In the US, there are many large cities that are dominated by a single party. After Reconstruction and through the 70s, the Southern States were solidly Democratic.

There are often strong factions in these single party districts, but they do not become full parties with clear signalling mechanisms and separate governance structure.

Why not? What are the theories of why local parties do not emerge?

Are there any examples of local parties emerging in the US?

  • In the US they don't have proportional representation, and that means that political parties will be marginalized unless they can unite and have one candidate represent a large faction. So, you naturally end up with a two party system and once you're there, there is no turning back. As explained here, in a two party system the generic state is a lack of consensus, so typically election results will be near 50-50 splits. This leave little room for a party to split and still be competitive. Sep 7, 2015 at 21:34
  • @CountIblis I think he's not asking why we have a two party system, but why support for a party is geographically concentrated (a phenomenon not nearly exclusive to the US, by the way).
    – Publius
    Sep 7, 2015 at 21:39
  • @Avi, exactly. Why don't the mechanisms that produce two parties nationally also produce two parties locally?
    – fgregg
    Sep 7, 2015 at 21:58
  • @fgregg those are unrelated gregg, even in countries that have more than two parties, support for parties can still be regionally concentrated.
    – Publius
    Sep 7, 2015 at 22:02
  • Agree, the number of parties doesn't seem necessarily relevant. More generically, why don't the mechanisms that produce multiple parties nationally not produce multiple parties locally.
    – fgregg
    Sep 7, 2015 at 22:06

4 Answers 4


blip's answer kind of hinted at an answer, but not to the underlying cause.

One of the major reason for polarization is that, as researchers discovered, " people want to live among people who share their ideology as well. People are motivated to move away from communities where they don't fit in and try to find areas that are more congenial".

This is discussed in detail in this NPR article: http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2013/11/26/247362143/how-republicans-and-democrats-ended-up-living-apart; but the underlying major study is summarized as:

But the U.Va. and USC researchers, in a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Experiment Social Psychology, suggest that increasing numbers of people want to live among people who share their ideology as well. People are motivated to move away from communities where they don't fit in and try to find areas that are more congenial.

Individuals have always sought to live among others they find congenial and similar to themselves, but, increasingly, that includes partisan leanings, Bishop says.

"It is natural for people to desire communities where they share a worldview with their neighbors," writes the team, led by Matt Motyl, a doctoral candidate in psychology at U.Va.

  • 1
    That study shows a 'tendency' for a trend happening...in that people are more likely to move to a particular place due to a particular ideology, but it also states that's not the reason we currently have what we have (which is due to the more traditional reasons: "housing and jobs" which results in "People then tend to end up living among people who are more or less like them, in terms of economic status, shopping preferences and the like." In otherwords one's political ideology is still a minor reason for polarization at the moment--not a major reason.
    – user1530
    Sep 8, 2015 at 22:39

Broadly speaking: demographics. In the US, rural tends to lean republican and urban leans democrat. We also have bigger regional leanings (like New England vs. Texas). On top of that, we have gerrymandering where a party that is in power draws the district lines in hopes they can stay in power.

What are the theories of why local parties do not emerge?

They do emerge, but are often at a disadvantage against candidates from the major parties, who find plenty of support being a part of the bigger machine.

Are there any examples of local parties emerging in the US?

Yes. Some that come to mind would be:

  • 1
    "gerrymandering where a party that is in power draws the district lines in hopes they can stay in power" - that may be true but not always. In some cases gerrymandering is actually tit for tat, ensuring election of established candidates for both parties.
    – user4012
    Sep 8, 2015 at 16:44

My answer is a bit more narrow than the others. Third parties in the US are rarely successful due to the first-past-the-post voting system, otherwise known as winner-take-all voting.

Imagine that a party that mostly aligns with the democrats but has some slightly different views rises up in one area that has a history of voting about 60% democrats 40% republicans in most elections. When it comes to election time they've managed to sway about half of the democrat voters and the election results come out like this:

  • 30% democrats
  • 30% third party
  • 40% republicans

The republicans win even though 60% of voters don't want them in government, at the next election, everyone gives up on the third party and goes back to voting democrat because they have the best chance of winning, the third party all but disappears and everything basically goes back to normal.

This is known as vote splitting and leads to factional divisions and power struggles within a party in favour of forming new parties, it also means that it normally takes a massive effort to upset the status quo of a political system that uses this voting system.

If you want to learn about alternative systems of voting I highly recommend watching CGP Grey's series "Politics in the Animal Kingdom" and researching Condorcet voting.


In the United States, state and local governments have significant power. Many Americans are willing to move between parts of the country, especially in their early adult years. State and local governments have repeatedly imposed policies that encouraged people who agreed with the policy-makers to move to their jurisdictions, and encouraged people who disagreed with the policy-makers to leave. Over the course of a generation, this effect can be strong enough to lock-in the politics of a region. For example:

  • During most of the 20th century, public education (or expensive private-school education) was mandatory for most children between the ages of 6 and 16.
  • In places that concentrated control of large school districts, public education often became so poor that people who could afford to leave did. The emigration often was triggered by real estate "block-busting" or "forced bussing" of school-children.
  • "Open-shop" and "closed-shop" laws for establishing and maintaining unionized work-places tend to change what kinds of jobs are available in a state.
  • Alcohol sales are regulated at a state or local level. These policies often distinguish between different kinds of alcohol, in ways that make some ethnic groups comfortable, and encourage other ethnic groups to leave.
  • Prostitution and gambling are also regulated at a state or local level. (Gambling laws have become looser, due to competition between Indian casinos and state lotteries.)
  • Gun-control laws attract people who are afraid of guns, and repel people who own guns.
  • Generous government benefits programs attract people who are eligible for benefits. The concomitant high tax rates repel people (and their employees) who are subject to the taxes.
  • Major cities and "college towns" tend to disproportionately retain young people who did not "fit in" in the communities they came from.
  • Some states have "growth control" laws designed to limit suburban sprawl. These laws tend to create an auction for a limited number of places to live. In-city homes tend to become very expensive. Young people delay marrying and starting families. Young families tend to move to places that allow building new single-family homes with yards.
  • Some states have severe restrictions on nuclear power, coal-fired power, and automobile tailpipe emissions. These states also tend to have large subsidies for solar power and wind power. These policies substantially increase the cost of electricity and gasoline. Initially, these policies greatly reduced smog. The ongoing effect is hard to distinguish from a large tax increase.
  • Many states have made it illegal to exercise one's conscience in choosing whom to interact with. The number of kinds of such regulated interactions is increasing.

Note that one major U.S. political party is associated with teachers' unions, other government employees' unions, closed-shop laws, gun control laws, generous government benefits programs, increasing taxes, growth control, "environmental regulations", and laws restricting freedom of conscience. Thus, most of these policies tend to reinforce each other.

  • 1
    It's true that in some cases, some of these are issues that would lead to some people moving, but without data, I think this is mostly speculation. People don't tend to relocate for these reasons in and of themselves all that much in reality (see the article user4012 posted).
    – user1530
    Dec 31, 2015 at 22:00
  • 1
    Also, your last paragraph just makes this a thinly veiled rant against one particular party. Once could spin your list in the exact opposite direction if one wanted to lambast the other party.
    – user1530
    Dec 31, 2015 at 22:02
  • 1
    that article is making the same error you are...assuming it's politics pushing people to move rather than just plain economics. It's true that cities tend to be more liberal. But that's not why liberals move to cities and conservatives live in rural areas. That's the way it's been for a while.
    – user1530
    Jan 1, 2016 at 3:32
  • 1
    What does your last point refer to?
    – SJuan76
    Jan 1, 2016 at 11:54
  • 2
    The number of kinds of such regulated interactions is increasing So laws are being passed requiring that people be discriminated over by religious/sexual/racial issues? Shocking! Your first examples are outdated, the pharmacist issues moot (you can believe you are entitled to murder your wife's lover, that does not make it legal), lawsuits are not laws (if they are baseless they will be dropped), not many people wants to marry first cousins... you are writting a lot just to justify people who wants to be free to discriminate against people just because of "their" prejudices.
    – SJuan76
    Jan 1, 2016 at 21:17

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