Understanding the Differences Between Political Parties
The two-party system has been the dominating system of American politics throughout most of the country’s history. Almost every elected office in the United States is occupied by either a Republican or Democrat. These parties have been the most popular political parties in the United States and control all aspects of legislation at both the state and federal levels. The two-party system is not unique to the United States and exists in many democratic nations. The political construct of democracy promotes the growth of a two-party system that has a variety of negative and positive features.
The two-party system in the United States develops from the voting structure and election results (Sachs, 2011). The voting structure in the United States is a winner-take-all system and as a result the system favors large numbers of voters being aligned with few candidates. In contrast, multiparty systems favor large numbers of candidates splitting voter population and as a result the chances of any one candidate winning an election are greatly reduced. As a result, fewer voter interests are served in the multiparty system. Because the voting structure of the United States is a two-party system, voters are more likely to achieve voting goals by having one powerful candidate that represents the majority of their interests rather than all of them (Sachs, 2011). The two-party system can be seen clearly through the example voter interest in issues such as environmental policy.
The voter interests concerning environmental policy are very polarized between Republican and Democratic voters. As a result of this polarization of interests, individual voters may or may not vote with a particular party depending upon whether the party platform is in agreement with their individual concerns about environmental policy. The individual concerns and interests of voters is complex area of party politics because voters will weigh interests against interests and the importance of these interests will impact voting. For some voters environmental policies are of the highest concern while other voters may see these same policies as secondary to other issues such as economic growth. This decision making is further complicated by the involvement and input of special interest groups and corporate interests. These groups control large voting forces that are focused on their particular causes. For example, Greenpeace is a large environmental group that has millions of members worldwide representing environmental concerns. Groups such as this can control voters inside and outside their membership by presenting environmental concerns and who supports these concerns.
In 2010, Greenpeace fought against an environmental proposal named Prop 10. The organization attempted to rally support against the proposal because Prop 10 was an economic initiative that went against environmental concerns. Because Prop 10 was a Republican sponsored initiative, Greenpeace turned its voters in California to the Democratic Party. Despite Prop 10 being killed by voters margin for victory was narrow for Republicans, winning by 25%. Examples such as this show how special interests groups can exert force in the two-party system by guiding votes.
While special interest groups often bend to the will of parties that represent their interests, at times candidates will bend to the groups depending upon the strength of the group’s constituency. This relationship can be seen in the way in which parties change over time. Since the 1980’s there has been a growing belief in the Republican Party that environmental issues such as global warming have been exaggerated (Pruden, 2010). This change in view has been the result of voter interests within the party placing less concern on environmental issues and more emphasis on economics (Pruden, 2010). This change has been a direct result of increased corporate lobbying for economic policy (Dunlap & McCright, 2008).
Special interest groups and corporations often serve as a backdrop of concerns for political parties. The constant debate between environmentalists and corporations such as oil companies show how parties and their candidates are impacted through funding. This change in Republican views concerning environmental policy show this impact perfectly considering that Republicans were the first sponsors of environmental policy in the United States.
The two-party system tends to impact issues such as environmental policy by creating compromises in interests. Voters must vote for the candidate whom represents most of their interests or at least the most important ones. As a result of the subjective nature of voting interests, Democrat and Republicans parties become the platform for voicing opinions and concerns for the nation. The party system will educate its members and nonmembers through a variety of ways using internet, televised debates, and movie and book media. A prime example f this form of education that parties use can be seen in the book and movie created by Al Gore “An Inconvenient Truth”. The subject of the movie and book propelled environmental policy reforms and changes in laws (Dunlap & McCright, 2008).
The party education process is also the means by which voters are encouraged to join a party and vote. If a particular Republican or Environmental policy reform is being decided by a party, one must declare himself a as a member of one of the parties to vote on the policy. This is also true of electing party candidates in primary elections which will decide the party leaders for the Presidency. Party affiliation also has the benefit of inhibiting corporate influence through lobbying. Parties support candidates and as a result of this fact, the larger the party the less influence corporations have over candidates. Voting power can override corporate influence.
The two-party system is beneficial in that larger numbers of voters control the democratic process but at the same time the system has serious problems when it comes to controversial issues such as environmental policy. Often the controversial nature of issues can lead to political gridlock in which changes are slow to come or they are constantly thwarted by equal numbers of opposing voters. In the 1990’s, environmental policies were enacted to protect the environment such as not drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge (Raven, 2010). As a result of changes in controlling political parties many of these policies are threatened. Finding compromises between parties is an ongoing problem that often inhibits parties from being agents of change. Despite this problem the two-party system still provides the greatest level of political leverage for voters in the United States.
Raven, P.H. (2010) Environment and Ethics 7e Ch11 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp, 255–256
Pruden, W. (2010) The red-hot scam unravels The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/feb/16/pruden-the-red-hot-scam-begins-to- unravel/
Dunlap, R. E. and McCright, A. M. (2008) A Widening Gap: Republican and Democratic Views on Climate Change Environment Magazine http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/September- October%202008/dunlap-full.html
Sachs, Jeffrey (2011). The Price of Civilization. New York: Random House. p. 107