Chapter Study Outline

What Are Political Parties?

  1. Political parties are organizations that seek influence over government. Political parties as they are known today developed along with the expansion of suffrage, and actually took their shape from the electoral process.
  2. In modern history, political parties have been the chief points of contact between governments and groups and forces in society. By organizing political parties, social forces attempt to gain some control over government policies and personnel.
  3. Historically, parties originate through either internal or external mobilization by those seeking to win governmental power. Internal mobilization occurs when political conflicts break out and government officials and competing factions seek to mobilize popular support. External mobilization takes place when a group of politicians outside government organizes popular support to win governmental power.
  4. Political parties, as coalitions of those with similar interests, are also important in making policy.

The Two-Party System in America

  1. The United States has usually had a two-party system, meaning that only two parties have a serious chance to win national elections.
  2. American third parties have always represented social and economic protests ignored by the other parties.
  3. The United States has experienced five realigning eras, which occur when the established political elite weakens sufficiently to permit the creation of new coalitions of forces capable of capturing and holding the reins of government.
  4. The structure of America’s single-member districts and plurality voting limit the electoral prospects of third parties.

Party Organization

  1. Party organizations exist at virtually every level of American government—usually taking the form of committees made up of active party members.
  2. Although national party conventions no longer have the power to nominate presidential candidates, they are still important in determining the party’s rules and platform.
  3. The national committee and the congressional campaign committees play important roles in recruiting candidates and raising money.

Parties and the Electorate

  1. Individuals tend to form psychological ties with parties in “party identification.” This identification often follows demographic, ideological, and regional lines.
  2. The two major national parties do not draw equal support from members of every social stratum. A variety of group characteristics are associated with party identification, including race and ethnicity, gender, religion, class, ideology, region, and age.

Parties and Elections

  1. Parties are important in the electoral process for recruiting and nominating candidates for office.
  2. Though not so important today as in the past, parties also can make a big difference in convincing voters to vote.
  3. Parties also help voters choose among candidates.

Parties and Government

  1. The differences between the two parties reflect a general difference in philosophy but also an attempt to appeal to core constituencies. The policy agenda that party leaders adopt often reflect these differences.
  2. Political parties help to organize Congress. Congressional leadership and the committee system are both products of the two-party system.
  3. The president serves as an informal party head by seeking support from congressional members of the party and by supporting their bids for re-election.

Thinking Critically about the Role of Parties in a Democracy

  1. Democracy depends on strong parties, which promote electoral competition and voter turnout and enable governance through their organizations in Congress.
  2. The ties that parties have to the electorate are currently weak; the resulting “candidate-centered” politics has some negative consequences, including lower voter turnout, increased influence of interest groups, and a lack of effective decision making by elected leaders.