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A political party can be defined as “an organisation that sponsors candidates for political office under the organisations name”.

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A political party can be defined as "an organisation that sponsors candidates for political office under the organisations name"i, or as Edmund Burke said " a body of men united by promoting their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed"ii. Despite the fact that anti-partyism has been an underlying feature of American political culture since the suspicion of factions voiced by the founding fathers and embodied in the constitution, political parties fulfil many essential roles in the present political system. Indeed most Americans believe that parties are necessary for democratic government and condemn countries without elections contested by political parties as undemocratic. The crucial role played by parties in modern democratic states is noted by Schattschneider who argues that, "Political parties created democracy ....... And modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of parties"iii. This "love-hate" relationship has had fundamental implications for the development of political parties in the U.S. and their place in the political system. My aim is to see if they are indeed under-developed and ineffective. American political parties differ from their European counterparts in a number of ways. Generally, they have been and continue to be less disciplined, less ideological, more pragmatic and subject to a greater degree of decentralisation, largely as a result of federalismiv.


This function of parties would seem to be especially important in the U.S. given the vast number of elective offices. However, the role played by American political parties in supplying and nominating for office would appear to be limited and under developed. Reforms of the presidential nomination procedures in the late 1960s and the early 1970s led to a rise in the number of presidential primaries and a shift in power away from the parties to the electorate and the mass media. Furthermore, unlike in Europe where political advancement takes place largely through working ones way up the party hierarchy, political advancement often takes place with no reference to prior long-term service to the party, the case of General Eisenhower being a prime example. Although parties seem to play a minor role in the recruitment of the most powerful public office holders, they are not altogether unimportant. The appointment of government officials by the president, for example is usually made through party linkagesxii. A vital function of political parties that is especially important in the American system is that of organising and coordinating government. Given the separation of powers and fragmented nature of the American political system, cohesion within parties is essential for effective government.


In conclusion, critics of American political parties argue that they are weak, ineffective, too similar, under developed and therefore unable to perform the functions of parties essential in modern democracies for efficient, representative and accountable government. Compared directly to European parties, it is probably accurate to say that American parties offer less choice, are less disciplined and cohesive and, in general, are weaker, less influential organisations. However, operating within the context of the pluralistic and fragmented political system and culture, parties in the U.S. would appear to be more effective than might be expected and thus, "criticisms of American political parties are really critisms of the American political scene as a whole"xx. The two parties are essential to the well being of democracy in America and cannot be dismissed as irrelevant or meaningless. Despite accusations of decline, the parties continue to play a vital role within the political system and fulfil functions that could not be performed as successfully by other organisations. Footnotes i Janda et al, 1994, P.!62 iiEdmund Burke,P128/The Organisation and Functions of American parties iii Cited by Reichley,1992, P.3 iv MaKay,1983,p.79 v McKay,1983,P,79 vi Woll&Binstock,1991,P82 vii Janda et al, 1994,P170 viii Reichley,1992,P7 ix Peele et al,1992,P.64/65 x Janda et al,1994,P169 xi Woll&Binstock,1991,P.199 xii MaKay,1983,P81 xiii Peele et al,1992,P65 xiv Woll&Binstock,1991,P195 xv Woll&Binstock,1991,P195 xvi MaKay,1983,p.80 xvii Quoted by Reichley, 1992,P3 xviii Janda et al,1994,P181 xixHttp:// P.

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