflict to a ?for or against? framework Political socialization of most Americans to be either Democrats or Republicans Major parties use their members to enact policies that favor major parties, often in complicity THE PARTY IN THE ELECTORATE Refers to rank-and-file members Membership based upon a person?s sense of psychological attachment to a party, called party identification, determined by self-reporting Independents are free of partisan attachments Three basic groups?Democrats, Republicans, Independents?are of generally equal size But more Democrats and slightly more Independents than Republicans Minor party membership is commonly less than 10% of the public MAJOR PARTY COALITIONS Democrats: generally less affluent, less well educated, racial/ethnic minorities, Jewish, female, increasingly northeastern-west coast states, moderate to liberal, older Republicans: generally more affluent, better educated, white, Protestant (esp. evangelical), male, increasingly southern-plains-mountain states, moderate to conservative, younger Party Identification by Social Groups PARTISAN STABILITY Current partisan regime est. 1932 (FDR/New Deal) and modified 1964 (Goldwater conservatism) Electoral realignments change party coalitions Current regime reflects defection of southern whites to Republican Party and New Englanders to Democratic Party Critical elections (1932) produce electoral realignments and a new majority party PARTISAN DEALIGNMENT? Some conclude that party loyalties are less evident and less important today?more Independents and lessened intensity of party identification among partisans But no decline in partisan basis of voting National party organizations better funded than ever National parties more active at state/local levels than ever State/local parties better organized than ever Partisan divisions more apparent in Congress than has been true for a long time WHY ARE PARTIES IMPORTANT? Parties are the only centralizing agents in the political system, a feature of the need to create electorates sufficiently large to win elections; they search out common ground Parties offer a clear opportunity to connect the electorate with those who govern and the policies which are selected by political leaders, thereby reinforcing both the democratic (indirect) and representative traits of the system
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