The two-party system in the United States has been marked by periods of relative stability lasting twenty-five to forty years, with one party tending to maintain a majority of congressional seats and controlling the presidency.
The coalitions of groups supporting each of the parties change to a new alignment as a result of the shift in party dominance.
The policy agenda of each party's new coalition is reflected in the changes in government policies that result from realignments.
Major critical events like the Civil War and the Great Depression caused realignments.
Sometimes decisive realignments are not apparent, but rather the old period of stability gradually breaks down without a critical precipitating, slowly re-forming into a new and different party era.
The United States has gone through six party eras.
We have had a series of elections over the last few years that have included the massive migration of white southerners to the Republican Party and the less massive but still notable trend for Catholics to be less solidly Democratic than they were at the formation of the New Deal.
Barack Obama's nomination as the Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2008 solidified the trend of African Americans shifting from favoring the Democratic Party to overwhelming Democratic identification.
The South used to be the most reliable region for the Republican Party in presidential elections, but that has changed.
In recent elections, Democrats have been more likely to win in New England and the mid-Atlantic states, where the Republicans were stronger in the 1940s.
The current party era is characterized by major changes that have made women, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and other minorities switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, and a system in which neither party has a clear majority.
The executive and legislative branches at the national and state levels are in the hands of different parties because of these phenomena.
Political parties were designed to serve their own interests.
Laws that gave the vote to all white males led to the creation of a mass-based political machine.
The machines continued to allow leaders total control over the party, but with the possible consequence of politicizing new generations of American immigrants and strengthening American democracy.
Reformers wanted more power for the voters and less for the party bosses.
The machines were broken with civil service reform.
The American party system has allowed citizens to change their government frequently without resorting to violence or bloodshed.
In general, parties play an important role in American democracy by providing a link between citizens and government, as well as a vocal opposition.
The two main activities of parties are electioneering and governing.
The party organizations handle electioneering and the party-ingovernment handles governing.
We look at the two essential party functions in this section.
Getting candidates elected is one of the activities involved in electioneering.
One of the primary reasons for the existence of party organizations is to help candidates.
The election activities of each party begin months before the general election when they begin recruiting strong candidates.
There is usually no shortage of ambitious politicians eager to run for high-profile offices like state governor and U.S. senator, but the local parties have to work hard to fill less visible and desirable elective offices like those in the state legislature and county government.
It is difficult to get candidates to run against an incumbent because they are hard to beat.
It's not new to American politics to have tough campaigns.
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Parties focus on races they think they can win and devote their resources to those elections.
Although they generally try to run candidates in most races, they will target those contests where the seat is open, where the incumbent is plagued by scandal, or where the party has a good chance of winning.
The Democratic Party tries to recruit quality candidates--perhaps known community leaders--and to direct campaign contributions and aid to the targeted contests.
The party chooses a candidate for each office during the nomination phase.
The nomination phase can unite the party behind its candidates, or it can lead to division within the party that supports different candidates and different policy agendas.
One of the most important tasks for the party is the nomination phase.
Party primaries are the most popular way to choose candidates for congressional, statewide, state legislative, and local offices.
The general election is usually three to four months prior to the primary election.
The nominees for the offices on the ballot are selected by party members.
There are different types of primaries.
Only voters who have registered as members of a given party are allowed to vote in that party's primary.
In an open primary, voters simply request one party's ballot on the day of the primary or choose which party's primary they wish to participate in after they enter the polling booth.
Voters don't choose the actual candidates they want to run for president in presidential primaries, rather they choose delegates.
Party activists who support a candidate and run for the chance to go to the party's national nominating convention the summer before the election are usually delegates.
Chapter 14 talks about the mechanics of presidential election nominating conventions.
The function of the party convention is to bring together the party faithful to set the policy priorities of the party, as well as to provide a sense of solidarity and community for the activists.
Party activists find it revitalizing to come together with like minded people to affirm the principles and policies they hold in common after working long and hard all year.
The convention proceedings have changed dramatically due to the primary process and the practice of televising them.
Before reforms in the late 1960s ensured that candidates would be chosen by elected delegates rather than party bosses, national conventions were filled with political bargaining and intrigue.
By 1972, when many states had adopted the primary system, delegates were committed to presidential candidates before the convention began, meaning there was little question about who would get the nomination.