Political scientists commonly distinguish among three types of the word "party": There are parties in the electorate, parties as political organizations and parties in government. In the electorate, most political scientists agree that political parties are in decline, pointing to the rise in split ticket voting and a gradual decline in the number of self-identified "strong partisans." In spite of this, parties as organizations are flourishing on the national level, due to special interest funds, and on the state and local levels, with Republicans gaining a foothold in the once solidly Democratic south.
The picture is not as clear, however, regarding parties in government. Party influence and discipline are weak in the executive branch, and parties are mainly absent from the judicial branch. There is, however, a great deal of partisanship in the American legislative system. Partisanship in Congress may help to explain why voters themselves are becoming more volatile and less loyal to a particular party.
From 1952 through 1960, 36 percent of Americans described themselves as strong partisans. This declined to 30 percent from 1984 to1992. Over the same period, those who called themselves independents, free from political partisanship, jumped from 15 percent to 25 percent. During the same two time periods, loyalty to party labels among partisans at election time declined two points in presidential elections, six points in Senate elections, and nine points in House elections. Split-party outcomes in presidential and congressional elections rose from 25 percent of the congressional districts to 34 percent, and straight-ticket voting decreased about 15 points
The parties, however, have actually been getting stronger in Congress. House and Senate leaders began reasserting their powers in the1970s and the parties reemerged as a result. Party unity voting in Congress is on the rise. As King points out, "A Republican legislator is...