In the United States, there are many different parties but the controlling parties in politics have been the Republicans and the Democrats. These two parties are the largest parties in the United States and because of the uniformity in voting, they have the greatest control. As a result of the mostly two-party system, partisan politics has occurred in which members of parties vote in line with their party in spite of conceptual differences or knowledge that the party might be mistaken in some manner (Alesina, 1995). This has created a negative connotation regarding partisan politics. However, the force of the two parties on the US political system is enormous. Through any single important issue, the differences, effect on government and society, and the forces driving these parties can be seen readily.
One issue that makes this analysis simple and evident is the topic of abortion. The issue of abortion has been a dividing issue between the Democratic and Republican party for a very long time. Republicans are decidedly against abortion and have been trying to limit abortion for many years. Democrats are prochoice and do not believe that the government has the right to mandate a woman’s reproductive rights.
In this situation, it is helpful to understand the forces driving the parties to their independent positions on the issue of abortion. According to the Republican National party, this is their stance on abortion:
We say the unborn child has a fundamental right to life. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions. We oppose using public revenues for abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respect the sanctity of innocent human life (GOP, 2000).
This stance on abortion is drawn from many of the groups that control the Republican National Party. Most of the controlling groups are conservative groups which are aligned strongly with Christian values. These groups do not believe in quick changes in social values. The driving force in the Republican party seems to be systemic of conservative Christian groups. Thus most religious organizations by default vote republican merely on the grounds of abortion being a violation of religious tenet.
The Democratic Party aligns itself with prochoice believers on the grounds of gender equality and privacy rights. This is the party’s stance:
Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman’s right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare (Democratic Platform, 2004).
The Democratic Party believes that the reversal of decisions such as Roe v. Wade will erode the rights of Americans, in particular women. Some of the driving forces behind this party are liberal groups such as the UCLA, the NAACP, and many other groups. The majority of Americans are Democratic but the party is not as unified as the Republican Party and often loses many votes to Republicans when it concerns problems such as the economy.
The partisanship that occurs over the issue of abortion has many ramifications for the government in the United States. Often seemingly unrelated issues are drawn into the crossfire because of the abortion topic. For instance, Republicans will attempt and have successfully barred legislation that might in some way support abortion. For instance, at the state level, abortion funding that comes from the federal government is used in a manner which the state decides. For instance, in many Republican states, this funding is only permissible to use when there are medical necessities attached to the pregnancy. At one point even pregnancies resulting from rape or incest were not covered under Medicaid. This however was overturned by appellate courts and many of these states are under court order to comply. As one can see the effect of partisan politics can have far reaching affects resulting in actions that ultimately can harm people. In this same manner, the Roe vs. Wade decision has made abortion a medically accessible and governmentally funded decision (Guttmacher Institute, 2011).
Partisan politics become even more complex when one takes into account special interest groups and corporate involvement. For instance, some of the largest supporters of both parties are large corporations. As an example, if a healthcare company such as Keyser Permanente would not desire to have abortion illegal because its clinics profit from Medicaid payments for abortion. When campaign contributions are made this is an expectation from the lobbyist. Although this is just an example, healthcare companies have been some of the largest supporters of the Republican Party and historically the abortion issue has changed little since Row vs. Wade. Yet when the Democratic Party came to power with the Obama administration, healthcare was finally reformed.
Many critics of partisanship dispute the effectiveness of the two-party system. The legislature is constantly overturned and economic policies are shifted with each time a different party comes to power. In the abortion issue, the only reason that the law has not been repealed or revisited is that Row Vs. Wade is a Supreme Court decision and this decision would require an amendment to the constitution. Another criticism is that the two parties ostracize a large portion of the population. Independents comprise 42 million voters yet these voters cannot vote in the primaries which choose the candidates for the Republican and Democratic Party. Independent parties also get less airtime and less funding for campaigns creating a decidedly biased outcome. As a result, many people identify themselves as Republican or Democrat even though they are not, just to be able to vote in the primaries. Then during the election voting, they vote independent.
Identifying oneself as Republican or Democrat gives the voter the advantage of helping to decide the party candidates. Yet this skews the number of actual Democrats and Republicans. Because many people identify themselves as either party and really, they are independent this creates an incredible swing vote. This swing vote often causes problems such as in the Bush vs. Gore election decision made by the Supreme Court in 2000 in which the votes were within mere percentages of each party winning. The problem which many people do not see with partisanship is that it often is not truly representative of the majority. If one party wins then what this amount to is that in many cases more than two thirds of the population has lost. In 2000 Bush won with 48.8 percent of the vote which is less than half of the population (Washington Post, 2001). When looked at from this angle partisanship must be questioned for the sake of who is running the country? Certainly, it is not the majority of voters.
The party system has been an agent for change but at the same time, it has also been a hindrance. Often changes are so slow to come that people must suffer for long periods of time. For instance, the Democratic Party was vehemently opposed to reconstruction and equal rights after the civil war. From the civil war to the civil rights movements, African Americans would wait on change such as challenges like Brown vs. Board of Education in which the Supreme Court forced legal change through the decision that ‘separate but equal was unconstitutional. But with the advent of the newest part, the Tea Party, perhaps the two party system will evolve into a new system for the United States.
Alesina, A. (1995). Partisan Politics, Divided Government, and the Economy Harvard University Press, Massachusetts
Guttmacher Institute. (2011, January 1). State funding of abortion under medicaid. Retrieved from http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_SFAM.pdf
Political Staff of the Washington Post (2001) , Deadlock: The Inside Story of America’s Closest Election, Perseus Books pages 230–234
Republican Platform adopted at GOP National Convention Aug 12, 2000 http://www.ontheissues.org/celeb/Republican_Party_Abortion.htm
The Democratic Platform for America, p.36 Jul 10, 2004 http://www.ontheissues.org/celeb/Democratic_Party_Abortion.htm