Q126: What are the two major political parties in the United States?

a. Republican and Independent
b. Libertarian and Democratic
c. Libertarian and Independent
d. Republican and Democratic

 Q127: What is the political party of the President now?

a. Democratic
b. Libertarian
c. Independent
d. Republican

Question Background Information

Political parties help to coordinate people with similar ideas about government, helping them to elect like-minded people to achieve their policy goals, to educate and persuade the public, and to hold officeholders accountable (by offering an alternative).

Parties have come and gone in American history, but there have typically been two leading parties. Although it arose from earlier parties, the Democratic Party formally developed in the 1820s and 1830s under Martin Van Buren and its first elected President, Andrew Jackson. Initially created to enforce states’ rights and local government, in the 1930s the Democratic Party shifted to favor a more centralized federal government. 

The Republican Party was founded in the 1850s with the specific purpose of ending the expansion of slavery into the federal territories — its first President was Abraham Lincoln. 

Compared to today’s Democratic Party, the modern Republican Party tends to favor a more decentralized federal government. The Democrats and Republicans are the two major parties today, whose ideas and values have shifted over time to reflect a changing United States.

Other political parties today include the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and the Constitution Party. These are known as “third parties;” their candidates are rarely able to win elections due to the electoral system in the United States. But they do have a meaningful impact on election outcomes, and they provide another way for voters to express their views. 

Political parties are both stabilizing and flexible parts of electoral politics. They tend to hold broad political philosophies over time, though they can change these too. Sometimes this is due to a new issue developing. Other times, this is due to a party achieving its goal—for example, the purpose of the Republican Party at the time of the Civil War was ending slavery in the territories, and then, after the Thirteenth Amendment, ensuring the rights of the freed slaves. In other cases, a particularly influential president or important event will lead a party to rethink its commitments, as when Franklin Roosevelt pushed the Democrats to abandon the party’s historic commitment to states’ rights in the 1930s.
Parties are largely guided by people who care deeply and have strong ideas about policy positions, which tends to make them stable. On the other hand, party members want to win elections, so parties require a level of flexibility to please the voters, too.

George Washington famously criticized political parties in his Farewell Address. In the early twentieth century, political reformers similarly argued parties were too corrupt, and they sought to weaken them. Others have argued parties have important roles in structuring politics, educating voters, screening candidates, and offering voters an easy way to pick like-minded candidates who share the voters’ goals.  Today, many observers argue that political parties are, ironically, relatively weak institutions compared to earlier points in history, even as voters’ own partisan polarization is far more intense than years past. In other words, the strength of organized parties—the ability to cultivate, recruit, discipline, and support candidates, is weak, even as voters are historically polarized and hostile to the opposition party.

A president's political affiliation usually gives us a general idea of his or her political philosophy. For example, a Republican president generally leans toward conservative ideas, such as less government regulation and a smaller federal government, while a Democratic president leans toward a more progressive agenda, which involves more government regulation and more government programs.

But those are just general trends, and sometimes presidents will be more distant from the views of the rest of their party, Congress, etc. Sometimes presidents will move the rest of the party to share their views---and sometimes the party will move the president toward its views.

Additional Content

Offline Activity


George Washington’s Farewell Address famously warned about the excesses of partisanship. While he recognized the benefits of parties, he nonetheless worried they could become more interested in their own power than the good of the country, and as president, he sought to be non-partisan, though all subsequent presidents have been members of parties. This activity asks students to reflect on Washington’s address and write a letter to the editor about the role of political parties today.


  • Provide each group with the background reading above. 
  • Provide each group with Political Parties in the U.S (includes excerpts from Washington’s Farewell Address)
  • Provide each group with How to Write an Editorial. 
  • Provide each group with an editorial template.       
  • A rubric is available if this is a graded activity.

Required Files

The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes a rubric (Q63 Editorial Rubric).

Teaching Materials.


  1. Letter writing is generally a solitary activity. However, depending on the age and/or skill level of the students, you may want to have them work in pairs. 
    • Divide the class into pairs based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group that has mastered the material. Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C). 
  2. Explain to the students that they are going to write letters to the editor about political parties. The letter that they write will be based on their existing knowledge and the provided reading.
    • Before handing out the reading, brainstorm with the students to determine their knowledge on political parties and their opinions about them. This will prime them for the reading.
      • What do you know about political parties? 
      • What do you think about political parties and why?
      • How might parties help or hurt our political system?
    • Explain to the students that the reading is to give them some background on parties. There are questions in the reading to help them think about what they believe and what they might decide to support in their letter
    • Talk with the students about what they might say in the letter. For example:
      • Would elections be better if they were non-partisan? Or are they better partisan?
      • Talk about the importance of heeding Washington’s opinion (or why it might not be relevant)
      • Talk about whether voters know enough about politics to vote, or whether it is useful to have partisan labels to easily recognize allies
      • Explain that a nation of this size needs/does not need parties.
    • You may wish to emphasize the following: 
      • You are not grading them on their opinions. The goal of this exercise is to write a letter and share their opinion with the public (i.e., the class). It is not to make an argument that everyone likes or agrees with. 
  3. Review the writing guidelines with the students.  
    • Help them narrow their topics down as needed.  
    • Make sure they understand the differences between the types of letters that they can write. 
  4. Have them create an outline or rough draft on the template before writing a final copy. 
  5. Circulate throughout the room as the students complete their letters to check for understanding and help as needed. 
  6. Have them write the final copy on a clean sheet of loose-leaf paper. 
  7. Ask some of the students to read their letters, and then use those letters to stimulate a discussion on the political parties in the nation today. 

Discussion Prompts

Although he conceded they could have important benefits for politics, George Washington warned the fledgling nation against allowing political parties to become too factionalized, recognizing that such division was already their natural tendency. America has almost always had a two-party system, and we still do today.

Prompt 1

The original political parties were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. Thanks to time and politics these two no longer exist. What are the two major political parties in the United States today? What are some of their beliefs regarding taxes, government size, and social welfare programs? What is the party of the current president?

Prompt 2

A political party’s ideologies sometimes change in response to events in history. Think about current events. What is happening in society and the world today? Do you think that these current events will force change in the parties? Why or why not? How would they change? Use recent and historical events to help support your answer.