HY 357 Lecture Notes - Lecture 32: Solid South, Fair Deal, Grover Cleveland

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The Development of Political Parties
The United States has a two-party system. The existence of only two dominant parties stems
largely from election rules that provide for single-member districts and winner-take-all
elections. Each "district" can have only one winner in any election, the person who receives the
most votes. So no matter how popular a third party, it will not win a single seat in any legislature
until it becomes powerful enough in a single district to take an election. By contrast, many
democracies have proportional representation, in which officials are elected based on the
percentage of votes their parties receive, and more than two dominant parties. If a party wins 10
percent of the vote in an election where 100 seats are at stake, it gets to have 10 of the seats. In a
multiparty system, parties may form a coalition, an alliance between parties, to pool their votes
if there is agreement on a major issue. Proportional representation encourages the formation of
parties that are based on narrowly defined interests.
The Electoral College is also a factor in sustaining the two-party system. Even if the
popular vote in a state is very close, the winner gets all of the state's electoral votes.
This arrangement makes it extremely difficult for a third party to win. In the 1992
presidential election, Ross Perot captured almost 20 percent of the popular vote across
the country but did not receive a single electoral vote.
The Federalists and the Democratic Republicans
Although the Constitution does not provide for political parties, two factions quickly
emerged. One group, led by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, favored business
development, a strong national government, and a loose interpretation of the
Constitution. The followers of Thomas Jefferson, known as Democratic Republicans,
called for a society based on small farms, a relatively weak central government, and a
strict interpretation of the Constitution.
The election of 1800 had constitutional implications. The Democratic Republicans chose
Jefferson for president and Aaron Burr for vice president. The party's electors split their
ballots for both men, resulting in a tie that was resolved in the House of
Representatives. The Twelfth Amendment (1804), which required electors to vote
separately for president and vice president, recognized that political parties would
nominate one candidate for each office.
Jacksonian Democrats and the Whigs
During the 1820s, with the country expanding and many states dropping their property
qualifications for voting, the size of the electorate grew. Andrew Jackson took
advantage of this change, and from his election in 1828, the Democrats represented an
alliance of small farmers, Westerners, and "mechanics," the term used for the working
class. The Whig Party(1834) supported business, a national bank, and a strong central
government. When the Whigs broke up in the 1850s, they were replaced by the
Republican Party.
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Document Summary

The existence of only two dominant parties stems largely from election rules that provide for single-member districts and winner-take-all elections. Each district can have only one winner in any election, the person who receives the most votes. So no matter how popular a third party, it will not win a single seat in any legislature until it becomes powerful enough in a single district to take an election. By contrast, many democracies have proportional representation, in which officials are elected based on the percentage of votes their parties receive, and more than two dominant parties. If a party wins 10 percent of the vote in an election where 100 seats are at stake, it gets to have 10 of the seats. In a multiparty system, parties may form a coalition, an alliance between parties, to pool their votes if there is agreement on a major issue. Proportional representation encourages the formation of parties that are based on narrowly defined interests.

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