What is the core function of political parties? What purpose do they serve?
Here are some experts’ insights to help us understand the main purpose of a political party.
Founder, The Constitution Study
Accumulation and distribution of power
The main purpose of political parties, as evidenced by their actions rather than their words, is the accumulation and distribution of power.
Starting with his assent to the presidency, Andrew Jackson used his new position to place supporters in powerful positions in the government. This system of “spoils” or “patronage” still exists today. We see it in political candidates trading favors and money, both between themselves and their supporters. After every change of administration, we see large scale replacements in upper levels of the government.
Some of these can be explained by a change in worldview of the new administration, others, especially among the ambassadors, seem more like political payback. The patronage system can also be seen with the leadership in Congress bestowing preferential committee assignments, even chairmanships, as “favors” to those who support them.
And if reports are true, these plum assignments are doled out not simply for political advantage, but in exchange for donations to the party as well. (Truly “pay to play“.)
The true purpose of political parties can also be seen in the “primary system“. Nothing in the Constitution requires or even mentions, a primary process. Primaries are merely the method by which private organizations, specifically the political parties, determine who their champion will be in the next election.
Not only are these private elections done at public expense, but their sole purpose is to limit the choices of the American people when it comes to their vote. We see this with the repeated calls to “Vote for the lesser of two evils.” from both parties as Election Day approaches.
Whether contribution or assistance with their campaigns, the parties endeavor to instill dependency in the candidates as a method of control should they be elected. The parties also “protect their own” by supporting the platforms, positions, and actions of those in their party while simultaneously vilifying the very same actions by members of their opposing party.
This can be seen in the calls for investigations, the support (or lack thereof) for legislation, even the hearings for appointments. What one party condones in their members, it chastises in their opponents. This unwavering support is also used as a method of control over their members.
These actions can be seen in all political parties. I believe this is why George Washington warned us in his farewell address of what would happen should political factions (parties) gain power in this nation:
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”
— George Washington’s Farewell Address
Founder and President, Voices In Advocacy
To bring ideological, like-minded people together to achieve control of the government
To begin, let’s define a political party. In simple terms, a political party is a group of people who have the same fundamental ideology, political positions, and as an organization, field candidates for elections.
Is there only one main purpose of a political party? No, however, their main role is to bring ideological, like-minded people together to achieve control of the government, with policies favorable to their own interests.
Political parties began to form in 1787 during the struggle over ratifying the U.S. Constitution. Friction stemmed over the question of power in the federal government versus states control. Partisan fighting prompted George Washington, in his farewell address, to forewarn of “the baneful effects of the spirit of party.” Partisanship comes in the form of checking the other party, to ensure that one party doesn’t take complete control. This is an important function which is often viewed by the public at large as petty and self-serving.
Historically, as the country grew and the size of the electorate expanded, political party power evolved by mobilizing a growing mass of voters to achieve political control.
Parties run candidates that are representative of their ideology. Without party identification, most voters may be overwhelmed in selecting so many candidates. Essentially all candidates run for public office with party labels, which primarily defines their stance on issues once they take office. This also serves to organize the government in legislative chambers.
In general, parties work to inform the citizenry by taking positions on the key issues of the day. These discussions help inform us of ways to solve societal problems.
Political parties play an important role in the American government. They offer alternatives to voters and help connect citizens to their government. As you can see, even though political parties are often regarded as “necessary evils,” they do serve a purpose.
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