What exactly do political parties do? Though parties are multifaceted and operate in many different arenas, the most commonly recognized roles and functions of parties can be grouped into three areas.
People identify with the ideas associated with particular parties, and participate in the activities of a particular party to various degrees. So we say that parties have a presence in the electorate that affects people's political beliefs and behaviors, which in turn define the parties over time.
Parties have formal structures and processes. They have permanent organizations that manage party affairs on an ongoing basis with temporary organizational components that exist only during the campaign months that lead up to elections. The permanent organization includes precinct chairs, county executive committees and chairs, and state executive committees and chairs. The temporary organization includes all party electoral conventions on the precinct, county, district, state, and even national levels.
Even though there is little formal specification (either constitutional or statutory) of the roles of parties within government, parties shape and add dynamism to the institutions of government. Governors tend to appoint executive branch personnel who are members of their party. Such appointments tend to promote loyalty to the party as well as to the governor. Legislative committee chairs are usually members of the majority party in the House and the Lieutenant Governor's party in the Senate. On the local and municipal level, where elections are often non-partisan (i.e., where candidates do not run as members or specific parties), the party-in-government tends to be less overt.
Although political parties were not envisioned by the founders of the United States, they were clearly part of the political landscape when Texas joined the Union in 1845. Over the past two centuries parties have become central to our understanding of how people seek and achieve representation in the councils of government.
Based on the way in which political parties have evolved over time, we expect political parties to perform critical functions in the political system. Chief among them are: