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A dominant-party system, or one-party dominant system, is a political occurrence in which a single political party continuously dominates election results over running opposition groups or parties.[1] Any ruling party staying in power for more than one consecutive term may be considered a dominant party (also referred to as a predominant or hegemonic party).[2] Some dominant parties were called the natural governing party, given their length of time in power.[3][4][5]

Dominant parties, and their domination of a state, develop out of one-sided electoral and party constellations within a multi-party system (particularly under presidential systems of governance), and as such differ from states under a one-party system, which are intricately organized around a specific party. Sometimes the term "de facto one-party state" is used to describe dominant-party systems which, unlike a one-party system, allows (at least nominally) democratic multiparty elections, but the existing practices or balance of political power effectively prevent the opposition from winning power, thus resembling a one-party state. Dominant-party systems differ from the political dynamics of other dominant multi-party constellations such as consociationalism, grand coalitions and two-party systems, which are characterized and sustained by narrow or balanced competition and cooperation.

In political literature, more than 130 dominant party systems between 1950 and 2017 were included in a list by A. A. Ostroverkhov.[6] For example, in the post-Soviet states, researchers classify parties such as United Russia and Amanat (Kazakhstan) as dominant parties on the basis that these parties have long held the majority of seats in parliament (although they do not directly form the government or appoint officials to government positions).[7] In Russian political science literature, such associations are often called "parties of power."

It is believed that a system with a dominant party can be either authoritarian or democratic. However, since there is no consensus in the global political science community on a set of mandatory features of democracy (for example, there is a point of view according to which the absence of alternation of power is, in principle, incompatible with democratic norms),[8] it is difficult to separate the two types of one-party dominance.[9]


Dominant-party systems are commonly based on majority rule for proportional representation or majority boosting in semi-proportional representation. Plurality voting systems can result in large majorities for a party with a lower percentage of the vote than in proportional representation systems due to a fractured opposition (resulting in wasted votes and a lower number of parties entering the legislature) and gerrymandering.

Critics of the "dominant party" theory argue that it views the meaning of democracy as given, and that it assumes that only a particular conception of representative democracy (in which different parties alternate frequently in power) is valid.[10] Raymond Suttner, himself a former leader of the African National Congress (ANC), argues that "the dominant party 'system' is deeply flawed as a mode of analysis and lacks explanatory capacity. But it is also a very conservative approach to politics. Its fundamental political assumptions are restricted to one form of democracy, namely electoral politics, and display hostility towards popular politics. This is manifest in the obsession with the quality of electoral opposition, and its sidelining or ignoring of popular political activity organised in other ways. The assumption in this approach is that other forms of organisation and opposition are of limited importance or a separate matter from the consolidation of their version of democracy."[10]

One of the dangers of dominant parties is "the tendency of dominant parties to conflate party and state and to appoint party officials to senior positions irrespective of their having the required qualities."[10] However, in some countries this is common practice even when there is no dominant party.[10] In contrast to one-party systems, dominant-party systems can occur within a context of a democratic system as well as an authoritarian one. In a one-party system other parties are banned, but in dominant-party systems other political parties are tolerated, and (in democratic dominant-party systems) operate without overt legal impediment, but do not have a realistic chance of winning; the dominant party genuinely wins the votes of the vast majority of voters every time (or, in authoritarian systems, claims to). Under authoritarian dominant-party systems, which may be referred to as "electoralism" or "soft authoritarianism", opposition parties are legally allowed to operate, but are too weak or ineffective to seriously challenge power, perhaps through various forms of corruption, constitutional quirks that intentionally undermine the ability for an effective opposition to thrive, institutional and/or organizational conventions that support the status quo, occasional but not omnipresent political repression, or inherent cultural values averse to change.

In some states opposition parties are subject to varying degrees of official harassment and most often deal with restrictions on free speech (such as press laws), lawsuits against the opposition, and rules or electoral systems (such as gerrymandering of electoral districts) designed to put them at a disadvantage. In some cases outright electoral fraud keeps the opposition from power. On the other hand, some dominant-party systems occur, at least temporarily, in countries that are widely seen, both by their citizens and outside observers, to be textbook examples of democracy. An example of a genuine democratic dominant-party system would be the pre-Emergency India, which was almost universally viewed by all as being a democratic state, even though the only major national party at that time was the Indian National Congress. The reasons why a dominant-party system may form in such a country are often debated: supporters of the dominant party tend to argue that their party is simply doing a good job in government and the opposition continuously proposes unrealistic or unpopular changes, while supporters of the opposition tend to argue that the electoral system disfavors them (for example because it is based on the principle of first past the post), or that the dominant party receives a disproportionate amount of funding from various sources and is therefore able to mount more persuasive campaigns. In states with ethnic issues, one party may be seen as being the party for an ethnicity or race with the party for the majority ethnic, racial or religious group dominating, e.g., the African National Congress in South Africa (governing since the end of apartheid in 1994) has strong support amongst Bantu peoples of South Africa and the Ulster Unionist Party governed Northern Ireland from its creation in 1921 until 1972 with the support of the Protestant majority. Similarly, the Apartheid-era National Party in South Africa had the support of Afrikaners who make up the majority of White South Africans while English-speaking white South Africans tended towards more liberal and reform-oriented parties like the Progressive Federal Party.

Sub-national entities are often dominated by one party due to the area's demographic being on one end of the spectrum or espousing a unique local identity. For example, the current elected government of the District of Columbia has been governed by Democrats since its creation in the 1970s, Bavaria by the Christian Social Union since 1957, Madeira by the Social Democrats since 1976, and Alberta by the Progressive Conservatives from 1971 to 2015. On the other hand, where the dominant party rules nationally on a genuinely democratic basis, the opposition may be strong in one or more subnational areas, possibly even constituting a dominant party locally; an example is South Africa, where although the African National Congress is dominant at the national level, the opposition Democratic Alliance is strong to dominant in the Province of Western Cape.

Methods of dominant-party governments

In dominant-party governments, they use institutional channels, rather than repression, to influence the population.[11] Coercive distribution can control citizens and economic elites through land reform, poverty alleviation, public health, housing, education, and employment programs.[12] Further, they distribute private goods to the winning coalition (people who are necessary for its reign) in order to stay in power.[13] Giving the winning coalition private goods also prevents civil conflict.[14] They also use the education system to teach and uphold compliance. The recruiting, disciplining, and training of teachers allow for authoritarian governments to control teachers into following their objective: to foster compliance from the youth.[15] Another way that they maintain control is through hosting elections. Even though they would not be fair elections, hosting them allows citizens to feel that they have some control and a political outlet.[16] They can also enhance rule within their own state through international collaboration, by supporting and gaining the support, especially economic support, of other similar governments.[17]

Current dominant-party systems




Canada's lower house, the House of Commons of the Parliament of Canada, is a multi-party system. Multiple political parties are represented; however, every federal election since World War II has seen in essence only two federal parties win enough seats to form a government: the Liberal Party, and various iterations of a conservative party including the now defunct Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and the modern Conservative Party, which governed from 2006 to 2015.

With the emergence and strengthening of regional, and other non-traditional parties such as the Bloc Québécois following the Meech Lake Accord and the New Democratic Party, which have both served as the Official Opposition, both the Liberal and Conservative Party have relied on unofficial support from these smaller parties when in minority governments.

The Liberal Party of Canada has nonetheless been dominant in federal politics of Canada since its founding. So much so, that critics and academics alike have sometimes described the Liberal Party as "Canada's natural governing party".[26] As of 2022, the Liberal Party of Canada had governed for 86 of the past 126 years. Canada's 23rd prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is the 13th Liberal to serve as prime minister. The party ruled from 1896 to 1911, from 1921 to 1930 (except a few months), from 1935 to 1957, from 1963 to 1984 (except for a brief period from 1979 to 1980) and from 1993 to 2006. In early 2006, the newly formed Conservative Party of Canada were elected, governing until 2015. After a nearly a decade in opposition, the Liberals returned to power following the 2015 election and were subsequently re-elected as minority governments in the 2019 election and the 2021 election.[27]

At the provincial level, dominant party systems were once common with single party governments holding power for decades in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. However, at present (2022) only the province of Saskatchewan could be described as having a dominant party system.

United States

Main article: Political parties in the United States

As a whole, the US has a two-party system, with the main parties since the mid-19th century being Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Since then, no other parties have held government at a federal level. From the outbreak of the Civil War till the Great Depression, Republicans dominated government, holding the majority in the House for all but 22 years of the period 1861–1933, and in the Senate for all but 10 years during the same period. However, as result of the Great Depression and the popularity of the New Deal, Democrats won back control of the U.S. government, coming to dominate Congress for much of the 20th century, holding the majority in the House for all but 4 years of the period 1933–1995 (including 40 years in a row starting in 1955), and in the Senate for all but 10 years during the same period.

Unlike at the federal level, some states and cities have been dominated by one party for up to several decades. Some parts of the US have differing party systems and third-party representation. Most notably the two main parties in Puerto Rico (home to 3 million Americans) are the New Progressive Party and the Popular Democratic Party, with 3 minor parties represented after the 2020 election.

Dominant-party systems can also exist on Indian reservations. The Seneca Nation of Indians, a tribe with territory within the bounds of the State of New York, has had the Seneca Party as the dominant party in its political system for several decades.


Main article: United States Congress

For 7 decades from the 1860s until the early 1930s, the United States Congress was dominated by the Republican Party. Their dominance peaked during the 40th Congress (1867–1869), when Republicans held a three-quarters supermajority in both chambers. During this period, Democrats only held a majority in the House of Representatives for a total of 22 years. In the Senate, Democrats held a majority for a total of only 10 years. This was largely due to the enduring popularity of the Republicans in the Northern population centers following the Civil War. The Republican majorities fractured in the 1930s to usher in a new era of Democrat domination. For 62 years from 1933 until 1995, the United States Congress was dominated by the Democratic Party. Their dominance peaked during the 75th Congress (1937–1939), when Democrats held a three-quarters supermajority in both chambers. During this period, Republicans only held a majority in the House of Representatives for a total of 4 years: 1947–49 and 1953–55. In the Senate, Republicans held a majority for a total of 10 years: 1947–49, 1953–55, and 1981–87. This was largely due to the enduring popularity of the New Deal introduced by the Democratic Party during the Great Depression, and supported by the New Deal Coalition – a broad coalition of many different types of voters who all supported the Democratic Party's economic policies. The New Deal Coalition fractured in the mid-1960s and by the mid-1990s the Democrats had lost control of Congress in the "Republican Revolution."

Gerrymandering has also been a feature of politics for the House of Representatives, allowing parties to sometimes retain or gain a majority of seats, even when losing the popular vote nationally.

Following the 2020 elections, Democrats retained their majority in the House, although with reduced seats. After winning two runoff elections in the state of Georgia they got an effective 50/50 tie in the Senate (counting two independents who caucus with the Democrats). This meant the Vice President (Kamala Harris, a Democrat) was allowed to cast a vote as a tie-breaker, in the event of a 50–50 tie.


Main article: United States presidential election

No party has dominated the Presidency since the end of the First Party System in the 1820s. The Democratic-Republican party controlled the Presidency for the longest period (24 years from 1801 until it splintered during and after the election of 1824), and its presidential candidate faced no organized opposition in 1820. Since then no party has had their candidates control the Presidency for more than 20 years in a row (the Democratic Party from 1933 to 1953), and since 1953 no party has controlled the presidency for more than 12 years in a row (the Republican Party from 1981 to 1993). The longest-serving President was Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt who served three consecutive terms from 1933 to 1945. Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term but died two months after the inauguration. In 1951, the U.S. ratified the 22nd Amendment which limits a person to two full terms as president but does not prevent candidates from one party from dominating the presidency by winning consecutive elections.

The US uses an Electoral College system to elect its president, where votes in low population states have more weight. As a result, it is possible to win the presidential election while another candidate wins more votes, nationally. In 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016, a Republican candidate won the election and became president, while a Democrat received more votes.

Southern United States

Main articles: Solid South and Southern strategy

Historically, the Southern United States was dominated by the Democratic Party, and in particular sub-factions called the Southern Democrats and Solid South. This began prior to the American Civil War but was especially from the end of the Reconstruction Era in 1877 to the election of Republican President Herbert Hoover in 1928, who won five of the eleven former Confederate states. Southern Democrats originally supported the enslavement of African Americans, then after the American Civil War and Reconstruction, supported Jim Crow laws designed to heavily oppress and politically disenfranchise millions of black Americans.[28]

In the 1960s, northern Democrats, including Southern Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson and his predecessor John F. Kennedy, supported the civil rights movement and passage of the Civil Rights Act, which alienated the Southern Democrats. Beginning with the 1964 United States presidential election, the Republican Party developed a southern strategy to slowly gain support among the newly disaffected Southern voters, by appealing to conservative cultural values, such as opposition to abortion.[29] This led to the South eventually becoming dominated overall by the Republican Party, although intrastate politics remained under Democratic control until the 2010 midterm elections, where they lost control of several legislatures under continuous Democratic control since Reconstruction.[30]

Urban-rural divide

Main article: Urban–rural political divide

In the 21st century, there is increasingly an urban-rural split where large urban areas tend to be dominated by Democrats and rural areas tend to be dominated by Republicans. This tends to hold true despite the overall leanings of the state or territory. That is, rural areas tend to vote Republican even in otherwise Democrat-dominated states, while urban areas tend to vote Democrat even in Republican-dominated states. This trend is increasing over time, with rural areas growing more heavily Republican, and inner city areas growing more heavily Democratic.[31]

Red and blue states

Main article: Red states and blue states

Some states have been dominated by a single party for a long period of time. States which have a long record of being dominated by one party are often called red or blue states, after the colour representing their dominant party (red for Republicans, blue for Democrats). Some states lie in the middle, not being heavily dominated by either party. States where elections are especially close are often termed "purple."

Following the 2022 elections, the Republican Party continues to hold a majority of state legislatures and a majority of governorships.

Dominated by the Democratic Party:

Dominated by the Republican Party:

Asia and Oceania



Formerly dominant parties

North America

Caribbean and Central America

South America





See also


  1. ^ Presidents in Singapore are not allowed to belong to any party
  2. ^ a b c The predecessors of the ÖVP are the Christian Social Party ruled from 1907 to the renaming 1933 and the Fatherland Front ruled from 1933 to the Anschluss 1938.
  3. ^ a b Formerly its predecessors PSI (before 1924), PCI, PDS and DS.
  4. ^ a b Formerly its predecessor People's Alliance (before 1989).
  5. ^ Prior to 1942, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario was formally known as the Liberal-Conservative Association of Ontario.
  6. ^ Formerly its predecessors People's Labor Party (with SHP), People's Democracy Party, Democratic People's Party, Thousand Hope Candidates and Labour, Democracy and Freedom Bloc.


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