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Political Parties for AP U.S. Government

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

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Political Parties Review Questions for AP U.S. Government

Roles of Political Parties

  • party in the electorate—all of the people who associate themselves with one of the political parties
  • party in government—all of the appointed and elected officials at the national, state, and local levels who represent the party as members; officeholders
  • party in organization—all of the people at the various levels of the party organization who work to maintain the strength of the party between elections, help raise money, and organize the conventions and party functions

Party Systems

One-Party System

In a one-party system only one party exists or has a chance of winning election. Generally, membership is not voluntary and those who do belong to the party represent a small portion of the population. Party leaders must approve candidates for political office, and voters have no real choice. The result is dictatorial government.

Two-Party System

In a two-party system there may be several political parties but only two major political parties compete for power and dominate elections. Minor parties generally have little effect on most elections, especially at the national level. The Electoral College system makes it difficult for third-party candidates to affect presidential elections. It would be almost impossible for a third-party candidate to actually win a state, which is necessary to capture electoral votes. Systems that operate under the two-party system usually have a general consensus, or agreement, among citizens about the basic principles of government, even though the parties often differ on the means of carrying them out. The use of single-member districts promotes the two-party system. Voters are given an "either-or" choice, simplifying decisions and the political process. The two-party system tends to enhance governmental stability; because both parties want to appeal to the largest number of voters, they tend to avoid extremes in ideology.

Multi-Party System

Multi-party systems exist when several major parties and a number of minor parties compete in elections, and any of the parties stands a good chance of winning. This type of system can be composed of from 4 to 20 different parties, based on a particular region, ideology, or class position, and is often found in European nations, as well as in other democratic societies. The multi-party system is usually the result of a proportional representation voting system rather than one with single-member districts. The idea behind multi-party systems is to give voters meaningful choices. This does not always occur because of two major problems: in many elections, no party has a clear majority of the vote, and not receiving a majority forces the sharing of power by several parties (coalitions). The multi-party system tends to promote instability in government, especially when coalition governments are formed.

What Do Political Parties Do?

  • Recruit candidates—find candidates interested in running for public office, especially if no incumbent is running
  • Nominate and support candidates for office—help raise money and run candidate campaigns through the party organization
  • Educate the electorate—inform the voters about the candidates and encourage voters to participate in the election
  • Organize the government—The organization of Congress and state legislatures is based on political party controls (majority vs. minority party); political appointments are often made based on political party affiliation
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