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Political Parties and Elections

The election campaign is a time-honored American tradition. Major national, state and even local elections are elaborate, with multi-million dollar advertising budgets, televised debates, rallies, political conventions, and campaign posters. Any American 18 years and over can vote in an election.

Two-Party System. The United States has had two major political parties since the 1860’s: the Republicans and the Democrats. The Republicans are referred to sometimes as the G.O.P. (Grand Old Party); their symbol is an elephant. The Democrats’ symbol is a donkey. The ideological differences between these two political parties are often not apparent to outsiders. Very loosely speaking, the Republicans support big business and lower taxes while the Democrats call for government spending on social programs.

Left and Right. There are also ideological differences between “conservatives” and “liberals” (the meaning of the word “liberal” in the United States is unique to this country). Conservatives, on the “right,” call for law and order, laws against abortion, and prayer in the public schools, while liberals, on the “left,” call for greater government spending on social welfare programs, the prohibition of prayer in public schools, and freer access to birth control and abortion services.

The Libertarian Party has arisen in recent years to challenge both major groups, questioning the wisdom of the Republicans and Conservatives in trying to legislate morality, and of the Democrats and Liberals in trying to legislate public happiness. Libertarians believe in minimal government, which, of course, means minimal taxation.

The Tea Party movement, named after the famous 1773 protest by colonial Americans against the British tax on tea (called the “Boston Tea Party”), has arisen in recent years as an anti-tax, conservative popular movement. Tea Party adherents have been extremely vocal about reducing the national debt and the federal budget deficit. Loosely organized and not a political party, the movement has nevertheless been able to influence the political scene. Most Tea Party people identify with the Republicans, as opposed to most Libertarian Party members, who disdain both major political parties on an equal basis.

The Green Party of the United States (GPUS) is a political force dedicated to environmentalism, participatory democracy, sustainability, and diversity in American life. The party has had some success in winning elections, mostly on a state and local level. Noted consumerist Ralph Nader ran for president on the Green Party ticket in 1996 and 2000.

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