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The United States is a federal constitutional republic , in which the President of the United States the head of state and head of government , Congress , and judiciary share powers reserved to the national government, and the federal government shares sovereignty with the state governments.
The Constitution of the United States provides for a separation of powers among three branches.
The executive branch is mostly about the President and is independent of the legislature. Legislative power is in the two chambers of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The judicial branch or judiciary , made of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, focuses on the judicial power or judiciary. The judiciary's main focus is to interpret the meaning of the United States Constitution and federal laws and rules.
This includes solving problems between the executive and legislative branches. Two political parties , the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have been the main participants in American politics since the American Civil War.
There are major differences between the political system of the United States and that of most other developed democracies. These include greater power in the upper house of the legislature, a wider scope of power held by the Supreme Court , the separation of powers between the legislature and the executive, and the dominance of only two main parties.
Third parties have less political influence in the United States than in other developed country democracies.
The federal object created by the U. Constitution is the main feature of the American governmental system. However, most people are also subject to a state government, and all are subject to various units of local government.
The latter include counties, municipalities, and special districts. The federal government was created by the states, which as colonies were established separately and governed themselves independently of the others.
Units of local government were created by the colonies to carry out various state functions. As the country expanded, it admitted new states modeled on the existing ones.
The USA is a federal union of fifty states. 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. 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.
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.
PACs today number in the thousands. 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.
A survey of members of the American Economic Association find the vast majority regardless of political affiliation to be discontent with the current state of democracy in America.
The primary concern relates to the prevalence and influence of special interest groups within the political process, which tends to lead to policy consequences that only benefit such special interest groups and politicians.
Some conjecture that maintenance of the policy status quo and hesitance to stray from it perpetuates a political environment that fails to advance society's welfare.
In , political discontent became more prevalent, putting a severe strain on democratic institutions. Many of America's Founding Fathers hated the thought of political parties.
They wanted citizens to vote for candidates without the interference of organized groups, but this was not to be. By the s, different views of the new country's proper course had already developed, and those who held these opposing views tried to win support for their cause by banding together.
The followers of Alexander Hamilton , the Hamiltonian faction, took up the name " Federalist "; they favored a strong central government that would support the interests of commerce and industry.
The followers of Thomas Jefferson , the Jeffersonians and then the "Anti-Federalists," took up the name " Democratic-Republicans "; they preferred a decentralized agrarian republic in which the federal government had limited power.
By , the Federalists had disappeared as an organization, replaced by the Whigs , brought to life in opposition to the election that year of President Andrew Jackson.
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. 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. Many minor or third political parties appear from time to time.
They tend to serve a means to advocate policies that eventually are adopted by the two major political parties. At various times the Socialist Party , the Farmer-Labor Party and the Populist Party for a few years had considerable local strength, and then faded away—although in Minnesota , the Farmer—Labor Party merged into the state's Democratic Party, which is now officially known as the Democratic—Farmer—Labor Party.
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.
In the District of Columbia, the D. 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.
Senators were originally selected by state legislatures, but have been elected by popular vote since 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.
Although party members will usually "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.
During the 20th century, the overall political philosophy of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party underwent a dramatic shift from their earlier philosophies.
This changed a great deal with the presidency of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt , whose New Deal included the founding of Social Security as well as a variety of other federal services and public works projects.
Roosevelt's performance in the twin crises of the Depression and World War II led to a sort of polarization in national politics, centered around him; this combined with his increasingly liberal policies to turn FDR's Democrats to the left and the Republican Party further to the right.
During the s and the early s, both parties essentially expressed a more centrist approach to politics on the national level and had their liberal, moderate , and conservative wings influential within both parties.
From the early s, the conservative wing became more dominant in the Republican Party, and the liberal wing became more dominant in the Democratic Party.
The presidential election heralded the rise of the conservative wing among Republicans. The liberal and conservative wings within the Democratic Party were competitive until , when George McGovern 's candidacy marked the triumph of the liberal wing.
This similarly happened in the Republican Party with the candidacy and later landslide election of Ronald Reagan in , which marked the triumph of the conservative wing.
By the election , each major party had largely become identified by its dominant political orientation. Strong showings in the s by reformist independent Ross Perot pushed the major parties to put forth more centrist presidential candidates, like Bill Clinton and Bob Dole.
Polarization in Congress was said by some [ who? Others say that this polarization had existed since the late s when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.
Liberals within the Republican Party and conservatives within the Democratic Party and the Democratic Leadership Council neoliberals have typically fulfilled the roles of so-called political mavericks, radical centrists, or brokers of compromise between the two major parties.
They have also helped their respective parties gain in certain regions that might not ordinarily elect a member of that party; the Republican Party has used this approach with centrist Republicans such as Rudy Giuliani , George Pataki , Richard Riordan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The elections sent many centrist or conservative Democrats to state and federal legislatures including several, notably in Kansas and Montana, who switched parties.
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.
In speaking about the Supreme Court's McCutcheon v. FEC and Citizens United v. FEC decisions, Dionne wrote: "Thus 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. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Political system of the United States of America.
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January Learn how and when to remove this template message. Bowman and Richard C. Retrieved Baudot Eds. New York: Zed Books.
March 10, He knew he was right. Newsweek ". Political economy: A comparative approach. Westport, CT: Preager. Is There a crisis of the welfare state?
Cross-national evidence from Europe, North America, and Japan. European Sociological Review , 4 3 , Economics of the welfare state.
July 11, United States: Political Forces ". The Economist. Happy Mag. Washington Post. Bush and senior adviser Karl Rove tried to replicate that strategy this fall, hoping to keep the election from becoming a referendum on the president's leadership.
Americans shunned the opportunity to turn Tuesday's midterm elections into a referendum on President Bill Clinton's behavior, dashing Republican hopes of gaining seats in the House and Senate.
Econ Journal Watch 6 2 : Page Perspectives on Politics. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Belknap Press. The main problem to me is really the proper working of our democratic institutions.
It's just not compatible with an extreme sort of oligarchy where 90 percent of the wealth belongs to a very tiny group Hodge , Accessed April 26, , " Although Hodge devotes a chapter to foreign policy, the main charge he levels against Obama is that, like all politicians in the United States, he serves at the pleasure of a financial oligarchy.
When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
Thus 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.
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