Political Parties In The US

741 words | 3 page(s)

In his seminal work on political parties, Monroe (2001) provides the following definition of a political party: “a political party is an institution through which elites coordinate their activities and elections and government as they attempt to satisfy the interests of their support base” (p. 17). Monroe also cites two authoritative theoreticians of the political parties Downs (1957) and Schlesinger (1985), to extend this definition. Both agree that the political elites should be perceived as acting out of self-interest be it power, income, prestige, or simply the love of conflict (Downs, 1957 in Monroe, 2001, p.17). Only from this definition can we draw a conclusion that, for the general public, the effects of political parties cannot be beneficial, since the very notion of the party suggests operating in the interest of the elites. More evidence will leave no doubt in the detrimental character of political parties’ effects.

THESIS STATEMENT: The effects of the political parties in the United States are detrimental for the society, because the parties represent the interests of those who fund them rather than masses and because parties cripple the political process by inability to reach consensus over crucial matters (i.e. cause polarization).

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Political parties affect the society and the political process in a negative way these days. Specifically, they represent the interests of those who fund them, or, better, buy them instead of catering for the needs of their voters. Recent surveys show that modern parties are in decline due to lack of public trust and public loyalty. If fifty years ago the statistical data showed that one I eleven individuals on average affiliated himself/herself with a certain party, today the ration is clearly down to one in eighty-eight people (The Stationery Office, 2007). Interestingly, the decline in party loyalty and party identification has taken place in the content of young people’s having generally higher levels of genuine political interest and involvement. One the biggest reasons is that people feel that parties are funded by big corporations and manipulated by their owners. This causes them to lose trust in parties’ fairness and usefulness (The Stationery Office, 2007). A good example which shows how parties are manipulated by their sponsors is the tendency of those people who identify as Republicans to reject the idea that global warming poses a threat (Hamilton, 2009, p.407).

Next, parties have detrimental effects, since they cripple the political process by inability to reach consensus over crucial matters. In this case, with reference to the U.S. society, polarization takes place and political decisions are difficult to achieve. According to McCarty, the detrimental effects of polarization are as follows: it poses obstacles to building of legislative coalitions and leads to policy “gridlock”; it has a definite conservative effect on social policy and on the country’s economy; and it has a negative impact on the functioning of the judiciary and administrative state; it has changed the balance of power among state institutions at the expense of the U.S. Congress (McCarty, n.d.).

The supporters of the party system argue that parties are essential of democracy, as for example, James Burns (2001), the author of the textbook Government by the People. They say that political parties are essential by “simplifying voting choices, organizing the competition, unifying the electorate, bridging the separation of powers and fostering cooperation among branches of government, translating public preferences into policy, and providing loyal opposition” (p. 146). However, this claim may easily be dismissed as inherently flawed. If political parties in the United States fail to represent the interests of common people, i.e. do not perform their first and foremost function, they destroy the democracy. Therefore, all other aspects are unimportant, since democracy is about the rule of the mob.

In summary, these days the effects of the political parties on the U.S. society are clearly detrimental. Not only do the parties fail to represent the interests of the ordinary people or cripple the political process through polarization, but they also undermine the foundations of democracy.

  • Burns, J. (2001). Government by the people. Prentice Hall.
  • Diamond, L. & Gunther, R. (2001). Political parties and democracy. JHU Press.
  • Hamilton, L. (2009). Statistics with STATA: Updated for Version 10. Cengage Learning.
  • Monroe, J. (2001). The political party matrix: The persistence of organization. SYNY Press.
  • McCarty, N. (2007). The policy consequences of political polarization. In Paul Pierson and Theda Skocpol eds. The transformation of the American polity. Princeton University Press.
  • The Stationery Office (2007). Strengthening democracy: fair and sustainable funding of political
    parties. The Stationery Office.

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