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What is the Role of Partisan Politics in the U.S.?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The role of partisan politics in the United States (US) depends a great deal upon what side of an issue someone is on, and what opinion or view is to be believed in regards to various politicians. Despite the fact that many political figures insist they are outside or adverse to partisan politics, the voting records and statements made during campaigns typically contradict those statements. For the most part, American politics throughout the majority of the 20th century and into the 21st century has been dominated by and reflective of partisan politics.

Partisan politics typically refers to the division of a political landscape into clearly defined and contrasting political ideologies based on membership in a political party. In the US, during the 20th century, this typically consisted of Republicans and Democrats splitting most political issues into two opposite stances. Even though the specific views and ideals of each party have changed over the years, they have continued to exist to provide avenues for various forms of political idealism.

Some people view partisan politics as something to be celebrated, as it serves as evidence of allowing different views and opinions to thrive in American politics. As long as political parties thrive in the US, they argue, it stands as testimony to the encouragement of differing views. Those in favor of "partisanism" argue that elimination of political parties or the rise of numerous other parties would lead to homogenization in American politics and a reduction of people’s individual political identities.

For others, however, partisanism is viewed as a negative concept for a number of reasons. Detractors of partisan politics argue that it too often serves to take a complicated idea or issue and break it down into two distinct and mutually exclusive sides. Those against partisanism insist that this process of “seeing things in black and white” leaves little ground for compromise and the productive discussion of ideas and potential solutions.

Partisan politics can also sometimes serve to divide people into an “us vs. them” state of mind that can be destructive and ultimately unproductive. Critics of partisan politics view this decisiveness as something that serves to separate Americans into two camps, both feeling isolated and misunderstood by the opposite side, rather than simply viewing themselves and each other as Americans. Many politicians seem to chide against this idea, and talk about wanting to “lean across the aisle” or otherwise embrace the views and ideas of the other political party.

Actual practice in politics, however, seems to go against this idea. Many politicians use their political party membership as the heart and soul of their campaign, and vote purely upon party lines regardless of what might actually be best for their constituents. This decisiveness and close-mindedness has led to some people decrying partisanism in the US and pushing for a system without defined political parties.

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