A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office.  Parties participate in electoral campaigns and educational outreach or protest actions. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests.
The freedom to form, declare membership in, or campaign for candidates from a political party is considered a measurement of a state's adherence to liberal democracy as a political value. Regulation of parties may run from a crackdown on or repression of all opposition parties, a norm for authoritarian governments, to the repression of certain parties which hold or promote ideals which run counter to the general ideology of the state's incumbents (or possess membership by-laws which are legally unenforceable).
Furthermore, in the case of far-right, far-left and regionalist parties in the national parliaments of much of the European Union, mainstream political parties may form an informal cordon sanitaire which applies a policy of non-cooperation towards those "Outsider Parties" present in the legislature which are viewed as 'anti-system' or otherwise unacceptable for government. Cordon Sanitaires, however, have been increasingly abandoned over the past two decades in multi-party democracies as the pressure to construct broad coalitions in order to win elections - along with the increased willingness of outsider parties themselves to participate in government - has led to many such parties entering electoral and government coalitions.
Starting in the second half of the 20th century modern democracies have introduced rules for the flow of funds through party coffers, e.g. the Canada Election Act 1976, the PPRA in the U.K. or the FECA in the U.S.. Such political finance regimes stipulate a variety of regulations for the transparency of fundraising and expenditure, limit or ban specific kinds of activity and provide public subsidies for party activity, including campaigning.
The type of electoral system is a major factor in determining the type of party political system. In countries with a simple plurality voting system, parties elected tend to be few (often only two in any given jurisdiction). In countries that have a proportional representation voting system, as exists throughout Europe, or to a greater extent preferential voting systems, such as in Australia or Ireland, three or more parties are often elected to parliament in significant proportions, and thus may have more access to public office.
Partisan style varies from government to government, depending on how many parties there are, and how much influence each individual party has.
In a nonpartisan system, no official political parties exist, sometimes reflecting legal restrictions on political parties. In nonpartisan elections, each candidate is eligible for office on his or her own merits. In nonpartisan legislatures, there are no typically formal party alignments within the legislature. The administration of George Washington and the first few sessions of the United States Congress were nonpartisan. Washington also warned against political parties during his Farewell Address. In the United States, the unicameral legislature of Nebraska is nonpartisan. In Canada, the territorial legislatures of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are nonpartisan. In New Zealand, Tokelau has a nonpartisan parliament. Many city and county governments are nonpartisan. Nonpartisan elections and modes of governance are common outside of state institutions. Unless there are legal prohibitions against political parties, factions within nonpartisan systems often evolve into political parties.
In single-party systems, one political party is legally allowed to hold effective power. Although minor parties may sometimes be allowed, they are legally required to accept the leadership of the dominant party. This party may not always be identical to the government, although sometimes positions within the party may in fact be more important than positions within the government. China is an example; others can be found in Fascist states, such as Nazi Germany between 1934 and 1945. The single-party system is thus usually equated with dictatorships and tyranny.
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, the African National Congress in South Africa, the Human Rights Protection Party in Samoa, and the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro in Montenegro. 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, in Indonesia with the Golongan Karya (Party of the Functional Groups) from the early 1970s until 1998, and in Japan with the Liberal Democratic Party until 2009.
Two-party systems are states such as Jamaica, and Ghana in which there are two political parties dominant to such an extent that electoral success under the banner of any other party is almost impossible. One right wing coalition party and one left wing coalition party is the most common ideological breakdown in such a system but in two-party states political parties are traditionally catch all parties which are ideologically broad and inclusive.
The United States is widely considered a two-party system. Since the birth of the republic a conservative (such as the Republican Party) and liberal (such as the Democratic Party) party have usually been the status quo within American politics, with some exception. Third parties often receive little support and are not often the victors in many races. Despite this, there have been several examples of third parties siphoning votes from major parties that were expected to win (such as Theodore Roosevelt in the election of 1912 and Ross Perot in the election of 1992).
The UK political system, while technically a multi-party system, has functioned generally as a two-party (sometimes called a "two-and-a-half party) system; since the 1920s the two largest political parties have been the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. Before the Labour Party rose in British politics the Liberal Party was the other major political party along with the Conservatives. Though coalition and minority governments have been an occasional feature of parliamentary politics, the first-past-the-post electoral system used for general elections tends to maintain the dominance of these two parties, though each has in the past century relied upon a third party to deliver a working majority in Parliament. (A plurality voting system usually leads to a two-party system, a relationship described by Maurice Duverger and known as Duverger's Law.) However, the 2010 General Election resulted in a coalition government led by the Conservative Party and including the Liberal Democrats. There are also numerous other parties that hold or have held a number of seats in Parliament.
Multi-party systems are systems in which more than two parties are represented and elected to public office.
Australia, Canada, Pakistan, India, Ireland, United Kingdom and Norway are examples of countries with two strong parties and additional smaller parties that have also obtained representation. The smaller or "third" parties may form a part of a coalition government together with one of the larger parties or act independently from the other dominant parties.
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 since the 1980s and is almost always the case in Germany on national and state level, and in most constituencies at the communal level. Furthermore since the forming of the Republic of Iceland there has never been a government not led by a coalition (usually of the Independence Party and one other often the Social Democratic Alliance. Political change is often easier with a coalition government than in one-party or two-party dominant systems.
Political parties are funded by contributions from
Political parties, still called factions by some, especially those in government, are lobbied vigorously by organizations, businesses and special interest groups such as trades unions. Money and gifts-in-kind to a party, or its leading members, may be offered as incentives. Such donations are the traditional source of funding for all right-of-centre cadre parties. Starting in the late 19th century these parties were opposed by the new founded left-of-centre workers' parties. They started a new party type, the mass membership party, and a new source of political fundraising, membership dues.
From the second half of the 20th century on parties which continued to rely on donations ran into mounting problems. Along with the increased scrutiny of donations there has been a long term contraction in party memberships in most 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 some parties, such as the post-communist parties of France and Italy or the Sinn Féin party and the Socialist Party (Ireland), elected representatives of take only the average industrial wage from their salary as a representative or their entire earnings, while the rest goes into party coffers. Although these examples may be rare nowadays, "rent-seeking" continues to be a feature of many political parties around the world.
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. To prevent such corruption in the 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 as well as assumed "influence peddling" 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 increase. 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 in a country that was the first to regulate campaign expenses (in 1883)..
In many other democracies such subsidies for party activity (in general or just for campaign purposes) have been introduced decades ago. Public financing for parties and candidates (during election timess and beyond) has several permutations and is increasingly common. Germany, Sweden, Israel, Canada, Austria and Spain are cases in point, although Canada has removed its public funding for political parties as of 2010. More recently among others France, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands and Poland have followed suit.
There are two broad categories of funding, direct, which entails a montetary transfer to a party, and indirect, which includes broadcast time on state media, use of the mail service or supplies. According to the Comparative Data from the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, out of a sample of over 180 nations, 25% of nations provide no direct or indirect public funding, 58% provide direct public funding and 60% of nations provide indirect public funding. Some countries provide both direct and indirect public funding to political parties. Funding may be equal for all parties or depend on the results of previous campaigns or the number of candidates participating in an election. Frequently parties rely on a mix of private and public funding and are required to disclose their finances to the Election management body.
Funding can also be provided by foreign aid. International donors provide financing to political parties in developing countries as a means to promote democracy and good governance. Support can be purely financial or otherwise frequently is provided as capacity development activities including the development of party manifestos, party constitutions and campaigning skills. Developing links between ideologically linked parties is another common feature of international support for a party. Sometimes this can be perceived as directly supporting the political aims of political party, such as the support of the US government to the Georgian party behind the Rose Revolution. Other donors work on a more neutral basis, where multiple donors provide grants in countries accessible by all parties for various aims defined by the recipients. There have been calls by leading development think-tanks, such as the Overseas Development Institute, to increase support to political parties as part of developing the capacity to deal with the demands of donors to improve governance.
Generally speaking, over the world, political parties associate themselves with colors, primarily for identification, especially for voter recognition during elections. Conservative parties generally use blue or black.Pink sometimes signifies moderate socialist. Yellow is often used for libertarianism or classical liberalism, due to yellow being the color of gold, which signifies the gold standard.Red usually signifies communist or socialist parties, except for the conservative Republican Party in the United States and the "Partido Colorado" (red party) in Uruguay. In these cases, the use of the color red comes from the origins of the party.Green is the color for green parties, Islamist parties and Irish republican parties. 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 http://www.purpleparty.com-- in a similar vein to a Green Party, perhaps. Black is generally associated with fascist parties, going back to Benito Mussolini's blackshirts, but also with Anarchism. Similarly, brown is sometimes associated with Nazism, going back to the Nazi Party's tan-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, Traffic light coalitions, 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. Prior to the 2000 election the media typically alternated which color represented which party each presidential election cycle. The color scheme happened to get inordinate attention that year, so the cycle was stopped lest it cause confusion the following election.
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), Hizb ut-Tahrir, Christian Democratic International and the International Democrat Union (blue). Organized in Italy in 1945, the International Communist Party, since 1974 headquartered in Florence and with sections in six countries, is an expanding global party. 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. Some administrations (e.g. Hong Kong) outlaw formal linkages between local and foreign political organizations, effectively outlawing international political parties.
The French political scientist Maurice Duverger drew a distinction between cadre parties and mass parties. Cadre parties were political elites that were concerned with contesting elections and restricted the influence of outsiders, who were only required to assist in election campaigns. Mass parties tried to recruit new members who were a source of party income and were often expected to spread party ideology as well as assist in elections. Socialist parties are examples of mass parties, while the British Conservative Party and the German Christian Democratic Union are examples of hybrid parties. In the United States, where both major parties were cadre parties, the introduction of primaries and other reforms has transformed them so that power is held by activists who compete over influence and nomination of candidates.
Klaus von Beyme categorized European parties into nine families, which described most parties. He was able to arrange seven of them from left to right: communist, socialist, green, liberal, Christian democratic, conservative and libertarian. The position of two other types, agrarian and regional/ethnic parties varied. Another category he failed to mention are Islamic political parties, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.