Elections and Campaigns
Derrick J. Johnson, MPA, JD
Advanced Placement United States Government
& Politics,
School for Advanced Studies
Functions of Political Parties
In most democracies political parties are important institutions
that link citizens to their government. The founders of the
Constitution, witnessing the effect of parties on British politics,
hoped to avoid the “mischief” of political factions when they
envisioned creating our government.
James Madison reflected this sentiment in Federalist Paper #10
when he called political factions as “necessary evils” to be
controlled by the separation of powers.
Functions of Political Parties
Ironically, almost as soon as the new government was created,
American political parties began to emerge.
Political Parties serve several functions:
 Connect citizens to their government
 Run candidates for political office
 Inform the public about policies
 Organizing the government
One-Party System
There are three types of party systems: one party, two-party and
A one-party system exists when only one party dominates or has
a chance of winning elections.
Generally membership is not voluntary and those who are party
members represent a small portion of the population.
Party leaders must approve candidates for political office and the
voters don’t have a real choice.
Two-Party System
A two-party system exists when there may be several minor
parties, but only two have a real chance of winning elections and
dominating in power.
With the exception of the Era of Good Feeling in the early 19th
Century, there has always been two parties competing against
each other in the United States.
There are four important reasons for the American two-party
Consensus of values
Both major parties believe in individualism, equality, and
 In other countries, their party systems may give rise to a
variety of beliefs and values.
Historical influence
The nation began with two-political factions, the
Federalists and Anti-Federalists. This has led to a
tradition of two major parties.
The winner-take-all system
The winner in American elections is the one who receives
the largest number of votes in each district. The winner
does not need 50% to win, but only more votes than his
closest competitor.
This system contrasts proportional representation where
the percentage of votes for a party’s candidate is directly
applied as the percentage of representatives in the
Election Laws
State and local laws favor placing major party candidates
on the ballot. This strengthens the two major party and
gives third parties little to no chance of getting candidates
into office.
Organization of the Two-Party System
Parties have strong “grass roots,” or state and/or local control
over important decisions. To be sure, each national committee
organizes a convention every four years to nominate a president.
Each party has a chairperson who serves as spokesperson, and it
least nominally coordinates the election campaign for president.
Local party organizations provide the foot soldiers that hand out
party literature, call citizens to register and turnout on election
Multi-Party System
Exists when there are several major parties and a number of minor
parties compete in elections, and any of the parties stands a good
chance of winning.
This type of system can be composed of from 4 to 20 different
parties, based on ideology, region, or class position, and is often
found in European nations.
This system is usually the result of a proportional representation
voting, rather than single member districts.
The idea behind a multi-party system is to give voters meaningful
choices. However, multi-party systems can also promote instability.
For example, if no party has a clear majority, a coalition
government must be formed.
Historical Development of the
American Two-Party System
Historically, the two-party system has been characterized by long
periods of dominance by one party followed by long period of
dominance by the other.
The eras begin and end with shifts in the voting population
called realignments that occur because issues change, and new
schisms form between groups.
The Early Years (1789-1824)
The first two political parties to emerge during Washington’s
term of office were the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.
The major issue in the beginning was the ratification of the
Constitution, with the Federalists supporting it and the AntiFederalists wanting guarantees of individual freedoms and rights
not included in the original document. The issue was resolved
with the addition of the Bill of Rights, but the parties did not
disappear with the issue.
The Federalists were led by Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of
Treasury, and they came to represent urban, business-oriented
men who favored elitism and a strong central government.
The Anti-Federalists evolved into the Democratic Republicans,
led by Thomas Jefferson. They favored strong state
governments, rural interests, and a weaker central government.
They opposed the bank as an enemy of sate governmental
control and rural interests.
Hamilton died in a duel with Aaron Burr and with his death, the
Federalist lacked a popular leader to carry the party banner at the
turn of the 19th Century. As a result, Jefferson became the
dominant American leader in the 1800s.
As president, Jefferson became more accepting of a strong
central government, and the two parties point of view seemed to
merge most notably in the “Era of good Feeling” presided over
by James Monroe (one of Jefferson’s protégés).
The Democratic-Republicans dominated American elections
from 1800 to 1824, when the party split into factions. One of
those factions would become the Democratic Party.
The First Democratic Era (1824-1861)
The two party system reemerged with the appearance of Andrew
Jackson, who represented to many the expanding country, in
which newer states found much in common with the rural
southern states but little with the established northeast.
Jackson’s election in 1828 was accomplished with a coalition
between South and West, forming the Democratic Party.
With the Jacksonian Era’s universal manhood suffrage, virtually
all men could vote, so rural, anti-bank, small farmers from the
South and West formed the backbone of the Democratic Party.
During this era, the Democrats established the tradition of
holding a national convention to nominate a presidential
A new party emerged, the Whigs, who represented many
interests of the old Federalist Party.
The Whigs were left with not only old Federalist Party interests,
but other groups, such as wealthy rural southerners, who had
little in common with other Whigs.
The party was not ideologically coherent, but found some
success in nominating and electing war heroes like William
Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor.
As economic tensions between North and South developed in
the 1840s and 1850s which caused a schism in the Whig Party.
As a result of this schism, the Republican Party was born.
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, was
elected, due largely to the fact that the Democratic Party was
divided between northern and southern factions. Voter
realignment centered on regional differences and the issue of
expansion of slavery.
The advent of the American Civil War led to the end of the first
Democratic Era.
The Republican Era (1861-1933)
With the exception of Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson,
all presidents from Abraham Lincoln (1861-1895) through
Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) were Republicans.
During most of that time, Republicans dominated the legislature
as well.
By 1876 all of the southern states had been restored to the
Union, but their power, as well as that of the Democratic Party,
was much diminished.
Republicans came to champion the new era of Industrial
Revolution, a time when prominent businessmen, such as John
Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, dominated politics as well as
The Republican Party came to represent laissez-faire, a policy
that advocated free market and few government regulations on
The Second Democratic Era (1933-1969)
The prosperous, business-orientated era survived several earlier
recessions but the Great Depression gripped the country after
the stock market crash of 1929.
The economic down turn caused major realignments of voters
that swung the balance of power to the Democrats.
The Republican president, Herbert Hoover, was rejected in the
election of 1932 in favor of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Roosevelt’s victory was accomplished through forging the
“Roosevelt Coalition” of voters, a combination of many
different groups (eastern workers, southern and western farmers,
African Americans, and liberals) that wished to see Hoover
A shift in ideology occurred. Former states rights Democrats
gave way to advocating a strong central government that
promoted the interests of ordinary people.
The Democrats dominated the executive and the legislative
branches during this era. FDR was elected to an unprecedented
four terms and was followed by another Democrat, Harry S.
Despite the fact that Eisenhower was elected in 1952 and reelected in 1956, the Congress remained in the hands of the
Democrats. The Democrats regained their control over the
White House in 1960 with the election of President John F.
Kennedy and it continued to maintain control throughout the
Lyndon B. Johnson presidency.
The advent of the presidency of Richard M. Nixon would mark
the end of the Second Democratic Era.
The Era of Divided Government
Richard Nixon’s election in 1968 did not usher in a new Republican
era of government dominance. Instead, a new balance of power
between Democrats and Republicans emerged.
With few exceptions, control of the legislative branch and the
presidency has been divided between the two major parties.
When one holds the presidency, the other holds at least one house
of Congress. This often results in “gridlock,” or the tendency to
paralyze decision making, with one branch advocating one policy
and the other another, contradictory policy.
From 1969 to 1993, the Republicans held the Presidency (with
exception of President Jimmy Carter’s term – 1977 to 1981). At
the same time, the Democrats controlled one or both houses of
Reasons for the Republican hold on the presidency may be
attributed to the fact that Republicans began to pay more
attention to electronic media and they utilized political
consultants. Whereas, Democrats began to focus more on
grassroots. The Democrats were suffering from the break-up of
the Roosevelt Coalition and the perception of disunity that
plagued them since the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Minor Parties
Whereas two parties have always dominated the American system,
minor or third parties have also played a role. Minor Parties are
divided into two categories:
 Those dominated by an individual personality.
 Usually disappears when the charismatic personality does.
 EX: Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party (Progressive
Party) and George Wallace’s American Independent Party
 Those organized around a long-lasting goal or ideology.
 EX: The Abolitionists, the Prohibitionists, and the Socialists.
Probably the most influential third party in the American history
was the Populist Party. The Populists’ best known leader was
William Jennings Bryan, who was enticed to accept the
Democratic nomination in 1896.
The fate of the Populist Party was the same as for most other
third parties: their goals were adopted by a major party, deferring
to the “winner-take-all,” or pluralist system, that supports a two
party system.
In 1992, H. Ross Perot, a wealthy Texas businessman, tried
to defy the two party system by running for president as an
independent. He hired professional campaign and media
advisers, created a high profile on national television
interviews, bought a massive number of television ads, and
built a nationwide network of paid and volunteer campaign
In the end, Perot gained “19%” of the vote but did not
capture a single electoral vote. Perot ran again in 1996, but
he was less successful.
In 2000, Ralph Nader ran for the Green Party, but he won
only about 3% of the vote. He ran again in 2004 as an
independent and the Green Party fielded their own
candidate for office, but neither managed to make an
Party Powers: Dealignment
In the modern era voter alignments do not appear to be as clear
cut as they once were, partly because of the phenomenon of
Over the past fifty years party identification has been weakening
among American voters, with more preferring to call themselves
Not only have ties to the major parties weakened in recent years,
but voters are less willing to vote in straight tickets (support all
candidates of the same party for all positions).
In the early 1950s, we saw the emergence of ticket splitting,
or voting for candidates from both parties for different
In the 1950s, ticket splitters made up 12% of the
electorate. In recent years, they have grown between 20%
to 40% of the electorate.
If this trend holds true, then it may indicate that the parties
are becoming a weaker force in the political system.

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