What Is Party Unity, and Does It Really Matter?
There's a ton of talk--and panic--right now about party unity among both Republicans and Democrats.
Here's why and what it means.
First, what IS "party unity"?
Party unity is a sticky term that doesn't have a single, clear definition, but basically, it's when a major political party is in agreement about their politics, their policies, and/or their leadership.
When a party like the Republicans or the Democrats are split into factions--smaller groups within the party that don't agree with the direction the party is going in. Sometimes factions get organized and have their own agenda. A good example is the Tea Party, a conservative movement that has pushed for shifts in the Republican party and even managed to help push House Speaker John Boehner out.
In the US we have a two-party system, so our two main political parties are huge and of course not everyone in it agrees all the time. So realistically, a party always has sub-groups trying to push it in one political direction or another.
1. Party unity is no small matter in American politics. Without it, you give license to a fraction of voters to stay on sidelines
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) May 5, 2016
But when those groups are truly at odds and are butting heads over important issues--and especially when some of the people in those groups are openly voicing their opposition and even threatening to defect (or actually defecting!), that's when party unity is seriously being threatened.
Why is everyone in politics talking about it?
The presidential nomination race this year has been unusually contentious. The front-runners in each party have different types of supporters within their party.
Many Republicans who voted for a candidate other than Donald Trump say they won't support him, and many Democrats who support Bernie Sanders say they won't vote for Hillary Clinton, who is expected to win the party's nomination.
Why does it matter?
Leaders in both parties are kind of panicking and calling for party unity. They're worried that disgruntled party members will either vote for the other party's candidate or just sit the election out.
— Reince Priebus (@Reince) May 4, 2016
Whatever @realDonaldTrump says, we won't shut up. We won't back down. This election is too important, & he won’t step foot in White House.
— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) May 7, 2016
Why aren't the Republicans unified?
Why don't some Republicans support Donald Trump?
Many don't think he's a "real" Republican, partly because he has changed his stances on some key issues like abortion and universal health care. Others don't like his tough rhetoric on issues like immigration or his stance on banning Muslims from entering the United States.
Voting third party doesn't make a republican disloyal. It means we are loyal to our beliefs and values. Trump DOES NOT hold those values
— Bratty Girlfriend (@Future_Mrs_C) May 4, 2016
Or they think he's a rogue who goes his own way as opposed to upholding long-held Republican party stances and values and supporting "downticket" Republican candidates (Republicans running for offices lower than president, like candidates for House, Senate, governorships, and state office).
When you hear demands for party loyalty to Trump, ask why those same voices never demand loyalty from Trump to GOP voters, downticket Rs.
— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) May 8, 2016
Some Republicans have openly declared their support for Hillary Clinton, while others say they won't vote for either Trump or Clinton. (Presumably some of these Republicans will write in the candidate of their choice, back the libertarian candidate, or just not vote.) And some have left the Republican party.
"Look, I'm going to get millions and millions of votes more than the Republicans would have gotten."
I will win the election against Crooked Hillary despite the people in the Republican Party that are currently and selfishly opposed to me!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2016
Still, even many right-leaning independents say they can't support Trump and would rather vote for the other candidate in the race who is all about changing our politics: Bernie Sanders.
My conservative anti-gay anti-abortion grandmother literally just said that she's putting Bernie Sanders as her write in for the election
— Sami ? (@sami_dugdale) May 8, 2016
Why aren't the Democrats unified?
Democrats--and unaffiliated lefties--are split between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. (Given how far ahead Clinton is in the popular vote in the primaries so far, they're clearly not split evenly, but it's undeniable that there's a very large, vocal, passionate group supporting Bernie Sanders.)
Some of the split is along demographic lines. In general, most young left-leaning voters support Sanders, and most Democrats of color and older voters support Clinton, especially older college-educated women.
Sanders has sent mixed messages about party unity. Sometimes he (and those who speak publicly for his campaign, including his wife, Jane Sanders) talk about supporting whoever the nominee is. Other times he makes it clear he'll keep running against Clinton, even if it hurts her in the general election, and even wants to force a contested convention.
— Ellis Dean Hovey (@EllisDeanHovey) April 30, 2016
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) May 2, 2016
BTW, quickie history lesson: When Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, many of her supporters, known as PUMAs, claimed they wouldn't support him. (PUMA = Party Unity My Ass.) Though Dem voters were pretty split, ultimately it was clear Obama was going to win, and Clinton supported him at the convention. Obama went on to win in pretty much a landslide.
Why don't some Democrats support Hillary Clinton?
— KimberlyDewayn (@KimDSummons) May 5, 2016
Lots of complicated reasons. Many #NeverHillary/#BernieorBust voters believe Clinton is dishonest and untrustworthy or don't believe she is sufficiently progressive. And many think she's too closely aligned with Wall Street.
(BTW, many Clinton supporters think much of the opposition to her among Democrats is the product of years of anti-Hillary attacks from the right and that it smacks of sexism.)
It's just unnerving how much the anti-#Hillary Bernie supporters mimic the attacks against her from the far right. A GOP-BS golem.
— Chris (@ThatOtherChris) February 16, 2016
Many Sanders supporters who want to bring revolutionary change to government see Clinton as the "establishment" candidate and believe Sanders, even though he has long served in the House and Senate, is more of an outsider.
Crooked Hillary is trying to cheat Bernie & his MILLIONS of voters out of beating her.
Just another typical politician.
WE NEED AN OUTSIDER!
— Crooked Hillary (@CR00KEDhillary) May 4, 2016
Some Sanders supporters plan to write his name in or hope he'll defect from the Democratic party and run as an independent.
I have changed my mind, if it comes down to hillary and trump in the general election im going to write in bernie's name.
— Torin 0 (@nirot_) April 30, 2016
Bernie needs to run as an independent. I believe he will win! People are tired of the GOP and dem Republican parties #FeelTheBern
— ?Maliheh? (@Maliheh_) May 7, 2016
BTW, Trump hopes this will happen too.
Bernie Sanders has been treated terribly by the Democrats—both with delegates & otherwise. He should show them, & run as an Independent.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2016
While Hillary is hoping for unity.
There's a lot more that unites us than divides us.https://t.co/DLS4wsovcL
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 30, 2016
Will lack of unity affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election?
Everyone in both parties is panicked about the possibility of losing the election. They're worried about voters who lean their way either sitting out the election or voting for the other party's candidate. (Or doing a write-in vote or voting for a third party candidate who doesn't really stand a chance.)
They're also worried that party in-fighting and lack of clear agenda and unity will scare off independent voters. Everyone needs independents' votes.
So, many Republicans want to #UniteRed and many Democrats are calling for #UniteBlue. The unifiers want everyone in their own party to stay focused on what's most important: the overall party agenda and other important things like nominating Supreme Court justices.
— Nick Crosby™ (@nick2crosby) May 8, 2016
#NeverTrump people on the right are being told about the dangers of a Clinton presidency, and and #NeverHillary people on the left are being reminded of the dangers of a Trump presidency. They say too much is at stake not to unite.
— Nerdy Negress (@NerdyNegress) May 5, 2016
Next POTUS is picking 1 to 4 new Supreme Court justices. Are you comfortable with Trump chosing? Don't be an crybaby. #VoteBlueNoMatterWho
— Gray Haired Poomie (@poomiepuma) May 5, 2016
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) May 9, 2016
When this whole primary thing began, Trump was not my first choice, or my second or third. But he is now. #NeverHillary
— Carolina Girl (@carolinagirl63) May 9, 2016
It's too early to tell whether Republicans and Democrats wary of Trump and Clinton will get on board after the party conventions in July or whether they will rebel. If history is any gauge, most people will probably end up supporting their party's nominee, but so far this election has been anything but standard.
Holly Epstein Ojalvo
Holly’s mission is to inform, inspire, and empower engaged activists who will change the world. She was previously an editor at The New York Times and a high school teacher. She spent her brief 20’s slump at a mousepad factory. Holly earned a B.A. at Lafayette College and M.A.'s at U Delaware and NYU. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, daughter, and cat, Tomie Twotone. Follow: @heoj.