Big tent
In politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

, a big tent party or catch-all party is a political party
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

 seeking to attract people with diverse viewpoints. The party does not require adherence to some ideology
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

 as a criterion for membership. Such new joining groups may not influence policy or major party decisions measurably at first.


The big tent approach argues against any sort of single-issue litmus tests or ideological rigidity, and advocates multiple ideologies and views within a party.

This is in contrast to political parties that promote only a more narrowly defined but no less ambitious set of goals within one country's governmental and economic system. Advocates of a big tent believe that people with a broad variety of political approaches and viewpoints can unite within a single party to advance shared core issues, even if they disagree in other areas. This way the party can attract a large base of support at the polls. Big tent parties are far more common in first past the post systems with only a few large parties.


In the United States, during the latter half of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, the Republican Party boasted membership of big business interests, laborers (both of whom supported the GOP's tariff strategy) as well as many African-Americans, due to Republican Abraham Lincoln's abolition of slavery and the party's stance on civil rights.

Also, in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, a very good example of this approach was the New Deal coalition
New Deal coalition
The New Deal Coalition was the alignment of interest groups and voting blocs that supported the New Deal and voted for Democratic presidential candidates from 1932 until the late 1960s. It made the Democratic Party the majority party during that period, losing only to Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952...

 which formed in support of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

's New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

 policies. This coalition brought together labor unions, southern Dixiecrats, progressives
Progressivism is an umbrella term for a political ideology advocating or favoring social, political, and economic reform or changes. Progressivism is often viewed by some conservatives, constitutionalists, and libertarians to be in opposition to conservative or reactionary ideologies.The...

, and others in support of FDR's economic program, even though these groups strongly disagreed on other issues.

In Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada
Liberal Party of Canada
The Liberal Party of Canada , colloquially known as the Grits, is the oldest federally registered party in Canada. In the conventional political spectrum, the party sits between the centre and the centre-left. Historically the Liberal Party has positioned itself to the left of the Conservative...

 is not strongly ideological or region
Region is most commonly found as a term used in terrestrial and astrophysics sciences also an area, notably among the different sub-disciplines of geography, studied by regional geographers. Regions consist of subregions that contain clusters of like areas that are distinctive by their uniformity...

al, but is instead open to members with a wide range of views. While some criticize the party for lacking in conviction, supporters argue that compromise is an essential feature of democracy.

In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, the Democratic Party has some big-tent features according to the dominant understanding of the US political spectrum
Political spectrum
A political spectrum is a way of modeling different political positions by placing them upon one or more geometric axes symbolizing independent political dimensions....

. It has liberal and progressive, moderate, social democratic
Social democracy
Social democracy is a political ideology of the center-left on the political spectrum. Social democracy is officially a form of evolutionary reformist socialism. It supports class collaboration as the course to achieve socialism...

, and conservative wings.

Other famous examples of catch all parties include the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

's Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party , more commonly known as Fianna Fáil is a centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland, founded on 23 March 1926. Fianna Fáil's name is traditionally translated into English as Soldiers of Destiny, although a more accurate rendition would be Warriors of Fál...

, which has variously been categorised as socialist (according to former deputy leader Brian Lenihan) and neo-Thatcherite/neo-Reaganite, a description applied to the economic policies and politics of former Minister for Finance (1997–2004) Charles McCreevy. Fianna Fáil served in the coalition from 1989 to 1992 with the fiscally monetarist yet socially liberal Progressive Democrats
Progressive Democrats
The Progressive Democrats , commonly known as the PDs, was a pro-free market liberal political party in the Republic of Ireland.Launched on 21 December 1985 by Desmond O'Malley and other politicians who had split from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats took liberal positions on...

, then with the social-democratic Labour Party
Labour Party (Ireland)
The Labour Party is a social-democratic political party in the Republic of Ireland. The Labour Party was founded in 1912 in Clonmel, County Tipperary, by James Connolly, James Larkin and William X. O'Brien as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress. Unlike the other main Irish...

 and yet again with the Progressive Democrats, with Fianna Fáil tailoring its policies accordingly. After the 2007 Irish General Election campaign, Fianna Fáil formed a coalition with the Progressive Democrats, the centre-left Green Party and initially three independent TDs (MPs). The party suffered spectacular losses at the 2011 General election in part due to the current Irish financial crisis, where it lost 57 of its outgoing 77 TD's being relegated into third place (Behind Fine Gael and Labour).

The Indian National Congress
Indian National Congress
The Indian National Congress is one of the two major political parties in India, the other being the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is the largest and one of the oldest democratic political parties in the world. The party's modern liberal platform is largely considered center-left in the Indian...

 and Italy's now defunct Christian Democracy
Christian Democracy (Italy)
Christian Democracy was a Christian democratic party in Italy. It was founded in 1943 as the ideological successor of the historical Italian People's Party, which had the same symbol, a crossed shield ....

 both attracted such a broad range of support as to make them catch all parties.

When Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown
James Gordon Brown is a British Labour Party politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Labour Party from 2007 until 2010. He previously served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government from 1997 to 2007...

 became British Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 in 2007, he invited several members from outside the Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 in to his government
Brown Ministry
Gordon Brown took office as Prime Minister on 27 June 2007 and formed his Government. It ended, upon his resignation, on 11 May 2010. In his inaugural cabinet Brown appointed the UKs first female Home Secretary Jacqui Smith....

. These included former CBI Director-General Digby Jones
Digby Jones
Digby Marritt Jones, Baron Jones of Birmingham, Kt is a British businessman and politician, who has served as Director General of the CBI and Minister of State for Trade and Investment...

 who became a Minister of State, and former Liberal Democrats
Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats are a social liberal political party in the United Kingdom which supports constitutional and electoral reform, progressive taxation, wealth taxation, human rights laws, cultural liberalism, banking reform and civil liberties .The party was formed in 1988 by a merger of the...

 leader Paddy Ashdown
Paddy Ashdown
Jeremy John Durham Ashdown, Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, GCMG, KBE, PC , usually known as Paddy Ashdown, is a British politician and diplomat....

 who was offered the position of Northern Ireland Secretary (Ashdown turned down the offer). The media often refer to Brown's Ministry as "a government of all the talents" or simply "Brown's big tent".

Examples of parties in the 'big tent' category

In most western democracies
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

, two or three major political parties profess some sort of ideological leaning (for example, social democracy
Social democracy
Social democracy is a political ideology of the center-left on the political spectrum. Social democracy is officially a form of evolutionary reformist socialism. It supports class collaboration as the course to achieve socialism...

, Christian democracy
Christian Democracy
Christian democracy is a political ideology that seeks to apply Christian principles to public policy. It emerged in nineteenth-century Europe under the influence of conservatism and Catholic social teaching...

, liberal democracy
Liberal democracy
Liberal democracy, also known as constitutional democracy, is a common form of representative democracy. According to the principles of liberal democracy, elections should be free and fair, and the political process should be competitive...

, conservative, labour
Labour movement
The term labour movement or labor movement is a broad term for the development of a collective organization of working people, to campaign in their own interest for better treatment from their employers and governments, in particular through the implementation of specific laws governing labour...

) but in practice follow a big tent approach. Political parties which allow only a narrow ideology, in general do not perform well at the polls and so remain minor parties. Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 provides two examples of how the adoption of a big tent approach has helped propel a formerly marginal party into broader electoral success, in the Green Party of Ontario
Green Party of Ontario
The Green Party of Ontario is a political party in Ontario, Canada. The party is led by Mike Schreiner. It has never held any seats in the Ontario Legislative Assembly; however, the party did see significant gains in the 2007 provincial election, earning 8% of the popular vote with some candidates...

 and the (now-defunct) Social Credit Party of Canada
Social Credit Party of Canada
The Social Credit Party of Canada was a conservative-populist political party in Canada that promoted social credit theories of monetary reform...


In the United States, the big tent concept is practiced today within the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, and in the recent past within the Reform Party. In more recent times (the early 1990s
File:1990s decade montage.png|From left, clockwise: The Hubble Space Telescope floats in space after it was taken up in 1990; American F-16s and F-15s fly over burning oil fields and the USA Lexie in Operation Desert Storm, also known as the 1991 Gulf War; The signing of the Oslo Accords on...

) The secessionist Alaskan Independence Party
Alaskan Independence Party
The Alaskan Independence Party is a political party in the U.S. state of Alaska that advocates an in-state referendum which includes the option of Alaska becoming an independent country...

 had its only electoral success to date by allowing a popular figure who did not support the party's secessionist agenda to run for Governor of Alaska on their ballot line. This is in contrast to such political parties as the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, the Socialist Party, and various small Communist
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 parties, which seek to advance a single ideology.

However even the Republican, Democratic and Reform parties have vocal factions which advocate that those parties take on a more ideologically rigid character. There are factions in the Democratic Party which would like to make the party purely liberal, excluding the former party establishment centered around the Democratic Leadership Council
Democratic Leadership Council
The Democratic Leadership Council was a non-profit 501 corporation that, upon its formation, argued the United States Democratic Party should shift away from the leftward turn it took in the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s...

, Blue Dog Democrats, and social conservatives. The Republicans are also a big tent party, as demonstrated by those elected Republicans who disagree with party leaders George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 and John McCain
John McCain
John Sidney McCain III is the senior United States Senator from Arizona. He was the Republican nominee for president in the 2008 United States election....

 on one or more social, political, or economic issue. They may be socially liberal
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...

 like Washington, DC city councilmember Carol Schwartz
Carol Schwartz
Carol Schwartz is a politician from Washington, D.C., who served as an at-large member on the Council of the District of Columbia from 1985 to 1989 and again from 1997 to 2009.-Early life:...

, support non-interventionist foreign policy like Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel
Chuck Hagel
Charles Timothy "Chuck" Hagel is a former United States Senator from Nebraska. A member of the Republican Party, he was first elected in 1996 and was reelected in 2002...

, or support a reduced role of the federal government, like Texas Representative Ron Paul
Ron Paul
Ronald Ernest "Ron" Paul is an American physician, author and United States Congressman who is seeking to be the Republican Party candidate in the 2012 presidential election. Paul represents Texas's 14th congressional district, which covers an area south and southwest of Houston that includes...

. Others, like Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney
Willard Mitt Romney is an American businessman and politician. He was the 70th Governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 and is a candidate for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination.The son of George W...

 when he was Governor of Massachusetts, disagree with George W. Bush and John McCain in multiple areas, including taxation and government-provided healthcare. In 2001, John McCain was one of two Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts
Bush tax cuts
The Bush tax cuts refers to changes to the United States tax code passed during the presidency of George W. Bush and extended during the presidency of Barack Obama that generally lowered tax rates and revised the code specifying taxation in the United States...

, though he started supporting them during Bush's second term. Former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee
Lincoln Chafee
Lincoln Davenport Chafee is an American politician who has been the 74th Governor of Rhode Island since January 2011. Prior to his election as governor, Chafee served in the United States Senate as a Republican from 1999 until losing his Senate re-election bid in 2006 to Democrat Sheldon...

, the other Republican who voted against Bush's tax cuts in 2001, was the only Republican Senator to vote against the Iraq War resolution
Iraq Resolution
The Iraq Resolution or the Iraq War Resolution is a joint resolution passed by the United States Congress in October 2002 as Public Law No: 107-243, authorizing military action against Iraq.-Contents:The resolution cited many factors to justify the use of military force against...


There are also those within each party who would like to make certain issues litmus tests for party membership even though there is substantial disagreement on those issues within the parties themselves. Tax cuts, Abortion
Abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to viability. An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced...

, and gun policy
Gun politics
Gun politics addresses safety issues and ideologies related to firearms through criminal and noncriminal use. Gun politics deals with rules, regulations, and restrictions on the use, ownership, and distribution of firearms.-National sovereignty:...

 are three examples. For example, Grover Norquist
Grover Norquist
Grover Glenn Norquist is an American lobbyist, conservative activist, and founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform...

 chaired the Republican National Committee
Republican National Committee
The Republican National Committee is an American political committee that provides national leadership for the Republican Party of the United States. It is responsible for developing and promoting the Republican political platform, as well as coordinating fundraising and election strategy. It is...

 session presenting the candidates for Chairman. Norquist gave the candidates a catechism
A catechism , i.e. to indoctrinate) is a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present...

 on these issues before they spoke.

The Libertarian Party of the United States, following the 1974 Dallas Accord
Dallas Accord
The Dallas Accord was an implicit agreement made at the 1974 Libertarian National Convention to compromise between the anarcho-capitalist and minarchist factions by adopting a platform that explicitly did not say whether it was desirable for the state to exist...

, embraced the big tent idea by seeking to make the party a home for supporters of both anarcho-capitalism and minarchism
Anarcho-capitalism and minarchism
Anarcho-capitalism and minarchism are two distinct strains of libertarianism. Although anarcho-capitalists and minarchists agree on most political issues, they are often hostile towards each other, particularly because most adherents of both philosophies support the non-aggression principle and see...

. The Republican Liberty Caucus and similar groups aim to shift the US Republican Party's "center of the tent" towards Goldwater-Reagan ideals.

Historically in the United States, political parties adopting a big tent approach have performed well at the polls. Parties promoting only one narrow ideology have attracted marginal support at best, or have seen their issues adopted by one or both of the major parties in a big tent effort, effectively co-opting the issues and putting an end to the minor party; this happened to the Prohibition Party and the Populist Party.

The effects of a move towards 'big tent' politics

When a party that is motivated by ideology begins a shift to a "catch-all" or "big tent" party, it's usually marked by a move to the center of the political spectrum and a very flexible and pragmatic platform. Many believe this is a powerful way to make a party more popular, as it no longer limits itself to a specific ideological sector of the population. Opponents of this tactic argue that this alienates the ideological bases of a party. In the United States, for example, during the late 1980s, the DLC argued that the Democratic Party should become a more centrist party, which it did during the 1990s. In the mid- to late 2000s, more modern liberal Democrats moved the party leftward as the country grew weary of Republican policies under the George W. Bush administration
George W. Bush administration
The presidency of George W. Bush began on January 20, 2001, when he was inaugurated as the 43rd President of the United States of America. The oldest son of former president George H. W. Bush, George W...


Not surprisingly, when a country's major parties become catch-all parties, this usually leads to the rise in popularity and support for more ideologically extreme parties. For example, in the UK
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, as the Labour party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 has moved to the center and turned less ideologically pure, the Liberal Democrat Party has risen in popularity, often being to the left of Labour on social issues. In the United States, many Democrats fear that moving to the center could cause a rise in popularity for far-left leaders from other parties, such as Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader is an American political activist, as well as an author, lecturer, and attorney. Areas of particular concern to Nader include consumer protection, humanitarianism, environmentalism, and democratic government....

. So in a two party system, a party must be careful when selecting how ideologically driven to be. Too ideological could mean that the party appeals to only a small portion of the population. Too pragmatic (or big-tent style) can cause a major faction to split off from the main party.


Critics of catch-all parties accuse them of populism
Populism can be defined as an ideology, political philosophy, or type of discourse. Generally, a common theme compares "the people" against "the elite", and urges social and political system changes. It can also be defined as a rhetorical style employed by members of various political or social...

, adopting whatever policies they need to win without any ideological conviction or clear policy goal. Also, the rise of catch-all parties can lead to lower voter-participation, as people don't see a consistent idea of what each party stands for.
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