What do the US Political Parties Really Do?
Although there is no reference to political parties in the US Constitution, for nearly two centuries they have served the critical role of mediation that has made the American constitution work so well. the democratic and Republican parties exist and function at three levels: the public that identifies with each Party, the candidates and officials who govern under the Party banner, and the party organization.
In contrast to people in most other countries, the majority of Americans register as voters by party, either Republican or Democratic. it is difficult to obtain precise figures as many states do not record party affiliation, but a Gallup poll in March, 2020 noted that 30% or about 75 million of American adults consider themselves democrats, 30% or about 75 million Republicans, and a rapidly increasing 36% or over 90 million identify as independent (the vast majority of “independents” nevertheless vote consistently with one of the two parties).
The Democratic and Republican Parties fulfill the standard functions of all political parties, but as they have singularly dominated the political landscape of a large, powerful and diverse country for so long, they do so with considerably more power than political parties in most other democracies. the parties: i) choose the process and select candidates for elected positions, ii) Assist officials in power in carrying out their mandate, iii) choose what and how to inform the public on political issues, and iv) limit the control of the opposing party in power, be it at federal, state or local level.
under the us system of “checks and balances” purposefully structured by the founding fathers of the us Republic, there are three separate branches of power in government: executive, legislative and judicial, each existing in part to limit the powers of the others. this same tri-partite structure exists at the states’ level. the democratic and
Republican parties vie for control of the executive and legislative branches at the federal level and in each state, and even though judges are in principle expected to be non-partisan, experience strongly suggests many are not. As a result, the control and direction of the us government operates through the agency of the democratic and Republican parties at all levels of government.
Although some consider the American two-party system is too narrow to fully reflect democratic governance, it has worked well over most of the past 170 years, in part because of the following:
- Knowing that they have to retain the allegiance of a broad electorate, each of the political parties simplified the choices presented to the voters, limited the presentation and impact of radical ideas and typically presented middle-of-the-road platforms appealing to a large section of the electorate (the latest example of this is the recent democratic party choice of Joe Biden rather than Bernie sanders as its presidential candidate for the 2020 election);
- Both the Democratic and Republican parties have historically focused on policies rather than personalities;The parties have produced and reinforced over time a unifying consensus in the country on fundamental freedoms and values, espoused by both political parties, reducing excessive polarization of the public and insuring smooth government transitions from one party to the other; and
- The Democratic and Republican parties have in the past maintained a dynamic equilibrium fed by a level of trust and dialogue between the two parties and their elected officials, encouraging them to reach the essential compromises required to govern and to promulgate new programs and laws in the public interest.