Ideological Positioning of Political Parties

Like-minded politicians in democracies, with shared ideological positions and approaches to change, form political parties.  The four strands of thinking identified earlier are individualism (6.2.2), collectivism (6.2.3), conservatism (6.2.4) and progressivism (6.2.5) – and each of these has been further sub-divided for purposes of analysis – but politicians and political parties don’t fit neatly into any one category.  America’s Republican Party and Britain’s Conservative Party are coalitions containing both conservatives and individualists, for example, and America’s Democratic Party is collectivist and progressive.  Their ideological positioning is the core of their appeal, to attract voters who hold similar views.

Parties jostle for power, competing for support in each election.  They identify cultural characteristics of voters they want to attract, so that they can channel their advertising more effectively.  Republicans decided that they needed to target Hispanic and female voters, for example, in the RNC Election-Autopsy Report that they produced after their defeat in 2012; that example neatly illustrates the party’s thought processes, although Donald Trump did not follow their recommendations in his 2016 campaign – he chose to focus on more divisive aspects of people’s identity, as described earlier (, and increased the polarisation in American politics.

Another technique is to identify topics which encourage voters to identify with one political party against the other: sometimes referred to as “wedge issues”.  Republicans campaign against the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision on abortion, for example; this was a divisive judgement that “helped to drive millions of northern Catholics and southern evangelicals into the Republican Party”, according to an Economist article The war that never ends.  Such issues eclipse all other considerations for some voters.

Parties must also choose how much they want to try to attract voters who occupy the centre ground of politics and can therefore be persuaded to switch allegiance.  All political parties are coalitions of people who might not agree on every issue, although they do have some shared ideas, so it is unsurprising that there can be a degree of policy overlap between them.  Both conservative Burkean Stewardship ( and Pragmatic Progressivism ( allow for some government intervention when circumstances change for example, although the former would be more cautious.

If the overlap becomes too great, parties become indistinguishable.  Voters then become apathetic – believing that nothing that they can do will make any difference – or frustrated because they can see no way of improving their situation (6.3.9).

Whether a party is in government or in opposition, it has to adapt to circumstances – as described below (



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6261b.htm