Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 16, Issue 5

Mildred A. Schwartz, "Interactions Between Social Movements and US Political Parties," Party Politics, 16 (September, 2010), 587-607. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
The US party system remains unusual in its dominance by two major political parties at both the national and state level, a dominance only occasionally disrupted by third parties. In other democratic systems third parties, often beginning as social movements (Kitschelt, 2006), have been a vehicle for bringing new and unresolved issues and unrepresented interests into the political arena. In the United States, in contrast, it is numerous social movements that are the carriers of disaffection with the political status quo, challenging the hegemony of the two major parties and often influencing their policies and practices (Lipset, 1972). Through the past century to the present, the Democratic Party has been embraced by movements of farmers, workers, socialists and Communists, the unemployed, feminists, environmentalists, and civil rights and anti-war activists. Similarly, movements of farmers, anti- Communists, the Religious Right, and patriotic and pro-business groups have attempted to shape the Republican Party.

Figures and Tables:

Last Paragraph:
It is the contentiousness of social movements and their shifting tactics that add a dynamism to party politics, otherwise seemingly fixed within a twoparty mold. Activists with roots in social movements keep each party in a state of tension as it tries to gain its own advantages from relations with social movements while protecting itself from domination by social movements that could lead to the exclusion of broader support. Schattschneider (1960) gave parties and their leaders a critical role in organizing and channeling the kinds of conflict or contention generated by social movements, an argument reiterated from a very different theoretical perspective by Schofield and Miller (2007), who note the difficult balancing acts parties face when dealing with social movements.

Last updated August 2010