Why is the two-party system stable

"Representation by parties"; Part 2: The American Party System

Table of Contents

1. On the historical development of the parties in the USA

2. The importance of the party

3. Interest groups / PACs

4. Development tendencies of the parties

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

Two-party system / Decrease in the importance of the parties in political life

1. On the historical development of the parties in the USA

A few years after the Union was founded, two party lines developed in the United States. One was the so-called Federalists under Alexander Hamilton, who strived for a strong and centralistically oriented union. The others were the anti-federalists under Thomas Jefferson, who stood up for the rights of the individual states and thus voted against a strong federation. The federalists could be described as conservative, the anti-federalists more as liberal-democratic.

While the anti-federalist party expanded its spectrum after 1800 and became the democratic-republican party, the federalist party slowly came to an end during this period. In 1825 the Democratic Republican Party split into the radical Democratic Republicans under Andrew Jackson, who later became the Democrats, and the National Republicans under Henry Clay, from whom the Republicans later developed.

When the federalists disappeared as the real "right-wing party", the anti-federal lists took over this spectrum at the same time. When the democratic-republican party split into two parts, the old left-right scheme was restored. The new right-wing party took over Word component "republican", the new left the word component "democratic".

However, it was the Republicans who asserted the supremacy of the liberal North in the American Civil War and who enforced the abolition of slavery against the democratically oriented southern states, which one would attribute more to a democratic than to a conservative party. This paradox of American history is best explained by the fact that it was not primarily about the liberation of slaves, but about the existence of the Union under the leadership of the North. Abraham Lincoln said, “If I could save the Union by freeing all slaves, I would. If I could save the Union without freeing a single slave, so would I ... "1

The Republicans remained the leading party for decades after the American Civil War, as the Democrats could not really break away from their image as civil war losers and accordingly needed a long time to regenerate.

Although the two parties agree on the basic political issues, they can still be distinguished from one another.

“The Democrats are a party of the South, the big cities, the poor, the trade unions, the small farmers, the emigrants and their children, the blacks, the white racists (!), The young citizens, those with the least and the highest Education level including intellectuals, Catholics and Jews.

Republicans are a party of the Midwest, country and suburbs, the rich, the middle class, the business community, the successful farmers, the long-time residents, the college educated and the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. "2

2. The importance of the party

For a Western European, the American parties appear fragmented and decentralized, which is, among other things, an expression of the diverse and highly segmented American society. In contrast to Germany, where the parties are more involved than in hardly any other country in the formation of political will and control access to the federal and state bureaucracies, parties in the USA are reduced to the function of nominating candidates for public office (,, A party is to elect ")3. They do not have such a dominant position in public life as is the case with German parties.

Accordingly, an American associates something different with the term party than a German. In America there is more than just a concept of "party". It can mean a coalition of voters that have emerged from the various social, ethnic and racial groups. An example of this is the New Deal coalition under Franklin D. . Roosevelt, who was an electoral alliance of "workers, trade unionists, intellectuals, Catholics, Jews, ethnic minorities, blacks and metropolitan people interested in state intervention to improve their social situation."4

A "party" can also mean a group of senators and members of parliament who have been elected by a certain party, but do not have to have factional discipline. Party membership is not decisive for their voting behavior. But a "party" is also an organization , the loose association in the small town up to the federal level. However, this is not comparable with the bureaucratized member party as we know it from the Federal Republic, since formal party membership, combined with the payment of membership fees, is not common in the USA. If a voter feels particularly attached to a party, he makes a donation to it.

As mentioned earlier, the two major US parties are highly decentralized and functionally fragmented. They consist of various economic, social and religious interest groups, which in turn form electoral cartels and fight one another. Thus, both parties are torn into many small groups / wings that only want to enforce their own interests. The Democrats were fragmented into seven different "caucuses", working groups that had increasingly developed into inner-party factions with very opposing attitudes The SPD is still reminiscent of the revolutionary workers' movement, as well as the tradition of the revolution of 1848 and thus bourgeois democracy.The CDU / CSU has a German national-Protestant as well as a Catholic-conservative character.

It is much more difficult to tell the big parties in the United States apart, among other things, their common historical development contributes to this. According to Peter Lösche, both share the same "programmatic non-commitment"5which he uses to address their vagueness in relation to their programs. When new interest groups emerge who challenge the big parties, they soak up their issues, programs and, not infrequently, their staff like a sponge. This also explains the poor success of third parties, which, if they find approval with the electorate, are immediately swallowed up by one of the two "big ones". The two-party system seems to be so stable in the USA precisely because the big parties are united continue to prove to be very flexible and absorbent.

Then there is the problem of majority voting. If the voter votes for the candidate of the small splinter party, he must expect that his vote will fall by the wayside. To prevent this, he rather chooses one of the two big parties and tries to choose the lesser of two evils. This in turn has the consequence that opposition groups and parties try from the outset to find refuge in the broad spectrum of one of the two "big ones" and thus to become eligible. The American parties are thus a kind of collecting basin for the most diverse political interest groups, their main interests are not infrequently contradicting each other, which makes a clear party line impossible and precludes unity on political issues.

3. Interest groups / PACs

These interest groups have occupied an increasingly strong position in politics since the 1970s. According to Lösche, one reason for the fact that the party as such was weakened further and further. These interest groups use a special instrument for the election campaign, the Political Action Commitees (PACs). These are election campaign committees that support the individual interests of the individual interest groups, regardless of whether they are of an economic or ideological nature. The PACs take on "tasks that are performed by parties in Western European parliamentary systems of government."6

To qualify as such a PAC, a minimum of 50 people must donate to the association and those donations must be given to at least 5 selected candidates. The organizational structure of the PACs is very similar to that of political parties, there is "a treasurer and a deputy, PACs issue" newsletters ", they organize political seminars, lectures, receptions, etc."7 To become a member of a PAC you have to pay a certain minimum donation to the community of interests.

These election campaign committees are formed by trade unions, companies or other organizations, so there are PACs for the National Rifle Association or the Conservative PAC of the Conservatives. The PACs offer all kinds of services for the election campaign of a candidate. This includes, for example, the creation of opinion polls and the PR organization of an election campaign. They also collect and distribute campaign donations and train campaign staff. The commitment of these PACs has even increased to such an extent that in recent years they have begun to bring in their own candidates, whom they then send into the election campaign under the guise of the big party. Often, PACs support several candidates in one constituency in order to secure the successful candidate to represent their interests in any case. They seek the closest possible contact to parliamentarians and members of the executive branch in order to allow their interests to flow into the various political areas and into legislation. Lösche argues that the candidates supported by PACs are put into a dilemma because they feel committed not only to their party, their regional interests and their voters, but also to the interest groups that supported them in the election campaign and financed them. The candidates do not want to alienate anyone, but the multitude of interests they have to represent makes it increasingly difficult to make a clear decision. Lösche sees this as a further weakening of the parties, as the possibility of consensus within the party continues to decrease due to the influence of the PACs. The financial influence of the PACs should not be underestimated, so in 1974 17% of the income of the members of the House of Representatives came from funds of the PACs, in 1986 it was even 21%.8

PACs are a very effective political instrument, so that many prominent politicians have already acquired their own in order to increase their influence within the major parties. With the help of their own PACs, an attempt is made to engage or win over other members of the party, if possible in key positions. This is especially important when there is a House Speaker election or a presidential election. Two years before the presidential elections in 1988, the following candidates had their own PACs to build internal party power: Howard Baker, George Bush, Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, Joseph Biden, Richard Gephardt, Gary Hart.9

This development goes so far that many candidates, if they can raise enough money for the election campaign, can reach the electorate through the media without any help from the party. The traditional way through the parties is obsolete, direct personal contact and voluntary election workers are a thing of the past. "Pollsters, television and advertising managers have therefore displaced the parties as mediators between citizens and politicians." Pollsters in particular have moved ever closer to the center of an election campaign Politically profiling surveys and thus increasing his chances of voting. This happens through the selection of target groups, which are either written to directly or telephoned, on the one hand with the aim of researching opinions, but also to make advertising and to solicit election donations. Electronic media, The television sector in particular has moved more and more into the focus of the election campaign, "Presidential and congressional candidates spend more than half of the campaign budget on television advertising."10

4. Development tendencies of the parties

According to Peter Lösche, political parties have been rebuilt in recent years. He sees evidence for this mainly in the fact that both parties are concentrating more than before on the support and self-development of candidates in the election campaign. This then continues until support is provided in the pre-election campaign. In addition, the Conservatives developed many small party headquarters in the individual states in order to establish greater proximity to the electorate, while the number of their party employees and party donors rose at the same time. The Democrats, on the other hand, first tried to unite the various parliamentary groups or working groups, which outwardly offered a somewhat unsound image of the Democrats, by removing power from them. In order to give the whole thing a symbolic character, they moved into a joint headquarters near the Capitol in the spring of 1985.

Overall, so-called "party voting", i.e. party-oriented voting, has also increased. The members of one party apparently feel increasingly committed to their party's goal regarding social and economic issues in the country. However, Lösche does not see any step by the parties in the development to an interest-mediating and policy-formulating organization, as it is known to us from the Federal Republic. Rather, the parties seem to be large "service companies for election campaigns and election advertising"11 to be developed, similar to the PACs, only significantly larger. According to a study by Salmore and Salmore, at least the flexibility and durability of the parties have increased.

5. Conclusion

The fact remains, however, that only that part of the population that is actively involved in interest groups or even forms such can influence political events by directly influencing one or more members of parliament. Socially disadvantaged parts of the population will have a harder time in this regard, as a healthy financial background is often necessary for this.

In contrast to the Federal Republic of Germany, the individual candidate in the USA owes his constituency much more direct accountability, since he cannot hide behind a faction discipline, which is not necessarily a disadvantage. However, this also has the consequence that it is much more exposed to the influence of regional interest groups than is the case in this country. So there is much stronger pressure "from below", the MP follows regional interests of interest groups rather than the president / party. Accordingly, it is often not the majority of voters who are represented, but only the part that in turn has a certain potential Has influence over PACs or other interest groups, so a company would have a far better chance of enforcing its interests politically than is the case with unorganized and poorly funded groups.

Inner-party PACs also contribute to the formation of a clique economy based on financial dependency, which contradicts the basic idea of ​​representation and thus arouses doubts about the representation of the general public by the two major parties. Since the parties are seen mainly as an institution whose main task is to nominate candidates for the various offices, others have to act as mediators between the people and the state. Usually it is the press, individual members of parliament, interest groups or citizens' groups that perform this task, the party as an interest-mediating and policy-formulating organization, as we know it in this country, does not exist in the USA.

6. Bibliography

Civic Education Information, USA

Peter delete, America in Perspective, Politics and Society of the United States, Darmstadt 1989

F.J. Up, Political Organizations: Concepts and Categories, ASPA-Paper 1990

H. Na ß macher, Journal for parliamentary questions, parties in North America, apparatus parties "new type" ?, Westdeutscher Verlag 1992


1 Political education

2 Political education

3Peter delete, America in Perspective, p. 225

4Peter delete, America in Perspective, p.225

5Peter delete, America in Perspective, p.227

6H. Na ß macher, Journal of Parliamentary Issues, Political Parties in North America, p.120

7H. Na ß macher, Journal of Parliamentary Issues, North American Political Parties, p.120

8F.J. Up, Political Organizations: Concepts and Categories, ASPA-Paper 1990

9Peter delete, America in Perspective, p.233

10Peter delete, America in Perspective, p.234

11Peter delete, America in Perspective, p.236