How to Choose Your Political Party in the United States

Three Parts:Learning About the PartiesMaking Your DecisionsActing as a Party Member

Joining a political party can be a big decision. In the United States there are two major parties, the Republican and Democratic, as well as a number of smaller parties that field candidates for national, state, and local elections. Before you decide, familiarize yourself with the parties’ beliefs and candidates so you can join a group that reflects you and your values. Once you have joined, you’ll be able to participate in all kinds of party activities to elect candidates and promote your ideas.

Part 1
Learning About the Parties

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    Find a list of parties in your state. Most state boards of election will provide you with a list of parties registered in your state. This will probably include some basic information about the parties’ beliefs, contact information, and membership numbers.[1][2]
    • There are many more political parties in the United States beyond those that appear on ballots. States have laws about how much support a party needs to actually appear on the state ballot. This means there are potentially even more parties out there for you to join. You’ll have to look through other sources like social media or internet searches to find these parties. Because of their very small numbers, they are unlikely to have much (if any) impact on elections.
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    Attend political events. These include rallies and speeches given by a candidate, or debates between candidates. These can be great opportunities to listen to people discuss issues, and explain their possible solutions. Sometimes having party options side-by-side will make your options clearer.
    • Debates and rallies for major races like president are usually televised. You can also watch policy debates, panels, or even legislative proceedings on open-access channels like C-SPAN.
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    Talk to other party members. Find other people who are members of parties. Talk to them about why they joined the party, and what kinds of activities they do as members. These can be elected officials, or just people you know who have registered as party members. Find people you trust who are able to defend their party membership.[3]
    • You’ll probably also get some reasons for not joining other parties. This can be good information to have as well.
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    Visit the party’s website. Each major political party has a website, which will have all kinds of information. You’ll be able to find national and state officials, a schedule of party events, and the party’s positions on issues.
    • One thing you should look for is the party’s platform. This is a document that explains what the party believes and what its officials intend to do if elected.[4] You may not agree with everything the platform says, but your party should represent your views and principles.

Part 2
Making Your Decisions

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    Figure out your personal values. Political parties are vehicles for pushing political objectives. These objectives are based on personal values. Some ways to think about clarifying your values include:[5]
    • Thinking about people you really respect. Consider what you admire about them, and think about how those values can be reflected in your political opinions.
    • Thinking about the issues that get you most excited. Politics is about helping to change the world, and if you aren’t interested in what you are doing, you won’t pursue it as much. Look for parties that support your stance on the issue and are willing to make it an important part of their program.
    • Since you are talking about a political party, your personal values can also include the ability to win elections. Your personal values may align more closely with a smaller “third” party, but you are far more likely to win elections with the Republican or Democratic parties. Part of your decision-making will need to consider how important it is to win elections in the short term.
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    Ask why you are making this decision. This doesn’t mean just endlessly asking “Why?” to each decision you make. Keep the focus inward on yourself, and trying to make sure you understand your reasons for wanting to join a political party. Think about how this will reflect your personal values, and help you to make a difference in the world.[6]
    • You do not need to be a member of the party to vote in the general election, so if you are not comfortable joining a political party, you do not need to. In 2015, 42% of Americans identified as political independents, so you would hardly be alone.[7]
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    Ignore parties you definitely won’t join. While you may not know exactly which party you want to join, you will probably be able to identify several parties that you won’t join. Having that many extra options to consider will only make it more difficult to really narrow down your choices.[8]
    • If you know that you are a strong supporter of government-sponsored programs like Social Security, for example, you won’t fit well in the Libertarian Party, which wants to phase out the program.[9] You can make your decision easier by just striking that one off your potential list.
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    Follow your instincts. People that tend to make decisions quickly, “going with their gut,” tend to be happier with their choices. While you may do a lot of research, chances are you will come back to the same few options that most closely reflect your values. Don’t be afraid to go with your first choice, especially as adding more information tends to complicate rather than clarify your decision-making.[10]
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    Sign up for your new party. Once you have decided on your party, it’s time to join. The way you join a party in the United States is to register as a member with your state’s board of elections. You will usually take this step when you register to vote. Check with your state and local government to see how that happens.
    • In Florida, for example, you can fill out a registration form online, print and sign it, and deliver it to your county Supervisor of Elections. This can take place at the Supervisor’s office, a driver’s license office, a certified voter registration agency such as an armed forces recruiting office or public library, or the Division of Elections.[11]

Part 3
Acting as a Party Member

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    Vote in the primary. As a member of the party, you get the opportunity to help choose your party’s nominees for political offices. The is the most likely way you will get involved in party activities.
    • 11 states (Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming) have closed primaries. You must be a registered member of the party to vote in a primary. Each of those states will have separate rules about how long before the primary you need to have registered.[12]
    • You do not need to be a member of a party to vote in the general election. Anyone who has registered to vote is allowed to do so on Election Day.
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    Volunteer. Parties run heavily on the actions of volunteers and other supporters. They will probably want you to help with turnout (knocking on doors and making phone calls), raising money, or helping to organize party events. If you are unsure of what to do, visit the party’s headquarters and make yourself available. Chances are they will have something you can do for a few hours.[13]
    • Parties and their various committees will also want to keep your contact information available as volunteering opportunities arise. Once you have joined, sign up through the parties so they can contact you as needed.[14][15]
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    Give money. Campaigns and party activities cost money, and once you join a party, it will probably ask you for money. This can be a good way to help the party if you don’t have time to volunteer or do other kinds of campaigning.
    • There are limits to the amount of money you can give to political parties and candidates. There is a limit of $30,800 per-person per-year for donations to national party committees, and $10,000 limit on per-person donations to state, district, or local party committees. There are fewer limits when it comes to supporting outside non-party groups called Political Action Committees (PACs), which may coordinate with parties depending on the issue.[16]
    • Political donations, unlike other kinds of donated money, are not tax-deductible.[17]
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    Run for office. Once you are a member of a party, you can use that relationship to campaign for and hold elected office. Joining the party is a good way to learn what positions are available, and would suit your skills. You may need to compete in a primary or convention to earn the party’s endorsement, but being a member is a great way to start.
    • Parties are always looking for candidates to fill a variety of offices, especially at a local level. If you want to run for office, but aren’t sure what to do, call the local office and ask what offices are available and if they need candidates.[18]


  • Just because you have joined a party does not mean you have to vote for its candidates. If you don’t like your party’s candidate, or like other one better, you are free to vote for whomever you choose.
  • Choosing your party is a big decision, but not necessarily a permanent one. Keep in mind that opinions can change, both for you and your new party. If you find you don’t like your choice, go ahead and switch, or even go independent (not a member of any party).
  • In addition to reading what the parties say about the issues, there are many online quizzes available that let you fill in your opinions to find out where you fall on the political spectrum. You can use these answers to inform your decision, but they shouldn't make it for you.


  • People take politics very seriously, and while you may be willing to accept that people can disagree, joining a political party may occasionally cost you friends. Don’t let this drive your decision-making. Be confident in your choices as the best for you, not whether or not people will still like you.
  • If you decide to volunteer, make sure you have time to spare. Political campaigns are no laughing matter, and you'll need to have a large commitment. Only commit the amount of time that you can truly give.

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Categories: Political Campaigning and Participation