Much as Brazil, Ghana, Canada, Britain, most countries really, use these terms in these senses of that the party supplying the head of government is the governing or ruling party and the others are opposition parties regardless of their own political systems, if they are federal systems, party systems, and if they are presidential republics or not.

I keep getting claims that this is because the US has a two party system, that the US has a presidential republic, that the US is bicameral, that the US is federal but none of that explains the answer for the US.


2 Answers 2


Because of the separation of powers which means that the different parties can be "ruling" in different parts of the government.

Consider the USA in 2023. The House of Representatives has a Republican majority, but the Senate has a Democratic majority. The Presidency is held by a Democrat, but the Supreme Court has a 6-3 majority for "conservatives" (generally identified with the Republicans) - So which is the party in Government?

Filibuster rules mean that even the party with a majority in the Senate cannot be said to "rule" there.

Contrast this with the UK in which the Head of Government (the Prime Minister) must, by design, be of the same party that holds a majority in the Commons (and other parts of government are designed to be non-partisan or inferior to the Commons)

So in the UK it makes sense to say "the Conservative party is the ruling party and in Government, and the Labour party is the Opposition".

Now it may be the case that at times the same party can control all three branches of Government, but the linguistic fact remains that there is no tradition of calling either party the "opposition" in the USA, because this situation is the exception not the norm.

  • 1
    That doesn't explain why this is not true in Latin America which almost always uses a presidential republic just like the United States, and the terms government and opposition are so common its even on the Congress's webpage there. And the filibuster is a limit imposed by a majority of the senators on themselves. There is no doubt, the party of the president is in government. Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 19:46
  • 1
    Latin America doesn't even use English! This is basically a cultural thing, and Latin America is not culturally the same as the USA.
    – James K
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 19:48
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    @James Why should it matter that Latin America doesn’t use English and is culturally different? The term is used in both in English and in many other languages, and both in Anglophone and non-Anglophone cultures, so your claim that it’s “basically a cultural thing” seems rather unsupported to me. Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 23:00
  • Take Mexico for example. For many many years, one party won presidency and parliament. It was actually a ruling party. So culturally it would be natural to refer to it as such. The USA is different. The system is set up to avoid having a ruling party, so culturally people got out of the habit of talking about one. Things might have been different in the 1930s when the Dems were, for a short period, actually capable of "ruling".
    – James K
    Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 6:32
  • In the U.S., Congress has virtually no executive branch authority. In most Presidential Republics, the President is either symbolic like a constitutional monarch, or the lower house of the legislature actually has a role in the executive branch in a parliamentary system system's lower house does. France is a good example of a parliamentary system-strong President system hybrid.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 15:50

There are no political parties

At least, not at the same level than in other countries.

With first past the post, party discipline is way looser than it could be in, say, Germany or Spain, where party central organization has a lot of say in who runs and in which position, thus altering their probabilities of getting elected. Thas ensures that elected charges stay inside the party line.

For example, I remember a question several years ago about a neonazi running for election for the Republican party, even if the Republican party leadership was strongly against it. He got to win the local primaries(*) so he got to run for that party; all that the party could do was to publicly disavow him and provide no funds for his campaign.

The downfall for this is that the parties are more a collection of individual personalities (albeit closely aligned) than a monolithic block, and the support of a party does not guarantee the votes from all the members of that party (not the POTUS, but see what happened to Mitch McConell).

The POTUS has no party

Ok, he was voted on a platform supported by a party.

But because of the above point, he cannot be 100% sure of the support of the members of his own party. And he cannot discout the support of members of the opposing parties. Regularly, propositions from the POTUS get voted against members of his own party, or get bipartisan support.

That would be unheard of in Europe; if a PM had his party voting against him it would shortly lead to either a dissolution of the parliament and new elections, or (most likely) his dimission.

(*) IIRC it was in a NY district that was always taken by Democrats, so there was no internal competition for the position.

  • So? That is just as true of any other presidential republic like Brazil, yet they obviously have a government party and the opposition. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 6:10

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