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 starter activity
It is sometimes said the political parties in the US are much weaker in
terms of their organisation and influence than in the UK. Why might this
be so?
Reasons for the weaknesses of US
political parties
Separation of powers – executive & legislature
separate bodies, with different mandates,
weakening the political ties between them
Federalism – parties organised at state level, 50
different Democratic & Republican parties
No mass membership
No party leaders – president is leader of the
country not the party, no leader of the
Reasons for the weaknesses of US
political parties
No party manifestos – only ‘platforms’,
congressional candidates stand on local issues
Finance raised by candidates not parties
Candidates selected by primaries & caucuses not
the party
Labour’s 2005 manifesto
Is the party over?
 Aims
To understand the structure & organisation
of US political parties
To evaluate the strengths & weaknesses of
the 2-party system
To assess the strengths of third parties
To assess reasons for party decline
 Your task
Read p. 134-6 and take notes on the organisation
of the two major parties under these headings:
National Committees
Congressional Committees
State-level organisation
 Find out more about the ‘last of the big city bosses’, Chicago Mayor, Richard Daley
 Your task
Read p. 136 and define what is meant by a ‘twoparty system’. Read p. 137-8 and list the reasons
why this system exists in the USA. Does the US
really have a 2-party system?
Reasons for US two-party system
FPTP – support for 3rd parties is widespread &
shallow, 3rd party candidates lower majority
needed for winning candidates
Big tent parties
Minimal need for protest voting – primaries
make parties more accountable to electorate
What do commentators mean when they describe the two parties as
Tweedledee and Tweedledum?
Challenges to the two-party idea
Homogeneity over policies – e.g. Clinton’s, ‘the
ear of big government is over’ could have been
a Republican policy
“As of today there are two republican parties
separated by the issue of abortion” Mark Shields
(Washington Post)
USA has a 50 party system – party politics are
highly decentralised
 Your task
Study the information on p.138-40. How
powerful a force in US politics are so-called
‘Third Parties’? How does this compare with the
Nick Clegg – Ah, bless!
Third Parties
Types of third parties:
issue-based, ideological,
state level etc.
Examples include:
Reform Party,
Libertarian Party, Green
Regional Parties, e.g.
Strom Thurmond’s
States Rights Party
Strom Thurmond, Dixiecrat, ran for presidency in 1948 and won 2.4% of vote
Oldest-serving senator in US history – retired at the age of 100!
Conducted longest ever filibuster – Civil Rights Act (1957, 24 hours 18 minutes non
Types of
Permanent 3rd parties –
e.g. Greens &
Temporary parties –
Reform Party
Issue-based parties –
Prohibition Party
Ideological parties Socialist
Power of
Limited combined popular vote, e.g. 2008, third
parties polled 1% of popular vote
3rd parties can be crucial in deciding outcome of
presidential elections – e.g. Ralph Nader, Green
Party (polled 2.7%) cost Al Gore presidency in
3rd parties can influence congressional elections
– Dean Barkley won 15% of popular vote in
Minnesota senate race, helping to defeat
Republican candidate Norm Coleman and
leaving Al Franken the winner with under 300
Dean Barkley, Minnesota
Independence Party
 Your task
Read p.140-2 and list the reasons why 3rd parties
find it difficult to achieve electoral success.
Third party electoral theft!
FPTP works against them – 1968, George
Wallace won 45 EC votes with 13% of vote,
1992 Ross Perot won O EC votes with 19% of
Finance - federal funding only given to parties
with 5% of vote in previous elections
Ballot access – 1980, John Anderson required
1.2m signatures & $3m funds
Campaigning – lack of funding makes it hard to
secure media coverage & national awareness
Lack of well-known candidates & running mates
Third party candidates often portrayed as
ideological extremists, e.g. George Wallace
Major parties steal 3rd party policies – e.g. Perot’s
flagship policy, federal budget deficit
‘If you liked Hitler, you’ll love Wallace’ Watch his campaign ad and decide if you agree
with this sentiment
How similar or
different is the
position of third
parties in the UK?
What can be done
to give 3rd parties
a greater say in US
Have a mass membership
Centralised, top-down organisation
National party makes rules controlling the whole party
Stringent selection & de-selection processes
Control over manifesto
Finance for campaigns
Exist between elections
Potentially the leader can become PM
Strong party discipline through whipping system
The cover of David Broder’s
influential book, ‘The Party’s
Over’ (1972), prophesying the
end of major political parties in
the US.
Complete a scales chart for
and against the idea, using the
evidence from Bennett, p.14245
This house believes the party system is dead in US
politics. Discuss
 Plenary
What evidence is there for and against that the
US has a 2 party system?
Why do 3rd parties find it so difficult to make
electoral advances?
How true is the notion of party decline in the
 Homework
Draw up a list of similarities and differences
between US and UK party systems. Try to find
recent examples to illustrate your points
Prepare for a slip test on US political parties