The United States and United Kingdom are the largest democracies in the world hence they have variant political parties. A political party in any governing system is defined as an organization of people with similar political aims and opinions who seek to attain political influence in public policies through their representative being elected to the governing body (Medvic, 2009, p.120).
Political parties are either funded by the government or individual party members depending on a country’s regulations. Irrespective of the fact that both United States and Great Britain have two dominant political parties, two legislative houses and a single executive, the political parties in both nations differ in their strength. The strength of political parties is determined by the amount of influence a party has on its members and the cohesion in the party.
The political parties in the United States are much weaker than in the United Kingdom. In the US, politics are dominated by two major parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
Additionally, there are other smaller and weaker parties in the political scene. In the democracy of United Kingdom, there are three dominat political parties namely the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Democrat Party currently led by Nick Clegg. However, there are other smaller political parties namely Independence Party and the Green Party.
The roles of political parties include voicing the needs and concerns of their members and supporters, recruiting and training candidates for public office and socializing the citizens. This paper defines the significant difference in the strength of political parties in the United States and the United Kingdom. Moreover, it explores the factors that make political parties to be strong or weak in these countries.
Political parties in the United States
Political parties in the United States were not endorsed in the founding constitutions, since the intention of the Constitution and its founders was to have a triple balanced system of executive, judicial, and congressional powers.
Factors that contributed to the establishment of the two-party system in the United States as the key type of system include historical foundations of the system, political socialization and practical considerations, the electoral system and the federal laws.
In addition, there are no major requirements obligatory from the public in order to become a member of any political party (Schmidt, Shelley, Bardes, 2010, p.154). Scholars have noted that there is a decline in the strength of political parties compared with the past.
Two party system in the United States
The two-party system has dominated the United States political scene for a very long time. This could be one of the contributors to the weakening of smaller political parties in the country. People who wish to serve as president, congressional representative, state governor or state legislators have to use the two main parties, Democratic Party and the Republican Party, to increase their chances of wining.
The method of electing national and legislative representative promotes the dominance of two-party system. The structure of political parties in the United Kingdom is defined by the individual ideologies supported by each party, which their members endeavor to legislate; however, their counterparts in American lack ideologically cohesive and programmatic.
The available resources for these dominant parties allow them to retain their dominance. Similarly, single member system operating in a small constituency can weaken the general party by creating smaller local independent entities (Duverger, 1963, p.45).
The involvement of political parties’ leaders in the selection of candidates of their political parties is very low in the United States. On the other hand the leaders of political parties in the UK have the role of choosing which candidates should represent their parties. Moreover, the United States political parties are not involved in campaigning for their chosen candidates therefore resulting to less influence on the candidates.
The United Kingdom utilizes a system of proportional representation, where officials are elected, on the bases of the number of votes their parties receive in an election, which promotes strength of parties. In the United States, the election system is focused on the candidates compared to the United Kingdom model where election is party focused (Safran, 2003, p.34). Therefore, parties in the US are not perceived to be as important as individual candidates.
In party centered system, political parties are in charge of all resources while in candidate-centered system, the parties provide just a few resources to the candidates. Moreover, in the US, parties do not have the mandate of choosing the candidates to run under the party, rather, it is done by voters in preliminary voting.
As a result, the influence of parties is limited hence leading to their weakening. In contrast, the United Kingdom political parties determine the candidates to run under their parties based on their set regulation. Since the political parties in the US contribute minimal resources to the campaigning of their candidates, the party has less or minimal influence and cannot sanction the candidate if he wins (Safran, 2003, p.34).
However, the political parties in the United Kingdom have much influence on their candidates and they can sanction them since they contribute most of the resources that the candidates require. The electoral system, through preliminary election of party leaders, favors the linking candidates with their local supporters rather than creating a bond between the candidates and the party (Safran, 2003, p.34).
Fundamentally, the electoral system is also weakening the ideologies of the political parties. Generally, direct primaries of selecting candidates have weakened political leaders as it takes away the rights and influence of the party. In the United Kingdom the parties have the obligation of selecting candidates that they wish to field for an election without external influence. Moreover, the party oversees the campaign of its candidates and in return, the party has ultimate control and influence.
The candidate-centered approach in the US reinforces campaign-financing laws. The inclination of candidates funding most of the campaign is done at the expense of the party’s influence, as is the case in America.
On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, parties retain their influence since they fund the campaigns of their candidates. The use of political consultants by political candidates has contribution to the decline of roles of political parties in America where the candidates are more inclined to listening to their consultants than the position of their party.
However, consultants weaken the political parties through creating campaign atmosphere where they project individual candidates to the public at the expense of the party. Nevertheless, the public are more informed on candidates’ traits rather than the policies of the candidates’ parties (Best & Radcliff, 2005, p.63).
Moreover, political parties have failed to innovate, hence the need for outsourcing their duties to consultants. Some modern campaign tactics are weakening the political parties. In the United Kingdom’s party-centered system, the campaign is geared to selling the party policies to the electorate whereas in America campaigns are focused on the candidates (Swanson & Mancini, 1996, p.272).
Legal factors in the United States have contributed to the weakening of political parties (Wilson, 2008, p.124). The policy of cross filling has also undermined the strength of political parties in America. This practice, cross filling, allows individuals to be listed on more than one political party and can participate in primary ballots of all parties where they are registered (Sabato & Ernst, 2006, p.88).
The candidates who use this strategy aim at reducing competition, thus weakening political parties. This policy is still in effect in some states, which weakness the ideology. Moreover, the use of cross filling in the primaries resulted in reduction of political parties responsibilities.
Moreover, voters in primary elections can influence nomination of their opposing party through crossover voting. These kinds of policies limit the influence of political parties on their candidates since they do not have the right to chose or vet candidates in their parties. Moreover, the external interference in political parties through crossover voting weakens political parties in the US.
Contrary to this, political parties in the United Kingdom do not have any interference from supporters of other parties; hence, they retain their objectivity in their core issues. The United States, through federal and state governments, closely regulates and it has decentralized the political parties. These actions of the government have contributed to weakening of political parties in America (Wilson, 2008, p.124).
Political Action Committee (PACs) and special interest groups
The decline of political parties can also be attributed to the rise of political action committees (PACs) in the elections in particular in fund raising. Candidates in the American political scene have their own PACs, which help them to collect funds for their political activities. Therefore, the candidates are more inclined to their committees than to the party, thus weakening party cohesion (Bardes, Shelley, & Schmidt, 2008, p.248).
However, political parties in the UK get finance from their membership contribution, donations i.e. from trade unions and the opposition parties also financed from the government kitty. Therefore, parties in UK are generally stronger than parties in US due to better finance availability. Moreover, funding of political parties from public kitty promotes internal unity among party members with in turn promote party cohesion.
Subsequently, monies issued to support elections in the United States are given directly to the candidates. However, any money given to candidates tends to weaken the political parties, since the candidate becomes more independent and less reliant of the party. Conversely, public funding of political parties in the UK is channeled through the parties and not the candidates.
Therefore, funding promotes part strength since the party leaders have leverage to induce their ideologies. Moreover, parties limit the amount of resources that an individual candidate can contribute to their campaign in order to protect the party’s influence.
Additionally, political parties in American are influenced by their private donors, hence leading to partisan politics that decrease the strength of the party; however parties in the UK are less likely to be influenced since they do not over-rely on private donors for funding. Since action groups can access public support and resources, they have been undermining political parties that do not support their ideologies hence weakening of parties.
The social and political environment, in which the party operates, has a great impact on party cohesion. In addition, the development of an increase of number of independent voters has given rise to weakening of the political parties.
Generally, a considerable number of voters in America are not registered in the two main political parties, thus the two key political parties have been declining in recent years. Further, the participation of voters in direct primaries to determine the candidate to run under a certain party weakens political parties (Sabato & Ernst, 2006, p.110). Nevertheless, the political parties have not been able to attract public loyalty due to social changes.
Furthermore, there is a trend of voters disengaging from party politics due to disappointments from political parties in the past. This is as a result of the fact that most American political parties are not engaged actively in their citizens’ lives, leading to high number of non-partisans.
Conversely, the public in Europe and particularly in the United Kingdom are still inclined to party politics as they join and register in political parties, pay contributions to their parties and participate in party activities i.e. attending meetings (Wilson, 2008, p.125).
Moreover, interest groups and citizen groups are competing with political parties for influence and loyalty among the citizens. However, party loyalty has declined since the inception of interest groups among the people in the United States. In deed, citizen action groups are actively replacing the role of political parties as a result of their weakening.
The United States and the UK have some dominant political parties and other smaller parties. Generally, the role of political parties in democracies is to educate the public on their civic rights and duties, to participate in influencing of public policies and recruiting and training candidates for public office.
The strength of political parties is determined by the amount of influence a party has on its members and the cohesion in the party. However, there factors that undermine the strength of political parties namely rules and regulations, electoral systems, change of attitude among voters and modern campaigning techniques. Additionally, the rise of Political Action Committees and citizen interest groups has also undermined the strength of political parties especially in America.
The United Kingdom has been able to retain the strength in its political parties due to the fact that they are able to control the selection and funding of their candidates. Moreover, the parties have restricted candidates from being independent from the party, hence creating reliance and influence.
Through primary election in single-member district system, political parties in America have lost their influence in selection of candidates. Besides, a policy like cross filling of candidates during the direct primaries also contributes to the decline of parties (Shepherd, 2005, p.337).
Further, the political parties in America are not funded by the government; rather, the candidates are funded directly. Consequently, this direct funding from the government makes the candidates independent from their parties. However, in the United Kingdom system, the government funds political parties directly, which in turn dispatch funds to their candidates. This mode of funding ensures that political parties maintain their influence over their candidates, hence creating cohesion and party strength.
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