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Political Parties Introduction

In a Nutshell

  • Founding Fathers did not desire or plan for the existence of political parties when they designed the Constitution
  • In practice, however, parties have played a critical role in the American political system since the 1790s
  • The United States has a two-party political system

The Founding Fathers strongly opposed the formation of political parties and did not account for political parties' existence at all when they framed the Constitution of the United States. But within a decade of the Constitution's ratification, political parties had emerged. In the two centuries since, parties have become critical parts of America's political and governing processes; they select candidates, mobilize voters, organize the legislative process, and serve as watchdogs against one another.

For most of our history, only two parties have filled these critical roles at any given time—that is, ours has been a two-party system. Minor or third parties also exist; although they rarely achieve great electoral success, they still contribute in important ways to the vitality of our political discourse. In addition, while only two parties have dominated American politics during any particular period, the philosophies and the composition of the dominant parties have changed. Every thirty or forty years, it seems, new parties replace old or the political coalitions within the parties change.

Today, some believe that political parties are becoming less essential to our political system and, during the twenty-first century, political parties will either diminish or disappear altogether from our political arena.

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Why Should I Care?

For 200 years, political parties have been an integral part of America's democracy. Donkeys and elephants, wild summer conventions, Congress divided into two rival camps—parties have become synonymous with our system of government.

But a few political observers believe that political parties may soon go the way of "The OC" and Backstreet Boys. In the past, parties were needed to reach voters and raise campaign funds. But today, anyone with a fat wallet can access the public through the television, and the internet has introduced even more direct ways of contacting voters and raising cash. Perhaps the era of the large, centralized political party as a dominant institution of American politics is nearing its end.

Of course, not everyone believes that the parties are doomed to extinction. In fact, many believe that Barack Obama's recent election to the presidency signaled a new era of Democratic Party domination. But are they right, or are Democrats just fooling themselves?

What is the future of the political party?

Do we still really need them?

And if they do disappear, will it be a bad thing?

What exactly do they contribute to our political system?

How did we end up with Republicans and Democrats at the top of the political food chain?

And if the parties do survive, what will they look like during your lifetime?

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