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The Two-Party System in American Politics

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Presentation on theme: "The Two-Party System in American Politics"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Two-Party System in American Politics
Chapter 5, Section 2

2 What we covered last time…
5 Functions of political parties: Govern Nominate candidates “Inform and Activate” Create a “Bonding Agent” Act as the public’s “Watchdog”

3 Objectives for Today Why does the United States have a two- party system? The difference between one-party, two- party and multi-party systems. Party membership trends in the United States.

4 Why does the United States have a two-party system?
Forces throughout history Tradition in the United States The American Electoral System The “American Ideological Consensus”

5 Historical Forces in the Creation of the Two-Party System

6 How do you think the Founding Fathers felt about political parties?

7 Historical Forces Founding Fathers did not desire the existence of political parties… Viewed them as "factions" dangerous to public interest… If the political community broke into small groups committed to their own narrow interests, the search for the common good would be compromised! * They were convinced that political parties (or factions, as they called them) would only destroy representative government and that there should be no place for parties in American democracy. But we have since become dependent on political parties. For the past two centuries, they have played a critical role in both the political and governing processes… * The founders believed that parties (or factions) threatened this rational, collaborative process. If the political community broke into small groups committed to their own narrow interests, the search for the common good would be compromised. Politics would disintegrate into battles between conflicting visions, and elections would generate division rather than consensus…

8 Historical Forces republican ideology = subordination of narrow interests to the general welfare of the community… Politics was supposed to be rational and collaborative, NOT competitive! Can you even imagine this concept today? (HA!) * They believed that successful representative governments required the subordination of individual personal interests to the welfare of the community. They believed that the political process was all about identifying the common good. It was not about competition and disagreement; politics was a process in which rational voters and officials calmly sorted out what best served the entire community. The end result was not one camp of winners and another of losers, but the entire electorate united behind a common vision…

9 “Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party…” Excerpt from George Washington’s Farewell Address… September 19, 1796…  

10 Historical Forces Federalists (Hamilton) vs. Anti-Federalists (Jefferson) Alexander Hamilton: …associated with the aristocracy, industry over agriculture, Great Britain over France and stronger central government over stronger individual states. Thomas Jefferson: …weak central government, common man and the addition of the Bill of Rights.

11 Tradition and the Two-Party System

12 Tradition From the beginning, our country has had a two-party system…
So, we have always had this system… Has this system ever failed us? No, not really. Basically, America has a two-party system because we have ALWAYS had a two-party system!

13 The American Electoral System the Two-Party System

14 The American Electoral System
The prevalence of “Single-member districts”… One candidate is elected to office “Winner-take-all” elections Discourages third parties… Typically, people vote for incumbent, or next “most reliable alternative” – which is usually who? What mentality does this breed?

15 Is a vote for a third party a wasted vote?






21 The American Electoral System
American election law creates obstacles for third-parties… “Ballot access” laws - % of previous races Democratic and Republican state legislatures pass restrictive laws that make it difficult for third parties to get on the ballot in many states! “Write-in” vs. “Ballot access” * We no longer have vigorous and active third parties because Democratic and Republican state legislatures passed restrictive laws that make it exceedingly difficult for third parties to get on the ballot in many states. These laws usually require third parties to gather signatures for a petition to be on the state ballot, and they often place strict deadlines for gathering such signatures… It was not until the 1960s that compliance with ballot-access laws became extremely difficult… * In 1994, a new party that wants to field a candidate in every race for the U.S. House of Representatives and have the party name appear on the ballot next to the candidate's name would need to register 1,593,763 members or gather an equal number of signatures. Yet the Democratic and Republican parties need not collect any signatures to assure themselves of a place on the ballot, and the number of signatures needed for individual Democratic candidates to place themselves on primary ballots in all 435 contests is 138,996 (the number would be slightly different for Republicans). * Severity of these ballot-access laws does vary from state to state. In Florida, a party is defined as one that has persuaded 5% of the state's voters to register with the new party. This may seem like an easy task, but not since the early 1900s has a third party in any state ever managed to register 5% of the voters. Even when people vote for a third party, they don't want to register with it. The Conservative Party of New York elected a U.S. Senator, James Buckley, in 1970, but they only persuaded 1.5% of the voters to register as Conservatives. Similarly, the Connecticut Party won the office of Governor in 1990, but registered only 0.1% of the voters. Florida does offer third parties an alternative: if the new party cannot register 5% of the voters, then it can get its statewide nominees on the ballot by submitting 196,000 valid signatures on a petition (a figure that is equal to 3% of all registered voters). Once again, this task is harder than it appears. With a single exception (in California in 1948), no third party has ever met a signature requirement greater than 110,000 signatures. In fact, Florida's laws are so stringent that no third party or independent candidate for Governor has been on its ballot since 1920. Admittedly, ballot-access laws are harsher for third-party congressional candidates than they are for third-party Presidential candidates. No third party has managed to run candidates for the U.S. House in over half of the nation's districts since By contrast, third-party Presidential candidates get on the ballots in all 50 states every so often, which probably misleads the public into thinking that there is no significant ballot-access problem for third parties.

22 Examples…

23 The American Ideological Consensus and the Two-Party System

24 The American Ideological Consensus
90% of Americans Although we have a pluralistic society, there is a broad consensus on fundamental issues in the country! Two major parties are very similar… “moderate”

25 In order to win elections, parties tend to take moderate stances on issues to appeal to the largest number of people!


27 Now, let’s look at the difference between our system and others…

28 One-party, two-party and multi-party systems
One-party system: typically produces an autocratic or dictatorial power… aka “Single-Party” state

29 North Korea… Kim Jung-Il and his Workers' Party of Korea

30 People’s Republic of China

31 Cuba – Communist Party of Cuba

32 United States… Single party State?
US… Single party State?

33 One-party, two-party and multi-party systems
Multi-party system: system in which multiple political parties have the capacity to gain control of government separately or in coalition… Coalition: alliance of parties who come together to control a government Most Western European Countries, Brazil, Canada, India, Israel, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Taiwan…

34 Switzerland


36 Now, let’s look at Party Membership Patterns in the United States…

37 Trends in Political Parties
Democrats Blacks, Hispanics Catholics Jews Union members Lower income Republicans (GOP) White males, Cubans Protestants Businessmen Higher income



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