The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






List of political parties in the United States

Political parties in the United States lists political parties in the United States.



The United States has a two-party system, with the two largest political parties holding most of the elected offices. This is partly a consequence of the first-past-the-post election system but is also due to restrictive ballot access laws imposed on the other political parties. There have been many political parties other than the two dominant ones, but most third parties are generally considered to be of only minor and short-lived political significance.

Notwithstanding the general perception, many third parties throughout U.S. history have achieved regional success and some (notably the Prohibition Party and the Socialist Party) have had major portions of their platforms incorporated into the platforms of the "major parties." While, among third parties, only the Republican Party has gone on to become a dominant player in American political life, the overall political platforms of several third parties have taken root in the American political landscape.

Categorizing U.S. political parties

Categorizing the political parties can be a bit problematic. When a necessity for categorization is acknowledged at all, the dominant parties are usually called "major parties". The two most commonly used terms for the other parties are "third parties" and "minor parties", with other terms such as "alternate parties" also in use. Some people are actually quite attached to one or another of these terms for the non-dominant political parties, presenting evidence why their term is the "correct" one and the others are "wrong".

Some object to the term "third parties", contending that there can only be one "third party" with the others necessarily being "fourth", "fifth", and so on. Of course, each of the larger third parties has evidence to support its claim to be the third party.

Some object to the term "minor parties" because of the dismissive implications of calling a party "minor". Additionally, the term "minor party" has legal significance in some states, so it could be inaccurate to use the term in those states. For example, the Libertarian Party was legally a major party in the state of Washington from 2000 to 2004.

Some have suggested the term "alternate parties" or "alternative parties" to avoid the difficulties of the other terms, with the idea that these parties provide an "alternative" to the major parties. Those who object to this term point out that even the major parties are alternatives for the voters to consider.

This difficulty in terminology is further complicated by the wide variation in size and influence of the parties. Some are nationally organized with active affiliates in all, or nearly all, of the states and dozens or hundreds of candidates for office at all levels of government. Others are organized in only a few states, either because of resources or a regional focus, and are virtually unheard of outside their sphere. Many others are organized in only a single state, often with only one or a handful of candidates. Still other groups call themselves political parties, but they have no candidates at all and merely use the term as a means to focus issue debate or to satirize the concept of political parties (and sometimes it's difficult to determine which is which).

For the purposes of this article, the political parties are grouped into four sections. The first section is "Current major parties", as the term is defined above. The second section is called "Current third parties" and it consists of those parties that have achieved (or, in the lead-up to an election, are reasonably expected to achieve) ballot status for their respective candidates for President of the United States in states with enough electoral votes to have a theoretical chance of winning. The third section is called "Current minor and regional parties that have endorsed candidates" and consists of all the other currently active parties which have candidates (so-called "political parties" with no candidates are not listed). The last section, "Historical political parties", is for political parties that are defunct.

Current major parties

See also: Current political party strength in U.S. states

Current third parties

Each of these three (along with the Democratic and Republican) parties had ballot status for its presidential candidate in states with enough electoral votes to have had a theoretical chance of winning the 2004 presidential election. The Democratic, Libertarian, and Republican parties have already met this threshold for the 2008 election. The Constitution and Green parties are the only other parties that appear to have a reasonable chance of doing so.

Current minor and regional parties that have endorsed candidates

These parties do not have ballot status for their presidential candidate in enough states to have a theoretical chance to win. Some do not have presidential candidates at all, but do have candidates for other offices.

Historical political parties

The following are parties listed by era that are no longer functioning entities.



Jacksonian Era

Civil War

Gilded Age

Progressive Era

Great Depression


Later 20th century

See also

External links

Further Reading

  • The Encyclopedia of Third Parties in America. Immanuel Ness, James Ciment. Armonk, N.Y. : Sharpe Reference, c2000. ISBN 0-7656-8020-3
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