School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 1.0 Political Science

Topic B. Individual and Group Participation in the Political System

Indicator 2. Defend the importance of civic participation as a citizen of the United States

Objective c. Evaluate how various groups provide opportunities for individuals to participate in the political process


In different ways, political parties and interest groups each provide opportunities for individuals to participate in the American political process.

Political parties are groups of people that join together to elect candidates to serve as government officials. Members of political parties usually have similar views about government and the issues of the day.

Since the early 1800’s, political parties have performed several important and unique functions in the political process, including

  • mobilizing popular participation in the recruitment, nomination, and election of candidates for public office;
  • providing the public with information about current affairs and serving a “watchdog” role over the opposition;
  • providing a means for officials from various levels and branches of government to connect with one another;
  • playing a prominent role in operating and staffing the government, through party organization of the legislative branch and dispensing patronage;
  • providing forums for deliberations about public policies; and
  • promoting the overall stability of the political system and ensuring a peaceful transfer of power

Most individuals never formally “join” political parties. Instead, they indicate their preference for one party or another when they register to vote, and when they primarily support candidates from their preferred party in elections. Some citizens, however, do become more involved in party processes, either by contributing money, or by doing volunteer work for a party and/or its candidates. Political parties provide individual Americans with the opportunity to participate in the political process by serving as the primary means for citizens to identify with or oppose candidates vying to be selected as their representatives in government.

An interest group is an organized body of individuals who share some goals and try to influence public policy to meet those goals. Although contemporary interest groups often support political candidates who share their goals and ideas, they are unlike political parties in that they do not formally nominate and run candidates for office. While political parties are election-centered entities, interest groups are issue centered.

Citizens join interest groups in order to amplify their positions on a wide variety of issues by creating strength in numbers. Many citizens join business or labor-oriented interest groups to promote their own economic self-interests. Others are members of groups that adhere to their beliefs or values regarding specific issues, such as the conservation of natural resources or the promotion of funding for public education. Interest groups provide citizens with the opportunity to participate in the political process by serving as a means for people to express their views on specific issues in the public discourse.

Resources for Objective 1.B.2.c:
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