The American political system

American politics is completely different from Dutch politics. But what are the differences and similarities? In this article we provide an overview of the characteristics of American political culture. Central concepts are ‘arena democracy’, ‘dualism’, ‘checks and balances’ & ‘liberal individualism’. We also discuss the interconnectedness of economics and politics in America, which is characteristic of their political culture.

History of American Politics

The United States of America was formed after secession from the United Kingdom in 1783. The founders of American politics are the ‘founding fathers’: George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Alexander Hamilton. They played an important role in the War of Independence (1775-1783), in signing the Declaration of Independence and in drafting the Constitution.

The United States was one of the first countries to introduce universal male suffrage in 1830. What is remarkable, however, is that black men and women did not receive full suffrage until 1960. America lagged far behind Europe in this area. The only country where women’s suffrage also lagged behind was Switzerland.

After the First World War, America came to play an increasingly important role in European politics. It often appeared to play a decisive role in deciding wars and international conflicts.

Arena democracy

The history of the United States has led to America having a number of political characteristics that differ from the norms in Europe. In America, for example, there is an ‘arena democracy’ in which the political domain is seen as an arena of peaceful conflict of interests. The people with the best ideas win: ‘survival of the fittest’. Politics is seen as a competition, a battle in which senators compete for political victories. Characteristic is the use of ‘think tanks’, the absence of structured political parties and the freedom with which democracy is practiced: no budgets are drawn up as standard.

From secondary school onwards, children are trained in the democratic distribution of power. For example, students compete within the class to become class representatives.


Dualism in the United States means that two parties compete for power during elections: the Democrats and the Republicans. Anyone from society can run for president. In practice, it is often people from the economy who run for president. Celebrities also often run for political positions. A candidate decides for himself whether he considers himself a Republican or a Democrat; he or she does not have to have been a member of a party. In this way, the presidency is dealt with quite pragmatically. The candidate does not need to have experience in politics. A presidential candidate gathers support through large campaigns that have to be financed with large amounts of money. They collect this money from people who support their presidency. They also often invest their own money, collected through their own companies, in their political campaigns. This method fits in with ‘liberal individualism’.

Checks & Balances

The American political system is based on so-called ‘checks & balances’. This means that there are three political powers that keep each other in line. The legislative, executive and judiciary monitor each other and correct each other where necessary. In this way errors are prevented. The legislature should never interfere with the judiciary and vice versa.

Liberal individualism

Part of American political culture is ‘liberal individualism’. The economic independence of citizens is paramount. It’s up to you to make it or not. The ‘American dream’ is achievable for everyone, if you work hard enough. At the ‘high schools’ all levels are mixed, everyone has equal opportunities to learn from others. As a result of this attitude, there is little support in American society to stand up for the poor. There is therefore little redistribution of public goods. Americans pay little tax and benefits are scarce and limited. Social services are poor. This creates a society of winners and losers. Especially the losers, the large masses, often do not show up during elections and represent a fairly passive unity.

Connectedness of economics and politics

American politics are inextricably linked to the economy. American companies have major interests in American politics. They spend a lot of money on political lobbies: they try to influence politics through lobbyists. Presidential candidates are also often successful entrepreneurs themselves who have proven themselves as leaders in business administration. They actively try to make politics favorable to their companies. A lot of money is spent in politics this way. Corporations make large donations to politicians who they believe will make decisions that will work in their favor (low taxes, few rules and restrictions, etc.). In this way, politics has a weaker normative content than, for example, in the Netherlands, where ideology mainly plays a role.

Leave a Comment