How Party Politics Influence Elections in Washington, D.C.

U.S. political parties in Washington, D.C., are less hierarchical than parliamentary systems of government and usually have multiple centers of power. For the party in power in a parliamentary system, the head of the party is the prime minister, and decisions flow down from him. If party members no longer support him, they vote him out and choose someone else.

While the president (or presidential candidate) is considered to be the head of his party in U.S. politics, he still must win over, or at least deal with, other powerful individuals and groups to first win his party’s nomination. Only then can he hope to win the presidency and implement his legislative agenda successfully.

Besides party leaders in Congress, presidents and presidential candidates must strive to satisfy powerful interest groups and voting blocs that make up their party’s base of support. The balancing act between cooperating with one’s party in Congress, satisfying various political constituencies, standing fast to one’s principles, and achieving one’s objectives in office sometimes proves impossible to sustain.

President Lyndon B. Johnson acknowledged that his party could lose an important constituency by his signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, supposedly remarking, “We have lost the South for a generation.” Ultimately, presidents must determine when to accommodate their party, when to make compromises, and when to go it alone.

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