PSCI 4300 U.S. Congress
11 March 2013
How Political Parties Harm Democracy
Political parties exist in a democracy as a way for likeminded individuals to be united over a set of shared beliefs. (Daniel) Political parties allow the members of the party to elect politicians to government positions in order to advance their beliefs. (Hargrave) The political parties offer their members strength in numbers, by uniting large numbers of individuals into a collective group; they can select the best candidates to pursue their interests, as opposed to having thousands of individuals running for office based on a very narrow spectrum of beliefs. (Daniel) While political parties help organize the election process and enable individuals to influence government activity by uniting in strong collectives, they can also cause great harm to the ideals of a democratic government. The founding fathers of the United States were in fact opposed to the idea of the formation of political parties. (Phillips) George Washington warned the American people of the potential dangers of having political parties. Washington felt that the parties would over time become too powerful and take the power away from the people and use it for their own interests. (George Washington Quotes) In many ways Washington’s prediction has proven to be accurate. The existence of political parties in combination with other characteristics of the United States government demonstrates how political parties can have adverse effects on democracy. Living in the United States, we are often taught that any citizen can run for and even be elected to the presidency of the country. This is also true for other political offices including congressmen. There proves to be a few unofficial prerequisites that one must meet in order to realistically run for office. Money is often cited as a necessity when it comes to running for an office. Those who are not wealthy and do not have strong financial backing, realistically will not be able to run for office. Until recent years, being a white male was often recognized as an important criterion for a potential candidate to meet. One prerequisite that is often overlooked is the fact that in order stand a reasonable chance of becoming elected, a candidate must side with either the Democratic or the Republican Party. In the two party systems that the United States government has become, the chances for the survival of a third party members during an election are extremely low. The development of this two party system can be contributed to the way in which winners are determined in congressional elections. (Joosten) In the congressional elections of the United States, the winners are determined by plurality not majority. (Davidson) In this type of system the person with the most votes wins, which in the case of a three way election means that one candidate has to receive slightly over one third of the votes. Since the congressional districts are represented by a single member, this means that only approximately one third of the population is effectively being represented. (Joosten) The political parties influence this situation in such a way that they make the idea of voting for a third party candidate less appealing. The winner takes all in these elections, therefore many voters find themselves voting for the candidate that they feel will stand the best chance at beating the one that they most greatly oppose. When this occurs, the political parties have forced the voters into making the elections resemble those that of majority rule. This has led to decrease in choices for the voters. (Joosten) The two dominate political parties are able to become more polarized which leads them to voting on stricter partisan lines, instead of casting votes in ways that best represent their districts. The people of each district are forced to sacrifice many of their concerns and beliefs, because the...
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