Political parties in the United States

American electoral politics have been dominated by two major political parties since shortly after the founding of the republic. Since the 1850s, they have been the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Since the last major party political realignment in the mid-20th century (which occurred after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965), the Democratic Party has been the center-left and liberal party, and the Republican Party has been the center-right and conservative party.[1][2] Since the 1990s, political polarization in the United States has increased; both the Republican and Democratic parties have shifted further apart from their respective center-right and center-left ideologies. This has sparked greater tension and debate over major ideologically controversial bills, many of which result in political "deadlock".[3] In recent U.S. political history, political behavior correlates with the urban–rural political divide; whereby more voters living in urban areas gravitate towards the Democratic Party, voters living in more rural areas gravitate towards the Republican Party, whilst suburban electoral districts are battleground marginal seats which also influence the outcomes of battleground swing states in the Electoral College system of United States presidential elections.[4]

This two-party system is based on laws, party rules and custom, although this system was not specifically outlined in the U.S. Constitution (which predates the system). Several third parties also operate in the U.S., and from time to time elect someone to local office.[5] Some members of the US Congress have no party affiliation.[lower-alpha 1] The largest third party since the 1980s has been the Libertarian Party. Besides the Constitution, Green, and Libertarian parties, there are many other political parties that receive only minimal support and only appear on the ballot in one or a few states.

The need to win popular support in a republic led to the American invention of voter-based political parties in the 1790s.[6] Americans were especially innovative in devising new campaign techniques that linked public opinion with public policy through the party.[7] Political scientists and historians have divided the development of America's two-party system into five eras.[8] The first two-party system consisted of the Federalist Party, which supported the ratification of the Constitution, and the Democratic-Republican Party or the Anti-Administration party (Anti-Federalists), which opposed the powerful central government that the Constitution established when it took effect in 1789.[9] Party realignments have recurred periodically in response to social and cultural movements and economic development. The modern two-party system consists of the "Democratic" Party and the "Republican" Party. However these names, while they have been in existence since before the Civil War, have not always represented the same ideology or electorate. One of these two parties has won every United States presidential election since 1852 and has controlled the United States Congress since at least 1856.[10]

Some political candidates, and many voters, choose not to identify with a particular political party. In some states, independents are not allowed to vote in primary elections, but in others, they can vote in any primary election of their choice. Although the term "independent" often is used as a synonym for "moderate," "centrist," or "swing voter," to refer to a politician or voter who holds views that incorporate facets of both liberal and conservative ideologies, most self-described independents consistently support one of the two major parties when it comes time to vote, according to Vox Media.[11]

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