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Why do we even have political parties?

By Lauren AguirreNovember 1, 2016

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With each new election, it seems more and more people feel upset and disaffected by the two-party system. It's either Republicans or Democrats. Conservative or liberal. We've previously discussed why the United States has a two-party system. But why do we even have political parties in the first place? What purpose do they serve? Are they beneficial or harmful to the country? Here are the answers to your questions:


When were political parties first created?

After the American Revolution, many of the founders were concerned about the power of "faction." They believed that political parties might be necessary but should not be a driving force in politics. George Washington even warned Americans away from joining political parties when he retired from office in 1791.

Still, the Founding Fathers ended up forming the first two great American political parties. Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and others who agreed that the U.S. should have a strong federal government banded together to become the Federalists. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and others who wanted more power for the states became the Democratic-Republicans. Ever since then, America has been ruled by a two-party system. The Democratic and Republican parties we know today didn't come about until the 1930s.

What purpose do political parties serve?

Most simply, political parties exist to win elections. The reason parties die out is because they cannot maintain power or hold office. What's the point of having a political party that goes nowhere, right?

Political parties also offer clarification for voters. Without political parties, voters would be a little lost as to which candidate believes what. But if a candidate says they're a Democrat, voters instantly know that person's general beliefs and platform. Party identification often simplifies a voter's choices at the polling booth. The average voter probably knows a lot more about the presidential candidate than other local races. So if a person mostly agrees with the Republican Party, they can vote a straight ticket instead of having to research every single race.

Parties also allow for easier mobilization and participation. It's much easier to join an existing club than start your own. Passionate liberals and conservatives have a place to go if they want to become involved in the political arena. If they don't, having that party identification helps campaigns target who their loyal base is and determine who else they need to persuade to win an election.

Do political parties help or hurt?

Depends on who you ask. The Founding Fathers had conflicting opinions on parties. Many framers believed that "factions" could be a downfall of the country, but many of them also worked to found the first American political parties.

Parties serve a purpose in the United States, but they can often leave less polarized voters out. If you fall more in the middle of the political spectrum, you don't really have a party to rely on. This can also be true if your beliefs fall more severely to the right or the left than the Republican or Democratic parties.

Some voters have rejected both parties simply because they have both been in power for too long. These people are tired of the status quo and want something new for the country. Still — unless one of the major parties fades away on its own — it is currently very difficult for third parties to gain any substantial support.