A political party is a group of people who come together because they want to support certain issues or create specific changes within their community. These parties can form at the local, regional, or national level under the current nation-based structure of our planet.
Once a political party is formed, it will regularly meet to discuss how issues can be supported or changes can be encouraged. In time, the political party will create a mission statement, called a “platform,” which is an executive summary of their overall values, vision, and expectations.
When these items are in place, most political parties will nominate someone from within their ranks to run for a political office.
Here are some of the top advantages and disadvantages of political parties to think about, so a closer look at this unique structure can be considered.
List of the Top Advantages of Political Parties
1. They allow the average person to organize into a political force.
On one’s own, it is almost impossible to create change. By having political parties, individuals can work together with others who think or feel the same way they do about specific issues. It creates a collective voice instead of an individual one, making it possible for more people within a community to listen to what is being offered. Although some with the loudest voices can be nominated as their party’s representative for an elected office, it is often the individual who best represents the collective set of values that goes to the government.
2. They help people to grow personal and professional networks.
People are naturally attracted to others who have similar values, belief systems, and perspectives. Political parties encourage connections because they typically draw from a base of people who have a lot in common with each other. Someone may join a political party for their own reasons, then discover many others in their community share their perspective. This process can do more than form new friendships. It can also be the foundation of a meaningful, and potentially profitable, network of professionals who want to work together to make the world a better place.
3. They help governing become a faster process when they operate correctly.
If you ask 100 different people their opinion on a specific subject, there’s a good chance you’ll receive 100 different answers. Political parties help to shape the conversations around governing because they group those differing answers into various categories that are meaningful. This grouping effort simplifies the legislative process, making it easier for places of common ground to be found. Then, once that occurs, it becomes possible to find a path that benefits everyone.
When this process is performed correctly, the governing process can operate quickly and efficiently. If it gets bogged down by personal perspectives, however, the legislative process can become a slow crawl… or stop completely.
4. They can limit the influences of money on an election.
In the 1992 U.S. Presidential election, H. Ross Perot changed the landscape of politics that year by running a viable third-party platform. Instead of two political parties, there became a third – the “Reform Party,” which became an official political party in 1995. Because Perot created the party with his own money, he became the natural leader of the party. His spending influenced the direction of politics the party would follow.
After Perot stopped spending, a political gulf was created. There was no voice because there was no money. As of 2017, the Reform Party currently holds a total of 7 seats in elected offices across the United States.
Political parties limit the influences money has on an election when the party itself is not funded by its leader. Even though special interests can and do attempt to purchase influence, the checks and balances within the party structure limit the amount of artificial influence that can be generated.
5. They work to ensure information is distributed to everyone.
We live in the Information Age. Our ability to store information has reached a minimum of 5 zettabytes. A zettabyte is the equivalent of 1 trillion gigabytes. To put it another way, you would need to create 4,500 stacks of books that stretched out for 93 million miles to reflect the amount of information we store today.
That means information is a commodity. We’re exposed to a lot of it, so we miss a lot of it. The presence of political parties ensures that the necessary information about governing is available for those who want it. Each party may put their own spin on the information to serve their needs, creating opinions that serve their own goals, but there is greater data access available to everyone because of the work political parties do every day.
6. They create balance within a society.
Governments are designed with political parties in mind because the goal is get people talking. That’s why it is so rare for any government to be ruled by a complete majority, even in the United States, where there are only two major political parties. Since 1929, the U.S. has seen complete majority control from 1927-1933, 1937-1945, 1953-1955, 1961-1969, and 2001-2007, though each had brief periods of interruption occur.
This need for compromise and negotiation is what creates balance within a society. When a majority is in complete control, the minority often suffers as a result. With political parties, it becomes possible to continue fighting for one’s rights and perspectives, even if the party itself is in a minority state at the time.
7. They encourage people to become politically active.
Everyone has the capability of casting a vote, whether that right is permitted or not under their current government. It takes no political skill to mark a spot by a candidate or issue to vote for it. Political parties encourage people to take their participation to the next level. They work hard to ensure people can make informed and empowered decisions about the future of their society and government.
Political parties also encourage people to research their positions, inviting them to take a stand on them when challenged. Debates, even when they occur within a party, offer an opportunity to add complexity to a personal perspective, or a chance to look at an issue with a fresh look. It is through this process which many people find themselves running for an elected office, even if that was not their original intention in joining the party in the first place.
List of the Top Disadvantages of Political Parties
1. They encourage bribery and corruption.
Political parties give individuals a platform to offer specific opinions about how they feel society is going. Those opinions are heard by like-minded individuals, allowing the party to grow. People or corporations with enough wealth can pay the leadership of a political party to present a specific opinion to the gathered group as an attempt to influence perspectives, opinions, or even votes. The very structure of a political party makes its leadership vulnerable to the sway of paid special interests.
2. They put the group in front of the individual.
Political parties may bring like-minded individuals together, relying on common perspectives to build influence. They also require individuals to compromise their perspectives, at times, to stay within the group. Instead of relying on personal opinions or perspectives, political parties form platform statements that become a driving force for everyone. If someone has enough power to dictate parts of the platform statement, then a small minority would be able to dictate how a majority of the party thinks, feels, or acts on specific issues.
There are generally two solutions available for those who happen to disagree with their party platform. They can decide to leave the party, or they can decide to stay silent. Those who try to change the platform are often pressured into silence.
3. They are expensive.
To run an election in the United States on a national scale, about $3 billion must be raised and spent by each political party. When all election costs are combined, about $1 trillion has been spent in the history of U.S. political parties to put people into government positions. These costs are shared by every country in the world today.
Imagine what could happen if just 50% of political expenditures could be redirected toward other societal needs? How much good could be done by political parties through their fundraising efforts? Unfortunately, political parties see these high-level expenditures as investments, not costs, so there isn’t a high priority placed on change here.
4. They discourage differing opinions.
In the United States, a two-party system pits one group of people against the other. Both parties have a platform which is different enough that everyone thinks they are right and the other is wrong. Even political moderates in the U.S. typically lean toward one party or the other.
Globally, the concept is the same, though not on the same scale. Political parties in other countries can form around specific issues. If you support the issue, then you join that party. Want to support a different issue? Then join a different political party.
Participating in this type of politics encourages people to avoid others who think or feel differently than they do. It invites societal polarization because it encourages people to be with others who agree with them instead of inviting a debate on disagreements.
5. They can often abuse their power.
Even political parties with the best of intentions can cause a lot of harm in their society. In China, the political party in power just recommended that a President can remain in power for life. In Russia, Vladimir Putin has been able to remain in a leadership role since 1999, making him the longest-serving leader there since Stalin.
Even in the U.S., President Donald Trump has joked about having the role of the President change.
Political parties can be abusive with their power in a variety of ways. Some physically target the general population, sacrificing them for the good of the party. Others target political rivals. Some seek power at all costs, even if that means going to war with another country.
It is for that reason a political party should never be given too much leverage or strength. Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.
6. They encourage compromise.
Most political parties are run by an executive team. Some may be directed by a single individual. If someone wishes to join the political party, then there can be an expectation that their political beliefs and values align with those who are in the leadership. When multiple political viewpoints are being represented on a single platform, many people find themselves compromising with the platform of their preferred party to ensure the issues they are passionate about are appropriately represented.
The top advantages and disadvantages of political parties show us that they are often necessary for people to have a voice in their government. That voice can be quite polarizing, leading to social isolation in communities where certain political values may not be shared. It is through that voice we all gain representation, however, which is why political parties are, and will continue to be, relevant in modern society.