Political Power: Political Parties, Interest Groups & Political Action Committees (PACs)

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  • 0:05 Political Power
  • 1:12 Political Power Models
  • 1:58 Political Parties
  • 4:26 Lobbyists and…
  • 5:50 Voter Apathy
  • 6:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst

Melissa has a Masters in Education and a PhD in Educational Psychology. She has worked as an instructional designer at UVA SOM.

Sociologists often analyze political power by examining the relationship between those who hold power and those who seek it. We'll discuss political power and distinguish between political parties, special interest groups, and Political Action Committees.

Political Power

Voter Enthusiast: Hurray! It's Election Day! I'm so glad this date is finally here! Come on. Let's go vote!

Apathetic Voter: Yeah. I'm happy, too - happy that all those political ads are over. I'm not going with you to vote. I'm staying here.

Voter Enthusiast: What's your problem? Why aren't you voting?

Apathetic Voter: What's the point? It seems like only one person has all the power, and what the common people say doesn't really matter.

Voter Enthusiast: You should be interested in politics. Even people like sociologists are interested in the balance of political power within a society because they seek to understand the nature of the power relationship. Is the political power in a society equitable or inequitable? Is the power stable or subject to change? Sociologists analyze the relationships of those who hold power and those who seek it.

Let me explain political power and those who desire it, such as political parties, special interest groups, and political action committees (PACs).

Power, according to sociologist Max Weber, is the ability to achieve goals with or without the society's support of those goals.

Political Power Models

Sociologists often discuss two main types of political models of power when analyzing political structures.

The pluralist model, as described by sociologists, is all about negotiation, and power is distributed among competing interest groups. No one group gets all the power, but instead, alliances are forged among interest groups working toward the same goal.

On the other hand, the power-elite model is the opposite. In this model, sociologists argue that the majority of the power is held by the wealthy. In this case, the wealthy refers to businesses, government, and the military. Due to the distribution of the power to a few, it is argued that the average person cannot have his or her voice heard.

Political Parties

The form of government in the United States is a representative democracy in which citizens exercise their power through elected representatives. Political power resides in the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) and through the election of public officials.

In this system, each branch of government is accountable to the others, and no single branch of government holds all the power. The people elect the executive and legislative branches, while the executive branch appoints the members of the judicial branch, subject to approval by the legislature.

There are two predominant political parties in the United States government - Republicans and Democrats. Republicans are generally characterized as more conservative in their views, and they tend to support policies that reduce federal regulations, strengthen the military, and boost capitalist endeavors. Democrats are generally characterized as more liberal in their views and support policies to strengthen social services, protect the environment, and make businesses accountable.

Voter Enthusiast: There are more than just two parties that seek power, however.

Apathetic Voter: Really? I've only heard of Republicans and Democrats.

The United States has what are referred to as third parties. The major third parties are: the Constitution Party, the Green Party, and the Libertarian party.

The Constitution Party can be characterized as having views that reflect the Founding Fathers' ideals, the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and morals taken from the Bible. The Green Party has views that emphasize environmentalism, social justice, and respect for diversity, peace, and nonviolence. The Libertarian Party holds views and philosophies that regard liberty as the utmost political goal. Specifically, Libertarians hold sacred individual liberty and political freedom.

Apathetic Voter: So what if I don't choose a type of political party? Does that mean I can't vote?

Voter Enthusiast: Well, some political candidates and voters feel the same way, and they choose to be Independent, which means they choose not to identify with any particular political party.

Typically, Independents hold more centralized views that incorporate the views of both Republicans and Democrats. In some states, Independent voters are not allowed to vote in primary elections, but in most states, Independent voters can vote in any primary election they choose.

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