Political parties formed to accommodate opposing views, enhance the policymaking process, represent people’s interests, and provide an oversight role. The history of political parties in the United States goes back to 1783 during the time of federal constitution ratification (Bonica, 2013). Disagreements over the proposal to have a centralized government led to divisions and the formation of an anti-federal faction that sought to promote states’ rights over the centralized government. Thus, the basic reason for the formation of political parties is to accommodate differences in opinions and allow freedom of expression and legislation. Vested interests also explain why political parties form and why they persist. Political parties are obsessed with appointing candidates who would use a particular political party as a vehicle to propel them to political positions. In the United States, the two dominant political parties (Republican and Democrat Parties) represent citizens’ interests. The conservative Americans are more likely to vote for republican leaders, while Democrats attract those with liberal views. The following discussion seeks to establish the reasons behind the formation of the political party system in the United States and why they have persisted.
History of Political Parties in the United States
The Federal party controlled the United States politics and the policymaking process, particularly during George Washington’s tenure. Americans began to feel the need to have political parties where the winner represented the wishes of the majority (Aldrich, 1995). Thus, the proposed ratification of the American constitution in 1783 provided the ground for the formation of different factions, which later culminated the modern political parties namely the Republican and Democrat. The founding fathers were opposed to a partisan America, explaining President Washington’s reservations and attempts to prevent political factions (Bartels, 2000). At one time, for instance, he appointed two political rivals into the office (Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson) in an attempt to minimize internal conflict.
The growing tension within the Federal party led to the formation of the anti-federal faction (Jeffersonian-Republican Party) led by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. The formation of the alternative party could be explained by the suggestion to have a centralized government system in the United States (Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1980). This kind of system gives absolute power to a central government to control power and resources. Jefferson and Madison were opposed to a centralized government. Instead, they proposed a system with where powers were distributed to states’ governments. They were opposed to the elitist kind of government that the Federal political party had managed to establish. Thus, there was a need to have a party that was more in touch with the issues affecting common Americans.
Between 1854 and the mid-1890s, the United States witnessed the splintering of the Democratic-Republican Party. Thus, the two-party system was established. The Republican Party is remembered for its anti-slavery campaigns (Bartels, 2000). The two parties agreed or disagreed (even now) on certain political, economic, and social issues. From history, the following are the major reasons why political parties formed:
Represent Group Interests
People are more likely to support a political party when they feel that their political, social, and economic interests are served (Aldrich, 1995). Unfortunately, members of a political party might have different opinions on social issues, which could lead to internal frictions and dissatisfaction. If the internal disagreements become unmanageable, the formation of different factions might ensue. As demonstrated above, the formation of political parties in the United States did not occur by accident. The process occurred because certain people (Like Jefferson), felt that their interests were not well served within the ruling party. It is vital to note that the federal party represented the values, beliefs, and wishes of the elite. There was a disconnect between the party and the common American citizens.
Jefferson and his like-minded politicians represented the will of the people; for instance, he supported the agrarian agriculture, leading to the protection of the small-scale farmers. Thus, with the proposal to establish a centralized government, those seeking to enhance the interests of the ordinary citizens opposed that amendment (Poole & Rosenthal, 2007). The anti-federalists’ interest was power distribution to all states. This was, in their opinion, one of the ways to put the federal government on the check, to enhance the equitable distribution of resources, and to encourage the political participation of the ordinary citizens.
In modern-day America, interests also explain why the voters would jump from one party to another (Campbell et al., 1980). People do not feel like either of the two dominant political parties represent their interests fully. Therefore, there is a growing lack of faith or loyalty to any of the parties, particularly following the contentious elections of Donald Trump and his ideologies. Various social issues divide the United States constituents including gun laws, abortion, and gay rights. Those opposed to such contentious issues are more likely to support the Republican Party. The rationale is that the Republican has a conservative ideology and a significant number of politicians oppose LGBTQ and abortion rights. Thus, a voter might change party depending on the current personal values on various social issues.
While the political parties do not have the power to make policies, they remain very influential on the kind of policies needed. During campaigns, political parties prepare their manifestos, indicating their proposed political, economic, and social changes. Political candidates also propose programs that they would establish to address social issues. Thus, when the political party wins an election, it means that it has been given the mandate to execute the proposals within its manifesto.
Political parties form to propose, formulate, and execute alternative policies that lead to social and political changes (Fiorina, 2002). In the United States, for instance, there has been a heated debate and legal battles over President Trump’s plan to block undocumented immigrants. While he attracts opposition from the Democrats, many of his supporters stand with him because they elected his and his ideologies. Political parties gather people’s opinions and develop their manifestos within such politic, social, and political views. They seek to represent the will of the majority, which enables the implementation of proposed policies. However, it is vital to note the role of the Congress, the Senate, and the Judicial Systems in influencing policymaking process (Poole & Rosenthal, 2007). Therefore, it is one thing to have proposed policies and it is another to execute them owing to various forces at play.
Informing the Public
A political party seeks to present itself as the better alternative government over the other by mainly disseminating negative, but important information to the public. Citizens need information about plans, use of public funds, injustices, mismanagement of public resources among others (Aldrich, 1995). The information plays a vital role in shaping people’s opinions on their party and the opposition. For instance, Trump administration faces impeachment trial over allegations of abuse of office and selfish political interests. The information came into the public domain largely because of the Democrat Party’s disclosure. The party, which seeks to regain the political control in the next election, has played a vital role in disclosing many alleged misconducts within the Trump administration. Thus, the country is polarized, with some supporting the government and a majority that thinks Trump’s administration should be impeached.
Political parties, therefore, formed to play an oversight role and keep the government on the check. Without such roles, the government might engage in conspiracies that would never be known by the public. However, it is important to note that what might be considered as misconduct by one voter could be perceived in the same way by another. That explains why the United States constituents, even within the Republican Party, are divided.
Reasons Why Political Parties Persist
Political parties, as demonstrated by the perceptions of founding fathers (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson), are not ideal and can sometimes lead to social disharmony and infighting (Mann & Ornstein, 2016). In his Farewell Address, Washington warned Americans to avoid “the baneful effects of the spirit of party.” His rationale was that political parties were ill-founded as they sought to achieve vested and jealous interests. Washington saw political parties as being inciting and bent on perpetuating discord among the citizens. Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all” also confirms his opinion on political parties. Thus, the two founding fathers had a negative perception of partisan politics in the United States. Given a chance, they would not wish to have a multiparty system. ‘
Despite the feeling of the political parties as being dishonest, creating division among citizens, and failing to fulfill their promises, political parties have persisted. In fact, third parties, including the Libertarian Party, Green Party, and Constitution Party, also exist, though they have an insignificant following. Thus, political parties remain relevant in the United States, and they are influential in the day-to-day running of the government.
The same reason discussed above explains why the political parties have maintained their relevance. Politicians are still divided on various social, political, and economic issues. The constituents, because of their experiences and value systems, also want to have a government that protects their interests (Mann & Ornstein, 2016). Thus, political parties might be perceived as a necessary evil. While people have reservations about them, they are still needed for a government check, policymaking, and informing the community. Having a political government that can form an alternative government will enhance democracy, equitable distribution of resources, and the rule of law. In addition, the minority rights to participate in political matters and to exercise their rights is also enhanced. For instance, as indicated before, most Republicans are opposed to LGBTQ rights and abortion. Therefore these groups can only hope to have their interests advanced by the Democrats.
Political parties remain relevant because the core reasons why they were formed are still rife today. Divided political opinions and the need to have an alternative government explain the need for political parties. None of the political parties in the United States can serve all the interests of the constituents. Therefore, people have the right to join a political outfit that they feel will better represent their values. The political parties still play the role of representation, policymaking, putting the government in check, and keeping the citizens informed.
- Aldrich, J. H. (1995). Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Bartels, L. (2000). Partisanship and Voting Behavior, 1952-1996. American Journal of Political Science, 44(1), 35. doi: 10.2307/2669291
- Bonica, A. (2013). Mapping the Ideological Marketplace. American Journal of Political Science, 58(2), 367-386. doi: 10.1111/ajps.12062
- Campbell, A., Converse, P., Miller, W., & Stokes, D. (1980). The American Voter. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Fiorina, M. (2002). Parties and Partisanship: A 40-Year Retrospective. Political Behavior, 24(2), 93-115.
- Mann, T. E., & Ornstein, N. J. (2016). It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. New York, NY: Basic Books.
- Poole, K. T., & Rosenthal, H. (2007). Ideology and Congress: Second Revised Edition of Congress: A Political Economic History of Roll Call Voting. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.