Political parties in the United States
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American electoral politics has been dominated by two major political parties since shortly after the founding of the republic. Since the 1850s, they have been the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Since the last major party realignment in the mid-20th century, the Democratic Party has been the center-left and liberal party, and the Republican Party has been the center-right and conservative party. Since the 1990s, both the Republican and Democratic parties have shifted further apart. This two-party system is based on laws, party rules and custom, not specifically outlined in the US Constitution. Several third parties also operate in the U.S., and from time to time elect someone to local office. The largest third party since the 1980s has been the Libertarian Party. Besides the Constitution, Green, and Libertarian parties, there are many other political parties that receive only minimal support and only appear on the ballot in one or a few states.
The need to win popular support in a republic led to the American invention of voter-based political parties in the 1790s. Americans were especially innovative in devising new campaign techniques that linked public opinion with public policy through the party. Political scientists and historians have divided the development of America's two-party system into five eras. The first two-party system consisted of the Federalist Party, which supported the ratification of the Constitution, and the Democratic-Republican Party or the Anti-Administration party (Anti-Federalists), which opposed the powerful central government that the Constitution established when it took effect in 1789. Party realignments have recurred periodically in response to social and cultural movements and economic development. The modern two-party system consists of the "Democratic" Party and the "Republican" Party. However these names, while they have been in existence since before the Civil War, have not always represented the same ideology or electorate. These two parties have won every United States presidential election since 1852 and have controlled the United States Congress since at least 1856.
Some political candidates, and many voters, choose not to identify with a particular political party. In some states, independents are not allowed to vote in primary elections, but in others, they can vote in any primary election of their choice. Although the term "independent" often is used as a synonym for "moderate," "centrist," or "swing voter," to refer to a politician or voter who holds views that incorporate facets of both liberal and conservative ideologies, most self-described independents consistently support one of the two major parties when it comes time to vote, according to Vox Media.
History and early political parties
The United States Constitution is silent on the subject of political parties. The Founding Fathers did not originally intend for American politics to be partisan. In Federalist Papers No. 9 and No. 10, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, respectively, wrote specifically about the dangers of domestic political factions. In addition, the first President of the United States, George Washington, was not a member of any political party at the time of his election or throughout his tenure as president. Furthermore, he hoped that political parties would not be formed, fearing conflict and stagnation, as outlined in his Farewell Address.
Nevertheless, the beginnings of the American two-party system emerged from his immediate circle of advisers. Hamilton and Madison, who wrote the aforementioned Federalist Papers against political factions, ended up being the core leaders in this emerging party system. It was the split camps of Federalists, given rise with Hamilton as a leader, and Democratic-Republicans, with Madison and Thomas Jefferson at the helm of this political faction, that created the environment in which partisanship, once distasteful, came to being.
The First Party System of the United States featured the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party (also called "Jeffersonian Republican"). The Federalist Party grew from the national network of Washington's Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who favoured a strong united central government, close ties to Britain, a centralized banking system, and close links between the government and men of wealth.
The Democratic-Republican Party was founded by Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who strongly opposed Hamilton's agenda. The Jeffersonians came to power in 1800 and the Federalists were too elitist to compete effectively. The Federalists survived in the Northeast, but their refusal to support the War of 1812 verged on secession and was a devastating blow when the war ended well. The Era of Good Feelings under President James Monroe (1816–1824) marked the end of the First Party System and a brief period in which partisanship was minimal.
Second Party System: 1828–1854
The Second Party System operated from the late 1820s to the mid-1850s following the splintering of the Democratic-Republican Party. Two major parties dominated the political landscape: the Whig Party, led by Henry Clay, that grew from the National Republican Party; and the Democratic Party, led by Andrew Jackson. The Democrats supported the primacy of the Presidency over the other branches of government, and opposed both the Bank of the United States as well as modernizing programs that they felt would build up industry at the expense of the farmers.
The Whigs, on the other hand, advocated the primacy of Congress over the executive branch as well as policies of modernization and economic protectionism. Central political battles of this era were the Bank War and the Spoils system of federal patronage. The early 1850s saw the collapse of the Whig party, largely as a result of decline in its leadership and a major intra-party split over slavery as a result of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. In addition, the fading of old economic issues removed many of the unifying forces holding the party together.
|Party System||Party A||Party B|
Third Party System: 1854–1890s
The Third Party System stretched from 1854 to the mid-1890s, and was characterized by the emergence of the anti-slavery Republican Party, which adopted many of the economic policies of the Whigs, such as national banks, railroads, high tariffs, homesteads and aid to land grant colleges. The Democratic Party was in large part the opposition party during this period, although it often controlled the Senate or the House of Representatives, or both.
Civil war and Reconstruction issues polarized the parties until the Compromise of 1877, which ended the latter. Thus both parties became broad-based voting coalitions and the race issue pulled newly enfranchised African Americans (Freedmen) into the Republican Party while white southerners (Redeemers) joined the Democratic Party. The Democratic coalition also had conservative pro-business Bourbon Democrats, traditional Democrats in the North (many of them former Copperheads), and Catholic immigrants, among others. The Republican coalition also consisted of businessmen, shop owners, skilled craftsmen, clerks, and professionals who were attracted to the party's modernization policies.
Fourth Party System: 1896–1932
The Fourth Party System, 1896 to 1932, consisted of the same interest groups as the Third Party System, but saw major shifts in the central issues of debate. This period also corresponded to the Progressive Era, and was dominated by the Republican Party. It began after the Republicans blamed the Democrats for the Panic of 1893, which later resulted in William McKinley's victory over William Jennings Bryan in the 1896 presidential election.
The central domestic issues changed to government regulation of railroads and large corporations ("trusts"), the protective tariff, the role of labor unions, child labor, the need for a new banking system, corruption in party politics, primary elections, direct election of senators, racial segregation, efficiency in government, women's suffrage, and control of immigration. Most voting blocs continued unchanged, but some realignment took place, giving Republicans dominance in the industrial Northeast and new strength in the border states. Historians have long debated why no Labor Party emerged in the United States, in contrast to Western Europe.
Fifth Party System 1933–1968
The Fifth Party System emerged with the New Deal coalition beginning in 1933. The Republicans began losing support after the Great Depression, giving rise to Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the activist New Deal. Democrats promoted American liberalism, anchored in a coalition of specific liberal groups, especially ethno-religious constituencies (Catholics, Jews, African Americans), white Southerners, well-organized labor unions, urban machines, progressive intellectuals, and populist farm groups.
Opposition Republicans were split between a conservative wing, led by Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, and a more successful moderate wing exemplified by the politics of Northeastern leaders such as Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, and Henry Cabot Lodge. The latter steadily lost influence inside the GOP after 1964.
Sixth Party System, 1968–present
New voter coalitions emerged gradually during the latter half of the 20th century starting with Nixon's racially-based "southern strategy" which he used successfully to attain the presidency in 1968. Conservatives and the Republican Party became dominant in the South, rural areas, and suburbs, while liberals and the Democratic Party built a coalition of African-Americans, Hispanics and white urban progressives in the northeast and coastal areas.
Minor parties and independents
Although American politics have been dominated by the two-party system, several other political parties have also emerged throughout the country's history. The oldest third party was the Anti-Masonic Party, which was formed in upstate New York in 1828. The party's creators feared the Freemasons, believing they were a powerful secret society that was attempting to rule the country in defiance of republican principles.
The Democratic Party is one of two major political parties in the U.S. Founded as the Democratic Party in 1828 by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, it is the oldest extant voter-based political party in the world.
The Democratic Party at its founding supported a different set of issues than it presently supports. From its founding until the mid-20th century, the Democratic Party was the dominant party among white southerners, and as such, was then the party most associated with the defense of slavery. However, following the Great Society under Lyndon B. Johnson, the Democratic Party became the more progressive party on issues of civil rights, they would slowly lose dominance in southern states until 1996.
The Democratic Party since 1912 has positioned itself as the liberal party on domestic issues. The economic philosophy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which has strongly influenced modern American liberalism, has shaped much of the party's agenda since 1932. Roosevelt's New Deal coalition controlled the White House until 1968, with the exception of the two terms of President Eisenhower from 1953 to 1961. Since the mid-20th century, Democrats have generally been in the center-left and currently support social justice, social liberalism, a mixed economy, and the welfare state, although Bill Clinton and other New Democrats have pushed for free trade and neoliberalism, which is seen to have shifted the party rightwards. Democrats are currently strongest in the Northeast and West Coast and in major American urban centers. African-Americans and Latinos tend to be disproportionately Democratic, as do trade unions.
In 2004, it was the largest political party, with 72 million registered voters (42.6% of 169 million registered) claiming affiliation. Although his party lost the election for president in 2004, Barack Obama would later go on to become president in 2009 and continue to be the president until January 2017. Obama was the 15th Democrat to hold the office, and from the 2006 midterm elections until the 2014 midterm elections, the Democratic Party was also the majority party in the United States Senate.
A 2011 USA Today review of state voter rolls indicates that the number of registered Democrats declined in 25 of 28 states (some states do not register voters by party). During this time, Republican registration also declined, as independent or no preference voting was on the rise. However, in 2011 Democrats numbers shrank 800,000, and from 2008 they were down by 1.7 million, or 3.9%. In 2018, the Democratic party was the largest in the United States with roughly 60 million registered members.
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States of America. Since the 1880s it has been nicknamed (by the media) the "Grand Old Party" or GOP, although it is younger than the Democratic Party. Founded in 1854 by Northern anti-slavery activists and modernizers, the Republican Party rose to prominence in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln, who used the party machinery to support victory in the American Civil War.
The GOP dominated national politics during the Third Party System, from 1854 to 1896, and the Fourth Party System from 1896 to 1932. Since its founding, the Republican Party has been the more market-oriented of the two American political parties, often favoring policies that aid American business interests. As a party whose power was once based on the voting power of Union Army veterans, this party has traditionally supported more robust national defense measures and improved veterans' benefits. Today, the Republican Party supports an American conservative platform, with further foundations in economic liberalism, fiscal conservatism, and social conservatism. The Republican Party tends to be strongest in the Southern United States and the "flyover states", as well as suburban and rural areas in other states.
Since the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans held a majority in the United States House of Representatives until the 2018 midterms where they lost it to the Democratic Party. Additionally, since the 2014 elections, the Republican Party has controlled the Senate. In 2018, the Republican party had roughly 55 million registered members, making it the second largest party in the United States.
Donald Trump is the first known republican/politician known to refuse to concede to the US presidential election results.
The United States also has an array of minor parties, the largest of which (on the basis of support for their presidential candidates in the 2016 election), are the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution parties.
The Libertarian Party was founded on December 11, 1971. It is the largest continuing third party in the United States, claiming well over 500,000 registered voters across all 50 states. As of 2019, they have about 176 minor elected officials, including 1 state legislator. Representative Justin Amash, a Republican from Michigan, switched to the Libertarian Party in May 2020, to become the first Libertarian Party member of Congress.
The 2012 Libertarian Party nominee for United States President was former New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson. He achieved ballot access in every state except for Michigan (only as a write-in candidate) and Oklahoma. He received over one million votes in the election. In 2016, Johnson ran again, receiving over four million votes, or 3.3% of the popular vote.
The Libertarian Party's core mission is to reduce the size, influence, and expenditures in all levels of government. To this effect, the party supports minimally regulated markets, a less powerful federal government, strong civil liberties, drug liberalization, open immigration, non-interventionism and neutrality in diplomatic relations, free trade and free movement to all foreign countries, and a more representative republic. As of 2016, it is the third largest organized political party in the United States.
The Green Party has been active as a third party since the 1980s. The party first gained widespread public attention during Ralph Nader's second presidential run in 2000. Currently, the primary national Green Party organization in the U.S. is the Green Party of the United States, which has eclipsed the earlier Greens/Green Party USA.
The Green Party in the United States has won elected office mostly at the local level; most winners of public office in the United States who are considered Greens have won nonpartisan-ballot elections (that is, elections in which the candidates' party affiliations were not printed on the ballot). In 2005, the Party had 305,000 registered members in the District of Columbia and 20 states that allow party registration. During the 2006 elections the party had ballot access in 31 states. In 2017, Ralph Chapman, a Representative in the Maine House of Representative switched his association from Unaffiliated to the Green Independent Party.
The United States Green Party generally holds a left-wing ideology on most important issues. Greens emphasize environmentalism, non-hierarchical participatory democracy, social justice, respect for diversity, peace, and nonviolence. As of 2016, it is the fourth largest organized political party in the United States.
American Solidarity Party
The American Solidarity Party (ASP) is a Christian democratic political party in the United States  that is liberal and social democratic on economic issues and moderately (social) conservative on social issues.
The Constitution Party is a small national conservative political party in the United States. It was founded as the U.S. Taxpayers Party in 1992 by Howard Phillips. The party's official name was changed to the "Constitution Party" in 1999; however, some state affiliate parties are known under different names. The Constitution Party is strongly pro-life and supports gun rights and restrictions on immigration. It calls for protectionist trade policies.
In 2010 former Congressman Tom Tancredo was the Constitution Party candidate for governor of Colorado, coming in second with 617,030 votes, 36.4% and ahead of the Republican candidate, Dan Maes, with 11.1%. The Constitution Party's 2012 presidential nominee was former Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia. Tennessee Attorney Darrell Castle was the 2016 Constitution Party nominee for President of the United States and Scott Bradley of Utah was the nominee for vice president.
Officially recognized political parties by state
As of October 2020
|A: Alliance Party|
|C: Constitution Party|
|D: Democratic Party|
|F: Reform Party|
|G: Green Party|
|L: Libertarian Party|
|N: Natural Law Party|
|R: Republican Party|
|S: Socialist Labor Party|
|WC: Working Class Party|
|WF: Working Families Party|
|O: Other political parties|
- Alaskan Independence Party
- American Independent Party; Peace and Freedom Party
- Approval Voting Party; Unity Party
- Independent Party of Connecticut
- Independent Party of Delaware
- Ecology Party; Independent Party of Florida
- Aloha ʻĀina Party; American Shopping Party
- Independent Party of Louisiana
- Bread and Roses Party
- Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party; Independence Party of Minnesota; Legal Marijuana Now Party
- America First Party; American Freedom Party; Justice Party; Prohibition Party; Veterans Party
- Independent American Party of Nevada
- Better for America Party
- Conservative Party; Independence Party of New York; Serve America Movement Party
- Independent Party of Oregon; Progressive Party of Oregon
- Independence Party of South Carolina; Labor Party; United Citizens Party
- Independent American Party of Utah; United Utah Party
- Liberty Union Party; Progressive Party of Vermont
- Washington does not officially recognize political parties
- William B. Hesseltine, Third-Party Movements in the United States (1962)
- Roy Franklin Nichols (1967). The invention of the American political parties. Macmillan. ISBN 9780029229200. Archived from the original on 2016-06-17. Retrieved 2015-10-31.
- Robert J. Dinkin, Campaigning in America: A History of Election Practices. (Greenwood 1989) online version Archived 2010-04-20 at the Wayback Machine
- Paul Kleppner, et al. The Evolution of American Electoral Systems (1983),
- "The First Political Parties: Federalists and Anti-Federalists". Boundless Political Science. Boundless.com. May 26, 2016. Archived from the original on October 13, 2016. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
- Byron E. Shafer and Anthony J. Badger, eds. Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775–2000 (2001)/
- Klar, Samara (2016-01-22). "9 media myths about independent voters, debunked". Vox. Archived from the original on 2019-09-05. Retrieved 2019-03-07.
- Washington's Farewell Address
- Richard Hofstadter, The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780–1840 (1970)
- Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (Oxford History of the United States)
- William Nisbet Chambers, ed. The First Party System (1972)
- George Dangerfield, The Era of Good Feelings (1952)
- Michael F. Holt, Political Parties and American Political Development: From the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln (1992).
- Feller, Daniel (1990). "Politics and Society: Toward a Jacksonian Synthesis". Journal of the Early Republic. 10 (2): 135–161. doi:10.2307/3123555. JSTOR 3123555.
- Using the definitions of: First Party System: 1796–1824, Second Party System: 1828–1852, Third Party System: 1856–1892, Fourth Party System: 1896–1928, Fifth Party System: 1932–1964, Sixth Party System: 1968–present
- Lewis L. Gould, "New Perspectives on the Republican Party, 1877–1913," American Historical Review (1972) 77#4 pp. 1074–82 online.
- Paul Kleppner; Paul. The Third Electoral System 1853–1892: Parties, Voters, and Political Cultures (1979), online edition Archived 2010-09-09 at the Wayback Machine
- George E. Mowry, The Era of Theodore Roosevelt, 1900–1912 (1958) online
- Robin Archer, Why Is There No Labor Party in the United States? (Princeton University Press, 2007)
- Richard Jensen, "The Last Party System: Decay of Consensus, 1932–1980," in Paul Kleppner et al., The Evolution of American Electoral Systems (Greenwood, 1981), pp. 205–06.
- Sean J. Savage, Roosevelt: The Party Leader, 1932–1945 (2015).
- Nicol C. Rae, The Decline and Fall of the Liberal Republicans: From 1952 to the Present (1989)
- Matthew Levendusky, The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans (U Chicago Press, 2009)
- Morris, Richard B. (1961), Encyclopedia of American History, revised edition. New York: Harper & Row, pp. 170–71
- Warren, Kenneth F. (2008). Encyclopedia of U.S. campaigns, elections, and electoral behavior: A-M. SAGE. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-4129-5489-1. Archived from the original on 2020-07-28. Retrieved 2018-11-07.
- Witcover, Jules (2003). "1". Party of the People: A History of the Democrats. p. 3. "The Democratic Party of the United States, the oldest existing in the world...."
- Micklethwait, John; Wooldridge, Adrian (2004). The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. p. 15. "The country possesses the world's oldest written constitution (1787); the Democratic Party has a good claim to being the world's oldest political party."
- Neuhart, Al (January 22, 2004). "Why politics is fun from catbirds' seats". USA Today. Archived from the original on 2011-05-13. Retrieved 2007-07-11.
- Wolf, Richard (December 22, 2011). "Voters leaving Republican, Democratic parties in droves". USA Today. Archived from the original on July 1, 2012. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
- Eric Foner. Free soil, free labor, free men : the ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (1970) online
- Lewis Gould, Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans (2003) onlibe.
- "2016 Election News, Candidates & Polls". Archived from the original on 2019-05-30. Retrieved 2016-11-12.
- "US election: Trump says Biden won but again refuses to concede". BBC News. 2020-11-15. Retrieved 2020-11-29.
- Libertarian Party:Our History Archived 2006-01-30 at the Wayback Machine, LP.org
- Winger, Richard (27 July 2017). "New Voter Registration Nation Totals". ballot-access.org. Archived from the original on 27 July 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
- "Elected Officials". Archived from the original on 2019-01-08. Retrieved 2019-01-08.
- "The Libertarian Option". The Libertarian Party. Libertarian National Committee, Inc. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
- "Green elected officials". Archived from the original on November 23, 2010.
- "Green Party Ballot Status and Voter Registration Totals (United States) Archived 2008-05-26 at the Wayback Machine". Greens.org. Retrieved April 12, 2006.
- "Greens Win Ballot Access in 31 States, Up From 17 in January". Green Party press release, September 5, 2006.
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What’s next may be hinted at by a 51 year old devout Catholic, businessman, and semi-professional magician named Mike Maturen, who recently accepted the presidential nomination of the American Solidarity Party, the only active Christian Democratic party in the nation.
- "Christian Democracy". American Solidarity Party. Archived from the original on November 16, 2018. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
- "Blog". American Solidarity Party. Retrieved 2020-11-17.
- Padusniak, Chase (Winter 2015), "Why You Should Vote Third Party", Intercollegiate Review, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, retrieved 21 July 2016,
For the socially-conservative American who thinks government intervention has some place in the economy, the American Solidarity Party might fit.
- See "Darrell Castle wins the Constitution Party's presidential nomination" Independent Political Report April 15, 2015. Archived October 8, 2018, at the Wayback Machine
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- Critchlow, Donald T. American Political History: A Very Short Introduction (2015)
- Dinkin, Robert J. Campaigning in America: A History of Election Practices. Greenwood (1989)
- Foley, Edward B. Ballot Battles: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2016). xiv, 479 pp.
- Gould, Lewis. Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans (2003) online
- Graff, Henry F., ed. The Presidents: A Reference History (3rd ed. 2002) online, short scholarly biographies from George Washington to William Clinton.
- Kleppner, Paul, ed. The evolution of American electoral systems (1981) experts review the 1st to 5th party systems.
- Kurian, George T. ed. The encyclopedia of the Democratic Party (1996) vol 3 online
- Kurian, George T. ed. The encyclopedia of the Republican Party (4 vol 1996) vol 1-2-4 online
- Schlozman, Daniel. When Movements Anchor Parties: Electoral Alignments in American History (Princeton University Press, 2015) xiv, 267 pp.
- Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur Meier ed. History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2000 (various multivolume editions, latest is 2001). For each election includes history and selection of primary documents. Essays on some elections are reprinted in Schlesinger, The Coming to Power: Critical presidential elections in American history (1972)
- Schlesinger, Arthur Meier, Jr. ed. History of U.S. Political Parties (1973) multivolume
- Shafer, Byron E. and Anthony J. Badger, eds. Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775–2000 (2001), collection of new essays by specialists on each time period:
- includes: "State Development in the Early Republic: 1775–1840" by Ronald P. Formisano; "The Nationalization and Racialization of American Politics: 1790–1840" by David Waldstreicher; "'To One or Another of These Parties Every Man Belongs;": 1820–1865 by Joel H. Silbey; "Change and Continuity in the Party Period: 1835–1885" by Michael F. Holt; "The Transformation of American Politics: 1865–1910" by Peter H. Argersinger; "Democracy, Republicanism, and Efficiency: 1885–1930" by Richard Jensen; "The Limits of Federal Power and Social Policy: 1910–1955" by Anthony J. Badger; "The Rise of Rights and Rights Consciousness: 1930–1980" by James T. Patterson, Brown University; and "Economic Growth, Issue Evolution, and Divided Government: 1955–2000" by Byron E. Shafer