The Relevance of Political Parties in Presidential Elections

As I survey the list of candidates on my absentee ballot for the 2004 general elections, one thing sticks out. Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, and Conservative- the list of Political Parties are endless. Even though no mention in the Constitution was made of parties and James Madison, in Federalist no. 10, defines a faction as a “number of citizens…united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community (Madison, 1787).” Certainly this sounds an awful like what many Americans would consider a Political Party. However, the modern-day political party has differed greatly than the party’s of yesteryear. These days’ political parties, specifically the two major ones, concern themselves more with nominating and electing candidates, emphasizing winning of office in the short term as opposed to governing and influential policy making (Cotter, 1984, p. 3). This is a far cry from the party bosses and political machines of the early 20th century, like Ohio Republican Party Boss Mark Hanna who was widely believed to have wielded great power behind the scenes of the McKinley presidency. The Republican and Democratic Parties of today serve as powerful surrogates for their respective candidates’ campaign, helping out with propaganda like TV commercials, internet ad campaigns and post-debate spin, or “get out the vote” efforts, but they don’t have the influence over a candidates’ position on the issues or actual day to day operations of a campaign like they used to. As will be shown, political parties are still very important for understanding American electoral politics today, as without the backing of a major one, a candidate could not be elected president.
As mentioned previous, political parties at one time exerted a great deal more influence on a presidential candidate. An example of this would be the presidential e…

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