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Barish, Lawrence S.; Theobald, H. Rupert (ed.) / State of Wisconsin 1991-1992 Blue Book

Wisconsin political parties,   pp. [833]-868 PDF (16.1 MB)

Page 834

                                 What Is a Political Party?
  A political party is a private, voluntary organization of people with similar
political beliefs
that competes with other political parties for control of government. Political
parties help voters
select their representatives and develop a consensus on the basic principles
that direct govern-
mental activities and processes.
  Political parties in the United States are a marked contrast to the rigid
party apparatus in less
democratic countries. In many parts of the world, political parties start
out with established,
narrowly defined ideologies and programs. Members are recruited on the basis
of these fixed
ideas, and there is little room for disagreement within the ranks. In the
United States, political
parties are loosely organized groups reflecting a broad spectrum of interests.
They are truly
popular parties in the sense that they accommodate diversity and are instruments
of the will of
party activists at the grass roots level. Political ideology, as stated in
a party's national platform,
is formulated first at the local level and then refined through debate and
compromise at a series of
meetings representing successively larger geographic areas.
  In Wisconsin, this process of debate and compromise begins in local party
units within each
county. A consensus is achieved through the competition of ideas, freely
and fully discussed.
The views of members of local units are represented at regional levels when
local delegates attend
congressional district, state, and national meetings.
  The Wisconsin Statutes define a political party as a state committee registered
according to
law with the state Elections Board and "organized exclusively for political
purposes under whose
name candidates appear on the ballot at any election", and the definition
includes "all county,
congressional, legislative, local and other affiliated committees authorized
to operate under the
same name". A "recognized political party", according to the
statutory definition, means a
political party that qualifies for a separate ballot or column based on receiving
the required
number of votes for that office at the last election or upon acquiring the
required number of
signatures on a petition.
   The delegates from each political party's local units meet at an annual
state convention. De-
pending on the year, matters addressed at state party conventions include
drawing up a state
platform or amendments to it, selecting national committee members, electing
officers, consider-
ing resolutions, and conducting other party business. Every 4 years party
delegates from
throughout the United States meet in a national convention to nominate their
candidates for
president and vice president and to adopt a national platform that expresses
the party's princi-
ples and goals for the next 4 years. In Wisconsin, the slates of national
convention delegates are
chosen on the basis of the April presidential preference primary vote.
   Depending on the time, place, and circumstances, political party labels
in the United States
may have widely different meanings. Within a single party there is room for
members who span
the political spectrum. Individual Republicans and Democrats, for instance,
are often further
identified with the prefix "liberal" or "conservative"
or "right-wing", "left-wing", or
   Despite the diversity within a party, specific philosophical attitudes
are generally associated
with the major political parties. In the public's perception, the name "Democrat"
or "Republi-
can" conjures up a surprisingly distinct set of economic, social, and
political principles.
   Political parties in the United States have traditionally provided an
organized framework for
 the orderly performance of several basic political tasks necessary to representative
 These functions include:
   (1) Providing a stable, continuing institution to build coalitions based
on the shared principles
 and priorities for action expressed in the party platform.
   (2) Selecting, recruiting, and nominating persons as candidates for elective
and appointive
 offices in government.
   (3) Helping the party's slate of candidates get elected.
   (4) Working to keep election procedures and the canvassing of votes honest
by participating in
 the selection of election officials and observers.
   (5) Educating the voters about government by defining issues, taking policy
positions, and
 formulating programs to implement policy.

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