A Political Party Is…
An organization of volunteers and paid professionals who work together to achieve shared political goals. The defining characteristic of a political party—as distinct from an interest group—is that it nominates candidates for election to public office. For many parties, the primary goal is to win votes and thus to elect as many of their candidates as possible. Other parties are more concerned with advocacy of particular ideas and policies.
- Party structure – the size of the membership, the extent and intensity of its organization, and the locus of effective power
- Party program – the ideology or subculture that spawned the party, and the emphasis given to the party’s stated principles in its electoral appeals; and
- Party strength – the strength of the party’s attachment to (or rejection of) the existing democratic system, and the level of its tolerance toward other ideologies or subcultures
“In all sustainable democracies the party system must be deeply and durably entrenched in specific substructures of the specific society. Parties link the institutions of government to the elements of civil society”
How is a Political Party organized?
At its founding, a political party may consist of self-appointed leader and a handful of committed members.
If it is to survive for more than a few years, especially in a competitive electoral environment, the party must establish some kind of stable organizational structure. The specific form a party takes will depend, in large measure, on the political system in which it operates.
What does a political party do?
IDEA believe that newly democratizing states need to establish strong political parties if they are to remain free and stable over the long-term. The primary reason is that parties “are the only institutions that carry out all [the] functions which are necessary for the democratic process.” These functions include:
- Mediating between a pluralistic society and its political institutions of government;
- Organizing political campaigns in order to mobilize voters to participate in an election; and
- Recruiting political personnel by selecting and nominating candidates who stand for public office in an election
- A party leader must be selected according to a clear and consistent set of rules, to avoid potentially divisive conflicts over the fairness of the process.
- The choice of leader is crucial to the party for four reasons:
- The leader is the public face of the party
- The leader has enormous influence over party policy
- The leader is the party’s general in the daily legislative battle
- The leader is ultimately responsible for keeping the party organization in a state of election readiness.
- The party leader must be an excellent communicator
In general, parties look for strong candidates: men and (increasingly) women with professional qualifications, high public profiles, good communications kills, and clean personal reputations.
The third function o fparties is the orchestration of election campaigns. The nature of party campaigns has changed dramatically in the past half-century, largely because of the growing importance of television in national politics.
In principle, party campaigns provide important cues to voters. Party leaders try to win over the public, selling their platforms on the nightly news and through paid advertising.
Parties appear to be losing their capacity ot mobilize voters. Turnout levels in Western democracies have fallen sharply in recent elections, although voters in new democracies usually embrace the franchise with enthusiasm. The decline in electoral participation is particularly marked in countries where weakly organized parties have lost their connections with the electorate—in a word, with dominant electoratist parties.
The role of a political party in government
The structure of political parties are shaped by the political institutions within which they operate. More narrowly, the way in which governing parties exercise power are affected by three institutional factors:
- The number of parties in the cabinet
- The number of parties in a given cabinet is determined by the voting patterns in each national electorate.
- The relationship between the legislative and executive branches
The behaviour of governing parties is directly affected by the relationship between the legislative and the executive. Party structures are looser and less cohesive in congressional systems than they are in British-style parliamentary systems.
The extent to which that particular government is constrained by external forces, including constitutional rules and globalization
The policy choices of governing parties are constrained by external factors, including fiscal conditions, global forces, and domestic constitutions.
Parties and Public policy
Parties rely for policy innovation on interest groups, think-tanks, public servants, and other external forces.
PARTY SYSTEMS: How a political party interacts with others:
The sum total of the relevant parties in any given country at any one time. A handy criterion of relevance is the distinction between parties thar are represented in parliament and those that are not. By this measure, there are presently four relevant parties in the Canadian party system: CPC, the Bloc, Liberal Party, and the NDP. These parties within a particular party system compete with each other for scarce resources, particularly money and votes. The word system refers to a set of distinct but interrelated objects. When an individual party changes in some way—by appealing to a new group of voters or by altering its internal structures—the change affects all the other parties in the system. This helps to explain the growing preponderance of an electoralist political party in democratic states.