Future of Political Parties
- Barack Obama's 2008 presidential victory may have ended a 30-year period of Republican domination of national politics
- Some scholars believe that both political parties' influence is waning
Barack Obama's historic election to the presidency convinced many political analysts that America's political parties are undergoing another critical transformation. Obama's victory in traditional Republican states like Virginia, Indiana, and North Carolina suggested to these analysts that the 2008 election triggered or revealed another major political realignment. Other analysts have argued that the drift of a handful of Republican states into the Democratic camp represented nothing more than a temporary response to the economic crises preceding the election.
Yet still other political analysts have suggested that the question is largely irrelevant, as the importance of both political parties to the electoral process is rapidly diminishing. Modern media, especially television and the internet, has reduced the candidates' dependence on party networks to spread their message. And between Political Action Committees (PACs) and internet fundraising, campaign finance is no longer so fully tied to party fundraising apparatuses. Reforms introduced in the 1970s allow political interest groups such as union members, business associations, environmental groups, and gun associations to spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of a candidate as long as the spending is not coordinated by the candidate's campaign organization. And during the 2008 election, Barack Obama revealed the remarkable fundraising potential of the internet by raising hundreds of millions of dollars in small online donations from ordinary people.
Those skeptical about the ability of political parties to survive deep into the twenty-first century also point out that party identification is on the wane. The number of independents—those claiming no party affiliation—has increased dramatically over the past thirty years. And split-ticket voting is more and more common—rather than voting a straight-party ticket, more individuals vote for both Democrats and Republicans in the same election.
The next thirty years should prove interesting. Perhaps the "Obama Coalition" will inaugurate a long period of Democratic success. Or perhaps the role of political parties will diminish within the electoral process altogether. But if they do, what will replace the party as an organizing device within the governing process? Will Congress fragment into a several small coalitions? Will the legislative process be paralyzed as representatives fail to muster the majority needed to pass a law? Or will the Founding Fathers' vision of a nonpartisan political arena finally be realized? Freed from the demands of party affiliation, will officials rediscover the common good?
The nation's founders did not anticipate the formation of political parties, but history may yet prove that they were not so far off the mark after all.