Political parties are groups of people who come together because they share a mutual vision for their community. These parties can form at local, regional, or national levels. These groups meet together regularly, create platforms that represent their vision and values, and then send members to run for political office.
Organization is the primary advantage that a political party provides. With these parties in place, the politics at any level can be evaluated by each voting member of society to determine if they also share the values of the party. At the same time, it allows for the best possible candidate to represent a certain set of values or ideas to run for office.
Compromise is the primary disadvantage of political parties. Many political parties are run by a director or an executive team and will often influence or direct the party platform. Those who wish to join with the political party must then agree with the platform, even if it doesn’t quite fit their needs, forcing them to compromise instead of the leadership.
There are additional advantages and disadvantages of political parties to think about as well.
The Advantages of Political Parties
1. Political parties encourage public participation.
Political parties, when structured within a representative form of government, encourage the average person to be politically active. They ask for people to become informed about specific situations that are happening within society so they can take a stand on those issues. Debates allow for people to express opinions or share ideas to formulate an informed opinion. Many political parties will even encourage members to run for political office at all levels of government.
2. Political parties create checks and balances.
In the United States, with two major political parties, the system is designed to bring politicians together so that negotiations occur over legislation. In other systems of government with multiple major political parties, negotiations over power and leadership are required to form a majority government. The goal of forming political parties is to create a system of checks and balances to prevent one person or one group from grabbing too much power in representative governments.
3. Political parties distribute information throughout society.
In many elections, political parties are a primary source of information for current and future legislations. It’s the once chance for the general population to work with politicians to begin crafting a vision for the future. Although the voters must continue to press their politicians to stay true to their word in a representative form of government, they have access through the political party to do so.
4. Political parties water down special interest investments.
Without political parties, whomever had the most money to contribute would likely win elections and influence society. Political parties allow people with similar values or interests to congregate together to counter the monetary influences. That doesn’t mean special interests won’t work to persuade politicians through the party system – they do. The presence of the party means that the majority, the voters, have an opportunity to band together to counter the paid influences.
5. Political parties help decisions be made quicker.
The state of politics in the United States in 2017 might make it seem like this isn’t an advantage of political parties, but it generally is. When people can come together within the boundaries of the party, they can debate ideas and create legislation or policies that benefit everyone faster than if they were forced to do it themselves. The party must be managed properly for this advantage to appear, however, and that is often why this key point is not always seen.
6. Political parties create connections.
People are naturally attracted to others who share similar beliefs and ideas. This attraction allows people to network with one another, creating connections they might not have otherwise made. Involvement in a preferred party can mean making new friends, traveling new places, and being able to work toward making the world a better place.
The Disadvantages of Political Parties
1. Political parties can be abusive.
Not every government is a representative form of government. Communism has political parties. Dictatorships often use political parties. The purpose of the parties in these instances is usually more about enforcement of laws and expectations instead of being politically active from an individualized perspective. If a political party has too much strength or leverage within a society, it can become abusive.
2. Political parties encourage polarization.
Political parties do bring people together, but they also tear people apart. The platforms offered by each party are increasingly presented as an all-or-nothing scenario. There is also a certain level of righteousness assigned to that platform, making those who disagree with it be perceived as “wrong.” Those who agree with it are perceived as “right.” Political parties may encourage opinions, but only if those opinions agree with the platform.
3. Political parties prioritize themselves.
In 2016, the total cost of the U.S. election was an estimated $6.4 billion, according to information from Open Secrets. The cost of the Presidential race was $2.38 billion. In 2012, those figures were $6.2 billion and $2.6 billion respectively. Just one election in the United States, at those figures, is enough to solve most world hunger issues for an entire year. That means the goal of most political parties is to prioritize themselves so they can be in power. Political parties see these costs as investments.
4. Political parties sacrifice individuality.
Personal opinions are important. We learn from individual experiences. In the structure of a political party, however, the individual voice is often drowned out by the group voice. If enough voices are loud enough, a minority of people within the party can lead the entire group toward a new direction. Because group voices are louder, there tends to be less attention paid to concerned individual voices – even if the observations or information being provided would benefit everyone.
5. Political parties invite corruption.
If a person can be given a large enough and loud enough platform, they can influence the direction of an entire election, community, or nation. Their very structure, where individuals influence group voices to lead the party in a specific direction, invites corruption. Allegations of corruption are frequent in political systems because a few typically hold power over many and special interest groups want their message to get out to as many people as possible.
The advantages and disadvantages of political parties show us that organization, management, and an open mind are the three primary traits required for society to benefit the most from this structure. Although political parties will always create division and polarization at some level since different ideas are represented, it will also always be a way for people to come together to learn something new too.