1. Overview: Political parties are the principle institutions for the popular control of government.
2. The two major characteristics of American political parties: (1) Dispersed power/decentralization – multiple power centers in our political party system. Reasons: federalism, separation of powers, the nomination process, campaign finance, the spirit of localism, significance of outsiders in our political process. (2) The strengthening of the political party organization: the state and local party is stronger and more effective today than a few decades ago. Yet ironically, the state and local party organization has less impact on public policy than they once did. Discussion of reasons why.
3. Party Competition: (1) Overview – effective competition between political parties is not always the norm. In some states and localities and at various times it is strongly competitive and in other areas and at other times it is dominated by one party. (2) Competitiveness in Congressional elections. (3) Competition on the state level. (4) Party competition and issue positions.
4. The role of the political party system in government: (1) Definition of “party in government”: Public officials who are either elected under the party label or are appointed by those who are elected constitute the party in government. (2) The greater the level of party cohesion in government the more able is party leadership to enact public policy and govern. (3) Why do members of the same party in government (for example in the Legislature), as we have seen so clearly over the past few years, disagree on legislation so often? (4) How the design of the American political system works against a unified party in government. (5) How, over the past several years, the major political parties have been acting more like responsible and cohesive parties in government.