The American Party System
           Table of Contents

           The Presidential Selection Process
                    The Nomination Campaign
                    Flow Chart of the Presidential Selection Process
                    Flow Chart of the 2000 Presidential Election

                Party Strength in Congress under Historical Party Systems

            Electoral Coalitions of the Parties

            Similarities and Differences between the Parties on Policy and Ideology
                    Differences between the Parties on Policy and Ideology
                    The Limited Range of Ideological Difference in the American Political System

            Eras of Party Government and Divided Government

            Party Control of Congress and the Presidency (1921-2000)

 

The Presidential Selection Process

The American presidential selection process is quite complicated and the exact rules change between each presidential campaign. Most Americans do not understand it completely, foreigners are often totally baffled. However, the presidential selection process can be broken into two basic phases—the struggle for major party nominations and the general election campaign. Each of these phases can be broken down into sub-periods.
 

The Nomination Campaign

Selecting Delegates to the National Convention

The key to the nomination campaign is winning delegates to the party’s national conventions, which are held in the summer of the election year. Delegates are selected state by state beginning in late January and ending in early June. Each state sets its own rules for choosing delegates and decides its own delegate selection dates, and these rules and dates often change between presidential election cycles. But there are two basic methods states use to select delegates—primaries and caucuses. Most states today use primaries, but some still use caucuses. In a primary, the voters of the state go to polling places and vote for candidates, much like in any election. However, in a primary there are actually two simultaneous elections—the Democratic and Republican primaries. Voters must declare which party’s contest they will vote in.

Candidates win delegates to the national convention based on the percentage of votes they get in the state. It is difficult to generalize about this process because each state’s rules are different. But for example, if George W. Bush wins 50% of the vote, John McCain wins 30% of the vote, and Steve Forbes wins 20% of the vote in the California Republican primary, Bush would get approximately 50% of California’s Republican delegates, McCain would get approximately 30% of California’s Republican delegates, and Forbes would get about 20% of California’s Republican delegates.

In caucus states the delegate selection method takes place in stages. Citizens gather in open Democratic and Republican party meetings and declare their preferences for candidates publicly. Temporary delegates to a state-wide or a regional caucus are selected, again based on the percentage of support each candidate has. At the regional and state-wide meetings this process is repeated until the state’s entire delegation to the national convention has been chosen.

In the United States, the nomination campaign stretches over more than 4 months. Traditionally the Iowa caucuses come first in late January and the New Hampshire primary comes a week later in early February. These early contests are crucial because historically only candidates who come in first or second in at least one of these two contests have been able to gather enough campaign contributions and volunteer workers to mount a successful national campaign. Actually, the presidential races begins years before the Iowa caucuses, as potential presidential candidates travel around the country, building support among party leaders, raising money for the upcoming campaign, and seeking national recognition in the opinion polls

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Flow Chart of the Presidential Selection Process
                 Nomination Campaign     General Election
 
  Pre-Primary Early Primaries and Caucuses Other Primaries and Caucuses Party Conventions General Election Campaign General Election Day Electoral College
Type of campaigning Crossing the country

Raising money

Getting Support from party leaders

Face-to-face campaigning
 

TV ads

TV coverage
 

TV ads


 

TV coverage of convention

News coverage

Crossing the country
 

TV ads

   

 
 

Key to success

Money

Opinion polls

Getting Media Coverage

Message

Thematic Appeal
 
 

Support from party activists

Image as

Winner

Money

Support from party activists


 

Having a majority of delegates


Mobilizing party supporters

Winning independents


Getting votes

Winning largest population states


 

Winning 270 electors

Number of candidates per party
1-12

1-8

1-4

1-2

1

1

1

 
 
Flow Chart of the 2000 Presidential Selection Process
 
 
Pre-Primary
After
Iowa Caucus
After
New Hampshire Primary
Other Primaries and Caucus
 
Party Conven-
tions
Republicans
Bush

McCain

Forbes

Hatch

Bauer

Keyes

Dole

Quayle

Alexan-der

Kasich

Smith

Bush

McCain

Forbes

Bauer

Keyes

Bush

McCain

Forbes

Bush

McCain

Bush
Democrats
Gore

Bradley

Gore

Bradley

Gore

Bradley

Gore

Bradley

Gore

 


 
 

Electoral Coalitions of the Parties
 
Both the Democrats and the Republicans have distinct pockets of political support. Each party’s vote comes from distinct sectors of society—different races, ethnic groups, religions, genders, geographical regions, income groups, etc. These tendencies are only statements of probability; they are not absolute. The probabilies also vary. For example in the 2000 presidential election more than 90% of blacks voted for the Democrat Al Gore, while the difference between women and men was more like 55%-45%.
 

DEMOCRATS             REPUBLICANS

Black
White
Mexican/Puerto Rican
Cuban
Secular 

+ Jewish

Evangelical Protestant
Women
Men
East Coast

West Coast

Mountain states

Plains states

South

Urban
Rural
(except
South)
Poor
Rich
Less Educated +

Highly Educated

Middle Educated
Union Member
Non-union Member
 
 
 
 
 
 
Similarities and Differences between the Parties on Policy and Ideology
Both the Democratic and Republican Parties prefer to emphasize the policy differences between themselves. And there are very real differences between the American political parties. However there are also very remarkable similarities between the Democrats and Republicans. Both favor the agenda of the multinational corporations, both at home and abroad. Both support the corporate vision of globalization as the expansion of the American-style corporate system around the world. Both seek to maintain American political hegemony and Western cultural hegemony in the global system. Both share the 21st century version of America’s Manifest Destiny—that it is America’s duty to enlighten the less developed world to the virtues of American-style capitalism and democracy.

The differences and similarities of the Democrats and Republicans can be illustrated by the diagrams below. The first chart emphasizes the differences between the American parties. The second chart shows a range of political philosophies around the world, and where the differences between Democrats and Republicans fall on the global scale.
 

Differences between the Parties on Policy and Ideology
      ISSUE             DEMOCRATS         REPUBLICANS
Social Spending
Pro
Anti
Military Spending
Anti
Pro
Budget Deficit
Balanced Budget
Tax Cuts
Education
Pro spending

Pro public schools

Pro teachers unions

Anti spending

Pro school choice

Pro teacher testing

Culture
Pro multiculturalism
Pro WASP monoculture
Immigration
Mixed
Anti
Life Style
Liberal freedom
Traditional values
Abortion
Pro Choice
Pro Life
Gay Rights
Pro
Anti
Gun Control
Pro
Anti
Environment
Pro environment
Pro big business
Energy
Alternative energy sources
Pro big energy companies
Unions
Pro
Anti
Foreign Policy
Favor diplomacy
Favor military force
International Alliances
Multilateralist
Unilateralist
International Institutions
Pro UN, IMF
Anti UN, IMF, etc.
China
Engagement
More Pro Taiwan
Trade
Mixed free trade and fair trade
Pro free trade
 
The Limited Range of Ideological Difference in the American Political System

Global Ideological Scale

Leninism-------Social Democracy------CorporateDemocracy--Military Regimes--Premodern Traditionalism

American Ideological Scale

                                                     [Democrats---Republicans]
 
 
Eras of Party Government and Divided Government
The United States has three elective sections of national government, the president, the Senate and the House.  When one political party wins control of the presidency and both Houses of Congress, it is called partygovernment.  When at one particular time one party controls the presidency and the other party controls at least one House of Congress, this is called divided government.  Party government has been the norm through most of American history, although there have also been periods of divided government.  But since 1955, divided government has become the normal state of the American political system.  The table below shows the rising frequency of divided government.



 
 
 

The next table breaks down the period from 1801-1954 into sub-eras.



 
 

        Party Control of Congress and the Presidency
                                (1921-2000)

               Year                             President                         Senate                         House of
                                                                                                                            Representatives
*=Divided Government
 
1999* D R R
1997* D R R
1995* D R R
1993 Clinton (D) D D
1991* R D D
1989* Bush (R) D D
1987* R D D
1985* R R D
1983* R R D
1981* Reagan ( R) R D
1979 D D D
1977 Carter (D) D D
1975* R (Ford) D D
1973* R D D
1971* R D D
1969* Nixon (R) D D
1967 D D D
1965 Johnson (D) D D
1963 D (Johnson) D D
1961 Kennedy (D) D D
1959* R D D
1957* R D D
1955* R D D
1953 Eisenhower ( R) R R
1951 (D) D D
1949 (D) D D
1947* (D) R R
1945 FDR/Truman (D) D D
1943 D D D
1941 D D D
1939 D D D
1937 D D D
1935 D D D
1933 F D Roosevelt (D) D D
1931* R R D
1929  Hoover (R) R R
1927 R R R
1925 Coolidge ( R) R R
1923 R (Coolidge) R R
1921 Harding (R) R R

 

FOR A MORE ADVANCED TREATMENT OF THE AMERICAN PARTY SYSTEM  GO TO MY ARTICLE ON
THE HISTORIC SHIFT IN THE REGIONAL BASES OF AMERICAN POLITICAL PARTIES

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