A political party is an organization formed to influence or control government, usually comprised of people with similar, or at least compatible, views. Parties are generally considered to be creatures of representative governments - typically democracies, but can appear wherever there are significant numbers of legislators, whether appointed or elected. Where elections occur, they frequently run their own political candidates for office on a party basis to try to ensure a supply of like minded members, but even countries without democratic elections with have political factions to varying degrees.
The level of integration within a party may also vary - the prototypical parties found in the parties of the early modern era were closer to broad intrest groups, loosely allied to one another than to the highly regimented campaigning machines of the modern era. Even within a given party, significant factions can exist, sometimes more hostile to their rivals "at home" than those in another party … if this sort of split grows severe enough the party may split.
How well organised a Party is can vary enormously - in some systems, a "Party" will be a loose alliance of members, identified by shared patronage, collective interest or membership of a specific Gentlemen's Club1
The United States has a Two-Party System in that, although other political parties exist, the political discourse is dominated almost exclusively by the two dominant ones. Many other nations have multiple parties which may or may not link together to form majorities. In many totalitarian nations there is only one officially recognized party, although there may be other factions ranging from unoffical-but-tolerated to illegal. Note that the absence of political parties is not necessarily a sign of an unrepresentative government - it is theoretically possible for a parliament to exist without them (and thus have an entire house of independant members) - although this is not current practice anywhere as yet.
The following list is far from comprehensive, and also includes political factions which perhaps don't rise to the organizational level of a party. Feel free to add if you like.
Some Notable Political Parties Past and Present:
- Constitution Party
- Democratic Party
- Green Party
- Know Nothing
- Libertarian Party
- Progressive Party
- Republican Party
- Socialist Party
- Tea Party
- Whig Party
- Bull Moose Party
Political Parties in Other Nations
- National Socialist Party
- Communist Party
- Pirate Party
- Boni (Republican Rome)
- Populares (Republican Rome)
Fictional Political PArties
Game and Story Use
- A political party could make a good patron for your PCs
- Or a good enemy
- The number and type of parties in a body should give an idea of its character - the fewer the parties, the broader they are likely to be (unless the house in question is effectively an oligarchy and only reflects a very narrow range of views), but a large number of parties with "trivial" single issues as their main schtick would imply a legislature which isn't taken particularly seriously … possibly because it has no real power.
- If you want to put the PCs somewhere near the levers of power in a published adventure or at a table that doesn't discuss real politics, fictional and joke parties are your friend.
- Paying attention to partisan politics and realpolitik can help you create a congruent setting. For instance, you might have a major party composed mostly of a coalition of vaguely-aligned but competing interests, you might export the Southern Strategy, or someone in your setting might mention the spoiler effect.