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Do political parties still have a role to play in American elections?

Seminararbeit 2004 9 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Kultur und Landeskunde


Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

2. The Election of the President
2.1. Nomination
2.1.1. Caucuses
2.1.2. Conventions
2.1.3. Primaries

3. Conclusion - Effects of the changing nomination process

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

“The spirit of party serves always to distract the public councils, and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; forments occasional riot and insurrection.”

George Washington, Farewell Address to the People of the United States, September 19, 1796.[1]

Although George Washington’s speech clearly resembles the political view of political parties in the late 18th century, it was during his administration when the first party organizations developed.

Thus, “American political parties are among the oldest continuously established party organizations in the world.”[2] Since they exist for more than two hundred years, the following essay is going to analyze if and which social and political changes have occurred that influenced the parties impact on selecting the presidential candidate. Do parties still have a role to play in American elections?

I will at first briefly describe how American citizens elect their president. Secondly, in order to simplify the analysis, I refer to four distinct periods of party organization.[3] The first period, from 1796 to 1828, was marked by elite caucuses held by the Federalist and Jeffersonian Republicans. The development of mass party organizations, between 1840 and 1900, gave rise to national conventions, party platforms and effective techniques for mobilizing voters.[4] During the third period, from 1900 to 1960, the political parties had to face an organizational decline, which was caused by social changes and reforms of the Progressive era. By the dawn of television and mass media, during the 1950s and 1960s, the parties saw themselves as providers of the new technology. The present era, again, transformed the parties’ task and gave way to “candidate-centered” elections.

2. The Election of the President

“The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows (…)”

The Constitution of the United States of America: Article II, Section1.[5]

The election process begins long before the election day in November. The first step is the nominating process within the political parties. It officially begins with the first state primaries and caucuses, which usually occur in the month of February of the election year. These primaries and caucuses choose slates of delegates (usually pledged to support particular candidates) to represent the state at the national party conventions. At the national party conventions, traditionally held in the summer, the delegates from the states cast votes to select the party's candidate for president.

The U.S. Constitution provides an indirect voting system. When Americans cast their vote for a presidential candidate, what they are really doing is voting an elector - a delegate who guarantees to vote for that same candidate. There are 538 such electors chosen in every presidential election. As a group they are known as the Electoral College. Each state has as many electors as it has members in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives combined. According to the U.S. Constitution, state legislators decide how electors will be chosen in their state. On election day- the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November every four years- voters throughout the whole nation go to the polls to choose the electors in their states. In many states the names of the electors do not even appear on the ballot. The voters see only the names of the candidates for president and vice president. Nevertheless, voters who prefer the Republican or Democratic candidate for president actually vote for the Republican (or Democratic) electors in their state. This voting of the people for electors is called the popular vote. An absolute majority is necessary to prevail in the presidential elections, that is 270 of 538 votes.


[1] Cronin, Thomas E. The Paradoxes of the American Presidency. Oxford University Press. Oxford, 22004.

[2] Hrebenar, Ronald J. Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Political Campaigns. Westview Press. Boulder, 1999. 73.

[3] Ibid. 10.

[4] Ibid. 9.

[5] Pfiffner, James P. The Modern Presidency. Bedford/ St. Martins, 32000. 248f.


ISBN (eBook)
501 KB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Reading – Department of Politics
American Government Politics



Titel: Do political parties still have a role to play in American elections?