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A political party is an organization that seeks to attain political power within a government, usually by participating in electoral campaigns. Parties often espouse a certain ideology, but may also represent a coalition among disparate interests.
In countries that have a parliament political parties that have seats in parliament form a parliamentary party which consists of all their members of parliament. In parliamentary systems of government most political parties will also have an elected leader who, if his party is elected by absolute majority, or with a relative majority within the coalition where tradition is thus, becomes head of government. In presidential systems, the President may be elected as a representative of his party; however, in many nations he is forced to relinquish his connections with his party upon the assumption of office as head of state. In certain electoral situations a coalition government may be formed from members of more than one party. This is more common after elections using proportional representation rather than a "first past the post" system.
Partisanship is the tendency of supporters of political parties to subscribe to or at least support their party's views and policies in contrast to those of other parties. Differentiation is essential to most political parties: they must be different at least in some ways to other parties to compete in politics and win elections. Extreme partisanship is sometimes referred to as partisan warfare.
 Ideal types of political parties
Political scientists have developed concepts of different ideal types of political parties in order to better compare them with each other.
Richard Gunther and Larry Diamond have distinguished between five families (or genera, as they call it) of political parties: elite-based parties, mass-based parties, ethnicity based parties, electoralist parties and movement parties. In turn, each of these types includes different sub-types of political parties. The electoralist party, for example, can be subdivided into three subtypes, the personalistic, the catch-all and the programmatic party. According to this model, the Republican Party in the United States is considered an electoralist - programmatic party while the Democratic Party is seen as an electoralist - catch-all party.
 Nonpartisan, Single-party, two-party, and multi-party governments
In a nonpartisan system, no official political parties exist, or the law does not permit political parties. In nonpartisan elections, each candidate for office runs on her or his own merits. In nonpartisan legislatures, there are no typically formal party alignments within the legislature; even if there are caucuses for specific issues. Despite claiming nonpartisan voting, most members have consistent and identifiable voting patterns. Historians have frequently interpreted Federalist No. 10 to imply that the Founding Fathers of the United States intended the government to be nonpartisan. The administration of George Washington and the first few sessions of the US Congress were nonpartisan. The unicameral legislature of Nebraska is the only state government body that is nonpartisan in the United States today. Many city and county governments are nonpartisan. Unless there are legal prohibitions against political parties, factions within nonpartisan governments generally evolve into political parties.
In single-party systems, only one political party is legally allowed to hold effective power. Although minor parties may sometimes be allowed, they are legally required to accept the leadership of the dominant party. This party may not always be, however, identical to the government, although sometimes positions within the party may in fact be more important than positions within the government.
In Dominant-party systems, opposition parties are allowed, and there may be even a deeply established democratic tradition, but other parties are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power. Sometimes, political, social and economic circumstances, and public opinion are the reason for others parties' failure. Sometimes, typically in countries with less of an established democratic tradition, it is possible the dominant party will remain in power by using patronage and sometimes by voting fraud. In the latter case, the definition between Dominant and single-party system becomes rather blurred. Examples of dominant party systems include the People's Action Party in Singapore and the African National Congress in South Africa. Also, one party dominant systems existed in Mexico with the Institutional Revolutionary Party until the 1990's, and in the southern United States with the Democratic Party from the 1880s until the 1970s.
Two-party systems are states such as the United States and Jamaica in which there are two political parties dominant to such an extent that electoral success under the banner of any other party is extremely difficult. One right wing coalition party and one left wing coalition party is the most common ideological breakdown in such a system but in two-party states political parties are traditionally catch all parties which are ideologically broad and inclusive. The relationship between the voting system used and the two-party system was described by Maurice Duverger and is known as Duverger's Law.
Multi-party systems are systems in which there are multiple parties.
In nations such as Canada and the United Kingdom, there may be two strong parties, with a third party that is electorally successful. The party may frequently come in second place in elections and pose a threat to the other two parties, but has still never formally held government. However in times of minority governments, their support is often necessary to either support or defeat a government which means it can have considerable influence under optimal circumstances.
In some rare cases, such as in Finland, the nation may have an active three-party system, in which all three parties routinely hold top office. It is very rare for a country to have more than three parties who are all equally successful, and all have an equal chance of independently forming government.
More commonly, in cases where there are numerous parties, no one party often has a chance of gaining power, and parties must work with each other to form coalition governments. This has been an emerging trend in the politics of the Republic of Ireland.
 Parties and directions
Political parties are often considered on a political spectrum. One typical spectrum has the Left associated with radical or progressive policies and the Right with conservative or reactionary (i.e., returning to the old ways) policies. Other analyses include other dimensions such as the political parties' acceptance of parliamentary democracy as opposed to authoritarian or totalitarian attitudes, and economic policies, the Left favoring social-democracy, socialism or communism, while the Right tends to favor laissez-faire economics. Centrist parties often adopt a collection of policies that defy easy placing on the political spectrum. Parties that espouse policies that could be described as Fascism are sometimes described as being on the far right of the political spectrum, although many people argue that sometimes such parties are actually on the far left or 'centrist' but on the back of the spectrum rather than the front - this is due to such parties usually incorporating a strong mix of socialism and nationalism. Many parties will have (formal or informal) factions within them that have differing views on policy direction.
 Party funding
Political parties are funded by contributions from their membership and by individuals and organizations which share their political ideas or who stand to benefit from their activities. Ardent supporters may will their estate to the party of their persuasion. Political parties and factions, especially those in government, are lobbied vigorously by organizations, businesses and special interest groups such as trades unions. Money and gifts to a party, or its members, may be offered as incentives. In the United Kingdom, it has been alleged that peerages have been awarded to contributors to party funds, the benefactors becoming members of the Upper House of Parliament and thus being in a position to participate in the legislative process. Famously, Lloyd George was found to have been selling peerages and to prevent such corruption in future, Parliament passed the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 into law. Thus the outright sale of peerages and similar honours became a criminal act, however some benefactors are alleged to have attempted to circumvent this by cloaking their contributions as loans, giving rise to the 'Cash for Peerages' scandal. Such activities have given rise to demands that the scale of donations should be capped. As the costs of electioneering escalate, so the demands made on party funds increases. In the UK some politicians are advocating that parties should be funded by the State; a proposition that promises to give rise to interesting debate. Along with the increased scrutiny of donations there has been a long term contraction in party memberships in a number of western democracies which itself places more strains on funding. For example in the United Kingdom and Australia membership of the two main parties in 2006 is less than an 1/8 of what it was in 1950, despite significant increases in population over that period.
Some nations, such as Australia, give political parties public funding for advertising purposes during election periods.
 Colors and emblems for parties
- Main article: see political colour
Generally speaking, over the world, political parties associate themselves with colors, primarily for identification, especially for voter recognition during elections. Red usually signifies leftist, communist or socialist parties. Conservative parties generally use blue or black. Recently in the United States, this trend has been reversed, with red being associated with the conservative Republican Party and blue with the liberal Democratic Party.
Pink sometimes signifies moderate socialist. Yellow is often used for liberalism. Green is the color for green parties and Islamist parties. Orange is sometimes a color of nationalism, such as in The Netherlands, or is a color of reform such as in Ukraine. In the past, Purple was considered the color of royalty (like white), but today it is sometimes used for feminist parties. black is generally associated with fascist parties, going back to Mussolini's blackshirts. Similarily, brown is often associated with the Nazism going back to the Nazi Party's brownshirt security guards.
Color associations are useful for mnemonics when voter illiteracy is significant. Another case where they are used is when it is not desirable to make rigorous links to parties, particularly when coalitions and alliances are formed between political parties and other organizations, for example: Red Tory, "Purple" (Red-Blue) alliances, Red-Green Alliances, Blue-Green Alliances, Pan-green coalitions, and Pan-blue coalitions.
The emblem of socialist parties is often a red rose held in a fist. Communist parties often use a hammer, a sickle, or both. Symbols can be very important when the electorate is overall illiterate. In the Kenyan constitutional referendum, 2005, supporters of the constitution used the banana as their symbol, while the "no" used an orange.
 International organizations of political parties
During the 19th and 20th century, many national political parties organized themselves into international organizations along similar policy lines. Notable examples are the International Workingmen's Association (also called the First International), the Socialist International (also called the Second International), the Communist International (also called the Third International), and the Fourth International, as organizations of working class parties, or the Liberal International (yellow), and the International Democrat Union (blue). Worldwide green parties have recently established the Global Greens. The Socialist International, the Liberal International, and the International Democrat Union are all based in London.
- Duverger, Maurice. 1954. Political Parties. London: Methuen.
- Gunther, Richard and Larry Diamond. 2003. "Species of Political Parties: A New Typology," Party Politics, Vol. 9, No. 2 pp. 167-199.
- Neumann, Sigmund (ed.). 1956. Modern Political Parties. IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Sutherland, Keith. 2004. The Party's Over. Imprint Academic. ISBN 0-907845-51-7
 See also
- List of politics-related topics
- List of political parties
- Party class
- Particracy (a political regime dominated by one or more parties)
- Political faction (both pre- and within a modern party)
- List of political parties in the United States
 External links
- U.S. Party Platforms from 1840-2004 at The American Presidency Project: UC Santa Barbara
- Political resources on the net
- Political Party Paradox by Elmer G. Wiens
- Leftist political parties of the worldast:Partíu políticu
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