There are several factors that should influence the choice of a political party in the United States. Your political views and those of the various political parties are, interesting, often not the most important factors.Party registration determines eligibility to participate in that party’s caucuses, to serve as a delegate to that party’s presidential nominating convention, to seek that party’s nomination for office, and to advance in the party’s leadership. In most of the United States, one’s choice of a political party also determines eligibility for voting in the primary election. And the primary election is often the more significant election. Here’s how to choose your political party in the United States.

1. Find out whether your state has open, closed or semi-open primary elections.

2. Determine if your state has closed primaries in which you can only vote in your party’s primary. That is, if you are a registered Democrat, then in the primary you can only choose amongst the Democrat candidates. Find out which of the two parties is stronger in your Congressional district. You can determine this be looking at the voter registrations for your district.

3. Find out the party affiliations of your elected officials. If your local Congressional District is strongly partisan, and is considered a “safe” district for one party, you should join that party. Those primaries will be the more important, and therefore your vote will have more influence. In some districts that are overwhelmingly Democrat, for instance, the Republican Party doesn’t even have contested primaries, because whoever wins the Democrat primary is all but assured to win in the general election.

4. Join the more powerful political party. If your state has completely open primaries (you can vote in whatever party primary you want regardless of your registration), but one party is dominant, you should still join that party if you wish to run for office, participate in the national party convention, or participate in the party caucus. You can work for the issues and candidates you support within the more powerful party.

5. Investigate the issues. If your state has completely open primaries, and has two or more viable political parties, then investigate the parties’ platforms, or position statements on the issues. Don’t overlook the minor parties: Libertarian, Green Party and the Constitution Party. Determine which party most closely champions your beliefs on the issues you feel are most important. That is the party you should join.

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