See V. O. Key, Politics, Parties and Pressure Groups (5th ed. 1964); S. M. Lipset and S. Rokkan, ed., Party Systems and Voter Alignments (1967); R. S. Katz, A Theory of Parties and Electoral Systems (1981); R. L. McCormick, ed., Political Parties and the Modern State (1984); K. Von Beyme, Political Parties in Western Democracies (1985).
"A political party is a formally organized group that performs the functions of educating the public to acceptance of the system as well as the more immediate implications of policy concerns, that recruits and promotes individuals for public office, and that provides a comprehensive linkage function between the public and governmental decisionmakers."Similarly, according to Coleman, a political party is:
"an association that competes with other similar associations in periodic elections in order to participate in formal government institutions and thereby influence and control the personnel and policy of government."However, not all political scientists agree that participation is the defining criteria of political parties. Neuman utilizes a broader definition, that political parties are
"the articulate organization of society's active political agents, those who are concerned with the control of governmental power and who compete for popular support with another group or groups holding divergent views."Moreover, in many countries political parties predates elections and universal suffrage. Suryadinata notes that in non-Western societies, standard Western definitions of political parties have limited usage. He urges that the functions of an organization should be the essential aspect and that an organization might have the functions of a political party without formally identifying itself as a political party.
In dominant-party systems, opposition parties are allowed, and there may be even a deeply established democratic tradition, but other parties are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power. Sometimes, political, social and economic circumstances, and public opinion are the reason for others parties' failure. Sometimes, typically in countries with less of an established democratic tradition, it is possible the dominant party will remain in power by using patronage and sometimes by voting fraud. In the latter case, the definition between Dominant and single-party system becomes rather blurred. Examples of dominant party systems include the People's Action Party in Singapore and the African National Congress in South Africa. One party dominant systems also existed in Mexico with the Institutional Revolutionary Party until the 1990s, in the southern United States with the Democratic Party from the late 19th century until the 1970s, and in Indonesia with the Golongan Karya (Party of the Functional Groups) from early 1970s until 1998.
The United Kingdom is widely considered a two-party state, as historically power alternates between two dominant parties (currently the Labour Party and the Conservative Party). However, the Liberal Democrats, as well as numerous other parties and independents, hold seats in the British Parliament.
Multi-party systems are systems in which more than two parties are serious contenders to participate in ruling.
Canada, India, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom are examples where there are two strong parties, with a third party that is electorally successful. This "third" party may frequently rank second in elections, and pose a threat to the other two parties, but has still never led the government. Such a party is particularly influential when its support or opposition sustains or ends a minority government.
Finland is a rare case of a nation where three parties routinely hold top office. It is very rare for a country to have more than three parties who all have a roughly equal chance of independently forming government.
Colombia traditionally had a rather rigid two-party system country but after 2002 elections, the system has gone through significant changes.
More commonly, in cases where there are three or more parties, no one party is likely to gain power alone, and parties work with each other to form coalition governments. This has been an emerging trend in the politics of the Republic of Ireland and is almost always the case in Germany on national and state level, and in some constituencies at the communal level. The major drawback of any coalition government is that it is potentially vulnerable to rapid changes and tends to lack stability.
The problem with the traditional plurality voting system is that any attempt to prevent a candidate from getting elected tends to result in a false positive vote, generally for a candidate thought to have an advantaged position over other candidates, thereby causing or increasing such advantage. A balanced plurality election would allow the voter to represent a true negative vote, thus eliminating or at least reducing the occurrence of false positive votes.
A balanced multiple party system significantly reduces the odds of a well known but largely unpopular candidate winning an election, by allowing those who oppose the election of that candidate to cast a more accurate vote than would have been possible in an unbalanced system of only negative votes or only positive votes. Of course the option of a positive vote is also necessary in order to have balance. Simply changing to an all negative vote system would just reverse the polarity of the imbalance rather than remove it.
The number of votes per voter is not a factor in the system being balanced, but to be fair should be consistent within an election across all voters. This also has the mathematical effect of eliminating the feedback loop that would otherwise give an unfair advantage over time to exactly two parties. This feedback loop happens in a traditional plurality voting system when a voter attempts to represent a negative vote where only positive votes are available. The voter is forced to evaluate the choices available and determine what is most likely to reduce the odds of a win by the opposed candidate. For example, since the history of a party may give some indication of the electability of a candidate endorsed by the party, the closest thing to a vote against a candidate in a general election would be a vote for the candidate of the party that the voter believes has won the most elections historically. If the opposed candidate is in fact running under that same party, then the obvious choice is the next most historically successful party's candidate. This causes only two parties to have any reasonable viability once a history has been established. A balanced voting system would eliminate this feedback loop for voters who take advantage of it.
The addition of a negative vote option to balance a party system can theoretically be applied to a popular vote, an electoral college vote, or both. In cases where an electoral college is expected to in some way represent the popular vote, it would of course make sense to allow balanced voting options for both the electoral college and the populous. The concept of a balanced election system is applicable to many types of voting systems including instant runoff voting and other such multiple vote systems and can be applied equally well to plurality voting or proportional representation systems.
Political parties are funded by contributions from their membership and by individuals and organizations which share their political ideas or who stand to benefit from their activities. Political parties and factions, especially those in government, are lobbied vigorously by organizations, businesses and special interest groups such as trades unions. Money and gifts to a party, or its members, may be offered as incentives. In the United Kingdom, it has been alleged that peerages have been awarded to contributors to party funds, the benefactors becoming members of the Upper House of Parliament and thus being in a position to participate in the legislative process. Famously, Lloyd George was found to have been selling peerages and to prevent such corruption in future, Parliament passed the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 into law. Thus the outright sale of peerages and similar honours became a criminal act, however some benefactors are alleged to have attempted to circumvent this by cloaking their contributions as loans, giving rise to the 'Cash for Peerages' scandal. Such activities have given rise to demands that the scale of donations should be capped. As the costs of electioneering escalate, so the demands made on party funds increases. In the UK some politicians are advocating that parties should be funded by the State; a proposition that promises to give rise to interesting debate. Along with the increased scrutiny of donations there has been a long term contraction in party memberships in a number of western democracies which itself places more strains on funding. For example in the United Kingdom and Australia membership of the two main parties in 2006 is less than an 1/8 of what it was in 1950, despite significant increases in population over that period. In Ireland, elected representatives of the Sinn Féin party take only the average industrial wage from their salary as a representative, while the rest goes into the party budget. Other incomes they may have are not taken into account. Elected representatives of the Socialist Party (Ireland) take only the average industrial wage out of their entire earnings.
Some nations, such as Australia, give political parties public funding for advertising purposes during election periods.
Generally speaking, over the world, political parties associate themselves with colors, primarily for identification, especially for voter recognition during elections. Red usually signifies leftist, communist or socialist parties. Conservative parties generally use blue or black.
Pink sometimes signifies moderate socialist. Yellow is often used for libertarianism or classical liberalism. Green is the color for green parties, Islamist parties and Irish nationalist and republican parties in Northern Ireland. Orange is sometimes a color of nationalism, such as in The Netherlands, in Israel with the Orange Camp or with Ulster Loyalists in Northern Ireland; it is also a color of reform such as in Ukraine. In the past, Purple was considered the color of royalty (like white), but today it is sometimes used for feminist parties. White also is associated with nationalism. "Purple Party" is also used as an academic hypothetical of an undefined party, as a centralist party in the United States (because purple is created from mixing the main parties' colours of red and blue) and as a highly idealistic "peace and love" party -- in a similar vein to a Green Party, perhaps. Black is generally associated with fascist parties, going back to Mussolini's blackshirts, but also with Anarchism. Similarly, brown is often associated with Nazism, going back to the Nazi Party's brown-uniformed storm troopers.
Color associations are useful for mnemonics when voter illiteracy is significant. Another case where they are used is when it is not desirable to make rigorous links to parties, particularly when coalitions and alliances are formed between political parties and other organizations, for example: Red Tory, "Purple" (Red-Blue) alliances, Red-green alliances, Blue-green alliances, Pan-green coalitions, and Pan-blue coalitions.
Political color schemes in the United States diverge from international norms. Since 2000, red has become associated with the right-wing Republican Party and blue with the left-wing Democratic Party. However, unlike political color schemes of other countries, the parties did not choose those colors; they were used in news coverage of 2000 election results and ensuing legal battle and caught on in popular usage.
The emblem of socialist parties is often a red rose held in a fist. Communist parties often use a hammer to represent the worker, a sickle to represent the farmer, or both a hammer and a sickle to refer to both at the same time.
Symbols can be very important when the overall electorate is illiterate. In the Kenyan constitutional referendum, 2005, supporters of the constitution used the banana as their symbol, while the "no" used an orange.
During the 19th and 20th century, many national political parties organized themselves into international organizations along similar policy lines. Notable examples are the International Workingmen's Association (also called the First International), the Socialist International (also called the Second International), the Communist International (also called the Third International), and the Fourth International, as organizations of working class parties, or the Liberal International (yellow), Christian Democratic International and the International Democrat Union (blue). Worldwide green parties have recently established the Global Greens. The Socialist International, the Liberal International, and the International Democrat Union are all based in London.