American electoral politics have been dominated by two major political parties since shortly after the founding of the republic. Since the 1850s, they have been the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Since the last major party political realignment in the mid-20th century (which occurred after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965), the Democratic Party has been the center-left and liberal party, and the Republican Party has been the center-right and conservative party. Since the 1990s, political polarization in the United States has increased; both the Republican and Democratic parties have shifted further apart. In recent U.S. political history, political behavior correlates with the urban-rural political divide; whereby more voters living in urban areas gravitate towards the Democratic Party, voters living in more rural areas gravitate towards the Republican Party, whilst suburban electoral districts are battleground marginal seats which also influence the outcomes of battleground swing states in the Electoral College system of United States presidential elections.
This two-party system is based on laws, party rules and custom, although this system was not specifically outlined in the U.S. Constitution (which predate the system). Several third parties also operate in the U.S., and from time to time elect someone to local office. The largest third party since the 1980s has been the Libertarian Party. Besides the Constitution, Green, and Libertarian parties, there are many other political parties that receive only minimal support and only appear on the ballot in one or a few states.
The need to win popular support in a republic led to the American invention of voter-based political parties in the 1790s. Americans were especially innovative in devising new campaign techniques that linked public opinion with public policy through the party. Political scientists and historians have divided the development of America's two-party system into five eras. The first two-party system consisted of the Federalist Party, which supported the ratification of the Constitution, and the Democratic-Republican Party or the Anti-Administration party (Anti-Federalists), which opposed the powerful central government that the Constitution established when it took effect in 1789. Party realignments have recurred periodically in response to social and cultural movements and economic development. The modern two-party system consists of the "Democratic" Party and the "Republican" Party. However these names, while they have been in existence since before the Civil War, have not always represented the same ideology or electorate. These two parties have won every United States presidential election since 1852 and have controlled the United States Congress since at least 1856.
Some political candidates, and many voters, choose not to identify with a particular political party. In some states, independents are not allowed to vote in primary elections, but in others, they can vote in any primary election of their choice. Although the term "independent" often is used as a synonym for "moderate," "centrist," or "swing voter," to refer to a politician or voter who holds views that incorporate facets of both liberal and conservative ideologies, most self-described independents consistently support one of the two major parties when it comes time to vote, according to Vox Media.
The United States Constitution is silent on the subject of political parties. The Founding Fathers did not originally intend for American politics to be partisan. In Federalist Papers No. 9 and No. 10, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, respectively, wrote specifically about the dangers of domestic political factions. In addition, the first President of the United States, George Washington, was not a member of any political party at the time of his election or throughout his tenure as president. Furthermore, he hoped that political parties would not be formed, fearing conflict and stagnation, as outlined in his Farewell Address.
The First Party System of the United States featured the "Federalist Party" and the "Anti-federalist Party" (which became known as the "Democratic-Republican Party" and was sometimes called "Jeffersonian Republican"). The beginnings of the American two-party system emerged from George Washington's immediate circle of advisers, which included Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Hamilton and Madison, who wrote the aforementioned Federalist Papers against political factions, ended up being the core leaders in this emerging party system. It was the split camps of Federalists, given rise with Hamilton as a leader, and Democratic-Republicans, with Madison and Thomas Jefferson at the helm of this political faction, that created the environment in which partisanship, once distasteful, came to being.
The Second Party System operated from the late 1820s to the mid-1850s following the splintering of the Democratic-Republican Party. Two major parties dominated the political landscape: the Whig Party, led by Henry Clay, that grew from the National Republican Party; and the Democratic Party, led by Andrew Jackson. The Democrats supported the primacy of the Presidency over the other branches of government, and opposed both the Bank of the United States as well as modernizing programs that they felt would build up industry at the expense of the farmers.
The Whigs, on the other hand, advocated the primacy of Congress over the executive branch as well as policies of modernization and economic protectionism. Central political battles of this era were the Bank War and the Spoils system of federal patronage. The early 1850s saw the collapse of the Whig party, largely as a result of decline in its leadership and a major intra-party split over slavery as a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In addition, the fading of old economic issues removed many of the unifying forces holding the party together.
|Party System||Party A||Party B|
The Third Party System stretched from 1854 to the mid-1890s, and was characterized by the emergence of the anti-slavery Republican Party, which adopted many of the economic policies of the Whigs, such as national banks, railroads, high tariffs, homesteads and aid to land grant colleges. The Democratic Party was in large part the opposition party during this period, although it often controlled the Senate or the House of Representatives, or both.
Civil war and Reconstruction issues polarized the parties until the Compromise of 1877, which ended the latter. Thus both parties became broad-based voting coalitions and the race issue pulled newly enfranchised African Americans (Freedmen) into the Republican Party while white southerners (Redeemers) joined the Democratic Party. The Democratic coalition also had conservative pro-business Bourbon Democrats, traditional Democrats in the North (many of them former Copperheads), and Catholic immigrants, among others. The Republican coalition also consisted of businessmen, shop owners, skilled craftsmen, clerks, and professionals who were attracted to the party's modernization policies.
The Fourth Party System, 1896 to 1932, consisted of the same interest groups as the Third Party System, but saw major shifts in the central issues of debate. This period also corresponded to the Progressive Era, and was dominated by the Republican Party. It began after the Republicans blamed the Democrats for the Panic of 1893, which later resulted in William McKinley's victory over William Jennings Bryan in the 1896 presidential election.
The central domestic issues changed to government regulation of railroads and large corporations ("trusts"), the protective tariff, the role of labor unions, child labor, the need for a new banking system, corruption in party politics, primary elections, direct election of senators, racial segregation, efficiency in government, women's suffrage, and control of immigration. Most voting blocs continued unchanged, but some realignment took place, giving Republicans dominance in the industrial Northeast and new strength in the border states. Historians have long debated why no Labor Party emerged in the United States, in contrast to Western Europe.
The Fifth Party System emerged with the New Deal coalition beginning in 1933. The Republicans began losing support after the Great Depression, giving rise to Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the activist New Deal. Democrats promoted American liberalism, anchored in a coalition of specific liberal groups, especially ethno-religious constituencies (Catholics, Jews, African Americans), white Southerners, well-organized labor unions, urban machines, progressive intellectuals, and populist farm groups.
Opposition Republicans were split between a conservative wing, led by Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, and a more successful moderate wing exemplified by the politics of Northeastern leaders such as Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, and Henry Cabot Lodge. The latter steadily lost influence inside the GOP after 1964.
It's disputed exactly when the Fifth Party System ended and the Sixth began. 1968 is used for the maps in Fifth Party System and Sixth Party System, which also marks the end of a proposed historical dealignment period beginning in 1958. In the 1960s, the Southern Strategy shifted Southern Democrats to the Republican Party, as Nixon was winning landslides. This caused the Republican Party to gain increased strength compared to the Fifth Party System. Political nominees in the Sixth Party System started being elected by primaries, instead of county caucuses and state conventions. Compared to the Fifth, the Sixth Party System is characterized by the Democratic and Republican ideologies diverging farther apart, resulting in strong political divisiveness.
New voter coalitions included the emergence of the "religious right", which is a combination of Catholics and Evangelical Protestants united on opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Southern white voters started voting for Republican presidential candidates in the 1950s, and Republican state and local candidates in the 1990s.
It has been argued that a Seventh Party System has already started. Mark D. Brewer and L. Sandy Maisel speculate that "in the wake of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential victory, there is now strengthening debate as to whether we are entering a new party system as Trump fundamentally reshapes the Republican party and the Democratic party responds and evolves as well."
If it has not started yet, the Sixth Party System would be the longest party system ever, surpassing the forty years of the Third Party System. However, even by those that do believe it has started, there is no consensus on the exact start date of this system either.
Although American politics have been dominated by the two-party system, several other political parties have also emerged throughout the country's history. The oldest third party was the Anti-Masonic Party, which was formed in upstate New York in 1828. The party's creators feared the Freemasons, believing they were a powerful secret society that was attempting to rule the country in defiance of republican principles.
The Democratic Party is one of two major political parties in the U.S. Founded as the Democratic Party in 1828 by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, it is the oldest extant voter-based political party in the world.
The Democratic Party at its founding supported a different set of issues than it presently supports. From its founding until the mid-20th century, the Democratic Party was the dominant party among white southerners, and as such, was then the party most associated with the defense of slavery. However, following the Great Society under Lyndon B. Johnson, the Democratic Party became the more progressive party on issues of civil rights, they would slowly lose dominance in southern states until 1996.
The Democratic Party since 1912 has positioned itself as the liberal party on domestic issues. The economic philosophy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which has strongly influenced modern American liberalism, has shaped much of the party's agenda since 1932. Roosevelt's New Deal coalition controlled the White House until 1968, with the exception of the two terms of President Eisenhower from 1953 to 1961. Since the mid-20th century, Democrats have generally been in the center-left and currently support social justice, social liberalism, a mixed economy, and the welfare state, although Bill Clinton and other New Democrats have pushed for free trade and neoliberalism, which is seen to have shifted the party rightwards. Democrats are currently strongest in the Northeast and West Coast and in major American urban centers. African-Americans and Latinos tend to be disproportionately Democratic, as do trade unions.
In 2004, it was the largest political party, with 72 million registered voters (42.6% of 169 million registered) claiming affiliation. Although his party lost the election for president in 2004, Barack Obama would later go on to become president in 2009 and continue to be the president until January 2017. Obama was the 15th Democrat to hold the office, and from the 2006 midterm elections until the 2014 midterm elections, the Democratic Party was also the majority party in the United States Senate.
A 2011 USA Today review of state voter rolls indicates that the number of registered Democrats declined in 25 of 28 states (some states do not register voters by party). During this time, Republican registration also declined, as independent or no preference voting was on the rise. However, in 2011 Democrats numbers shrank 800,000, and from 2008 they were down by 1.7 million, or 3.9%. In 2018, the Democratic party was the largest in the United States with roughly 60 million registered members.
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States of America. Since the 1880s it has been nicknamed (by the media) the "Grand Old Party" or GOP, although it is younger than the Democratic Party. Founded in 1854 by Northern anti-slavery activists and modernizers, the Republican Party rose to prominence in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln, who used the party machinery to support victory in the American Civil War.
The GOP dominated national politics during the Third Party System, from 1854 to 1896, and the Fourth Party System from 1896 to 1932. Since its founding, the Republican Party has been the more market-oriented of the two American political parties, often favoring policies that aid American business interests. As a party whose power was once based on the voting power of Union Army veterans, this party has traditionally supported more robust national defense measures and improved veterans' benefits. Today, the Republican Party supports an American conservative platform, with further foundations in economic liberalism, fiscal conservatism, and social conservatism. The Republican Party tends to be strongest in the Southern United States and the "flyover states", as well as suburban and rural areas in other states.
Since the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans held a majority in the United States House of Representatives until the 2018 midterms where they lost it to the Democratic Party. Additionally, since the 2014 elections, the Republican Party has controlled the Senate. In 2018, the Republican party had roughly 55 million registered members, making it the second largest party in the United States. In the aftermath of the 2020 United States elections, the GOP lost their senate majority, and Chuck Schumer was appointed Senate Majority Leader in a power-sharing agreement with the Republican Party.
The United States also has an array of minor parties, the largest of which (on the basis of support for their presidential candidates in the 2016 election), are the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution parties.
The Libertarian Party was founded on December 11, 1972. It is the largest continuing third party in the United States, claiming well over 600,000 registered voters across all 50 states. As of 2021, they have about 176 minor elected officials, including 2 state legislators. Former Representative Justin Amash, a former Republican and later independent from Michigan, switched to the Libertarian Party in May 2020, to become the first Libertarian Party member of Congress. Amash declined to run for reelection in 2020 and left office on January 3, 2021.
The 2012 Libertarian Party nominee for United States President was former New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson. He achieved ballot access in every state except for Michigan (only as a write-in candidate) and Oklahoma. He received over one million votes in the election. In 2016, Johnson ran again, receiving over four million votes, or 3.3% of the popular vote.
The Libertarian Party's core mission is to reduce the size, influence, and expenditures in all levels of government. To this effect, the party supports minimally regulated markets, a less powerful federal government, strong civil liberties, drug liberalization, open immigration, non-interventionism and neutrality in diplomatic relations, free trade and free movement to all foreign countries, and a more representative republic. As of 2016, it is the third largest organized political party in the United States.
The Green Party has been active as a third party since the 1980s. The party first gained widespread public attention during Ralph Nader's second presidential run in 2000. Currently, the primary national Green Party organization in the U.S. is the Green Party of the United States, which has eclipsed the earlier Greens/Green Party USA.
The Green Party in the United States has won elected office mostly at the local level; most winners of public office in the United States who are considered Greens have won nonpartisan-ballot elections (that is, elections in which the candidates' party affiliations were not printed on the ballot). In 2005, the Party had 305,000 registered members in the District of Columbia and 20 states that allow party registration. During the 2006 elections the party had ballot access in 31 states. In 2017, Ralph Chapman, a Representative in the Maine House of Representative switched his association from Unaffiliated to the Green Independent Party.
The United States Green Party generally holds a left-wing ideology on most important issues. Greens emphasize environmentalism, non-hierarchical participatory democracy, social justice, respect for diversity, peace, and nonviolence. As of 2016, it is the fourth largest organized political party in the United States.
The Constitution Party is a small national conservative political party in the United States. It was founded as the U.S. Taxpayers Party in 1992 by Howard Phillips. The party's official name was changed to the "Constitution Party" in 1999; however, some state affiliate parties are known under different names. The Constitution Party is strongly pro-life and supports gun rights and restrictions on immigration. It calls for protectionist trade policies.
In 2010 former Congressman Tom Tancredo was the Constitution Party candidate for governor of Colorado, coming in second with 617,030 votes, 36.4% and ahead of the Republican candidate, Dan Maes, with 11.1%. The Constitution Party's 2012 presidential nominee was former Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia. Tennessee Attorney Darrell Castle was the 2016 Constitution Party nominee for President of the United States and Scott Bradley of Utah was the nominee for vice president.
The American Solidarity Party (ASP) is a Christian democratic political party in the United States that is progressive on economic issues[third-party source needed] and moderately conservative on social issues.
As of October 2020
|A: Alliance Party|
|C: Constitution Party|
|D: Democratic Party|
|F: Reform Party|
|G: Green Party|
|L: Libertarian Party|
|N: Natural Law Party|
|R: Republican Party|
|S: Party for Socialism and Liberation|
|WC: Working Class Party|
|WF: Working Families Party|
|O: Other political parties|
What's next may be hinted at by a 51 year old devout Catholic, businessman, and semi-professional magician named Mike Maturen, who recently accepted the presidential nomination of the American Solidarity Party, the only active Christian Democratic party in the nation.
For the socially-conservative American who thinks government intervention has some place in the economy, the American Solidarity Party might fit.