Party Organization

Party Organization

Political parties are political organizations that typically seek to influence government policy by nominating candidates for office.

Learning Objectives

Describe the organization of the Democratic and Republican parties in U.S. politics

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Parties participate in electoral campaigns and educational outreach or protest actions. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests.
  • The need to win popular support in a republic led to the American invention of political parties in the 1790s. Americans were especially innovative in devising new campaign techniques that linked public opinion with public policy through the party.
  • The modern political party system in the United States is a two-party system dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These two parties have won every United States presidential election since 1852 and have controlled the United States Congress since at least 1856.

Key Terms

  • political party: A political organization that subscribes to a certain ideology and seeks to attain political power through representation in government.
  • two-party system: A two-party system is a system where two major political parties dominate voting in nearly all elections at every level of government and, as a result, nearly all elected officials are members of one of the two major parties.

Introduction

A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating candidates with aligned political views and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns and educational outreach or protest actions. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests. Throughout most of its history, American politics have been dominated by a two-party system. However, the United States Constitution has always been silent on the issue of political parties; at the time it was signed in 1787, there were no parties in the nation. Indeed, no nation in the world had voter-based political parties. The need to win popular support in a republic led to the American invention of political parties in the 1790s. Americans were especially innovative in devising new campaign techniques that linked public opinion with public policy through the party.

Political scientists and historians have divided the development of America’s two-party system into five eras. The modern two-party system consists of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. In general, since the 1930s the Democratic Party positions itself left of center in American politics, while the Republican Party positions itself as right of center. Several third parties also operate in the United States and from time to time, elect someone to local office.

Modern U.S. Political Party System

The modern political party system in the United States is a two-party system dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These two parties have won every United States presidential election since 1852 and have controlled the United States Congress since at least 1856.

The Democratic Party is one of two major political parties in the United States. It is the oldest political party in the world. The Democratic Party, since the division of the Republican Party in the election of 1912, has positioned itself as progressive and supporting labor in economic as well as social matters. The economic philosophy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which has strongly influenced American liberalism, has shaped much of the party’s agenda since 1932. Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition had controlled the White House until 1968. In 2004, it was the largest political party, with 72 million voters (42.6% of 169 million registered) claiming affiliation. The president of the United States, Barack Obama, is the fifteenth Democrat to hold the office, and since the 2006 midterm elections, the Democratic Party is the majority party for the United States Senate.

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Andrew Jackson: Democrats hail Andrew Jackson as the founder of the party.

National Convention

A United States presidential nominating convention is a political convention held every four years in the United States.

Learning Objectives

Explain the proceedings of the national convention

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The formal purpose of such a convention is to select the party’s nominee for President, as well as to adopt a statement of party principles and goals known as the platform and adopt the rules for the party’s activities, including the presidential nominating process for the next election cycle.
  • Generally, usage of ” presidential nominating convention ” refers to the two major parties’ quadrennial events: the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention.
  • From the point of view of the parties, the convention cycle begins with the Call to Convention. Usually issued about 18 months in advance, the Call is an invitation from the national party to the state and territory parties to convene and select a presidential nominee.
  • Each party sets its own rules for the participation and format of the convention. Broadly speaking, each U.S. state and territory party is apportioned a select number of voting representatives, individually known as delegates and collectively as the delegation.
  • The convention is typically held in a major city selected by the national party organization 18–24 months before the election is to be held. As the two major conventions have grown into large, publicized affairs with significant economic impact, cities today compete vigorously.

Key Terms

  • planks: Planks refer to the goals and proposals in the platform of a political party.
  • presidential nominating convention: Convention in which presidential and vice presidential candidates are determined, party platforms are established, and rules governing the election cycle are adopted. The most influential presidential nominating conventions include the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
  • party platform: A statement of principles and purpose issued by a political party.

Introduction

A United States presidential nominating convention is a political convention held every four years in the United States by most of the political parties who will be fielding nominees in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. The formal purpose of such a convention is to select the party’s nominee for President, as well as to adopt a statement of party principles and goals known as the platform and adopt the rules for the party’s activities, including the presidential nominating process for the next election cycle. Due to changes in election laws, the primary and caucus calendar, and the manner in which political campaigns are run, conventions since the latter half of the 20th century have virtually abdicated their original roles, and are today mostly ceremonial affairs.

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1876 Democratic National Convention: The 1876 Democratic National Convention at the Merchants Exchange Building in St. Louis, Missouri.

Generally, usage of “presidential nominating convention” refers to the two major parties’ quadrennial events: the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention. Some minor parties also select their nominees by convention, including the Green Party, Socialist Party USA, Libertarian Party, Constitution Party, and Reform Party USA.

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Roll Call DNC 2008: Roll call of states during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Logistics

From the point of view of the parties, the convention cycle begins with the Call to Convention. Usually issued about 18 months in advance, the Call is an invitation from the national party to the state and territory parties to convene to select a presidential nominee. It also sets out the number of delegates to be awarded to each, as well as the rules for the nomination process.

Each party sets its own rules for the participation and format of the convention. Broadly speaking, each U.S. state and territory party is apportioned a select number of voting representatives, individually known as delegates and collectively as the delegation. Each party uses its own formula for determining the size of each delegation, factoring in such considerations as population, proportion of that state’s Congressional representatives or state government officials who are members of the party, and the state’s voting patterns in previous presidential elections. The selection of individual delegates and their alternates is also governed by the bylaws of each state party, or in some cases by state law. The 2004Democratic National Convention counted 4,353 delegates and 611 alternates. The 2004 Republican National Convention had 2,509 delegates and 2,344 alternates.

The convention is typically held in a major city selected by the national party organization 18–24 months before the election is to be held. As the two major conventions have grown into large, publicized affairs with significant economic impact, cities today compete vigorously to be awarded host responsibilities, citing their meeting venues, lodging facilities, and entertainment as well as offering economic incentives. Historically, Midwestern cities such as Chicago, Illinois—which since 1860 has held 25 Republican and Democratic Conventions combined, more than any other urban center in the USA—have become the favored hosts.

Proceedings

Each convention produces a statement of principles known as its platform, containing goals and proposals known as planks. Relatively little of a party platform is even proposed as public policy. Much of the language is generic, while other sections are narrowly written to appeal to factions or interest groups within the party. Since the 1970s, voting has for the most part been perfunctory; the selection of the major parties’ nominees have rarely been in doubt, so a single ballot has always been sufficient. Each delegation announces its vote tallies, usually accompanied with some boosterism of their state or territory. The delegation may pass, nominally to retally their delegates’ preferences, but often to allow a different delegation to give the leading candidate the honor of casting the majority-making vote.

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1976 Republican National Convention: President Gerald Ford, as the Republican nominee, shakes hands with nomination foe Ronald Reagan on the closing night of the 1976 Republican National Convention. Vice-Presidential Candidate Bob Dole is on the far left, then Nancy Reagan, Governor Ronald Reagan is at the center shaking hands with President Gerald Ford, Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller is just to the right of Ford, followed by Susan Ford and First Lady Betty Ford.

The evening’s speeches are reserved for major speeches by notable, respected public figures. The speakers at the 2004 Democratic convention included Ted Kennedy, a forty-year veteran of the United States Senate, and Jimmy Carter, a former Democratic President, while at the Republican convention speakers included Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Governor George Pataki of New York, two of the largest states in the nation.

The final day of the convention usually features the formal acceptance speeches from the nominees for president and vice president. Despite recent controversy maintaining that recent conventions were scripted from beginning to end, and that very little news comes out of the convention, the acceptance speech has always been televised by the networks, because it receives the highest ratings of the convention. In addition, the halls of the convention are packed at this time, with many party loyalists sneaking in. Afterwards, balloons are usually dropped and the delegates celebrate the nomination.

The National Party Organization

American political parties have no formal organization at the national level and mainly raise funds through national committees.

Learning Objectives

Explain the history of political party organization and the significance of party committees for each of the major political parties

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The modern political party system in the United States is a two-party system dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
  • Among the two major parties, the Democratic Party generally positions itself as left-of-center, while the Republican Party generally positions itself as right-of-center.
  • The two major parties, in particular, have no formal organization at the national level controlling membership, activities, or policy positions.
  • Party identification becomes somewhat formalized when a person runs for partisan office. In most states, this means declaring oneself a candidate for the nomination of a particular party and intent to enter that party’s primary election.
  • At the federal level, each of the two major parties has a national committee that acts as the hub for fundraising and campaign activities. The most significant of these are the Hill committees, which work to elect candidates to each house of Congress.

Key Terms

  • hill committees: The Hill committees are the common name for political party committees that work to elect members of their own party to United States Congress (“Hill” refers to Capitol Hill, where the seat of Congress, the Capitol, is located).
  • two-party system: A two-party system is a system where two major political parties dominate voting in nearly all elections at every level of government and, as a result, nearly all elected officials are members of one of the two major parties.

Introduction

The modern political party system in the United States is a two-party system dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These two parties have won every United States presidential election since 1852 and have controlled the United States Congress since at least 1856. Third parties have achieved relatively minor representation at national and state levels. Among the two major parties, the Democratic Party generally positions itself as left-of-center in American politics and supports a modern liberal platform, while the Republican Party generally positions itself as right-of-center and supports a conservative platform.

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National Republican Elephant: “The Third-Term Panic” by Thomas Nast, originally published in Harper’s Magazine 7 November 1874.

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Democratic Party Logo: Logo of the Democratic Party of the United States. Light blue D inside a darker blue circle.

Many minor or third political parties appear from time to time. They serve as means to advocate policies that the two major political parties eventually adopt. At various times, the Socialist Party, the Farmer-Labor Party and the Populist Party had considerable local strength, and then faded away. Some exceptions exist, like Minnesota’s Farmer–Labor Party merging into the state’s Democratic Party. At present, the Libertarian Party is the most successful third party. New York State has a number of additional third parties that sometimes run their own candidates for office or nominate the nominees of the two main parties. In the District of Columbia, the D.C. Statehood Party has served as a strong third party behind the Democratic Party and Republican Party.

Organization of American political parties

American political parties are more loosely organized than those in other countries. The two major parties, in particular, have no formal organization at the national level that controls membership, activities, or policy positions. Thus, for an American to say that he or she is a member of the Democratic or Republican party is quite different from a Briton stating that he or she is a member of the Conservative or Labour party.

In the United States, one can often become a “member” of a party merely by stating that fact. Such participation does not restrict one’s choices in any way. It also does not give a person any particular rights or obligations within the party, other than possibly allowing that person to vote in that party’s primary elections. A person may choose to attend meetings of one local party committee one day and another party committee the next day. The sole factor that brings one “closer to the action” is the quantity and quality of participation in party activities.

Party Identification

Party identification becomes somewhat formalized when a person runs for partisan office. In most states, this means declaring oneself a candidate for the nomination of a particular party and intent to enter that party’s primary election. A party committee may choose to endorse one or another of those seeking the nomination, but in the end the choice is up to those who choose to vote in the primary.

The result is that American political parties have weak central organizations and little central ideology. A party cannot prevent a person who disagrees with the majority of positions of the party or actively works against the party’s aims from claiming party membership, so long as the voters who choose to vote in the primary elections elect that person. Once in office, an elected official may change parties simply by declaring such intent.

Both parties have stopped being engines for voter mobilization, however. Fewer and fewer Americans identify with one another party, preferring instead to be known as “independent” voters. For example, a 2011 USA Today review of state voter rolls indicates that registered Democrats declined in 25 of 28 states. Democrats were still the largest political party with more than 42 million voters (compared with 30 million Republicans and 24 million independents). But in 2011 Democrats numbers shrank 800,000, and from 2008 they were down by 1.7 million, or 3.9%

Party Committees

At the federal level, each of the two major parties has a national committee that acts as the hub for fundraising and campaign activities. The exact composition of these committees is different for each party, but they are made up primarily of representatives from state parties and affiliated organizations. However, the national committees do not have the power to direct the activities of members of the party.

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Political parties: The symbol of the Republican Party in the U.S.

Both parties also have separate campaign committees which work to elect candidates at a specific level. The most significant of these are the Hill committees; the common name for the political party committees that work to elect members of their own party to United States Congress (“Hill” refers to Capitol Hill, where the seat of Congress, the Capitol, is located, ). The four major committees are part of the Democratic and Republican parties and each work to help members of their party get elected to each house.

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Aerial View of Capitol Hill: Aerial view of Capitol Hill showing the Capitol, Supreme Court Building, Library of Congress, and congressional office buildings.

State and Local Party Organization

The organization of parties is generally at three different levels: national, state, and local.

Learning Objectives

Review the organization of parties at the national, state and local level

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • State parties consist of state central committees, state conventions and congressional district committees.
  • National Committees are the national policy creators of each party. Chairpersons are usually selected by the president of the party in power and the party national committee chooses the chairperson for the other party.
  • At the local level, there is a president and a president pro tempore in city councils. Usually the majority party (i.e. Democrat or Republican ) has the president in their party. The city is split into districts in which the councilman or councilwoman represents.
  • Linkage institutions provide a way for people to get involved in government and the political process.
  • Political parties provide many ways for individuals to become involved in the political process, from working to get votes or to actually running for office. They are not the only linkage institutions; others include blogs, non- partisan local governments, and school boards.

Key Terms

  • city council: A governing body of people elected to oversee management of a city and represent the interests of residents.
  • chairpersons: National Committees are the national policy creators of each party. Chairpersons are usually selected by the president of the party in power and the party national committee chooses the chairperson for the other party.
  • linkage institutions: Linkage institutions provide a way for people to get involved in government and the political process.

Introduction

The organization of parties is generally at three different levels: national, state, and local. National consists of the quadrennial national convention, the party’s national chairpersons, and the party’s national committee. Next is the state, which consists of state central committees and state conventions, and congressional district committees. Lastly, there is the local level of organizations, which include city and county committees, precinct and ward committees, party activists and volunteers, and party identifiers and voters. Recent trends between the three levels are that they tend to overlap, and more often then not, state and local parties have more influence than the national party around their region, and their decisions tend to override those of the national party.

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Tea Party National Rally: Tea Party protesters walk towards the United States Capitol during the Taxpayer March on Washington, September 12, 2009.

The basic structure of a political party would be National Committees, Leadership, National Conventions, States and Localities, and informal groups. National Committees are the national policy creators of each party. Chairpersons are usually selected by the president of the party in power and the party national committee chooses the chairperson for the other party. National conventions are held every four years for nominating presidential candidates. Parties are structured at State and Local levels. Informal groups would be groups like interest groups or the National Federation of Democratic Women.

Both parties also have separate campaign committees which work to elect candidates at a specific level. The most significant of these are the Hill committees, which work to elect candidates to each house of Congress. State parties exist in all fifty states, though their structures differ according to state law, as well as party rules at both the national and the state level.

Political Party Strength in State Governments

Currently, the majority of the overall number of seats held in the state legislatures has been switching between the two parties every few years. As of the U.S. gubernatorial elections of 2010, the Republican party holds an outright majority of approximately 440 with 3,890 seats (53% of total) compared to the Democrat party’s number of 3,450 (47% of total) seats elected on a partisan ballot. Of the 7,382 seats in all of the state legislatures combined, independents and third parties account for only 15 members, not counting the 49 members of the Nebraska Legislature, which is the only legislature in the nation to hold non-partisan elections to determine its members. Due to the results of the 2010 elections, Republicans took control of an additional 19 state legislative chambers, giving them majority control of both chambers in 25 states versus the Democrats’ majority control of both chambers in only 16 states, with 8 states having split or inconclusive control of both chambers (not including Nebraska); previous to the 2010 elections, it was Democrats who controlled both chambers in 27 states versus the Republican party having total control in only 14 states, with eight states divided and Nebraska being nonpartisan.

Local Government in the United States

Local government in the United States is structured in accordance with the laws of the various individual states, territories, and the District of Columbia. Typically each state has at least two separate tiers of local government: counties and municipalities. Some states further have their counties divided into townships. There are several different types of local government at the municipal level, generally reflecting the needs of different levels of population densities; typical examples include the city, town, borough, and village.

Parties in City Councils

Most cities have City Councils. These are sometimes elected officials who meet for a portion of the year on designated days and hours. There is a president and a president pro tempore in city councils. Usually the majority party (i.e. Democrat or Republican) has the president in their party. The city is split into districts in which the councilman or councilwoman represents.

Linkage Institutions

Linkage institutions provide a way for people to get involved in government and the political process. Political parties provide many ways for individuals to become involved in the political process, from working to get votes or to actually running for office. They are not the only linkage institutions; others include blogs, non-partisan local governments, and school boards.

Congressional Campaign Committees

Congressional Campaign Committees exist for both Democrats and Republicans, and work to elect candidates from each party to the House of Representatives.

Learning Objectives

Identify the roles and responsibilities of the Congressional Campaign Committees for both major parties

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • They play a critical role in recruiting candidates, raising funds, and organizing races in districts that are expected to yield politically notable or close elections.
  • Of the four congressional campaign committees, the DCCC, with a staff of 25, has the largest in-house research department.
  • The position of DCCC committee chair was assumed by Rahm Emanuel after the death of the previous chair, Bob Matsui at the end of the 2004 election cycle. Emanuel led the Democratic Party’s effort to capture the majority in the House of Representatives in the 2006 elections.
  • The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is the Republican Hill committee which works to elect Republicans to the United States House of Representatives.
  • It supports the election of Republicans to the House through direct financial contributions to candidates and Republican Party organizations; technical and research assistance to Republican candidates and Party organizations; voter registration, education and turnout programs.

Key Terms

  • national republican congressional committee: The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is the Republican Hill committee which works to elect Republicans to the United States House of Representatives.
  • congressional caucus: a group of members of the United States Congress that meets to pursue common legislative objectives
  • democratic congressional campaign committee: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is the Democratic Hill committee for the United States House of Representatives, working to elect Democrats to that body.

Democratic Party

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is the Democratic Hill committee for the United States House of Representatives, working to elect Democrats to that body. They play a critical role in recruiting candidates, raising funds, and organizing races in districts that are expected to yield politically notable or close elections. The structure of the committee consists, essentially, of the Chairperson, their staff, and other Democratic members of Congress that serve in roles supporting the functions of the committee. The Chairperson of the DCCC is the fourth ranking position among House Democrats, after the Minority Leader, the Minority Whip and the Democratic Caucus Chairperson.

Of the four congressional campaign committees, the DCCC, with a staff of 25, has the largest in-house research department. In a February 2012 profile of the department, Roll Call wrote that “The DCCC’s team of mostly 20-somethings researches opposition targets for eight weeks at a time, scouring news clips and YouTube videos and traveling across the country to comb through public records, all in hopes of finding a good hit. Discoveries go into hundred-page research books on their targets that are used as bait to recruit candidates, leaked to reporters or cited in campaign advertisements and mail pieces.”

The position of DCCC committee chair was assumed by Rahm Emanuel after the death of the previous chair, Bob Matsui at the end of the 2004 election cycle. Emanuel led the Democratic Party’s effort to capture the majority in the House of Representatives in the 2006 elections. After Emanuel’s election as chairman of the Democratic Caucus, Chris Van Hollen became committee chair for the 110th Congress, and thus for the 2008 elections. He continued through the 2010 elections. For the 2012 election cycle, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appointed congressman Steve Israel to serve as the committee’s chair.

Republican Party

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Pete Sessions: Congressman Pete Sessions, chairman of the NRCC.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is the Republican Hill committee which works to elect Republicans to the United States House of Representatives. The NRCC was formed in 1866, when the Republican caucuses of the House and Senate formed a “Congressional Committee”. It supports the election of Republicans to the House through direct financial contributions to candidates and Republican Party organizations; technical and research assistance to Republican candidates and Party organizations; voter registration, education and turnout programs; and other Party-building activities. It is a registered 527 group, and its current slogan is “Building a Lasting Majority.”

The NRCC is governed by its chairman, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (TX-32), and an executive committee composed of Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Chairman is elected by the House Republican Conference after each Congressional election. Republican Leader John Boehner and the seven other elected leaders of the Republican Conference of the House of Representatives serve as ex-officio members of the NRCC’s executive committee.

The Party in Government

A majority government is a government formed by a governing party that has an absolute majority of seats in the legislature or parliament.

Learning Objectives

Discuss how a divided government affects legislation and national policy

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In the United States, divided government describes a situation in which one party controls the White House and another party controls one or both houses of the United States Congress.
  • Divided government is suggested by some to be an undesirable product of the separation of powers in the United States’ political system.
  • In the United States, the constitution is designed to create conflict between the executive and legislative branches of government.
  • Despite the perceived problems of divided government, the President and Congress are often able, out of necessity, to establish an effective working relationship.

Key Terms

  • majority government: A majority government is a government formed by a governing party that has an absolute majority of seats in the legislature or parliament in a parliamentary system. This is as opposed to a minority government, where even the largest party wins only a plurality of seats and thus must constantly bargain for support from other parties in order to pass legislation and avoid being defeated on motions of no confidence.
  • divided government: A situation in which one political party controls the White House while another party controls the majority of the Congress
  • majority party: the party in a two-party political system that typically holds more than 50% of the seats in the legislature

Introduction

A majority government is a government formed by a governing party that has an absolute majority of seats in the legislature or parliament in a parliamentary system. This is as opposed to a minority government, where even the largest party wins only a plurality of seats and thus must constantly bargain for support from other parties in order to pass legislation and avoid being defeated on motions of no confidence. The term “majority government” may also be used for a stable coalition of two or more parties to form an absolute majority. One example of such an electoral coalition is in Australia, where the Liberal and National parties have run as an electoral bloc for decades.

Another example is the current coalition government in the United Kingdom, which is composed of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties. The conservatives won the most seats of any single party in the 2010 election, but fell short of an absolute majority. However, by combining with the Liberal Democrats a solid majority in the House of Commons was created. This is the first true coalition government in the UK since World War II.

Divided Government

In the United States, divided government describes a situation in which one party controls the White House and another party controls one or both houses of the United States Congress. Divided government is suggested by some to be an undesirable product of the separation of powers in the United States’ political system. Earlier in the 20th century, divided government was rare, but since the 1970s it has become increasingly common. Mainly in part due to the Watergate scandal which has popularized the idea that a divided government is a beneficial for the country.

Some conservative and libertarian groups see divided government as beneficial, since it may encourage more policing of those in power by the opposition, as well as limiting spending and the expansion of undesirable laws. In Parliamentary systems such as the United Kingdom, the executive relies on Parliamentary support for its existence. In the United States, however, the constitution is designed to create conflict between the executive and legislative branches of government. Despite the perceived problems of divided government, the President and Congress are often able, out of necessity, to establish an effective working relationship.

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Divided Government in the United States: Graphical depiction of the party division of U.S. Congress, 1933-2009.