Political Parties

Political Parties

A political party seeks to influence government policy by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in office.

Learning Objectives

Identify the functions and different structures of political parties in an electoral democracy

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • There are three general, main types of party systems, single or dominant party systems, two-party systems, or multi-party systems.
  • Single party systems tend to be indicative of authoritarian regimes since the dominance of a single party means the repression of all other political opposition.
  • The type of electoral system is a major factor in determining the type of party political system. In countries with a simple plurality voting system, parties elected tend to be few, sometimes only two in a single jurisdiction.

Key Terms

  • Nonpartisan: In a nonpartisan system, no official political parties exist, sometimes reflecting legal restrictions on political parties. In nonpartisan elections, each candidate is eligible for office on his or her own merits.
  • Single Dominant Party: In single dominant, or single-party systems, one political party is legally allowed to hold effective power. Although minor parties may sometimes be allowed, they are legally required to accept the leadership of the dominant party.
  • political party: A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision, bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests.

Political Parties

A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests.

Parliamentary Party Structure

When the party is represented by members in the lower house of parliament, the party leader simultaneously serves as the leader of the parliamentary group of that full party representation. Depending on a minimum number of seats held, Westminster-based parties allow for leaders to form frontbench teams of senior fellow members of the parliamentary group who serve as critics of aspects of government policy. When a party becomes the largest party not to be represented in a Westminster-style parliament, the party’s parliamentary group forms the Official Opposition. The Official Opposition frontbench team members often form the Official Opposition Shadow cabinet. When a party achieves enough seats in an election to form a majority, the party’s frontbench becomes the Cabinet of government ministers.

Regulation of Party Formation

The freedom to form a political party is considered a measurement of a state ‘s adherence to liberal democracy as a political value. Regulation of political parties may manifest as a crackdown on or repression of all opposition parties or certain parties who promote ideals that run counter to the general ideology of the state’s incumbents or possess membership by-laws which are legally unenforceable.

Voting Systems

The type of electoral system is a major factor in determining the type of political party system. In countries with a simple plurality voting system, there tends to be few parties elected (often only two in any given jurisdiction). In countries that have a proportional representation voting system, as exists throughout Europe, or to a greater extent ranked voting systems, such as in Australia or Ireland, three or more parties are often elected to parliament in significant proportions, and thus may have more access to public office.

Partisan and Nonpartisan Style Political Parties

Partisan style political parties varies according to each jurisdiction, depending on how many parties there are, and how much influence each individual party has.

In a nonpartisan system, no official political parties exist, sometimes reflecting legal restrictions on political parties. In nonpartisan elections, each candidate is eligible for office on his or her own merits. Unless there are legal prohibitions against political parties, factions within nonpartisan systems often evolve into political parties.

A Single Dominant Party

In single-party systems, one political party is legally allowed to hold effective power. Although minor parties may sometimes be allowed, they are legally required to accept the leadership of the dominant party. This party may not always be identical to the government, although sometimes positions within the party may in fact be more important than positions within the government. North Korea and China are examples. Other examples can be found in Fascist states, such as Nazi Germany between 1934 and 1945. The single-party system is thus usually equated with dictatorships and tyranny.

In dominant-party systems, opposition parties are allowed, and there may be even a deeply established democratic tradition, but other parties are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power. Political, social, and economic circumstances, and public opinion can be reasons for others parties’ failure. Typically in countries with less of an established democratic tradition, it is possible the dominant party will remain in power by using patronage and sometimes through voting fraud.

Two-Party Systems

Two-party systems are states in which there are two political parties dominant to such an extent that electoral success under the banner of any other party is almost impossible. One right wing coalition party and one left wing coalition party is the most common ideological breakdown in such a system, but in two-party states political parties are traditionally parties that are ideologically broad and inclusive.

The British Parliament and U.S. Congress are examples of two-party systems.

Multiple Political Parties

Multi-party systems are systems in which more than two parties are represented and elected to public office.

Australia, Canada, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Ireland, United Kingdom, and Norway are examples of countries with two strong parties and additional smaller parties that have also obtained representation. The smaller or “third” parties may hold the balance of power in a parliamentary system, and thus may be invited to form a part of a coalition government together with one of the larger parties; or may instead act independently from the dominant parties.

More commonly, in cases where there are three or more parties, no one party is likely to gain power alone, and parties work with each other to form coalition governments. Political change is often easier with a coalition government than in one-party or two-party dominant systems.

image

Joint Session of a Two-Party Congress: The United States Congress is an example of a two-party system of governance. In this picture, Obama’s Health Care Speech is being given to both the House and the Senate.

Interest Groups

Interest groups are any voluntary associations that seek to publicly promote and create advantages for their cause.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast the different types of interest groups

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Interest groups, also known as advocacy groups or lobbying groups, work to gain support both governmental and popular, for their causes or communities. Lobbying groups tend to focus on influencing governmental legislation directly through appeals to members of government.
  • The lobbying done by interest groups or advocacy groups may be on behalf of private interests, i.e. commercial business etc, or may be on behalf of public interests such as the civil rights or environmental regulation.
  • Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying.

Key Terms

  • interest group: An interest group is any voluntary association that seeks to publicly promote and create advantages for its cause.
  • Special Interest Group: A Special Interest Group (SIG) is a community with an interest in advancing a specific area of knowledge, learning, or technology where members cooperate to affect or to produce solutions within their particular field and may communicate, meet, and organize conferences. At times, they may also advocate or lobby on a particular issue or on a range of issues.
  • lobbying: Lobbying (also to lobby) is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the government. Lobbying is done by many different types of people and organized groups including individuals in the private sector, corporations, fellow legislators or government officials, and advocacy groups (interest groups).

Interest Group

The term interest group refers to nearly any voluntary association that seeks to publicly promote and create advantages for its cause. These diverse organizations include corporations, charitable organizations, civil rights groups, neighborhood associations, professional associations, and trade associations.

Special Interest Group

A Special Interest Group (SIG) is a community with an interest in advancing a specific area of knowledge, learning, or technology where members cooperate to affect or to produce solutions within their particular field. SIG members may communicate, meet, and organize conferences. At times they may also advocate or lobby on a particular issue or on a range of issues. However, they are generally distinct from advocacy groups and pressure groups which are normally set up for the specific political aim. The distinction is not firm though and some organizations evolve and change their focus over time.

Lobbying

Lobbying (also lobby) is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the government. Lobbying is done by many different types of people and organized groups, including individuals in the private sector, corporations, fellow legislators or government officials, or advocacy groups (interest groups). Professional lobbyists are people whose business is trying to influence legislation on behalf of a group or individual who hires them. Individuals and nonprofit organizations can also lobby as an act of volunteering or as a small part of their normal job. Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying that has become influential.

image

The Lobby of the House of Commons: The Lobby of the House of Commons, painted in 1886 by Liborio Prosperi.

The ethics and morality of lobbying are dual-edged. Lobbying is often spoken of with contempt when the implication is that people with inordinate socioeconomic power are corrupting the law in order to serve their own interest. However, another side of lobbying is making sure that others’ interests are duly defended against corruption. Lobbying can also make sure that minority interests are fairly defended against mere tyranny of the majority. Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying.

Lobby groups may concentrate their efforts on the legislatures, where laws are created, but may also use the judicial branch to advance their causes. For example, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed suits in state and federal courts in the 1950’s to challenge segregation laws. Their efforts resulted in the Supreme Court declaring such laws to be unconstitutional.

Advocacy Group

Advocacy groups use various forms of advocacy in order to influence public opinion and/or policy. They have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems.

Some advocacy groups have developed into important social, political institutions or social movements. Some powerful lobby groups have been accused of manipulating the democratic system for narrow commercial gain. In some instances, they have been found guilty of corruption, fraud, bribery, and other serious crimes. As a result, lobbying has become increasingly regulated. Some groups, generally ones with less financial resources, may use direct action and civil disobedience. At times, they are accused of being a threat to the social order or ‘domestic extremists. ‘

An advocacy group is a group or an organization that tries to influence the government, but does not hold power in the government. Smaller groups representing broad interests of a group may be formed with the purpose of benefiting the group over an extended period of time and in many ways. Examples are consumer organizations, professional associations, trade associations, and trade unions.

Advocacy groups exist in a wide variety of genres based upon their most pronounced activities.

Anti-defamation organizations issue responses or criticisms to real or supposed slights of any sort by an individual or group against a specific segment of the population which the organization exists to represent.

Watchdog groups provide oversight and rating of actions or media by various outlets, both government and corporate.

Lobby groups work to enact a change to the law or the maintenance of a particular law. Some lobby groups have considerable financial resources at their disposal. Lobbying is regulated to stop the worst abuses which can develop into corruption.

Legal defense funds provide funding for the legal defense for, or legal action against, individuals or groups related to their specific interests or target demographic.

Types

Organizations can be categorized along the lines of the three elements of commerce: business owners, workers, and consumers.

Employers’ organizations represent the interests of a group of businesses in the same industry.

Occupational or labor organizations promote the professional and economic interests of workers in a particular occupation, industry, or trade, through interaction with the government and by preparing advertising and other promotional campaigns to the public. Such groups will also provide member services such as career support, training, and organized social activities.

Consumer organizations exist to protect people from corporate abuse, promote fair business practices, and enforce consumer rights.

Party Identification

Party identification is usually determined by which political party the individual most commonly supports, through voting or other means.

Learning Objectives

Discuss how voters form their party identification

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Citizens who identify with a party are the Party in the Electorate. A partisan registers as a member of their party to vote, strongly tend to vote for their party’s candidates, support their party’s policies, work for the party’s campaigns, & have a higher voter turnout in primary elections.
  • Some believe that voter identification is developed during childhood due to personal, family, social and environmental factors. In this case, party identification would be stable and nearly unchangeable.
  • However, party identification changes can occur in times of party coalition change, or realignment. During these times, party coalitions themselves are being transformed. As a result, people are more likely to desert the party of their parents.

Key Terms

  • Party identifiers: Party identifiers (partisans) could be described by their support in the following ways: they register as a member of the particular party, they show a strong tendency to vote for candidates in their preferred party, when surveyed, they identify themselves as members of that particular party, they are inclined to support policies endorsed by the particular party, they volunteer for campaigns to support party candidates more than the general population, and they have a higher voter turnout in primary elections than the general population.
  • party identification: Party identification refers to the political party with which an individual identifies. Party identification is usually determined by which political party the individual most commonly supports, through voting or other means.
  • Likert Scale: The Likert Scale is a 7 point scale to measure party identification that goes from Strong Democrat to Strong Republican.

Party Identification

Party identification refers to the political party with which an individual identifies. Party identification is typically determined by the political party that an individual most commonly supports, by voting or other means. shows the shift of party identification between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

image

Voting Shifts by County Between the 2004 and 2008 Presidential Election: Voter identification is shown no where more clearly perhaps than during presidential elections. This map shows shifts in broad county party identification between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

In the United States, political parties consist of three parts: the party as government (members of the party who hold public office), the party as organization (committees, leaders and activists who work to promote the party and the candidates), and the party as electorate (citizens who support the party through party identification).

Citizens in the general population who identify with a particular party make up the Party in the Electorate. Party identifiers (partisans) could be described by their support in the following ways:

  • They register as a member of the particular party when registered to vote.
  • They show a strong tendency to vote for candidates in their preferred party in most elections.
  • When surveyed, they identify themselves as members of that particular party.
  • They are inclined to support policies endorsed by the particular party.
  • They volunteer for campaigns to support party candidates more than the general population.
  • They have a higher voter turnout in primary elections than the general population.

Some researchers view party identification as a form of social identity, in the same way that a person identifies with a religious or ethnic group. This identity develops early in a person’s life mainly through family and social influences. This description would make party identification a stable perspective, which develops as a consequence of personal, family, social and environmental factors. Other researchers consider party identification to be more flexible and more of a conscious choice. They see it as a position and a choice based on the continued assessment of the political, economic and social environment. Party identification can increase or even shift by motivating events or conditions in the country.

Characterization

Childhood influence

Childhood Influence is one of main driving factors behind formation of party identification. During childhood, the main political influence comes from parents, other close family members and close surroundings such as the immediate community. Children remember events that happened during their childhood and associate them with the political party, whether or not they were connected with those events. For example, a child growing up in the 1970s would associate the Republican party with the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration, a child growing up in the 1990s would associate the Democratic party with the sex scandal of the Clinton administration, or a child growing up in early 2000 would associate the Republican party with the Iraq War and the War on Terror. Although these parties might or might not embrace the issues that happened during that administration, a child could forever associate the party with those memorable events.

Adulthood

During adulthood, people can begin to adjust their party loyalties according to their personal experiences. The longer an individual holds a party ID, the stronger that attachment to the party tends to become. Because of this, older adults are more likely to hold strong party attachments, and less likely to change them than young adults.

Change

Party ID changes can occur in times of party coalition change, or realignment. During these times, party coalitions themselves are being transformed, and as a result, people are more likely to desert the party of their parents. It is during these times of partisan turmoil when younger adults are more likely to change party ID.

Measuring Party Identification

It is important to measure party identification in order to determine its strengths and weaknesses. Political scientists have developed many ways to measure party identification in order to examine and evaluate it.

One method of measuring party identification uses the Likert Scale. The Likert Scale is a 7 point scale to measure party identification:

Strong Democrat-Weak Democrat-Lean Democrat-Independent-Lean Republican-Weak Republican-Strong Republican

This scale does have some problematic aspects. According to the scale, a weak party supporter should normally vote with the party, but many times this is not the case. A “leaning” party supporter shows more loyalty to the party than that of a weak party supporter. Weak party supporters are more likely to stray from their party than someone who does not really declare a party identification and only tends to lean to one or the other based on the issues at hand.

Voting

Those people who identify with a party tend to vote for their party’s candidate for various offices in high percentages. Those who consider themselves to be strong partisans, tend to be the most faithful in voting for their party’s nominee for office. In the case of voting for president, since the 1970s, party identification on voting behavior has been increasing significantly. By the late 1990s, party identification on voting behavior was at the highest level of any election since the 1950s. When voting in congressional elections, the trend is similar. Strong party identifiers voted overwhelmingly for their party’s nominee in the general election.

The same level of voting behavior can also be applied to state and local levels. While straight ticket voting has declined among the general voting population, it is still prevalent in those who are strong Republicans and strong Democrats.