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Political Party: Definition, Function, Organization & Mobilization

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  • 0:01 What Is a Political Party?
  • 0:32 What Do Political Parties Do?
  • 2:44 How Is a Political…
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The following lesson will introduce you to the concept of political parties in the United States government. A short quiz will follow to check your understanding.

What Is a Political Party?

You may often hear the media talk about the state of our country's political system and, specifically, our political parties. However, the term 'political party' isn't something where senators, representatives, and other political officials have fun all day. Instead, a political party is a group of dedicated people who come together to win elections, operate the government, and determine public policy. So, you can see that this is anything but the fun type of 'party' that we usually think of when we hear the word.

What Do Political Parties Do?

Political parties in the United States do a variety of things. There are five main functions that political parties have. Recruiting candidates for public office is one of the most important functions that political parties have. An important goal of political parties is to gain control of the government, and to do this, parties must work to recruit candidates for all elected offices. For example, if a state had an opening for governor, each political party would try and find a person they could support to run for that position.

Political parties also actively try to gather volunteers to help register voters as well as organize and run the election day voting. The hope is that the more people that are involved in helping with the election, the more interest there will be in the outcome, which should increase voter turnout. The ultimate goal is to get the person the party supports to win an election.

While political parties do end up endorsing or supporting individual candidates, they do so because those people share very similar ideals and political positions of the entire party. Thus, another function of political parties is to present alternative policies to the electorate, called their political platform. A political platform is the ideals and positions a political party has. Thus, we often learn of the ideals a political party has from the members that support it.

When a member of a political party wins an elected position, they in essence take responsibility of running the government. This includes staffing positions with loyal party supporters and developing connections among other elected officials to gain support for policies and their implementation. For example, Barack Obama, who is a member of the Democratic Party, did this when he named his White House staff, Cabinet members, and other appointed officials.

The last function that a political party has is to put forth its own policies and oppose the winning party, when appropriate, if the party did not win an elected position. The purpose of this is to promote healthy debate so that the winning party remains fair in the policies that they promote. For example, if you were to apply for a promotion at a job and a co-worker ended up getting it over you, you would still hope that you would be listened to and valued in your current role even though you aren't the person in power.

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