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A Study Guide for the Ohio Ninth-Grade Citizenship Proficiency Test
How Public Officials Acquire Their Offices Political Systems

M. Political Parties and Party Candidates
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A political party is an organization of citizens formed to play an active role in electing officials and shaping policies of our national, state and local governments. During most of the time since our U.S. Constitution was ratified, two parties have dominated the politics in our nation. During this century the two dominant parties are the Democratic and the Republican. There is no law preventing the formation of other parties. Some additional parties have been formed in the past, but have had short lives or have not had great effect.

A political party usually takes a position on what policies our government should follow and what laws should be passed or changed. The party's statement of its position on such matters is called its platform. Both parties say, in effect, that their goal is to maintain a strong nation which will meet the needs and provide a safe and happy future for our citizens, but they disagree on how best to accomplish that purpose. Their differences are usually referred to as issues. The Democrats are often considered to be liberal, believing that government should take an active role in solving social and economic problems of the citizens. The Republicans are considered conservative, believing that the government should take such a role only to a quite limited extent.

An important function of a political party is the selection of candidates to run for office, especially the Presidential candidates. There are often several who wish to run. The first test of popularity comes during the primary elections. A Presidential candidate wants to win as many state primaries as possible. These take place early in the year before the November election, held every four years.

Later that summer the Republicans and Democrats hold separate nominating conventions. Delegates from all fifty states select a Presidential candidate from the leaders in the primary races. These are colorful events with bands, speeches, and noisemakers, followed by hundreds of balloons released from the ceiling after the two lucky candidates have won the nomination.

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