Effective party organisation is vital for success in America’s political structure. For the purposes of this work, parties refers only to the Democrat and Republican Parties. Other political parties do exist in America politicsbut their national political clout is essentially non-existant.
The parties are decentralised within America but the depth and pattern of organisation varies from state tostate. There are differences even from county to county. This can be explained by their strongly held belief in states’ rights over federal might.
The main units of party organisation are: precinct, ward , city , county , state and national in ascending order of size. These exist mainly for electoral purposes. The cohesiveness found in Britain’s political parties organisation is not found in America where each unit is more loyal to itself rather than to the next stage up – except when an election is pending.
Parties do not have ‘members’ as such. They have activists who work on their behalf though there are social clubs that exist which are associated with parties who have a members only policy i.e. if you belong to X club and it is linked with the Democrats, logically those who are members of it would support the Democratic Party. Unlike Britain, parties in America do not have access to membership fees. The autonomy that each one has keeps each unit independent from the other.
Samuel Eldervelds described the relationship that each unit had with others as “stratarchy“; i.e. a non-authoritative relationship that is layered. Each layer works in collaboration with the others and the word “authority” is rarely used in describing the relationship each one has with the others. This, of course, is a generalisation as party organisation in some states was seen to be very authoritative when their relationship with cities, precincts and wards was examined : New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania were prime examples of this control.
Party organisation at a local level frequently rely on just a handful of committed staff. The parties are open to anyone who wishes to join them – though few do – and local organisation is best described as flexible and informal. Disputes within a local party branch are rarely over ideology and those involved with party organisation at a local level are virtually free from any interference from the party machines that exist at city or county level. The dominance of powerful local businessmen within local parties is rare now – though it still exists in places.
The growth and development of the civil service and action by the Supreme Court have both lead to a decrease in patronage at a local level and as a result, the power of the local party machine has dwindled. An off-shoot of this has been a large decrease in those people who are willing to help out on such jobs as canvassing a local community during the run-up to an election thus denying the local parties knowledge of how their area might vote. The traditional link that the local parties had was that of negotiator between local voting districts and government. This has also been undermined by the use of modern media mechanisms in recent years – such as the Internet and television adverts.
a head office with permanent staff a commitment to raise money and conduct opinion polls supply party candidates running for office at all levels of government within the state with the relevant data and analysis of issues relevant at alocal/state level
Such a set-up allows a party to establish a good spirit of common purpose but a downside of this is that state party central committees rarely concern themselves with the development of policy. They have become a service provider of the necessary knowledge/data a party candidate needs to have to be successful. State party organisations are essentially separate from party organisations in the state legislature; therefore, there would be little point in attempting to formulate policy as this is done elsewhere away from state party organisations (just as the parties national committees are separate from the two Congressional parties).
The revival of the Republicans in the 1980’s was due to the work of the RNC chairman Bill Brock. He devised the tactic of directly targeting potential voters and then directly mailing them with party material. When president, Reagan continued with Brock’s services. Thus for a while the RNC had some influence and the DNC tried to replicate its success. National party organisations are now much more important for fund-raising. The use of modern methods and technologies have enabled both National Committees (NC’s) to raise considerable sums of money and both NC’s have a major role to play in distributing funds to state and local parties in order to maximise the vote during a presidential campaign. The limitations put on the PAC’sby legislation, mean that NC’s have an important role to play in raising funds (though the sums raised are well below those raised by PAC’s).