If there is one thing about politics that unites Americans these days, it is their contempt for political parties and partisanship. More Americans today identify as independents than with either of the two major political parties. Party leaders in Congress are held in disrepute, criticized by one side for being too soft and condemned by the other for being too extreme. The partisan coalitions that defined the Democratic and Republican parties for decades seem to be breaking apart, as insurgent, “outsider” politicians — like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders — continue to rise.

Yet while both major parties are less popular than at any time in recent history, partisan antipathy has only intensified. Party affiliation is now a bigger wedge between Americans than race, gender, religion, or level of education. Rather than being one two-party nation, the polarized U.S. is in danger of becoming “two one-party nations.”

What is the origin of this bitter and seemingly irreconcilable divide? Is there an ideal level of party difference? How much is too much?  In this one-week seminar, students will examine the roots of party polarization and its implications for our national politics. The 2016 election and the 2018 midterms will provide the backdrop for our discussion of the significance of parties.

Dan DiSalvo on party reform in America


Daniel DiSalvo

Daniel DiSalvo is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at The City College of New York-CUNY.  His scholarship focuses on American political parties, elections, labor unions, state government, and public policy.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session




  1. What are the different models of parties that have been proposed in American politics since the Founding?
  2. Can political parties be made to serve the Founders’ objectives—at least in terms of presidential selection?
  3. What have been the consequences of the “democratizing” or “decentralizing” reforms of the 1970s?




  1. How might changing campaign finance law reduce polarization?
  2. What steps might improve the presidential nomination process?
  3. What challenges do the parties face to secure their bases and expand their coalitions?

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