In Defense of the American Party System

In Political Parties, U.S.A., Robert A. Goldwin, ed. (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1961), pp. 21-39. Reprinted in Edward C. Banfield, Here the People Rule: Selected Essays (Washington, DC: AEI, 1991).


The American party system has been criticized on four main grounds: (1) the parties do not offer the electorate a choice in terms of fundamental principles; their platforms are very similar and mean next to nothing; (2)they cannot discipline those whom they elect, and therefore they cannot carry their platforms into effect; (3) they are held together and motivated less by political principle than by desire for personal, often material, gain, and by sectional and ethnic loyalties; consequently party politics is personal and parochial; and (4) their structure is such that they cannot correctly represent the opinion of the electorate; in much of the country there is in effect only one party, and everywhere large contributors and special interests exercise undue influence within the party.

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