What Is the Main Purpose of a Political Party?

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.

Paul Engel

Paul Engel

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

Roger Rickard

roger rickard

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do political parties ensure fair and free elections?

Political parties play a critical role in ensuring fair and free elections, which are essential to the functioning of a democratic system.

Here are some ways political parties can help ensure the integrity of the electoral process:

Monitoring: Political parties may monitor the electoral process to ensure that it is conducted fairly and transparently. This might involve monitoring polling stations, voter registration, and vote counting to ensure that there are no irregularities or instances of election fraud.

Voter education: Political parties can also help educate voters about the electoral process and their rights and responsibilities as voters. This can ensure that voters are informed and engaged in the political process and can make informed decisions when they go to the polls.

Candidate selection: Political parties are responsible for fielding candidates who are qualified and able to represent the interests of their constituencies. By selecting candidates who are committed to ethical and transparent governance, parties can help to promote a culture of fairness and accountability in the political process.

Advocacy: Political parties may also advocate for changes to the electoral system and for greater transparency and accountability in the electoral process. This can help ensure that the system is fair and free and that all voices are heard in the political process.

How do political parties handle internal conflicts and disagreements?

Political parties can face internal conflicts and disagreements, especially when ideological and political issues are at stake. When these conflicts arise, parties may use various strategies to manage and resolve them.

One common approach is internal debate and discussion. Parties may hold meetings or conferences where members can discuss and debate different ideas and perspectives. This can help ensure that all voices are heard and that the party’s platform reflects the values and priorities of its members.

Another approach is to use a democratic process to resolve internal conflicts. Parties may hold elections or referendums to decide on key issues or elect leaders. This can ensure that decisions are made in a transparent and accountable manner and that all members have a say in the direction of the party.

In some cases, parties may also use external mediation to resolve internal conflicts. This may mean bringing in outside experts or mediators to facilitate discussions and negotiations. This can be especially helpful when conflicts are particularly heated or divisive.

How do political parties work with the media?

Political parties have a complex relationship with the media that can significantly impact their ability to promote their platform and win elections. Here are some ways political parties work with the media:

Press releases and statements: Political parties often issue press releases and statements to the media to promote their platform and respond to news events. These statements may be crafted to appeal to specific segments of the population or to shape the media narrative around a particular issue.

Interviews: Party leaders and spokespersons may also participate in media interviews to promote their platform and engage with the public. These interviews may be conducted in various formats, such as print, radio, or television.

Advertising: Political parties may also use advertising to promote their platform and reach out to voters. This can include television or radio commercials and social media ads, or other digital platforms.

Relationship building: Political parties may work to build relationships with key journalists and media outlets to shape the media coverage and ensure their message is delivered effectively. This may include providing access to party leaders and spokespeople or offering exclusive interviews or information.

How do political parties engage with marginalized communities?

Political parties are responsible for engaging with all segments of the population, including marginalized communities. Here are some ways political parties can work with marginalized communities:

Listening: Political parties must listen to the concerns and perspectives of marginalized communities to understand their unique challenges and priorities. To do this, they can hold community meetings or focus groups, for example, to solicit feedback and input from members of these communities.

Outreach: Political parties can also engage with marginalized communities through targeted outreach. To do this, they can work with community organizations or hold events and rallies in areas where these communities are concentrated.

Representation: Political parties should strive to ensure that marginalized communities are represented in party leadership and among candidates. This can help ensure that the party reflects the values and priorities of all members of the population and that the voices of these communities are heard in the political process.

Policy: Political parties must develop policies and platforms that address marginalized communities’ unique challenges and needs. This may include developing specific policies on issues such as health care, education, and economic opportunity and taking a stand on issues such as immigration and civil rights.

What influence do political parties have on democracy?

Political parties play a critical role in the functioning of a democratic system and significantly impact the health and vitality of democracy. Here are a few ways in which political parties impact democracy:

Representation: Political parties help ensure that diverse voices and perspectives are represented in the political process. By organizing around common values and policy goals, parties can offer voters a clear choice between competing visions for governance and policy.

Accountability: Political parties help hold elected officials accountable for their actions and ensure that they work in their constituents’ best interests. When a party gains control of the government, it can implement its agenda and significantly change how the country is governed.

Participation: Political parties can encourage greater participation and engagement in the political process by allowing their members to participate in selecting candidates and developing policy platforms. This can help ensure that the party represents the views and interests of its members and can also lead to greater engagement in the political process overall.

Stability: Political parties can help ensure stability and continuity in the political system. By organizing around shared values and policy goals, parties can help to ensure that the government remains focused on its core priorities, even as individual elected officials come and go.

How do political parties impact international relations?

Political parties can significantly impact international relations, both through their policies and interactions with other political parties and governments around the world. Here are some ways political parties can influence international relations:

Foreign policy: Political parties often develop specific foreign policy positions and priorities that can significantly impact international relations. These positions may be influenced by both the party’s ideology and its interactions with other parties and governments.

Diplomacy: Political parties can play a role in shaping diplomatic relations between countries by engaging in discussions and negotiations with other parties and governments. These interactions can help build trust and understanding between different countries and promote peaceful conflict resolution.

Alliances: Political parties may also form alliances with other parties and governments worldwide to promote shared values and interests. These alliances can help advance common goals and promote cooperation on issues of common interest.

Soft power: Political parties can also use their influence and popularity to promote their values and policies worldwide. For example, parties may use social media and other forms of communication to reach voters in other countries and promote their platforms.

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