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Another explanation for these findings not offered by the authors may be that the greater size and social diversity of the United States make the issues that Congress deals with more complex and intractable than those confronting the British and Canadian parliaments. As a result, Congress' performance is more likely to disappoint the public. This point is supported by data from American state legislatures that show that more professionalized legislatures i.

The more professionalized legislatures are generally found in the larger, more diverse states. Squire The relationship between knowledge and support of legislative institutions is important to the cause of democracy building. An underlying assumption of the later discussions in this paper about what legislatures can do to improve their public standing is that more information i. The data from the United States, though, offer a cautionary note that structural and social factors may prevent this linkage from working. When asked what legislatures could do improve their public standing, a former speaker of the Connecticut house said, "Always reduce taxes and increase services.

Nonetheless, there are things that legislatures can do to to promote citizen participation in and support for the legislative institution. We will divide this discussion into three parts that coincide with the three ways that the public learns about legislatures: direct communication, news media and other indirect methods.

The one-to-one and one-to-many communications between individual legislators and their constituents covered in a companion paper on communication between legislators and constituents Kurtz are obvious important elements of direct communication between a legislature and the public. We will not repeat that discussion here other than to remember that these communications between individual legislators and citizens in their districts help lawmakers make decisions about public policy issues, provide mechanisms for resolving citizens' complaints about the government and allow an outlet for the expression of public views and opinions.

Similarly, although it is beyond the scope of this paper, we should also mention that political parties and election campaigns perform a vital role in providing voters with opportunities to express their public policy preferences and in shaping the positions of their elected representatives. In this section of the paper we will focus, instead, on more formal mechanisms for public participation in the legislative process through public access, committee hearings and public information about the legislature. Outside of the United States, these topics are usually grouped under the subject of "legislative transparency.

At the most elemental level, public participation in the legislative process requires access to the building where the legislature meets. In the United States and most other established democracies, the capitol building is a major public edifice-a source of national or state pride-that is almost completely open to the public. Citizens can and do roam the legislative halls with the exception only of a few private hallways and the floor of the legislative chamber itself. All American legislative chambers have public visitor galleries where citizens can observe legislative sessions.

The national capitol in the United States and a few state legislative buildings screen everyone who enters the building for security but otherwise these buildings are extraordinarily accessible. While we take open capitol buildings for granted in the United States, this is not always the case in emerging democracies around the world. Countries that have experienced political unrest and violence or have a totalitarian history may bar or at least discourage the public from the legislative building, usually for the security or privacy of the members.

An NCSL technical assistance team in Africa observed that the Zambian legislative building is located on the outskirts of Lusaka far from the city center and requires visitors to pass through an intimidating iron gate. In Kenya the public regularly packs into the galleries of the legislative chamber, but the rest of the legislative building is closed to citizens.

A basic step toward expanded democracy and public participation in such countries would be to open the legislative building to the public. In addition to public access, most American capitols have visitor information centers to welcome citizens, answer their questions and guide them to where they want to go. Informative tours are usually provided to anyone who is interested in learning about the history of the building and the policy-making process.

The Hawaii Legislature has recently established an innovative public access room-a public lounge where legislative documents, fax machines and computer terminals are available to help citizens who wish to influence the lawmaking process. Koch The Berlin legislature in Germany recognized the importance of transparency in a symbolic way in the design of its legislative building. After reunification, the Berlin House of Representatives renovated the home of the old Prussian parliament in former East Berlin to serve as their new home. The new legislative chamber has a glass roof open to the sky to symbolize the importance of openness in German democracy today.

In many countries legislative committees perform the primary work of obtaining expert and public opinion on issues before the legislature. For example, the North Dakota Legislature's site on the World Wide Web contains this public invitation: "You have the right, as do all citizens, to testify before the North Dakota Legislative Assembly on any bill or resolution.

A National Democratic Institute report on committees quotes a Malawi parliamentarian who makes the case for obtaining technical advice through legislative committees:. American legislatures make widespread use of public hearings to obtain public and expert testimony. In fact nine state legislatures require a public hearing on all bills before the legislature. This is by no means universal throughout the world. The NDI study of legislative committees concludes, "In newly established democratic legislatures, legislators must actively help create a [committee] system that invites public participation.

Public hearings assume that capitol buildings have adequate space to seat the public at committee meetings. This is not always the case. In Nepal not even journalists are permitted in committee meetings because the meeting rooms are too small. USAID c. Public hearings of committees, by definition, are open to the public. There is substantial variation and debate, however, about the extent to which other meetings of committees should be open.

In the United States today, virtually all meetings of committees in all 51 legislatures are open to the public. The only exceptions are generally for individual privacy matters, such as personnel decisions, and issues of national security. The Florida and Colorado Legislatures passed the earliest and most stringent "sunshine" laws: all meetings of two or more legislators where public business is discussed in these states must be open to the public.

This openness of American legislative committees has transpired only in the last 25 years. Around the rest of the world it is far from the norm. A study found that 60 percent of national parliaments always or usually held private committee meetings and only one in four always or usually held public meetings.

IPU , The case for open meetings of committees is that it allows the public to know what decisions are made and how their legislators vote at what is sometimes the most critical stage of legislation. Woodrow Wilson's slogan about the League of Nations, "open covenants, openly arrived at," captures the argument in favor of open legislative committee meetings. The argument against open committee meetings is that they may inhibit free and open discussion among legislators and unnecessarily limit the ability to negotiate and compromise.

A USAID study of the Nepal Parliament concluded that their closed committee meetings may seem undemocratic but are beneficial because they allow parliamentarians to discuss policy issues without being bound by party positions. Some of this debate over legislative transparency is artificial, because most legislatures that require open committee meetings find informal ways to "close the doors" and work out differences in private. Or, they may find that on many issues few members of the public or the media bother to attend so no outsiders are present to inhibit discussion.

Open meetings do not suffice to encourage public participation unless there is adequate public notice. The member of the Malawi Parliament quoted earlier says,. Public hearings in the capital city and open meetings benefit only those who live within easy traveling distance of the capitol or those who have the resources to travel longer distances. Legislatures in many jurisdictions go a step beyond by taking committees on the road. The state legislatures of Minnesota, Missouri, Washington and West Virginia often hold interim committee meetings outside the capital to obtain public input and familiarize legislators with the entire state.

After sending Louisiana house committees to 42 communities in , the speaker of the house reported some of the benefits for public participation and the image of the legislature:. In the late s the Zimbabwe Parliament organized a series of provincial workshops throughout the country around the topic of regional planning. By including members of parliament, civil servants, and non-governmental organizations in the workshops, MPs not only felt better prepared for debate on the issue but also had vital opportunities to interact with civil servants charged with implementing programs in the field.

Kabasa Modern information technology makes it possible for committees to receive public testimony from remote locations by means of audio- and videoconferencing. State legislatures in geographically large western states like Nevada, Wyoming and Alaska routinely provide citizens who live great distances from the capital opportunity to testify before committees via satellite. All Texas senators have Internet videoconferencing capabilities between their district and capitol offices, so citizens can see and speak with their senators in Austin by traveling the relatively short distance to the senator's district office.

While these kinds of technologies today are confined to relatively wealthy countries, decreasing costs over time will make them a viable option in poorer countries in the future. A final idea for promoting public participation in the committee process is to include citizen members on legislative study committees. By statute interim committees of the Wisconsin must include citizen members as well as legislators.

In other jurisdictions citizen members may be included on special study committees on an ad hoc basis. Legislatures use various methods to provide information to the public about the legislative process and to bypass the media and communicate directly with the public.

At a basic level, most legislatures produce a brochure describing the parliamentary process. The one published by the Malawi Parliament, with the assistance of NDI, describes the role of parliament in making laws, how the budgetary process works and the parliament's role in scrutinizing the executive branch. A directory of members of the legislature including photos, biographies, staff and contact information is also a basic public resource that all legislatures should provide. Most legislatures produce a record of actions by the legislature.

This record may be a verbatim transcript as in the Congressional Record or the Hansard common to Westminster style legislatures, or it may be a journal summarizing actions and recording votes as in most American state legislatures. Some legislatures tape their proceedings, archive the tapes, but transcribe them only upon request by a court of law.

Staff efficiency in producing records of proceedings and providing copies of pending bills improves the transparency of the legislature. A USAID report on legislative strengthening in Poland reported that improved staff and computer services "made parliament more transparent because it is easier for the media, advocacy groups and public to follow the legislative process. The above kinds of explanatory materials and public records generally have limited distribution, often requiring consumers of the information to come to the capitol to obtain them.

A minimum level of transparency requires that such records be distributed to the media and public libraries or other public facilities. Many legislatures go substantially beyond explanatory brochures and official records in their efforts to provide effective public information. The Minas Gerais state legislature in Brazil has a very sophisticated public information program. They publish a daily newspaper summarizing the discussions of the day in the legislature complete with photographs and feature stories.

They also produce a weekly television talk show program in which members of the legislature are interviewed and answer call-in questions from the public. USAID's legislative strengthening project in El Salvador has helped produce not only a guide to the Assembly but also television and radio ads, newspaper columns and comic books explaining and promoting the legislative process. Their exhibit includes constituency maps, pamphlets on the role and history of Parliament, and videotapes of the prime minister's question time before Parliament. Many legislatures attempt to reach wider audiences directly through radio and television.

They may provide facilities for radio feeds that allow members to supply their local radio stations with news and information. Seventeen state legislatures provide similar unedited television coverage of legislative sessions. Unfortunately, there are few data on the impact of watching legislatures on TV on citizens' attitudes toward the legislature. An unpublished U. Mann and Ornstein , 10 This reinforces an earlier statement that, at least in the U.

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USAID b, 13 This was attributed to lack of public understanding about the operations of a democratic legislature. In retrospect, it is suggested in the USAID report, more money should have been invested in helping the public understand the Polish legislative process. Finally, many legislatures are finding innovative ways to use modern information technology to provide information about the legislature to the public.

For example the Rio Grande do Sul State Legislative Assembly in Brazil provides a touch screen computer terminal that helps people learn about their legislators and the legislative process. This capability is currently only available in the legislative building, but they have plans to provide computer kiosks in shopping malls and public libraries, as the Hawaii Legislature has done in the United States.

Citizens can listen to legislative debates, committee hearings and other governmental functions of the Washington Legislature through RealAudio on the World-wide Web www. The Missouri Legislature provides a toll-free number that people can dial into in order to hear a broadcast of legislative proceedings. The primary mechanism by which citizens learn about the legislature in most countries is the news media-newspapers, radio and television. In order to analyze how the media cover different legislatures, we must take into account varying media cultures in different countries.

Key variables include the degree of competition among the media, the role of political parties, the extent of government control and the prevailing styles of reportage. In the U. This is because newspapers in competitive markets feel compelled to provide the news that their market research shows the public wants: short, human-interest stories a la USA Today and not detailed public policy analysis. Newspapers in non-competitive markets, on the other hand, can afford to be traditional "newspapers of record" and cover public policy issues that they deem to be important.

The American context of a free and relatively sophisticated press does not exist everywhere, however, and the degree of competition among the media may not always be a crucial variable. In El Salvador, where media ownership is concentrated in few hands, there are few skilled journalists and little hard news about the legislature. USAID a, 7 In this case of a less literate society with no tradition of free entrepreneurial press coverage, the lack of media competition discourages knowledgeable coverage of public policy issues. Where a free press exists, it plays a significant role both in educating the public about legislative issues and holding the legislature accountable.

USAID's evaluation of legislative strengthening in the Philippines found that free media "play a persistent, visible role in holding Congress accountable. In some countries the political parties control some, if not all, of the newspapers. Party-controlled newspapers may provide extensive coverage of public policy issues and the legislature, but the coverage is likely to be highly biased.

Newspapers controlled by opposition parties are likely to make strong attacks on the government and the legislature. Party-controlled newspapers in a one-party state, on the other hand, are effectively the same as government-controlled newspapers. Government control of the news media obviously means a bias in favor of the government and the legislature. The legislature's image is well served by the media, but the public does not receive objective information. The final element of media culture is the prevailing style of political reporting. In the United States, observers mark a substantial change over time in how Congress has been covered.

One analysis of press coverage of Congress since World War II suggests that skepticism about Congress has always been a healthy hallmark of American political reporting. But in recent years,. We do not know much about this subject in comparative perspective. The comparative analysis of British, Canadian and U. Partial state sponsorship of the media and a tradition of public service journalism in Britain and Canada may have impeded the development in those countries of the kind of "attack" journalism practiced in the United States. At a conference of state legislators the speaker of the West Virginia House of Representatives sums up the complaints of virtually any legislator anywhere about legislative media coverage:.

Can anything be done to improve the relationship between press and parliament? In countries with party- or government-controlled media, probably little can be done short of completely changing the media culture. But in countries with a relatively free press, the legislature, the media and outside donors can take steps to strengthen the relationship:. Finally, although it is largely beyond their control, legislatures can encourage voluntary media restraint, openness, and independence. In the United States some news organizations voluntarily subject themselves to the same public financial disclosure and conflict of interest reporting requirements as those applying to public officials.

A strong press association can help to train, mediate and accredit reporters. Minnesota has a statewide news council, made up of journalists, citizens and a supreme court judge, to which anyone who feels wronged by the press can complain. This panel investigates complaints and issues reports on the news media. NCSL The manner in which reporters cover the legislature has an impact on the public image of the institution and citizen participation in its activities.

An American analyst emphasizes the importance of restrained and responsible media:. In addition to direct communication and media relations, there are a number of other indirect approaches that legislatures can take either to improving their public image or to increase citizen participation. Legislative Performance.

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One of the most important, although often overlooked, tools for improving the legislature's public standing is effective performance. Legislatures that move expeditiously and efficiently to formulate timely legislative responses to public policy problems will always be regarded more favorably than those that delay, engage in partisan bickering and deadlock.

Decorum in the legislative chamber is an important element of the public's perception of the institution. Speaking at an international conference on the links between parliament and the public, a New Zealand minister said, "The chamber is the most visible element of parliament, and too often we fall short. If we look silly, it's not the media's fault; it's our own. NCSL , 10 This is doubly true in emerging democracies where traditions of bribery, nepotism and legislating for personal benefit may be difficult to eradicate in a short period of time.

All legislatures should develop codes of ethics for public officials and conflict of interest and public disclosure laws that suit their countries' culture and circumstances. Training should be provided to legislators and staff about ethics laws, and they should be encouraged to meet the highest ethical standards, not just the letter of the law. NCSL , A detailed discussion of anti-corruption strategies and legislative ethics laws is beyond the scope of this paper.

The Law Library of Congress has recently published a very useful comparative analysis of legislative ethics laws in 34 countries. The report covers restrictions on gifts to legislators, outside income, financial interests and disclosure and post-legislative service employment restrictions. Generally, it finds that restrictions and limits in the United States are more stringent than in most other countries.

Law Library of Congress Many U. These more extreme state laws have usually been passed in the wake of widely publicized scandal in the state. Rosenthal The ultimate form of public participation in the legislative process is direct democracy through referenda also known as plebiscites or initiatives. Referenda or plebiscites occur when a legislature or, in some cases, the executive refers a measure to the public for a vote. This method of allowing people to determine their own fate directly has worked well in many countries.

Australia and Switzerland have made particularly extensive use of the referendum. In Switzerland citizens can demand a referendum on measures passed by the legislature by obtaining an adequate number of signatures. The referendum has been particularly useful in resolving constitutional and boundary issues. Cronin , The direct initiative, in which citizens can initiate a measure, bypass the legislative process and submit the matter to a public vote, is less frequently used around the world. Approximately half of the American states have the right to initiate legislation directly.

The initiative has a strong appeal as a means of ensuring that the majority of the public can themselves pass the laws that they want. Criticisms of the initiative, though, include the concern that overuse of the initiative can result in long and complex ballots that voters do not understand. Initiated measures may be poorly crafted, and they are not subject to the public hearing and comment process that often leads to the accommodation of differing views through negotiation and compromises within the legislature.

The most severe critics of direct democracy regard it as a threat to parliamentary democracy and representative government. Advocates, on the other hand, argue that sparing use of these devices, as in Australia and Switzerland, "can buttress rather than destroy a parliamentary system.

Civic education is a vital strategy for strengthening public participation and confidence in the legislative process. The methods of direct communication described above are all forms of civic education. The most effective long-term civic education, though, begins at younger ages in the schools.

The most important thing that legislatures can do to promote civic education is to require that it be taught as part of the school curriculum, provide adequate funds for texts and curriculum materials and ensure the availability of knowledgeable and trained teachers. Legislatures in various countries have developed innovative curriculum materials to aid in teaching about the legislative process. The Minas Gerais Legislative Assembly in Brazil has produced a series of storybooks and games written by award-winning children's authors to explain representative democracy in their state.

USAID a, 9 The Pennsylvania Legislature has designed a board game based on the legislative process and distributes it free of charge to public schools. The Center for Civic Education in the United States, with funding from Congress, sponsors a national competition for high school students on the Constitution.

A companion program, We the People Project Citizen, is aimed at middle school students and is designed to involve students in community problem-solving exercises. The curriculum for Project Citizen has been translated into Spanish, Bosnian and Czech and used successfully in countries that speak those languages. Center for Civic Education To combat a bias toward teaching about the national government and overlooking the role of state and local government, the Minnesota Legislature and the National Conference of State Legislatures have published textbooks for high school students that explain the state legislative process.

Neal The Institute of Government at the University of Georgia provides newsletters, curricular materials and training workshops for civics teachers on Georgia state government. Organized interest groups can play a vital role in communicating between the public and parliament. Businesses, trade associations, labor unions and non-profit organizations, often referred to outside the United States as NGOs non-governmental organizations , can aggregate interests and bring the concerns of many people before a representative assembly.

These organizations can provide expert advice to the legislature on how proposed laws will affect their interests. In its assessment of legislative strengthening projects in a number of countries, USAID consistently reported on the relationship between NGOs and the parliament.

In the Philippines, where NGOs are constitutionally mandated to participate in public affairs, they are very active with the Congress. USAID-funded projects that promote the role of NGOs in community development and service delivery and improve their internal management have contributed indirectly to strengthening public participation in the legislative process. USAID Words like "lobbying" or "lobbyist" have negative connotations in many cultures.

USAID found that lobbying was not accepted as legitimate in Poland due to a communist past in which representation of organized interests was viewed as a capitalist tool. USAID b, 9 An NCSL team working with Brazilian legislative staff found that the most difficult cultural barrier to overcome was explaining how "lobbying" could have a positive connotation involving information, expertise and representation of legitimate interests rather than a negative image of corruption and illicit influence.

Much of the discussion of accessibility of the legislature to the public, transparency and codes of ethics applies to the role of the legislature in establishing a climate in which NGOs communicate effectively with the legislature. USAID b. And thanks to the USAID impact evaluation studies, this paper is dotted throughout with examples of how support has been given to promoting transparency and public participation.

We will not repeat those discussions here but will add a few comments generated by the examples already cited. Training and education are the most effective tools for strengthening legislatures in the area of public participation. Because of the institutional focus of this discussion of citizen participation in the legislative process, training and education in this area should be targeted to key legislative leaders and senior staff who are responsible for legislature-wide functions.

Study tours to established democratic legislatures may be particularly effective in promoting things like access to buildings, public information and committee hearings because these aspects of transparency tend to sell themselves when people see them in action. Reference has already been made to the impact on the Nepali legislators of seeing public committee hearings during their study tour to the United States.

Technical assistance can also be targeted to a few key leaders and staff of the legislature. Assuming that a climate exists in which a legislature wants to open up its process, experienced legislative staff from established democracies with public information responsibilities could provide very effective in-country advice and support in short periods of time. We have also mentioned ongoing in-country legislative support institutions or public policy institutes like CEAL in Chile and Poder Ciudadano in Argentina. NDI has permanent American staff on the ground in the countries in which they work.

These kinds of ongoing support functions have obvious advantages in establishing credibility, cementing personal relationships with key leaders and staff and being able to assess legislative needs over an extended period of time. The only disadvantage of this approach is that on-site staff may not have the expertise necessary to support legislative strengthening in specific areas. The ideal combination is to have staff in country and also have the resources to bring in subject matter experts and practitioners from established democracies for short periods of time. This is a model that NDI has successfully used.

The modern political party system in the United States is a two-party system dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These two parties have won every United States presidential election since and have controlled the United States Congress since The Democratic Party positions itself on the left of the left—right political spectrum in American politics and supports a modern American liberal platform, while the Republican Party positions itself on the right of the spectrum and supports a modern American conservative platform. Third parties and independent voters have achieved relatively minor representation from time to time at local levels.

The Libertarian Party is the largest third party in the country, claiming more than , registered voters in ; [29] it generally positions itself as centrist or radical centrist and supports a classical liberal position. Other contemporary third parties include the left-wing Green Party , supporting Green politics , and the right-wing Constitution Party , supporting paleoconservatism. Unlike in some parliamentary systems , Americans vote for a specific candidate instead of directly selecting a particular political party. With a federal government, officials are elected at the federal national , state and local levels.

On a national level, the president , is elected indirectly by the people, through an Electoral College. In modern times, the electors virtually always vote with the popular vote of their state. All members of Congress , and the offices at the state and local levels are directly elected. Various federal and state laws regulate elections. The United States Constitution defines to a basic extent how federal elections are held, in Article One and Article Two and various amendments. State law regulates most aspects of electoral law, including primaries, the eligibility of voters beyond the basic constitutional definition , the running of each state's electoral college, and the running of state and local elections.

American political parties are more loosely organized than those in other countries. The two major parties, in particular, have no formal organization at the national level that controls membership, activities, or policy positions, though some state affiliates do.

Thus, for an American to say that he or she is a member of the Democratic or Republican party, is quite different from a Briton's stating that he or she is a member of the Conservative or Labour party. In the United States, one can often become a "member" of a party, merely by stating that fact.

In some U. Such participation does not restrict one's choices in any way. It also does not give a person any particular rights or obligations within the party, other than possibly allowing that person to vote in that party's primary elections. A person may choose to attend meetings of one local party committee one day and another party committee the next day.

The sole factor that brings one "closer to the action" is the quantity and quality of participation in party activities and the ability to persuade others in attendance to give one responsibility. Party identification becomes somewhat formalized when a person runs for partisan office. In most states, this means declaring oneself a candidate for the nomination of a particular party and intent to enter that party's primary election for an office. A party committee may choose to endorse one or another of those who is seeking the nomination, but in the end the choice is up to those who choose to vote in the primary, and it is often difficult to tell who is going to do the voting.

The result is that American political parties have weak central organizations and little central ideology, except by consensus. A party really cannot prevent a person who disagrees with the majority of positions of the party or actively works against the party's aims from claiming party membership, so long as the voters who choose to vote in the primary elections elect that person. Once in office, an elected official may change parties simply by declaring such intent. An elected official once in office may also act contradictory to many of his or her party's positions this had led to terms such as " Republican In Name Only ".

At the federal level, each of the two major parties has a national committee See, Democratic National Committee , Republican National Committee that acts as the hub for much fund-raising and campaign activities, particularly in presidential campaigns. The exact composition of these committees is different for each party, but they are made up primarily of representatives from state parties and affiliated organizations, and others important to the party.

However, the national committees do not have the power to direct the activities of members of the party. Both parties also have separate campaign committees which work to elect candidates at a specific level. The most significant of these are the Hill committees , which work to elect candidates to each house of Congress.

State parties exist in all fifty states, though their structures differ according to state law, as well as party rules at both the national and the state level. Despite these weak organizations, elections are still usually portrayed as national races between the political parties. In what is known as " presidential coattails ", candidates in presidential elections become the de facto leader of their respective party, and thus usually bring out supporters who in turn then vote for his party's candidates for other offices.

On the other hand, federal midterm elections where only Congress and not the president is up for election are usually regarded as a referendum on the sitting president's performance, with voters either voting in or out the president's party's candidates, which in turn helps the next session of Congress to either pass or block the president's agenda, respectively. Most of the Founding Fathers rejected political parties as divisive and disruptive.

By the s, however, most joined one of the two new parties, and by the s parties had become accepted as central to the democracy. Men who held opposing views strengthened their cause by identifying and organizing men of like mind. The followers of Alexander Hamilton , were called " Federalists "; they favored a strong central government that would support the interests of national defense, commerce and industry.

The followers of Thomas Jefferson , the Jeffersonians took up the name " Republicans "; they preferred a decentralized agrarian republic in which the federal government had limited power. By , the First Party System had collapsed. Two new parties emerged from the remnants of the Jeffersonian Democracy , forming the Second Party System with the Whigs , brought to life in opposition to President Andrew Jackson and his new Democratic Party. The forces of Jacksonian Democracy , based among urban workers, Southern poor whites, and western farmers, dominated the era.

In the s, the issue of slavery took center stage, with disagreement in particular over the question of whether slavery should be permitted in the country's new territories in the West. The Whig Party straddled the issue and sank to its death after the overwhelming electoral defeat by Franklin Pierce in the presidential election. While the Know Nothing party was short-lived, Republicans would survive the intense politics leading up to the Civil War.

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The primary Republican policy was that slavery be excluded from all the territories. Just six years later, this new party captured the presidency when Abraham Lincoln won the election of By then, parties were well established as the country's dominant political organizations, and party allegiance had become an important part of most people's consciousness. Party loyalty was passed from fathers to sons, and party activities, including spectacular campaign events, complete with uniformed marching groups and torchlight parades, were a part of the social life of many communities.

By the s, however, this boisterous folksiness had diminished. Municipal reforms, civil service reform, corrupt practices acts, and presidential primaries to replace the power of politicians at national conventions had all helped to clean up politics. Since the s, the country has been run by two major parties, beginning with the Federalist vs. At present, the Libertarian Party is the most successful third party. New York State has a number of additional third parties, who sometimes run their own candidates for office and sometimes nominate the nominees of the two main parties.

Most officials in America are elected from single-member districts and win office by beating out their opponents in a system for determining winners called first-past-the-post ; the one who gets the plurality wins, which is not the same thing as actually getting a majority of votes. This encourages the two-party system ; see Duverger's law. In the absence of multi-seat congressional districts, proportional representation is impossible and third parties cannot thrive.

Although elections to the Senate elect two senators per constituency state , staggered terms effectively result in single-seat constituencies for elections to the Senate. Another critical factor has been ballot access law. Originally, voters went to the polls and publicly stated which candidate they supported. Later on, this developed into a process whereby each political party would create its own ballot and thus the voter would put the party's ballot into the voting box.

In the late nineteenth century, states began to adopt the Australian Secret Ballot Method , and it eventually became the national standard. The secret ballot method ensured that the privacy of voters would be protected hence government jobs could no longer be awarded to loyal voters and each state would be responsible for creating one official ballot. The fact that state legislatures were dominated by Democrats and Republicans provided these parties an opportunity to pass discriminatory laws against minor political parties, yet such laws did not start to arise until the first Red Scare that hit America after World War I.

State legislatures began to enact tough laws that made it harder for minor political parties to run candidates for office by requiring a high number of petition signatures from citizens and decreasing the length of time that such a petition could legally be circulated. It should also be noted that while more often than not, party members will "toe the line" and support their party's policies, they are free to vote against their own party and vote with the opposition "cross the aisle" when they please. Variations sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant in the 50 political cultures of the states yield considerable differences overall in what it means to be, or to vote, Democratic or Republican.

These differences suggest that one may be justified in referring to the American two-party system as masking something more like a hundred-party system.


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The United States has a long tradition of gerrymandering. In some states, bipartisan gerrymandering is the norm. State legislators from both parties sometimes agree to draw congressional district boundaries in a way that ensures the re-election of most or all incumbent representatives from both parties. Rather than allowing more political influence, some states have shifted redistricting authority from politicians and given it to non-partisan redistricting commissions. The states of Washington, [40] Arizona, [41] and California's Proposition 11 and Proposition 20 have created standing committees for redistricting following the census.

Rhode Island [42] and New Jersey have developed ad hoc committees, but developed the past two decennial reapportionments tied to new census data. Florida's amendments 5 and 6, meanwhile, established rules for the creation of districts but did not mandate an independent commission. International election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, who were invited to observe and report on the national elections , expressed criticism of the U.

Special interest groups advocate the cause of their specific constituency. Business organizations will favor low corporate taxes and restrictions of the right to strike, whereas labor unions will support minimum wage legislation and protection for collective bargaining. Other private interest groups, such as churches and ethnic groups, are more concerned about broader issues of policy that can affect their organizations or their beliefs. One type of private interest group that has grown in number and influence in recent years is the political action committee or PAC.

These are independent groups, organized around a single issue or set of issues, which contribute money to political campaigns for U. Congress or the presidency. PACs are limited in the amounts they can contribute directly to candidates in federal elections. There are no restrictions, however, on the amounts PACs can spend independently to advocate a point of view or to urge the election of candidates to office. Since many of them focus on a narrow set of concerns or even on a single issue, and often a single issue of enormous emotional weight, they compete with the parties for citizens' dollars, time, and passion.

The amount of money spent by these special interests continues to grow, as campaigns become increasingly expensive. Many Americans have the feeling that these wealthy interests, whether corporations, unions or PACs, are so powerful that ordinary citizens can do little to counteract their influences. Some views suggest that the political structure of the United States is in many respects an oligarchy , where a small economic elite overwhelmingly determines policy and law. A study by political scientists Martin Gilens Princeton University and Benjamin Page Northwestern University released in April suggested that when the preferences of a majority of citizens conflicts with elites, elites tend to prevail.

Winters , saying, "Winters has posited a comparative theory of 'Oligarchy,' in which the wealthiest citizens — even in a 'civil oligarchy' like the United States — dominate policy concerning crucial issues of wealth- and income-protection. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

Dionne Jr. The journalist, columnist, and scholar interprets recent Supreme Court decisions as ones that allow wealthy elites to use economic power to influence political outcomes in their favor. FEC and Citizens United v. FEC decisions, "has this court conferred on wealthy people the right to give vast sums of money to politicians while undercutting the rights of millions of citizens to cast a ballot.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote:. The stark reality is that we have a society in which money is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people. This threatens to make us a democracy in name only.

Edited by Robert E. Goodin

The effects of oligarchy on democracy and the economy were key points of the presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders [53] and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. I fear that we may be on the verge of becoming an oligarchic form of society where a handful of billionaires control not just the economy, but the political life of this country. And that's just something we're going to have wrestle with. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Political system of the United States of America. Federal Government. Constitution of the United States Law Taxation.

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