The two-party system and the two major parties
The electoral system in the U.S. is called a two-party system. That means that two parties dominate the political field in all three levels of government. In the U.S. these two parties are the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Other parties, often generally termed “third parties”, in the U.S. include The Green Party, Libertarians, Constitution Party and Natural Law Party.
In the U.S., political candidates do not have to get the majority of votes – that is, more than 50% of votes – to be elected. Instead, candidates need a plurality of votes – that is, a higher percentage of votes than other candidates running for office. Since the Democratic and Republican Parties are the two largest parties in the U.S., candidates from these two parties tend to get the plurality of votes. Therefore, other smaller parties are often left unsuccessful in elections. Americans whose political values closely align with candidates from one of the third parties might therefore instead choose to vote for either the Democratic or the Republican Party. They do this to ensure that their vote is used on a candidate who has a better chance of winning. This keeps the two-party-system in effect.
One advantage of having a two-party system is that it helps ensure that the two main parties in power have a wide platform that represents the general public. Because the two parties are so large, there is room for a wide range of political positions within each party. This means that there may exist slightly varying political viewpoints on different matters within each party.
A broad political spectrum
Now, try to imagine a spectrum that says “liberal” or “progressive” in one end and “conservative” or “traditional” in the other. This spectrum represents a political party. This party’s representatives may be placed anywhere along the line, depending on how their political views fit within their party’s general policy. This is a simplified way of illustrating the wide scope of political opinions that both the Democratic and Republican Parties embrace.
In the following, we are going to investigate the general policies of the two parties. However, in the light of the above, it is important to keep in mind that there are nuances within each party’s policies. Thus, the below merely provides a general description of the parties’ political stances.
The Republican Party – General policy and political values
The Republican Party is often referred to as the GOP. This abbreviation stands for Grand Old Party. Its logo is an elephant. The Republican Party is known to support right-leaning ideologies of conservatism, social conservatism, and economic libertarianism, among other -isms. Thus, Republicans broadly advocate for traditional values, a low degree of government interference, and large support of the private sector.
One main standpoint of the Republican Party platform is a strong focus on the family and individual freedom. Generally, the Republican Party therefore often tends to promote states’ and local rights. That means that they often wish for federal regulations to play a lesser role in policymaking. Furthermore, the GOP has a pro-business-oriented platform. Thus, the party advocates for businesses to exist in a free market instead of being impacted by tight government regulations.
As mentioned above, Republican members and candidates’ stances towards particular issues may vary. Overall, however, the party is a proponent of religious freedom. Moreover, the GOP is generally “pro-life”, thereby opposing the legal right to free abortion and instead emphasizing unborn fetuses’ right to live. Furthermore, the party is generally against introducing an extensive gun control legislation, and thus Republicans safeguard the right to bear arms as articulated in the Second Amendment of the U.S. constitution. Additionally, the party values a powerful national defense and a strong military in order to provide increased security and peace.
The Democratic Party – General policy and political values
The Democratic Party (whose logo is a donkey) generally represents left-leaning, liberal and progressive ideological values, thus advocating for a strong government to regulate business and support for the citizens of the United States. Thus, one of the key values emphasized by Democrats is social responsibility. Overall, Democrats believe that a prominent and powerful government can ensure welfare and equality for all. Much like the Republican Party, political opinions within the Democratic Party stretch across a wide spectrum, as both parties are, to a large degree, decentralized. However, from a general point of view, Democrats tend to support heavy taxation of high-income households. In comparison to Denmark, where taxes are generally high, the Democratic taxation policy may not seem excessive, but on a U.S. taxation scale these tax percentages are in the heavy end.
Furthermore, Democrats to some degree support government-funded healthcare and the party thereby aims to ensure that health and social services are accessible for all U.S. citizens. Additionally, the Democratic Party generally supports women’s legal rights to free abortion as well as LGBTQ+ people’s rights to equal treatment under the law. In opposition to Republicans a large part of the Democratic Party promotes a tightening of gun legislation and dispute the right to carry a concealed weapon (as opposed to open carry). Similar to the Republican Party, Democrats advocate for religious freedom and individuals’ right to practice their faith. However, at the same time, and generally more so than Republicans, Democrats value a separation between church and state, as is stated in the U.S. constitution
- How many levels of government are there in the United States?
- Compare the U.S. two party system to the Danish multi-party system. Identify some of the merits and demerits of each system.
- Take a look at the table showing Republican and Democratic stances on selected political issues. What other political issues can you come up with? Find out where the two parties stand on these and discuss in class or in groups.
- Which of the above selected political issues is the most important one to you? With which party do you mostly agree?
- Divide the class into two parties – The Republicans and the Democrats. Choose one or more of the issues from the table above to debate. Let each party have time to research the issue(s) and prepare arguments. The teacher will be moderating the debate.
Party overview: Selected political areas
Human and social values
The Republican Party: Emphasis on individual freedom.
The Democratic Party: Emphasis on community.
The Republican Party: Lower taxes for all.
The Democratic Party: Higher taxes, especially for high-income earners.
The Republican Party: Enhanced funding.
The Democratic Party: Reduced funding.
The Republican Party: Values private healthcare services and low degree of government interference.
The Democratic Party: Values equal access to some form of government-supported healthcare.
The Republican Party: For strong border control and deportation of undocumented immigrants.
The Democratic Party: For residency of certain undocumented immigrants.
The Republican Party: Values religious freedom – such as defending marriage as a bond between a man and a woman and promoting the right to display religious scripture in public.
Democratic Party: Values religious freedom – such as advocating for legal marriage between any two individuals and a clear separation of church and state.