November 25, 2013
What are political parties?
o As a general concept, the practice of the art or science of directing and
administering states or other political units.
o The activities associated with governing.
o A person or people forming one side in an agreement or dispute.
o A group of people taking part in a particular activity or trip, especially
one for which they have been chosen.
o An organization, with a public following, established to win elections,
generally by promoting a set of principles.
o Importantly, they organize American government around competing
o Composed of card-carrying members (e.g. the “passionates”). These
are the people that decide the primaries.
o Because they promote a set of ideas, they organize American
government around these (completing) ideas – this is what forms the
Why is it important to note that political parties organize American
government around ideas?
o Free market of ideas; generates better competition.
o Ideas are not always rational – especially in the heat of the moment.
o System of checks and balances.
Five major functions:
o Candidate selection
Decide who will represent the party at every level except
for the local. Depending on who they choose, they will
ultimately either fail or succeed.
Who’s going to run.
o Champion ideas
Promote their brand – bumper stickers, social media, etc.
This brand is a cognitive shortcut.
Automatically associated with certain things – a quick
association is all the party wants/needs. Let’s try it out…
o Mobilization and behind the scene
Money, consultants, advertisements, “phone banks.”
Hire word consultants (e.g. using the word “folks”
resonates well among American people), where to stand,
how to cut their hair, where to put their hands, etc.
Conduct polls, set up phone banks (supporters who
volunteer to sit down and call).
o Ball rollers
Push the party’s “signature program.”
It’s doctrine – opinions on different issues in upcoming
election. As soon as the election’s over, they start to get
the ball rolling.
Internal Congressional work (e.g. schmoozing).
Elected officials trying to persuade others; coalitions.
Targeting “fresh meat” – especially immigrants and youth.
Integrate new groups
Introduce the political process
American’s Two Party System
Congress: 200 Democrats, 232 Republicans, 3 vacant seats.
Senate: 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans, 2 Independents.
Why the Two Party System?
Two different interpretations of the Constitution
(Hamilton and Jefferson) eventually led to the Two Party
Federalists (strong central government) v. Anti-Federalists
(keep the power in the states).
Winner-take-all; vicious cycle
Effectively keeps other parties out. Third party will not
get any representation – making it very difficult to even
enter the system.
What does this mean for third parties? They get absorbed
by one of the two parties (e.g. Tea Party by the
Republicans, Green Party by the Democrats). Nader and the Iraq War
For these reasons, there is a push for proportional
representation – giving a voice to smaller parties. The more
ideas that exist in the intellectual market place, the more
effective the system will be.
o State Laws
States can determine the time, place, and manner of elections.
Notarized signatures (you need a certain number of signatures