Political parties play a crucial role in the running of governments all over the world. Parties exert influence on the government or run the government through party candidates who hold political office often after winning an election. The party model of politics has been adopted by all nations in the world. While political parties aim to increase their popularity and exert more influence or control on the government, different political parties have varying ideologies. Parties might also target certain demographics and support policies that are favorable to the specific demographics. In addition to this, political parties might require strict loyalty from the candidates or leave the individual candidates to support independent policies. The political sphere in Australia and the US is characterized by a two-party dominant system. One of the dominant parties in Australia is the Australian Labor Party (ALP) while in the US we have the Democratic Party. These two major parties in the respective countries exert significant influence on government policy and both have a history of forming the government. This paper will set out to highlight the major similarities and differences between the Australian Labor Party and the American Democrats.
Despite having different names and existing in different countries, the Australian Labor Party and the US Democratic Party have several marked similarities. The first significant similarity between the two parties is that they are both dominant parties in their respective counties. The ALP and the Democratic Party have both enjoyed the position of dominant political party since their formations. Australia and the US have a two-party system in that both countries have two dominant parties that form the government alternatively. In Australia, the two dominant players in the country’s politics are the ALP and the Coalition. In the US, the two dominant political parties are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The ALP and the American Democrats have formed the government in their respective countries on numerous occasions. The Labor Party has, over the course of the last century, formed the federal government for more than 40 years. Pierson (2007) documents that the ALP won an unprecedented five consecutive general elections between 1983 and 1993 setting itself apart as a major political player in Australian politics. The American Democrats have enjoyed enormous political success in the US. This party has produced 15 presidents and the current US president, who is serving a second term in office, is a democrat (Brownie & Teixeira 2010).
Another similarity between the parties is that they are both strongly influenced by the union movements. The union influence is felt even more intensely by the Australian Labor Party since the union movement is closely entwined with the party. The close association between the party and unions arises from the fact that the Labor Party was born out of the union movement (Shaun & Spies-Butcher 2011). As such, the ALP has always had a strong support base among trade unions. Trade unions continue to play a significant role in the ALP and through these entities, the Labor Party is able to maintain relations with its working-class base. The ALP’s officeholders at the federal and state level are required to reflect a reasonable balance between trade unions and policy-affiliated members (Swenden 2004). The Australian Council of Trade Unions exerts significant influence in the Labor Party and spends a significant amount of money bankrolling ALP candidates. The Democratic Party also has a marked organized labor influence. In spite of its elitist origins, the Democrats have always had strong ties to the labor movement in the US. Many commentators have observed the increasing influence of the union movement within the Democratic Party in the US. Paterson (2008) reveals that the union movement played a significant role in the 2006 Democrat takeover of the House and Senate. Unions bankrolled many Democratic candidates and provided the support needed to oust Republicans in some States.
In addition to this, both the ALP and the Democrats adopt policies that favor capitalism, which is seen as crucial to the economic growth and prosperity of the nation. In spite of being a social-democratic party with strong labor and trade union links, the ALP takes a pragmatic approach when dealing with the country’s economy (Griffin 2004). The ALP recognizes that capitalism is necessary for the continued prosperity of the Australian economy. The ALP has supported fundamental economic changes since the late 1980s. The party is credited with cutting tariffs and moving towards internationalization of the Australian Economy. Bramble and Kuhn (2009) document that the capitalistic class has used the ALP to restructure the economy in its interests. Capital holders have influenced the ALP to use its links with the unions to enforce market changes in favor of capitalists with minimal resistance from the working class. Bramble and Kuhn (2009) note that while the ALP is a worker’s party in that it was established by the trade unions and the working class, it is also a capitalist organization since its goal is to manage the capitalist state and economy for the good of the nation. The Democratic Party also acknowledges the importance of capitalists in the economy. The Party is therefore keen to ensure that the needs of the capitalist class are met for this class enables the stability of the national economy and the continued prosperity of the US. Major corporations exert influence on the party through lobbies and by making significant contributions to the campaign budget of individual Democrat candidates.
The two parties also seek to attract votes from diverse segments of the population. Targeting people from different demographic groups ensures that the parties are able to increase their support base. For the democrats, attempts have been made to attract votes from all segments of America (Rochon 2001). The party’s inclusive and liberal nature has led to an increase in the percentage of votes obtained from the non-White population and minority groups such as the LGBT community. The APL is constantly trying to appeal to electorates from all segments of the Australian Population. While the party has deep working-class roots, it seeks to serve the interests of all citizens in the country. The party has therefore endeavored to come up with policies that do not alienate any group. Specifically, the party has over the years sort to attract the capitalist and middle classes and enlist their support during elections. Pierson (2007) notes that the ALP has attempted to broaden its electoral appeal by reaching out beyond its traditional core constituency in organized labor.
The ALP and the Democrats share in their concerns for the welfare of the citizens in Australia and the US respectively. The ALP is a social-democratic party in that its core values are to improve the living and working conditions of the working Australians and a large segment of its support base is the working class (Griffin 2004). The Democrats are also concerned about the living and working conditions of Americans. The party is in favor of increasing the minimum wage and increasing the tax burden on the wealthiest Americans (Segura 2012). Unlike the Republican’s devotion to the unrestrained accumulation of corporate and private wealth, the Democrats are concerned about the middle and lower classes in the US (Runner 2012).
In addition to the many similarities between the two parties, there are a number of marked differences between the ALP and the Democrats. To begin with, there is a significant difference in the form of organization of the two parties. While the Labor Party is highly centralized, the Democratic Party is highly decentralized. Swenden (2004) declares, “The Australian Labor Party is the most centralized of all the traditional Australian parties” (156). The party has significant power and candidates are required to align their interests with those of the party. The ALP’s organizing body, which is the National Conference, has a great influence on party affairs. This body has the power to overrule individual candidate nominations for public office. The organization can also dismiss an entire state party executive because of policy views that violate the party’s platform (Swenden 2004). These far-reaching powers point to the highly centralized nature of the ALP. On the other hand, the Democratic Party is highly decentralized. The reason for the high decentralization is that the Democratic Party is made up of loose coalitions with individual politicians having their own opinions on important issues (Bramble & Kuhn 2009). The decentralized nature of the US Democratic Party is further illustrated by the fact that the Democratic National Committee (which is the core organization governing the Democrats) lacks any real power. Despite being the organization that provides national leadership for Democrats all over the US, the DNC lacks direct authority over the party candidates who can act independently or even contrary to the policies endorsed by this committee.
The level of loyalty shown to the two parties by their respective candidates differs significantly. Due to the high centralization of the Labour Party, loyalty to the party is a crucial element of the ALP. Politicians are expected to show allegiance to the party and share opinions on a wide variety of important political and economic issues. Paterson (2008) reveals that the Labor Party expects rigorous adherence to party policy by politicians. As such, politicians belonging to the Australian Labor Party are expected to show support for party policy by voting in favor of party policies even if they have personal reservations about the particular policy in question. The ALP central party headquarters control the purse strings for most party candidates (Bramble & Kuhn 2009). As such, the party does the vast majority of the fundraising necessary for the re-election of candidates. This financial dependence by ALP candidates increases the level of control that the party has over its candidates. The Democratic Party has lower party cohesion due to its highly decentralized nature. American Democrats are encouraged by their party to cultivate a personal following among their constituents (Brownie & Teixeira 2010). There is no rigorous adherence to party policy among Democrat politicians and politicians often favor policies that are beneficial to their electorate. The American Democratic candidates are responsible for the vast majority of the fundraising necessary for their re-election. This decreases party influence on the candidate since the independent candidate has to source his financing from the public or corporate sponsors. The candidate is therefore likely to show loyalty to his local supporters and financial backers even if this means going against party policy.
The US Democrats are more prone to populism than the Australian Labor Party politicians who are more insulated from public opinion due to the Australian political process. The Democratic Party’s political process engenders populism in a number of ways. One of the most fundamental ways through which populism is promoted is in the primary election process. In the closed primary candidate selection stage, all registered Democrat voters are entitled to vote. Paterson (2008) explains that this primary system has a wide franchise that allows for broad participation in the selection of a candidate for the district or state. This system creates the incentive for politicians to promote a personal following in their local constituency in order to increase their chances of being chosen as the party candidate. In contrast to this, the ALP candidates are largely chosen by the organizational wing of the party and paid-up party members. The registered ALP party members are not allowed to select the party candidates. This system ensures that ALP politicians are shielded from popular pressures since they do not have to respond to local popular opinion (Shaun & Spies-Butcher 2011). A major disadvantage of the populist approach by Democrat politicians is that it impedes the adoption of measures that might be politically unpopular in the short term but the good policy for the long term. The relative insulation from populism in the ALP ensures that politicians can adopt these measures, which are beneficial in the long term in spite of being unpopular in the short term.
There is a significant difference in the level of government intervention in the market economy that the ALP and the Democrats desire. The ALP favors a free market economy where the government does not engage in interventions. The party believes that the market economy should be left to its own devices. Paterson (2008) documents that the ALP has a record of the abolition of trade barriers and that the party has consistently opened up Australia’s domestic economy to world markets. In contrast to this, the Democratic Party favors a strong federal government that has the power to make major decisions concerning business and industry in the country (Segura 2012). Brownie and Teixeira (2010) document that to the American Democrats; the government should act as a guardian against the excesses of the market economy and take steps to protect the country from international pressure.
This paper set out to discuss the similarities and differences between the Australian Labor Party and the Democrats in the US. It began by acknowledging the significance of political parties in modern governance. It then highlighted that both parties hold significant political power in their respective countries. The paper has stated that the two parties have a strong union influence and they favor capitalism, which is seen as an engine for economic growth and prosperity. In addition to this, the paper has noted that the two parties encourage membership from different demographics and demonstrate great concern for the welfare of the citizens. However, the two parties have major differences in the level of centralization and the amount of control that the party has over its candidates. From this paper, it is clear that despite the different ideologies and structures of the two parties, the ALP and the Democrats have many significant similarities.
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