Chapters 4 and 5: Political Parties and The Politics of Elections

The U.S. is one of the most "electoral" political system in the world.  Free, regularly scheduled, and frequent elections are fundamental in a democratic society.  Too many elections in U.S. reflects the Americans distrust of governmental power.

A. Elections are the means or process which most of the people transmit their preferences to the political system; through elections we learn what voters are thinking.

B. Types of elections: primary, general and special

A. Direct primaries: an intra-party elections in which the voters select the candidates who will run on a party's ticket in the next general election.

1. Closed - voting is limited to party members only (39 states have this form; Texas has by law)

2. Open - no declaration of party ID is necessary, eight states utilize this type (Texas works like this in practice)

* Allows for crossover vote to select other party's candidate who holds philosophy like yours

* Allows raiding to cause weak opposition to get nomination in belief he will lose in November

3. Blanket - Voters may select candidates of either party (LA, ALASKA, WA)

b. Paying for primary election

1. A maximum of 60% of primary expenses is covered by the state.

2. Remainder from filing fees paid by candidates

c. Primary elections is administered by the party officials.

B.  Presidential primaries:

select delegates to attend party's national convention (direct primaries select the actual nominees)

Caucus is a closed meeting of party leaders and activists to select the delegates.

Primary season during presidential election year begins in February

1. Starts with Iowa caucus

2. New Hampshire primary

a. Date is fixed at the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of even years

b. Winning is based on plurality

At the local level, some cities choose their councils in special elections, and almost all school board members are specially elected.

Special elections may also be held for bond issues, local liquor options, and the like.

a. Administered by secretary of state,

b. Require majority vote

c. It is nonpartisan.


A. Political party is a group of people who share a common ideology, who organize to win elections and operate government, and determine public policy.

B. Functions

1. Main function is to win elections

2. Recruit and nominate candidates

3. Create an agenda (Provide alternatives)

4. Act as agent of political socialization and education

5. Unification of different factions 6.Linkage between system and people's needs

7. Loyal opposition, perform criticism, but at same time are loyal

National Level

A. Constitution intentionally does not discuss parties

B. First party system, preparatory period with no established parties, two factions did exist

1. The Federalists backed the Constitution, strong federal government and strong executive, in the hands of the elite; support of wealthy

2. The anti-federalists, Jeffersonian-Republicans, (Democratic-Republicans) were supported by small business and the common man, favored states rights over central government

C. Second party system, Era of Democrats 1800-1860

1. Under Andrew Jackson, faction first organized into a political party, Democratic, established in 1828;

2. The Whig Party 1836, opposed Jackson's presidency; suffered from internal division over slavery

3. Whigs won four elections

a. Harrison 1840
b. Tyler 1841
c. Taylor 1848
d. Fillmore 1850

D. Third party system, Republican supremacy 1860-1932

1. GOP (Grand Old Party), second oldest party, organized in 1854 on the slavery issue

2. Widely supported on national issues for Civil War victory

3. Solid South - The south remained solidly Democratic.   GOP could not get enough support from the South, basically because of slavery;

4. Exceptions to Republican Supremacy

a. Cleveland 1884
b. Cleveland 1892
c. Wilson 1912

E. FDR and Democrats won the elections in 1932;, they ended GOP's long reign;

                    1.   Harry Truman became the president in 1948 (D)

2. 1952 Eisenhower (Korean War) (R)
3. 1960 Kennedy and Johnson (D)
4. 1968 Nixon (R)
5. 1972 Nixon/Ford (R)
6. Rockefeller first not elected vice-pres.
7. 1976 Carter (D)
8. 1980 Reagan (R)
9. 1984 Reagan (R)
10. 1988 Bush (R)
11. 1992 Clinton (D)
12. 2000 George W. Bush (R)

Conclusion: Increasing Competitiveness of the Major Parties at the national level.

F. Republicans breaking down the Solid South

1. Migrations from North to South

2. Socio-economic status improved with oil revenue

3. Increasing competitiveness of the major parties

State Level: Texas

When Texas entered the Union in 1845, party government in the U.S. was nearly fifty years old.  Since 1875, reconstruction, Texas has been a predominately one-party state.
Reasons: Republican fell into disrepute, representing Lincoln, North, ...

Contests were between the liberals and conservatives in Texas;

Since 1950, however, Texas has been moving toward a two party system similar

to that national level; 1978 is a turning point, election of Bill Clements;  There has been steady increase in the number of Republicans.

A. Democrats

1. Jews & Catholics
2. Blacks, other non-whites as Mexican
3. Lower education
4. Young
5. Blue collar worker
6. Poor

B. Republicans

1. Protestants
2. Whites
3. Higher education
4. Older
5. Professionals
6. Rich

A. Platforms show beliefs or ideology, giving stand on issues candidates should take

B. Pragmatism - records show US parties do not go with platform, but strive to win no matter who votes

C. Democrats are liberals, Republican are conservatives

D. Each party has liberal and conservative extremes, most members are moderate

E. Platform of parties are designed to appeal to "swing votes" of the other party

F. Independents - three meanings in U.S.

1. Party switchers - cross and recross party lines from election to election

2. Ticket splitters vote for different parties at same election

3. Think is socially respectable to say they are independent, but actually vote for one party

Both parties have some similar, common values

1. Support Constitution
2. Economic system of capitalism
3. Majority rule
4. Due process
5. Civil rights
6. Civil liberties

Parties  have no big solid dependable rank and file membership;

1. Responsibilities for membership

No dues, No obligations
Do not work for a party
Do not discuss party matters

2. Makeup

a. Leadership - does most of work

b. Activists - small group dominates party

1. Formulates party objectives
2. Decide who leaders are
3. Writes platform
4. Have time and money - the producers

c. Primary voters - nominate candidates
d. Party identifiers - in name only
e. Voters - most removed from party activity

H. Motivation for political party participation

1. Patronage - appointment of government jobs that are based on sponsorship by a political patron.

a. Creates a spoils system,
b. Pendelton Act of 1883 requires test for competency for special positions, using Civil Service exam

2. Elected Office - Develop skills, gain experience, make connections, win approval, and improve resources

3. Social and psychological satisfactions to ego from parties, social life

Party systems refers to the patterns of interaction between parties in a given political system.

A. One-party dominates all three branch of the government as was the Democratic party in the South

B. Two-party systems - two parties alternate as the party in power and the opposition party as in the U.S.A.

Why U.S.A. is two-party

1. Most elections are held on a single member districts basis where winner takes all

2. Plurality electoral systems promote two-party

a. Plurality - one with most votes wins over any number

b. Majority - 50% + 1 vote

c. Proportional representation - with winners in proportion to votes received

3. Tradition from England

4. Historically, two factions early developed

C. Multi-party systems - any number of parties may organize. Based on changing coalitions and is unstable, as in France and England with proportional representation, with no clear majority in the houses

Minor parties in the U.S.A. - Over 1100 have existed

1. Ideological - views very different from established parties

a. Socialist Labor
b. Socialist Worker
c. Communist
d. Libertarian
e. New Alliance

2. Single-issue parties

a. Prohibition
b. Free Soil
c. Anti-Mason

3. Economic protest parties - based on a particular region

a. Populist
b. Greenback

4. Factional (Bolter) parties - split off from major parties

a. Progressives, Bull Moose
b. Lafollette
c. States Rights Party - Dixiecrats

The structure is  very similar in both parties. Neither is hierarchical in structure; the definition and regulation of party organization have been left to the states

A. National convention is supreme legal authority for each party

1. Purpose

a. Meets every four years for four days
b. Chooses candidates
c. Writes party' national platform

2. Delegates

a. are selected by party conventions or primaries
b. most delegates are selected by the primary method

3. First day agenda

a. Open, pledge, anthem
b. Welcome speech, financial report
c. Keynote address

4. Second day agenda

a. Credential committee report
b. Rules committee
c. Platform committee

5. Third day agenda

a. Nominate presidential candidate
b. Roll call for nomination

6. Fourth day agenda

a. Nomination of vice presidential candidate
b. Traditionally presidential candidate chooses his running mate
c. Choice is made to balance the ticket which fills in credentials missing in the presidential candidate

B. National committee

1. Permanent committee
2. Composed of 50 M and 50 F members chosen by the convention
3. Coordinates the 50 states party activities and assists in presidential campaign
4. Determines place and time of convention
5. Appeases warring factions
6. Raises funds
7. Rarely meet together
8. Pres. chooses the chairman and the committee approves
9. Chairman is very important if the president wins (Finds people to fill jobs, gives President names)

C. State and lower levels function similarly to national except for a limited geographical area

  1. 1. State Executive committee
  2. County committee
  3. Precinct level officials
  4. Primaries and conventions are temporary party organization;
  5. The 1st primaries for both parties in TX is the second Tuesday in March (even # year)
  6. Precinct conventions: lowest level of temporary organization after primary (same day);
  7.   County or District Convention
  8.   State Convention: June even # years; selects slate of presidential electors in case party wins plurality; one major function is to draft and adopt a party platform; Beginning with the 2002 election, TX has 34 electors for president;

A. No firm ideology
B. Bad structure, no discipline
C. Decentralized
D. Spoil system (patronage)
E. No meaningful competition
F. No solid rank and file membership
G. Accused of being electoral machines

Reforms proposed by both parties in 1968

A. Reform - proper advance notice of meetings with no secret meetings, no discriminations

B. Reorganization or renewal - start with grass root organization level to recruit and train members

C. Realign - the many factors must form coalitions and realign

Multiple Choice Questions


Web Links
Chapter 4: The Politics of Elections and Parties
Federal Elections Commission
Office of the Secretary of State
Texas Ethics Commission
Texas Constitution Party
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Texas Republican Party
Texas Libertarian Party
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Texas Reform Party
League of Women Voters
Office of the Secretary of State of Texas
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