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US Political Parties And Elections sample essay

The architects of the United States constitution had not envisioned the predominant role that political parties were to play later in the United States politics. No provision for their operations had been outlined by the constitution in relations to the system and process of governance. This emanated from a general belief that political parties were rich grounds for corruption and would impede the general decision making process of individuals on important issues facing the nation. Political parties then were considered by the likes of James Madison to be factions that would usurp the powers and the roles of the government. With time however, political parties emerged as the political environment got more conducive for them. The have evolved through time and have played an important role in the politics of the United States.

Analyzing political parties in the United States from far is not likely to bring any meaningful insights. The American party system is weak in terms of organization and composition. They contain class and ideological differences that normally bring divisions internally. The American political field has been in overtime now been characterized by a two party. These two parties are not ideologically unique as they strive to take an all inclusive approach.

By the turn of the 20th century, political parties were the in thing and the American citizens would align themselves either as Republicans or Democrats. By then elections could record over an 80 percent electorate’s turnout. This turnout continued to decline with time. For example the second half of the century recorded the lowest turn out. It stood at 63% in the 1960s elections and has continued to decline to barely 50% in the recent elections. This probably emanates from the inability of the parties to mobilize enough support for their parties (David Pomerantz, March 1990).

Although major parties have continued to draw public support over the years, they have not been without the incidences of major fallouts that would threaten their existence. In the early part of the 20th century, the Republican Party had been rocked with an eminent fall out that was emanating from ideological differences between the conservatives. This row was a characteristic of both parties but it is the Republican Party that bore the greatest blunt. It led to a split that would see the formation of the progressive party that went ahead to field its own presidential candidate in the elections. This candidate lost but clocked the highest amount of votes every by someone outside the two key parties.

The role of the political parties in the first half of the century was significant and electorates were guided by the parties in their voting patterns. The major breakaway a times experienced in the two parties emanates from the rise of charismatic leaders whose popularity sometimes surpassed even party boundaries. The rise of the Progressive Party and the American Independent Party of 1968 is a witness to this. In both these occasions these parties were held at the realm of the leaders whims such that after the leaders decide to join the mainstream the parties are broken up and rejoin the major parties.

Political parties exist to serve a number of factors in the political scene. These would range from articulation of the populations demands, bringing together of the various diverse interests in the society, promoting stability and coordinating governments activities and institutions. Almost all political scholars are in agreement that there has been a decline of political parties’ role in accomplishing the above. These changes have been more pronounced from the 1950s. Prior to this, parties were effective in representing the broad views of the various interests and coalitions.

The changes that have occurred in the political parties in America can be measured rather subjectively by looking at their membership, identities, voting parties and turnout. Unlike the early times when membership and activism in the party was respected and widely acknowledged, statistics indicate that from the 1980s, only close to two percent of the whole American population could pride themselves of playing any active role in their specific parties. Whereas by then activism was party based and was meant to mobilize and popularize the party, nowadays it is candidate oriented and to an extension, issue based. This is one factor that has been identified as weakening the major parties.

It is apparent that political parties have been on the decline and in their place, have given rise to politics that revolve around certain candidates rather than the parties. Ross Perot was able to make a political in road in both 1968 and 1996 because of this decline. The congress too has decreased its traditional pattern of voting along ones party’s orientation.

Congress members have been voting predominantly in regard to issue at hand and the perceived electorate’s pressure rather than along the traditional party lines. A look at the presidential elections in the recent years indicates major differences in the emphasis on the importance of political parties. Whereas in the presidential elections, at the turn of the century up to the new deal, the likes of Roosevelt were appealing to the electorates through the party machineries and structures. This is a trend that has come to change. Campaigns then would be based at the party level (Daniel H., Dennis R. J B, 1991).

Reagan and Clinton are good examples of presidents that took to their campaigns to the public with minimal regard of their parties. This is in the understanding that it is not the parties that put them in the office but the public. This by passing of the political parties by the president has continuously eroded the role that they play in mobilization. People now vote for individuals and no longer for the parties. A look at the major political parties might give an insight into why political participation and their role have been on the decline.

The Democratic Party mainly draws its support from the liberal groups, civil rights movements, middle and lower class workers and minority groups especially in the south. In the recent times there have been no major sensitive issues that could elicit the emotions of these varied groups and woo them into supporting the parties. Ideologically the two parties look almost similar and so have the candidates. This should explain the reason why many voters seem to have lost interest in their parties, choosing to back their preferred candidates instead.

The relative success of the independent candidates indicates that a good proportion of the electorate is choosing to remain unaffiliated to either of the parties and opting to remain neutral. Peoples’ involvement in political parties has declined to near zero percent. A trend that has grown throughout the century is where the candidates no longer use the party for their campaigns utilizing the professionals rather than party amateurs. Candidates no longer respond to the dominant issues through the party organs but rather do it through the media.

This brings us to the phenomena that is characteristic of the 80s and continues to grow from strength to strength. The media is slowly usurping the role of political parties in the candidate’s efforts to present their issues to the public. Although media campaigns have always been there in the American election, they have taken a gigantic role in marketing the candidates rather than the parties.

Candidates can now present themselves to the electorate with no endorsement from the relevant parties. This trust in the media as the channel through which to popularize themselves has eroded and diminished the powers and authority that a party has over a candidate. The traditional practice, for example, would be for the party members or officials to sit down and select one of their own to be a running mate in the presidential race. This has changed as media attention sometimes seems to be focused on those who are ready to market themselves in the public.

The role of party campaign machinery and financing is also dwindling and candidates are relying more on their won individual campaign organizations, hence loyalty to parties is minimal. With the parties’ role declining, so does the party’s interaction with the constituents decrease.

However, at the grass root level, this has been the trend throughout the century and has seen party candidates being chosen through the primary process. But generally, the parties have lost touch with the constituents and it is up to the candidates sensitize the constituents; they act as a link between the grass root supporters and the parties. Involvement of the constituents is reduced only to their voting in the primaries (Cohen, Jeffery E, 2001).

A comparison of the role of the political parties between the United States and Europe paints a grim picture for America. In Europe, for example in Britain, the parties still play a crucial role in articulation of important issues. This is unlike the same roles played by parties in the U.S.

Indeed, a look at the trend throughout the 20th century as the parties roles in national politics and individuals lives decline so have their strength. Important issues are now articulated not by the political parties themselves but rather by social movements and personalities. The role of political parties has declined in the elections and has taken a candidate based approach.

The candidates themselves resort to using the media to publicize themselves and their manifestos rather the party organs. This is explained by the rising significance of the media in articulation of policies and in bringing together the various interest groups contrary to how it was in the first half of the century. There has been a polarization of the major divisions that existed in the society resulting to people having unanimity in the sensitive issues.


David Pomerantz, March 1990. The decline of American Parties 1952-1988: book reviews. Washington monthly.

Daniel Hellinger and Dennis R. Judd Brooks, 1991. The decline of the parties, excerpted from the book, the democratic façade. Cole publishing company.

Cohen, Jeffery E, 1/1/2001. American political parties: Decline or resurgence? CQ Press.

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