The Path to the Presidency: Primaries and political parties
Jan. 3, 2012
By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer
If you watch television news or keep up with the headlines online, it’s difficult to miss the presidential primary elections. Every day there’s an update: results from another debate, a campaign speech, one candidate dropping in the polls while another takes the lead. Presidential primaries are the elections and caucuses held in each state to choose delegates to party conventions. There is a lot to keep track of. In this series, we’ll explore the presidential primaries, from the roots of party politics to the process of nominating a candidate.
The Iowa caucuses this week launched the presidential primary season. To understand how the primary process works, you first have to understand political parties. They are organizations of citizens banding together around shared beliefs and seeking power in numbers.
The United States is run on a party system. This means voters choose leaders from the nominations of two major political parties (Republican and Democrat) and several smaller political parties (Green Party, Libertarian Party, Constitution Party).
This was not always the case. Historians suggest that many Founding Fathers believed that parties led to corruption and wanted citizens to vote based on candidates’ policies and ideas, not their party allegiance.
This did not last long. George Washington was the only president not affiliated with a party. By the time his successor, John Adams, was elected in 1796, the leaders of the country had grouped themselves into the Federalist and the Democratic-Republican Parties.
By the mid-1800s, the Federalist Party faded, and the short-lived Whig Party (which gave us Presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor) lost power as well, settling U.S. politics into a party system similar to what we see now, almost two centuries later. The Democratic-Republicans became simply the Democratic Party, and the various opposing groups joined the newly formed Republican Party around the time of the Civil War.
While those two parties remain the primary political players, new political movements continue to establish themselves – most recently the Tea Party in the 2010 midterm elections and carrying into the 2012 presidential elections.
Political parties exist at every level of government. At the national level, it’s how representatives, senators and presidents align themselves. At the state level, it’s governors and state legislators grouped together. And at the local level, it’s how mayors and town council people identify themselves.
It’s also a way for voters to band together. Citizens can register to become a member of the party that is most aligned with their beliefs. They can attend its local committee meetings and decide who represents that party in local, state and federal elections. Citizens can also choose to be independent, meaning that they have no party preference.
What do you think?
What are the advantages of choosing leaders based on political parties? What are the disadvantages? Are there any changes you would make to the party system? Are you following the presidential race? Why? Join the discussion!
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