A History of Political Parties in the United States



A History of Political Parties in the United States


In light of the political unrest that has surfaced during the 2016 Presidential Election and in the 2 years after I thought it pertinent to examine U. S. political parties and their history. Not trusting Wikipedia as a truly reliable source the next best would be the Encyclopaedia Britannica online at Britannica.com as a sort of an unbiased third party reference.




The United States has two major national political parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Although the parties contest presidential elections every four years and have national party organizations, between elections they are often little more than loose alliances of state and local party organizations. Other parties have occasionally challenged the Democrats and Republicans.


Since the Republican Party’s rise to major party status in the 1850s, however, minor parties have had only limited electoral success, generally restricted either to influencing the platforms of the major parties or to siphoning off enough votes from a major party to deprive that party of victory in a presidential election.


In the 1912 election, for example, former Republican president Theodore Roosevelt challenged Republican President William Howard Taft, splitting the votes of Republicans and allowing Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the presidency with only 42 percent of the vote, and the 2.7 percent of the vote won by Green Party nominee Ralph Nader in 2000 may have tipped the presidency toward Republican George W. Bush by attracting votes that otherwise would have been cast for Democrat Al Gore.


There are several reasons for the failure of minor parties and the resilience of America’s two-party system. In order to win a national election, a party must appeal to a broad base of voters and a wide spectrum of interests. The two major parties have tended to adopt centrist political programs, and sometimes there are only minor differences between them on major issues, especially those related to foreign affairs. Each party has both conservative and liberal wings, and on some issues (e.g., affirmative action) conservative Democrats have more in common with conservative Republicans than with liberal Democrats.


The country’s “winner-take-all” plurality system, in contrast to the proportional representation used in many other countries (whereby a party, for example, that won 5 percent of the vote would be entitled to roughly 5 percent of the seats in the legislature), has penalized minor parties by requiring them to win a plurality of the vote in individual districts in order to gain representation.


The Democratic and Republican Party candidates are automatically placed on the general election ballot, while minor parties often have to expend considerable resources collecting enough signatures from registered voters to secure a position on the ballot.


Finally, the cost of campaigns, particularly presidential campaigns, often discourages minor parties. Since the 1970s, presidential campaigns (primaries and caucuses, national conventions, and general elections) have been publicly funded through a tax checkoff system, whereby taxpayers can designate whether a portion of their federal taxes (in the early 21st century, $3 for an individual and $6 for a married couple) should be allocated to the presidential campaign fund.


Whereas the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates receive full federal financing (nearly $75 million in 2004) for the general election, a minor party is eligible for a portion of the federal funds only if its candidate surpassed 5 percent in the prior presidential election (all parties with at least 25 percent of the national vote in the prior presidential election are entitled to equal funds). A new party contesting the presidential election is entitled to federal funds after the election if it received at least 5 percent of the national vote.


Both the Democratic and Republican parties have undergone significant ideological transformations throughout their histories.


The modern Democratic Party traditionally supports organized labour, minorities, and progressive reforms. Nationally, it generally espouses a liberal political philosophy, supporting greater governmental intervention in the economy and less governmental regulation of the private lives of citizens. It also generally supports higher taxes (particularly on the wealthy) to finance social welfare benefits that provide assistance to the elderly, the poor, the unemployed, and children.


By contrast, the national Republican Party supports limited government regulation of the economy, lower taxes, and more conservative (traditional) social policies.


In 2009 the Tea Party movement, a conservative populist social and political movement, emerged and attracted mostly disaffected Republicans.


At the state level, political parties reflect the diversity of the population. Democrats in the Southern states are generally more conservative than Democrats in New England or the Pacific Coast states; likewise, Republicans in New England or the mid-Atlantic states also generally adopt more liberal positions than Republicans in the South or the mountain states of the West.


Large urban centres are more likely to support the Democratic Party, whereas rural areas, small cities, and suburban areas tend more often to vote Republican.


Some states have traditionally given majorities to one particular party. For example, because of the legacy of the Civil War and its aftermath, the Democratic Party dominated the 11 Southern states of the former Confederacy until the mid-20th century.


Since the 1960s, however, the South and the mountain states of the West have heavily favoured the Republican Party; in other areas, such as New England, the mid-Atlantic, and the Pacific Coast, support for the Democratic Party is strong. Compare, for example, the 1960 and 2000 presidential elections.


By the early 21st century, political pundits were routinely dividing the United States into red and blue states, whose assigned colours not only indicated which political party was locally dominant but also signified the supposed prevalence of a set of social and cultural values.


According to the received wisdom, the red states—generally located in the South, West, and Lower Midwest—were Republican, conservative, God-fearing, “pro-life” (on the issue of abortion), small-town and suburban, opposed to big government and same-sex marriage, and enamoured of NASCAR.


The blue states—found mostly on the coasts, in the Northeast, and in the Upper Midwest—were similarly reductively characterized as Democratic, liberal, secular, politically correct, “pro-choice” (on abortion), urban, and connoisseurs of wine, cheese, and latte.


Both the Democratic and Republican parties select their candidates for office through primary elections.


Traditionally, individuals worked their way up through the party organization, belonging to a neighbourhood party club, helping to raise funds, getting out the vote, watching the polls, and gradually rising to become a candidate for local, state, and—depending on chance, talent, political expediency, and a host of other factors—higher office. Because American elections are now more heavily candidate-centred rather than party-centred and are less susceptible to control by party bosses, wealthy candidates have often been able to circumvent the traditional party organization to win their party’s nomination.


James T. Harris

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica


The Britannica article ends with William Jefferson Clinton in the 1992 Presidential elections. So the hotly contested 2000 election of George W. Bush pivoted on the hanging chads of the Florida election machines, but settled by the Electoral College votes that gave him the presidency.


The following election was an entirely new style of candidate when Senator Barack H. Obama came from behind and received the Democratic National Committee nomination over Senator Hillary D. R. Clinton in the 2008 election. Obama became the first African-American to occupy the White House in our nation’s history and he went on to win a second term in 2010 against Senator John McCain.


That brings us to the 2016 elections when yet an unlikely candidate Donald J. Trump entered the race with no political experience and came from behind to eclipse more than 16 GOP candidates and beat Democratic candidate Hillary D. R. Clinton to occupy the White House.


What made the 2016 election unique in many ways was the amount of mostly negative publicity that was sure to sink his political ambitions. The fact that Trump won the election after spending a mere several hundred thousand dollars to run his campaign, compared to the several hundred million spent by Hillary Clinton on her failed attempt at the White House.


Recent political events lead one to believe that there may be major changes in the way politics continues in the United States. The Democratic Party leadership and the mishmash of various midterm 2018 campaigns have brought a broad spectrum of candidates espousing a variety of ideologies and really looney tune style rhetoric.


The traditional Republican Party may also experience a vast awakening as many have lost faith in the current political system. Under President Trump’s America First agenda I would not be surprised to see something along the lines of a new Make American Great Again Party that champions the rights of all American citizens as proclaimed in the Constitution. A party that values hard work, fair trade and a reinvigorated judicial system reform as well as immigration reform.


Much has changed in America in just the past 2 years and patriotism is on the rise, as is racial division when people lose sight of the flag that unites All Americans. – I am the Real Truckmaster!




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