5.4 How and Why Political Parties Change

6 min readjanuary 30, 2023



AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

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Candidate-Centered Campaigns

Since the 1960s, the role of political parties during campaigns has changed as a result of more candidate-centered campaigns. As TV 📺 became commonplace in American households, candidates were able to speak directly to potential voters instead of relying on their party to communicate for them. In modern elections, candidates are increasingly utilizing social media 💻 and the Internet to “speak” directly to the people. Former President Trump became well known for his daily use of Twitter 📱 as a means of communicating with Americans both during his campaign and while in office.


Candidate-centered campaigns are designed to promote the personality, image, and qualifications of the candidate rather than the political party or platform. These campaigns are becoming increasingly common in US politics, as voters are focusing more on the individual running for office rather than their political party affiliation. Ultimately, parties have been weakened 😩 by these developments because candidates are less dependent on their support. Candidate-center campaigns shift the focus of the election from the political party to the individual candidate, which allows voters to make informed decisions based on the candidate's personal qualities, qualifications, and track record.

Voter engagement

Candidate-center campaigns can increase voter engagement by providing voters with a more personal connection to the candidate, which can inspire greater participation in the election process. By focusing on the individual candidate, candidate-center campaigns can increase the overall attention given to the election, as voters become more interested in the personal story and qualifications of the candidate. Candidate-center campaigns can also tap into voters' emotions by highlighting the candidate's personal story, values, and vision for the future, inspiring voters to participate and support the candidate. By focusing on individual candidates rather than political parties, candidate-center campaigns can increase competition and choice in the election, as voters are able to evaluate candidates based on their personal qualifications, rather than just their political party affiliation. Finally, candidate-center campaigns can also empower voters by giving them a more direct role in determining the outcome of the election, as they are able to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications and ideas/platform.

Candidate diversity

By highlighting the personal qualities, experiences, and perspectives of the candidate, candidate-center campaigns can promote diversity in representation, allowing voters to evaluate candidates based on their individual backgrounds and qualifications, rather than just their political party affiliation. Candidate-center campaigns can break down barriers to entry in the election process, allowing candidates from diverse backgrounds to run for office, and giving voters a wider range of choices and perspectives to consider. This is important because by promoting diversity in representation, new voices and perspectives are brought into the election process, which can help to improve the overall quality of the election and the policy outcomes that result from it.

Appealing to Demographic Coalitions

Parties are constantly working toward adding more groups within the party while maintaining their core supporters. One way they accomplish this is by writing their platforms in a more inclusive manner. At the national convention 🎉, both parties intentionally choose speakers that don’t fit the stereotypical profile of their party. For example, one of the featured speakers at the 2020 Republican 🟥 National Convention was Richard Grenell, a gay conservative who formerly served as an ambassador and Cabinet official. Extending the party appeal to demographic coalitions is a key strategy for political parties in the US, as demographic coalitions can play a critical role in determining the outcome of an election.
There are several ways this influence is possible. Political parties conduct demographic research to understand the key issues and concerns of different demographic coalitions, and to determine the best strategies for appealing to those voters. Based on the results of their demographic research, political parties may modify their policies to address the specific concerns of different demographic coalitions. For example, a political party may develop policies focused on healthcare, education, or the economy that are tailored to appeal to different demographic coalitions. Political parties also adjust their messaging to appeal to different demographic coalitions. This may involve using different language or framing issues in a way that resonates with specific groups of voters. For example, a political party may emphasize the importance of small business and entrepreneurship when appealing to voters in rural areas, while highlighting the need for affordable healthcare when appealing to voters in urban areas.

Changes in Party Structures

There are three main influences on party structures: critical elections and regional alignments, campaign finance law, and changes in communication and data-management technology.

Critical elections and regional alignments

Changes in voter alignment has forced major parties to redefine themselves throughout history. Party realignment occurs when a large number of voters 🗳 switch their allegiances form one party to another, usually following a critical election—one that reveals major long-term changes in party loyalty. Perhaps the most famous example is the 1932 election of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) following the Great Depression 😞. FDR’s New Deal Coalition was made up of a variety of groups that had previously supported the Republican Party 🟥—blue-collar workers, ethnic minorities ✊🏾, farmers 🌽, white southerners, low-income individuals and families, immigrants, and academic elites 🤓. Especially significant was the strong support FDR received from black voters—a group that continues to heavily support the Democratic Party to this day. More recently, the United States has experienced a period of divided government in which one party controls Congress and the other controls the presidency. More than ever, voters have engaged in party realignment, splitting their support off and on between the parties and increasingly identifying as political “independents.” 

Campaign finance law

Campaign finance law has had a significant impact on the structure of political parties in the United States in several ways:
1. Limitations on contributions: Campaign finance law places limits on the amount of money that individuals and organizations can contribute to political parties and candidates. This has forced political parties to look for alternative sources of funding, such as small donors and grassroots fundraising efforts.
2, Increased transparency: Campaign finance law requires greater transparency in the funding of political campaigns, including the disclosure of contributions to political parties and candidates. This has made it easier for voters to see who is funding political campaigns and has given them a better understanding of the interests that may be influencing the policies of political parties and candidates.
3. Restrictions on coordinated spending: Campaign finance law restricts the amount of money that political parties can spend in coordination with candidates, which has changed the role of political parties in election campaigns. Instead of providing direct financial support to candidates, political parties may focus on other forms of support, such as voter mobilization, get-out-the-vote efforts, and issue advocacy.
4. Influence of special interests: Campaign finance law has also influenced the structure of political parties by giving special interest groups greater influence over the policy positions of political parties and candidates. This is because special interest groups can use their financial resources to support candidates who align with their interests and to oppose candidates who do not.

Communication & Data Management

With the skyrocketed use of smartphones 📱, social media, and the Internet, parties have adapted the methods they use to reach voters. Parties and candidates invest heavily in data-management software 💻 and equipment to learn about voters and they use this data to create highly targeted campaign messages 📺. Potential voters are now subject to the following communication approaches:
1. Targeted advertising: Political parties use voter data and communication technology to target their advertising to specific demographic groups and geographic areas. This allows them to tailor their messages and reach voters who are most likely to support their party and candidates.
2. Social media: Political parties also use social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to disseminate political messages, engage with voters, and mobilize supporters. Social media allows political parties to reach large audiences quickly and cost-effectively, and to engage with voters in a more personal and interactive way.
3. Email marketing: Political parties use email marketing to reach voters with targeted messages and to mobilize supporters. Email marketing allows political parties to build relationships with voters and to communicate with them on a regular basis.
4. Voter data management: Political parties use voter data management systems to collect, analyze, and use information about voters to enhance their outreach and mobilization efforts. This information includes demographic data, voting history, and issues of interest to voters. Political parties use this information to target their messages to specific voters, to build relationships with voters, and to mobilize supporters.

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