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A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to attain and maintain political power within government, usually by participating in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests.


Voting systems

The type of electoral system is a major factor in determining the type of party political system. In countries where first past the post voting systems there is an increased likely hood for the establishment of a two party system. Countries that have a proportional representation voting system, as exists throughout Europe, or to a lesser extent preferential voting systems, such as in Australia or Ireland, three or more parties are often elected to public office.


In a nonpartisan system, no official political parties exist, sometimes reflecting legal restrictions on political parties. In nonpartisan elections, each candidate is eligible for office on his or her own merits. In nonpartisan legislatures, there are no typically formal party alignments within the legislature. The administration of George Washington and the first few sessions of the US Congress were nonpartisan. Washington also warned against political parties during his Farewell Address.[1] The unicameral legislature of Nebraska is the only state government body that is nonpartisan in the United States today. Many city and county governments are nonpartisan. In Canada, the territorial legislatures of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are nonpartisan. Nonpartisan elections and modes of governance are common outside of state institutions.[2] Unless there are legal prohibitions against political parties, factions within nonpartisan systems often evolve into political parties. Tokelau also has a nonpartisan parliament.

Single dominant party

In single-party systems, one political party is legally allowed to hold effective power. Although minor parties may sometimes be allowed, they are legally required to accept the leadership of the dominant party. This party may not always be identical to the government, although sometimes positions within the party may in fact be more important than positions within the government. Communist states such as China are some of the examples; others can be found in Fascist states such as Nazi Germany was between 1933 and 1945. The single-party system is thus usually equated with dictatorships and tyranny.

In dominant-party systems, opposition parties are allowed, and there may be even a deeply established democratic tradition, but other parties are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power. Sometimes, political, social and economic circumstances, and public opinion are the reason for others parties' failure. Sometimes, typically in countries with less of an established democratic tradition, it is possible the dominant party will remain in power by using patronage and sometimes by voting fraud. In the latter case, the definition between Dominant and single-party system becomes rather blurred. Examples of dominant party systems include the People's Action Party in Singapore, the African National Congress in South Africa, the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro in Montenegro and the Social Democratic Party in Sweden. One party dominant systems also existed in Mexico with the Institutional Revolutionary Party until the 1990s, in the southern United States with the Democratic Party from the late 19th century until the 1970s, and in Indonesia with the Golongan Karya (Party of the Functional Groups) from the early 1970s until 1998.

Two political parties

Two-party systems are states such as the United States, Jamaica, and Ghana in which there are two political parties dominant to such an extent that electoral success under the banner of any other party is almost impossible. One right wing coalition party and one left wing coalition party is the most common ideological breakdown in such a system but in two-party states political parties are traditionally catch all parties which are ideologically broad and inclusive.

For the system to work, one of the parties must obtain a sufficient working majority after an election and it must be in a position to be able to govern without the support from the other party. [3]

The United Kingdom is widely considered a two-party state, as historically power alternates between two dominant parties (currently the Labour Party and the Conservative Party). However, the Liberal Democrats, as well as numerous other parties and independents, hold a substantial number of seats in Parliament.

A plurality voting system (such as that in the United States) usually leads to a two-party system, a relationship described by Maurice Duverger and known as Duverger's Law.[4]

Multiple parties

A poster for the European Parliament election 2004 in Italy, showing party lists

Multi-party systems are systems in which more than two parties are represented and elected to public office.

Australia, Canada, Pakistan, India, the Republic of Ireland, Norway, and the United Kingdom are examples of countries with two strong parties and additional smaller parties that have also obtained representation. The smaller or "third" parties may form a part of a coalition government together with one of the larger parties or act independently from the other dominant parties.

More commonly, in cases where there are three or more parties, no one party is likely to gain power alone, and parties work with each other to form coalition governments. This has been an emerging trend in the politics of the Republic of Ireland and is almost always the case in Germany on national and state level, and in most constituencies at the communal level. Furthermore since the forming of the Republic of Iceland there has never been a government not led by a coalition (usually of the Independence Party & one other oftentimes the Social Democratic Alliance. The major drawback of any coalition government is that it is potentially vulnerable to rapid changes and tends to lack stability.

Balanced multiple-party systems

Extensive studies including simulations[citation needed] and polls[5] by Donald Arthur Kronos, have shown that an effectively two-party system such as that currently used in the United States could be modified into a balanced plurality voting system through the addition of a negative vote option to better represent the intentions of the voters. This differs from a standard Plurality voting system or an anti-plurality voting system in that rather than either allowing a choice of whom to vote for or allowing a choice of whom to vote against, a balanced system would allow each vote to be either for or against any candidate. In the case of balanced range voting an individual could in fact cast a combination of for and against votes.

The problem with the traditional plurality voting system is that any attempt to prevent a candidate from getting elected tends to result in a false positive vote, generally for a candidate thought to have an advantaged position over other candidates, thereby causing or increasing such advantage. A balanced plurality election would allow the voter to represent a true negative vote, thus eliminating or at least reducing the occurrence of false positive votes.

A balanced multiple-party system significantly reduces the odds of a well known but largely unpopular candidate winning an election, by allowing those who oppose the election of that candidate to cast a more accurate vote than would have been possible in an unbalanced system of only negative votes or only positive votes. Of course the option of a positive vote is also necessary in order to have balance. Simply changing to an all negative vote system would just reverse the polarity of the imbalance rather than remove it.

The number of votes per voter is not a factor in the system being balanced. It should be consistent within an election across all voters to be fair. This also has the mathematical effect of eliminating the feedback loop that would otherwise give an unfair advantage over time to exactly two parties. This feedback loop happens in a traditional plurality voting system when a voter attempts to represent a negative vote where only positive votes are available. The voter is forced to evaluate the choices available and determine what is most likely to reduce the odds of a win by the opposed candidate. For example, since the history of a party may give some indication of the electability of a candidate endorsed by the party, the closest thing to a vote against a candidate in a general election would be a vote for the candidate of the party that the voter believes has won the most elections historically. If the opposed candidate is in fact running under that same party, then the obvious choice is the next most historically successful party's candidate. This causes only two parties to have any reasonable viability once a history has been established. A balanced voting system would eliminate this feedback loop for voters who take advantage of it.

The addition of a negative vote option to balance a party system can theoretically be applied to a popular vote, an electoral college vote, or both. In cases where an electoral college is expected to in some way represent the popular vote, it would of course make sense to allow balanced voting options for both the electoral college and the populace.[citation needed] The concept of a balanced election system is applicable to many types of voting systems including instant runoff voting and other such multiple vote systems and can be applied equally well to plurality voting or proportional representation systems.

Party funding

Political parties are funded by contributions from party members, individuals and organizations which share their political ideas or who stand to benefit from their activities or governmental public funding. Political parties and factions, especially those in government, are lobbied vigorously by organizations, businesses and special interest groups such as trades unions. Money and gifts to a party, or its members, may be offered as incentives.

In the United Kingdom, it has been alleged that peerages have been awarded to contributors to party funds, the benefactors becoming members of the Upper House of Parliament and thus being in a position to participate in the legislative process. Famously, Lloyd George was found to have been selling peerages and to prevent such corruption in future, Parliament passed the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 into law. Thus the outright sale of peerages and similar honours became a criminal act, however some benefactors are alleged to have attempted to circumvent this by cloaking their contributions as loans, giving rise to the 'Cash for Peerages' scandal. Such activities have given rise to demands that the scale of donations should be capped. As the costs of electioneering escalate, so the demands made on party funds increases. In the UK some politicians are advocating that parties should be funded by the State; a proposition that promises to give rise to interesting debate. Along with the increased scrutiny of donations there has been a long term contraction in party memberships in a number of western democracies which itself places more strains on funding. For example in the United Kingdom and Australia membership of the two main parties in 2006 is less than an 1/8 of what it was in 1950, despite significant increases in population over that period. In Ireland, elected representatives of the Sinn Féin party take only the average industrial wage from their salary as a representative, while the rest goes into the party budget. Other incomes they may have are not taken into account. Elected representatives of the Socialist Party (Ireland) take only the average industrial wage out of their entire earnings.

Public financing for parties and candidates during elections has several permutations and is increasingly common. There are two broad categories of funding, direct, which entails a montetary transfer to a party, and indirect, which includes broadcast time on state media, use of the mail service or supplies. According to the Comparative Data from the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, out of a sample of over 180 nations, 25% of nations provide no direct or indirect public funding, 58% provide direct public funding and 60% of nations provide indirect public funding.[6] Some countries provide both direct and indirect public funding to political parties. Funding may be equal for all parties or depend on the results of previous campaigns or the number of candidates participating in an election.[7] Frequently parties rely on a mix of private and public funding and are required to disclose their finances to the Electoral Management Body.[8]

Colors and emblems for parties

Main article: see Political colour and List of political party symbols

Generally speaking, over the world, political parties associate themselves with colors, primarily for identification, especially for voter recognition during elections. Red usually signifies leftist, communist or socialist parties.[citation needed] Conservative parties generally use blue or black.[citation needed]

Pink sometimes signifies moderate socialist. Yellow is often used for libertarianism or classical liberalism. Green is the color for green parties, Islamist parties and Irish nationalist and republican parties in Northern Ireland.[citation needed] Orange is sometimes a color of nationalism, such as in the Netherlands, in Israel with the Orange Camp or with Ulster Loyalists in Northern Ireland; it is also a color of reform such as in Ukraine. In the past, Purple was considered the color of royalty (like white), but today it is sometimes used for feminist parties. White also is associated with nationalism. "Purple Party" is also used as an academic hypothetical of an undefined party, as a centralist party in the United States (because purple is created from mixing the main parties' colours of red and blue) and as a highly idealistic "peace and love" party [1]-- in a similar vein to a Green Party, perhaps. Black is generally associated with fascist parties, going back to Benito Mussolini's blackshirts, but also with Anarchism. Similarly, brown is often associated with Nazism, going back to the Nazi Party's brown-uniformed storm troopers.

Color associations are useful for mnemonics when voter illiteracy is significant.[citation needed] Another case where they are used is when it is not desirable to make rigorous links to parties, particularly when coalitions and alliances are formed between political parties and other organizations, for example: Red Tory, "Purple" (Red-Blue) alliances, Red-green alliances, Blue-green alliances, Traffic light coalitions, Pan-green coalitions, and Pan-blue coalitions.

Political color schemes in the United States diverge from international norms. Since 2000, red has become associated with the right-wing Republican Party and blue with the left-wing Democratic Party. However, unlike political color schemes of other countries, the parties did not choose those colors; they were used in news coverage of 2000 election results and ensuing legal battle and caught on in popular usage. Prior to the 2000 election the media typically alternated which color represented which party each presidential election cycle. The color scheme happened to get inordinate attention that year, so the cycle was stopped lest it cause confusion the following election.

The emblem of socialist parties is often a red rose held in a fist. Communist parties often use a hammer to represent the worker, a sickle to represent the farmer, or both a hammer and a sickle to refer to both at the same time.

The emblem of Nazism, the swastika or "hakenkreuz," has been adopted as a near-universal symbol for almost any organized hate group, even though it dates from more ancient times.

Symbols can be very important when the overall electorate is illiterate. In the Kenyan constitutional referendum, 2005, supporters of the constitution used the banana as their symbol, while the "no" used an orange.

International organizations of political parties

During the 19th and 20th century, many national political parties organized themselves into international organizations along similar policy lines. Notable examples are the International Workingmen's Association (also called the First International), the Socialist International (also called the Second International), the Communist International (also called the Third International), and the Fourth International, as organizations of working class parties, or the Liberal International (yellow), Christian Democratic International and the International Democrat Union (blue). Worldwide green parties have recently established the Global Greens. The Socialist International, the Liberal International, and the International Democrat Union are all based in London.

Some countries (e.g. Hong Kong) outlaw formal linkages between local and foreign political organizations, effectively outlawing international political parties.

See also


  1. ^ Redding 2004
  2. ^ Abizadeh 2005.
  3. ^ "Party Systems". 
  4. ^ Duverger 1954
  5. ^ Donald A. Kronos Simple Electoral Reform for Fair and Balanced Elections blog with links to polls
  6. ^ ACE Electoral Knowledge Network: Comparitive Data: Political Parties and Candidates
  7. ^ ACE Electoral Knowledge Network: Comparitive Data: Political Parties and Candidates
  8. ^ ACE Encyclopaedia: Public funding of political parties


  • Abizadeh, Arash, 2005. "Democratic Elections without Campaigns? Normative Foundations of National Baha'i Elections." World Order Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 7–49.
  • Duverger, Maurice. 1954. Political Parties. London: Methuen.
  • Gunther, Richard and Larry Diamond. 2003. "Species of Political Parties: A New Typology," Party Politics, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 167–199.
  • Neumann, Sigmund (ed.). 1956. Modern Political Parties. IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Redding, Robert. 2004. Hired Hatred. RCI.
  • Smith, Steven S. 2007. Party Influence in Congress. Cambridge University Press.
  • Sutherland, Keith. 2004. The Party's Over. Imprint Academic. ISBN 0-907845-51-7
  • Ware, Alan. 1987. Citizens, Parties and the State: A Reappraisal. Princeton University Press.

External links



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