America has almost always been divided between two major political parties. In the early days of th Republic, Alexander Hamilton advocated the development of strong national institutions, banks and industry, while Thomas Jefferson was a proponent of smaller institutions, the household farm worked by ordinary families. This replicated the 18th century division of England between the Court Party, supporting the central institutions of the King, and the Country Party, reflecting the interests of the landed gentry. In the early 20th Century, the partisan divide was seen as pitting the Democrats, the party of the working man, against the Republicans, the party of business interests.
By the early 20th Century, the parties were largely divided between those who showered before work, so as to be fresh at the office, and those who bathed after work, to cleanse themselves of the grime of their labors. The Democrats largely reflected the interests of large institutions, concentrated in urban areas, and the college educated. Republicans tended to represent those without college degrees, who lived in smaller towns and rural areas, many of whom worked in smaller enterprises. Republicans tended to be older and white, while Democrats tended to be younger with diverse ethnic identities. Men tended to support the Republicans, while women and others of non-conforming gender identities [LGBTQI+] tended to support Democrats. Neither party was a party of class, as the Democrats appealed to Wall Street, and the Republicans to Main Street.
The history of American political parties is one of successive "party systems." Each "party system" lasts several decades, with each particular party having a certain central character; in many cases, the name of the party can remain the same but its essential character can drastically change — in the so-called "critical elections".
In the 19th century the second party system (Whigs v. Democrats), lasting from about 1832 to 1854, was succeeded by the third party system (Republicans v. Democrats), lasting from 1854 to 1896. Characteristic of both party systems was that each party was committed to a distinctive ideology clashing with the other, and these conflicting world views made for fierce and close contests. Elections were particularly hard fought.
The election of 1896 inaugurated the fourth party system in America. From a third party system of closely fought, seesawing races between a pietist/statist Republican vs. a liturgical/libertarian Democratic Party, the fourth party system consisted of a majority centrist Republican party as against a minority pietist Democratic party. After a few years, the Democrats lost their pietist nature, and they too became a centrist, though usually minority party, with a moderately statist ideology scarcely distinguishable from the Republicans, except on African-Americans. So the fourth party system went until 1932.
A political party is an organized group of voters that wants to influence government by electing its own candidates to public office. A political party is made up of individuals who organize to win elections, operate government, and influence public policy. The Democratic and Republican parties are currently the primary parties in in USA. A great many political parties are active in the United States. Some have candidates competing for the presidency. Others do not. The major parties involved in every presidential election are the Republican and Democratic parties. More than thirty other small political parties are known as “third parties.”
At first, America’s founders — including Hamilton, Jefferson, and others — believed political parties were evil and a threat to the new nation. But these early American leaders soon began to invent a new and important role for political parties in a democracy.
When the Constitution was written in 1787, the founders did not include any mention of political parties. Even in electing the president, the founders did not intend a role for political parties. The Constitution established an Electoral College. It called for a small number of electors—elected or appointed in the states—to meet and choose the best person for president. The person with the most elector votes would become president. The runner-up would automatically become the vice president.
In 1788, George Washington won a large majority of electoral votes and became the nation’s first president. John Adams, who won the second highest number of electoral votes for president, became vice president. When Washington appointed his Cabinet, he included Alexander Hamilton as secretary of the treasury and Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state. As it turned out, these two Cabinet members disagreed on many issues.
As differences emerged between supporters of Hamilton and Jefferson, many began referring to Hamilton and his allies as the Federalist Party. Jefferson claimed Federalist policies mainly benefitted the "opulent" (rich) classes while he and his supporters represented "the mass of the people" (middle class). Jefferson began working with Madison to organize opposition to the Federalist Party. Soon, those opposing Hamilton and the Federalist Party began to call themselves Democratic Republicans.
In his Farewell Address, Washington warned that parties were likely "to become potent engines by which... unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government."
In 1800, the Federalists chose John Adams to run for president. The Republicans nominated Thomas Jefferson. Both parties used political attacks and smears, perhaps making this one of the dirtiest presidential elections in U.S. history. Republicans called Adams a monarchist who wanted to enslave the people. The Federalists called Jefferson a political radical and atheist.
The Federalist Party handed over the government to Jefferson and the Republicans. The ruling party had peacefully given up power as the result of a democratic election. Even today, this is a major test for any country wanting to be a democracy.
American political parties have traditionally been coalitions of contradictory and contentious forces. The electoral college is largely responsible for the loose-knit nature of these political parties. Victory requires a majority of electors from throughout the nation, a feat nearly impossible for any party rooted in a single region or clustered about one ideology or interest group. To build such national coalitions, politicians must reach out to those with whom they may disagree.
The Democratic party emerged from Thomas Jefferson's defense of the yeoman farmer against Alexander Hamilton's efforts to use the government to promote American industry and finance. Yet to build a national party, Jefferson needed to embrace New York's Tammany Hall, which represented urban interests.
The elitism of the Federalists diminished their appeal, and their refusal to support the War of 1812 counted against them when the war ended well. The party faded away within a few years.
As its name indicates, the Era of Good Feelings (1816–1824) under President James Monroe was a time of minimal partisan politics, but in 1828 internal frictions sparked a split within the Democratic-Republican Party. The Jacksonian Democrats, led by war hero and future president An- drew Jackson, would grow into the modern Democratic Party. A more conservative faction, led by Henry Clay, formed the Whig Party.
The Democrats supported the primacy of the executive branch (the president) over other branches of government and opposed programs they felt would build up industry at the expense of the taxpayer. The Whigs advocated the primacy of the legislative branch and supported industrial modern- ization and economic protectionism.
The Whig Party collapsed in the 1850s, supplanted by the anti-slavery Republican Party, which adopted many of the economic policies of the Whigs, such as support for national banks, railroads and high tariffs.
In subsequent decades, the names of the two major U.S. political parties did not change, but the policies they championed shifted as conditions in the nation and the priorities of the electorate changed. The Democratic Party is considered the more liberal party, the Republican Party the more conservative. Within those broad ideological categories, each party encompasses a range of beliefs and opinions.
In the 2008 federal election cycle, the average cost to win a US Senate campaign was more than $8.5 million dollars and to win a House campaign, $1.4 million. A candidate seeking a Senate seat needed to raise more than $23 000 every day for a year (or to retain that seat, $3881 each day of a 6-year Senate term). A candidate for the House of Representatives needed to raise almost $4000 each day for a year (for reelection, $1880 each day over a 2-year House term).
In 2000, the television industry sold 1.2 million political advertisements for $771 million in sales in the top 75 media markets.46 During the 2008 election year, spending by candidates and interest groups on media reached $2.8 billion: approximately $2 billion on local broadcast television, $400 million for radio and local cable, and $200 million for national cable and networks.47 During the week of September 28 to October 4, 2008, the campaigns of presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain spent $28 million on television advertisements, approximately $10 million more than the 2 top candidates spent in the same period of the 2004 presidential campaign.
Recent polls showed that 86% of respondents believed that big companies have too much power and influence in Washington. A large majority thought that corporations don't balance profit with public interest, and the proportion who believed too much power is concentrated in corporations was larger than in previous surveys. The power corporations exert on democratic processes through various tactics, including political campaign contributions and lobbying, has been shown to influence health and health policy.
Over the years, reformers (Ralph Nader, for example), freelance media adventures (Pat Buchanan), eccentric billionaires (Ross Perot), and flamboyant characters (Jesse Ventura) jumped into presidential contests. Many Americans identify themselves as “independent” (not affiliated with either party), and the number of those voters is increasing.
So-called “third parties” competing for the attention of U.S. voters include the Constitution Party, which advocates a return to what it believes were the original intentions of the Founding Fathers; the Green Party, which champions environmental stewardship and social justice; and the Libertarian Party, which supports a minimal role for government in the lives of citizens.
There are third party candidates that are significant about once every five elections. There was a very significant independent in 1992, Ross Perot. A third party candidate who determined the result in 2000, Ralph Nader. He gave the election from Al Gore to George W. Bush. He tilted both Florida and New Hampshire to Bush. Gore needed was one of those two states to win. So, even minor third party candidates can determine the results of a presidential election.
The two-party system has been a source of stability; FDR called it "one of the greatest methods of unification and of teaching people to think in common terms." The alternative is a slow, agonized descent into an era of what Walter Dean Burnham has termed "politics without parties." Political adventurers might roam the countryside like Chinese warlords, building personal armies equipped with electronic technologies, conducting hostilities against various rival warlords, forming alliances with others, and, if they win elections, striving to govern through ad hoc coalitions. Accountability would fade away. Without the stabilizing influences of parties, American politics would grow angrier, wilder, and more irresponsible, which in fact is what has happened.
Free speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment, but how that right applies to election campaign spending has been much debated. The nonprofit group Citizens United filed a case challenging a 2002 law restricting political spending by corporations and labor unions. A lower court ruling in that case asserted that airing the group’s critical film about then–presidential candidate Hillary Clinton shortly before a 2008 election was illegal.
The Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) went way beyond the narrow issue in the case, overturning a major part of the 2002 law by holding unconstitutional any restrictions on corporations and unions spending their own money on political advertisements. The court did not overturn the ban on direct contributions by corporations and unions to political campaigns.
Even without primaries, Democrats faced a challenging political map in 2018. Republicans were defending just eight Senate seats, while Democrats must hold 23 - plus two filled by independents who caucus with them. Ten of those races were in states Trump carried in November 2016.
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