History of the Democratic Party

I have written several articles on postings related to politics. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on these political events.

Democratic Party officials often trace its origins to the inspiration of the Democratic-Republican Party, founded by Thomas JeffersonJames Madison and other influential opponents of the Federalists in 1792. That party also inspired the Whigs and modern Republicans. Organizationally, the modern Democratic Party truly arose in the 1830s with the election of Andrew Jackson. Since the nomination of William Jennings Bryan in 1896, the party has generally positioned itself to the left of the Republican Party on economic issues. Democrats have been more liberal on civil rights since 1948, although conservative factions which opposed them persisted in the South until the 1960s. On foreign policy, both parties have changed position several times.

Background

The Democratic Party evolved from the Jeffersonian Republican or Democratic-Republican Party organized by Jefferson and Madison in opposition to the Federalist Party. The Democratic-Republican Party favored republicanism; a weak federal governmentstates’ rights; agrarian interests (especially Southern planters); and strict adherence to the Constitution. The party opposed a national bank and Great Britain. After the War of 1812, the Federalists virtually disappeared and the only national political party left was the Democratic-Republicans, which was prone to splinter along regional lines. The era of one-party rule in the United States, known as the Era of Good Feelings, lasted from 1816 until 1828 when Andrew Jackson became president. Jackson and Martin Van Buren worked with allies in each state to form a new Democratic Party on a national basis. In the 1830s the rivals coalesced into the main rival to the Democrats.

19th century

The Democratic-Republican Party split over the choice of a successor to President James Monroe. In the highly controversial presidential election of 1824, four Democratic-Republican candidates ran against each other. Though Andrew Jackson won the popular vote and 99 electoral votes, the lack of an electoral majority threw the election to the House of Representatives, which ended up giving the victory to John Quincy Adams. In response, New York Senator Martin van Buren helped build a new political organization, the Democratic Party, to back Jackson, who defeated Adams easily in 1828.

After Jackson vetoed a bill renewing the charter of the Bank of the United States in 1832, his opponents founded the Whig Party, led by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. By the 1840s, Democrats and Whigs were both national parties, with supporters from various regions of the country, and dominated the U.S. political system; Democrats would win all but two presidential elections from 1828 to 1856. The faction that supported many of the old Jeffersonian principles, led by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, became the modern Democratic Party. As Norton explains the transformation in 1828:

Jacksonians believed the people’s will had finally prevailed. Through a lavishly financed coalition of state parties, political leaders, and newspaper editors, a popular movement had elected the president. The Democrats became the nation’s first well-organized national party […] and tight party organization became the hallmark of nineteenth-century American politics.

Behind the platforms issued by state and national parties stood a widely shared political outlook that characterized the Democrats:

The Democrats represented a wide range of views but shared a fundamental commitment to the Jeffersonian concept of an agrarian society. They viewed the central government as the enemy of individual liberty. The 1824 “corrupt bargain” had strengthened their suspicion of Washington politics. […] Jacksonians feared the concentration of economic and political power. They believed that government intervention in the economy benefited special-interest groups and created corporate monopolies that favored the rich. They sought to restore the independence of the individual—the artisan and the ordinary farmer—by ending federal support of banks and corporations and restricting the use of paper currency, which they distrusted. Their definition of the proper role of government tended to be negative, and Jackson’s political power was largely expressed in negative acts. He exercised the veto more than all previous presidents combined. Jackson and his supporters also opposed reform as a movement. Reformers eager to turn their programs into legislation called for a more active government. But Democrats tended to oppose programs like educational reform mid the establishment of a public education system. They believed, for instance, that public schools restricted individual liberty by interfering with parental responsibility and undermined freedom of religion by replacing church schools. Nor did Jackson share reformers’ humanitarian concerns. He had no sympathy for American Indians, initiating the removal of the Cherokees along the Trail of Tears.

Opposing factions led by Henry Clay helped form the Whig Party. The Democratic Party had a small yet decisive advantage over the Whigs until the 1850s, when the Whigs fell apart over the issue of slavery. In 1854, angry with the Kansas–Nebraska Act, anti-slavery Democrats left the party and joined Northern Whigs to form the Republican Party. SenatorStephen A. Douglas.

Civil War and Reconstruction

In the 1850s, the debate over whether slavery should be extended into new Western territories split these political coalitions. Southern Democrats favored slavery in all territories, while their Northern counterparts thought each territory should decide for itself via popular referendum.

At the party’s national convention in 1860, Southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckinridge, while Northern Democrats backed Stephen Douglas. The split helped Abraham Lincoln, candidate of the newly formed Republican Party, to victory in the 1860 election, though he won only 40 percent of the popular vote.

The Union victory in the Civil War left Republicans in control of Congress, where they would dominate for the rest of the 19th century. During the Reconstruction era, the Democratic Party solidified its hold on the South, as most white Southerners opposed the Republican measures protecting civil and voting rights for African Americans.

The Democrats split over the choice of a successor to President James Buchanan along Northern and Southern lines as factions of the party provided two separate candidacies for president in the election of 1860, in which the Republican Party gained ascendancy. The radical pro-slavery Fire-Eaters led a walkout both at the April Democratic convention in Charleston’s Institute Hall and at the June convention in Baltimore when the national party would not adopt a resolution supporting the extension of slavery into territories even if the voters of those territories did not want it. These Southern Democrats nominated the pro-slavery incumbent Vice PresidentJohn C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, for President and General Joseph Lane, former Governor of Oregon, for vice president. The Northern Democrats nominated Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois for president and former Governor of Georgia Herschel V. Johnson for vice president while some Southern Democrats joined the Constitutional Union Party, backing its nominees (who had both been prominent Whig leaders), John Bell of Tennessee for president and the politician, statesman and educator Edward Everett of Massachusetts for Vice President. This fracturing of the Democrats led to a Republican victory and Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States.The 1885 inauguration of Grover Cleveland, the only President with non-consecutive terms

As the American Civil War broke out, Northern Democrats were divided into War Democrats and Peace Democrats. The Confederate States of America, whose political leadership, mindful of the welter prevalent in antebellum American politics and with a pressing need for unity, largely viewed political parties as inimical to good governance and consequently the Confederacy had none or at least none with the wide organization inherent to other American parties. Most War Democrats rallied to Republican President Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans’ National Union Party in the election of 1864, which featured Andrew Johnson on the Republican ticket even though he was a Democrat from the South. Johnson replaced Lincoln in 1865, but he stayed independent of both parties.

The Democrats benefited from white Southerners’ resentment of Reconstruction after the war and consequent hostility to the Republican Party. After Redeemers ended Reconstruction in the 1870s and following the often extremely violent disenfranchisement of African Americans led by such white supremacist Democratic politicians as Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina in the 1880s and 1890s, the South, voting Democratic, became known as the “Solid South“. Although Republicans won all but two presidential elections, the Democrats remained competitive. The party was dominated by pro-business Bourbon Democrats led by Samuel J. Tilden and Grover Cleveland, who represented mercantile, banking, and railroad interests; opposed imperialism and overseas expansion; fought for the gold standard; opposed bimetallism; and crusaded against corruption, high taxes and tariffs. Cleveland was elected to non-consecutive presidential terms in 1884 and 1892.

20th century

Progressive Era and the New Deal

As the 19th century drew to a close, the Republicans had been firmly established as the party of big business during the Gilded Age, while the Democratic Party strongly identified with rural agrarianism and conservative values.

But during the Progressive Era, which spanned the turn of the century, the Democrats saw a split between its conservative and more progressive members. As the Democratic nominee for president in 1896, William Jennings Bryan advocated for an expanded role of government in ensuring social justice. Though he lost, Bryan’s advocacy of bigger government would influence the Democratic ideology going forward.

Republicans again dominated national politics during the prosperous 1920s, but faltered after the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first Democrat to win the White House since Woodrow Wilson.

Leaders of the Democratic Party during the first half of the 20th century on 14 June 1913: Secretary of State William J. BryanJosephus Daniels, President Woodrow WilsonBreckinridge LongWilliam Phillips, and Franklin D. Roosevelt

Agrarian Democrats demanding free silver, drawing on Populist ideas, overthrew the Bourbon Democrats in 1896 and nominated William Jennings Bryan for the presidency (a nomination repeated by Democrats in 1900 and 1908). Bryan waged a vigorous campaign attacking Eastern moneyed interests, but he lost to Republican William McKinley.

The Democrats took control of the House in 1910, and Woodrow Wilson won election as president in 1912 (when the Republicans split) and 1916. Wilson effectively led Congress to put to rest the issues of tariffs, money and antitrust, which had dominated politics for 40 years, with new progressive laws. He failed to secure Senate passage of the Versailles Treaty (ending the war with Germany and joining the League of Nations). The weak party was deeply divided by issues such as the KKK and prohibition in the 1920s. However, it did organize new ethnic voters in Northern cities. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States (1933–1945)

The Great Depression in 1929 that began under Republican President Herbert Hoover and the Republican Congress set the stage for a more liberal government as the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives nearly uninterrupted from 1930 until 1994, the Senate for 44 of 48 years from 1930, and won most presidential elections until 1968. Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected to the presidency in 1932, came forth with federal government programs called the New Deal. New Deal liberalism meant the regulation of business (especially finance and banking) and the promotion of labor unions as well as federal spending to aid the unemployed, help distressed farmers and undertake large-scale public works projects. It marked the start of the American welfare state.[45] The opponents, who stressed opposition to unions, support for business and low taxes, started calling themselves “conservatives”.

Until the 1980s, the Democratic Party was a coalition of two parties divided by the Mason–Dixon line: liberal Democrats in the North and culturally conservative voters in the South, who though benefitting from many of the New Deal public works projects opposed increasing civil rights initiatives advocated by Northeastern liberals. The polarization grew stronger after Roosevelt died. Southern Democrats formed a key part of the bipartisan conservative coalition in an alliance with most of the Midwestern Republicans. The economically activist philosophy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which has strongly influenced American liberalism, shaped much of the party’s economic agenda after 1932. From the 1930s to the mid-1960s, the liberal New Deal coalition usually controlled the presidency while the conservative coalition usually controlled Congress.

Issues facing parties and the United States after World War II included the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement. Republicans attracted conservatives and, after the 1960s, white Southerners from the Democratic coalition with their use of the Southern strategy and resistance to New Deal and Great Society liberalism. Until the 1950s, African Americans had traditionally supported the Republican Party because of its anti-slavery civil rights policies. Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Southern states became more reliably Republican in presidential politics, while Northeastern states became more reliably Democratic. Studies show that Southern whites, which were a core constituency in the Democratic Party, shifted to the Republican Party due to racial conservatism. John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States (1961–1963).

Civil Rights Era

Although Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed civil rights legislation (and sent federal troops to integrate a Little Rock high school in 1954), it was Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat from Texas, who would eventually sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.

Upon signing the former bill, Johnson reportedly told his aide Bill Moyers that “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.”

Over the course of the late 1960s and 1970s, more and more white Southerners voted Republican, driven not only by the issue of race, but also by white evangelical Christians’ opposition to abortion and other “culture war” issues.

The election of President John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts in 1960 was a partial reflection of this shift. In the campaign, Kennedy attracted a new generation of younger voters. In his agenda dubbed the New Frontier, Kennedy introduced a host of social programs and public works projects, along with enhanced support of the space program, proposing a manned spacecraft trip to the moon by the end of the decade. He pushed for civil rights initiatives and proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but with his assassination in November 1963, he was not able to see its passage. Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President of the United States (1963–1969), meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. at the Oval Office in 1963

Kennedy’s successor Lyndon B. Johnson was able to persuade the largely conservative Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and with a more progressive Congress in 1965 passed much of the Great Society, which consisted of an array of social programs designed to help the poor. Kennedy and Johnson’s advocacy of civil rights further solidified black support for the Democrats but had the effect of alienating Southern whites who would eventually gravitate towards the Republican Party, particularly after the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. The United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War in the 1960s was another divisive issue that further fractured the fault lines of the Democrats’ coalition. After the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, President Johnson committed a large contingency of combat troops to Vietnam, but the escalation failed to drive the Viet Cong from South Vietnam, resulting in an increasing quagmire, which by 1968 had become the subject of widespread anti-war protests in the United States and elsewhere. With increasing casualties and nightly news reports bringing home troubling images from Vietnam, the costly military engagement became increasingly unpopular, alienating many of the kinds of young voters that the Democrats had attracted the early 1960s. The protests that year along with assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic presidential candidate Senator Robert F. Kennedy (younger brother of John F. Kennedy) climaxed in turbulence at the hotly-contested Democratic National Convention that summer in Chicago (which amongst the ensuing turmoil inside and outside of the convention hall nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey) in a series of events that proved to mark a significant turning point in the decline of the Democratic Party’s broad coalition. Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States (1977–1981), delivering the State of the Union Address in 1979

Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon was able to capitalize on the confusion of the Democrats that year, and won the 1968 election to become the 37th president. He won re-election in a landslide in 1972 against Democratic nominee George McGovern, who like Robert F. Kennedy, reached out to the younger anti-war and counterculture voters, but unlike Kennedy, was not able to appeal to the party’s more traditional white working-class constituencies. During Nixon’s second term, his presidency was rocked by the Watergate scandal, which forced him to resign in 1974. He was succeeded by vice president Gerald Ford, who served a brief tenure. Watergate offered the Democrats an opportunity to recoup, and their nominee Jimmy Carter won the 1976 presidential election. With the initial support of evangelical Christian voters in the South, Carter was temporarily able to reunite the disparate factions within the party, but inflation and the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979–1980 took their toll, resulting in a landslide victory for Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan in 1980, which shifted the political landscape in favor of the Republicans for years to come.Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States (1993–2001), at The Pentagon in 1998

With the ascendancy of the Republicans under Ronald Reagan, the Democrats searched for ways to respond yet were unable to succeed by running traditional candidates, such as former vice president and Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale, who lost to Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. Many Democrats attached their hopes to the future star of Gary Hart, who had challenged Mondale in the 1984 primaries running on a theme of “New Ideas”; and in the subsequent 1988 primaries became the de facto front-runner and virtual “shoo-in” for the Democratic presidential nomination before his campaign was ended by a sex scandal. The party nevertheless began to seek out a younger generation of leaders, who like Hart had been inspired by the pragmatic idealism of John F. Kennedy.

Democrats From Clinton to Obama

After losing five out of six presidential elections from 1968 to 1988, Democrats captured the White House in 1992 with Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton’s defeat of the incumbent, George H.W. Bush, as well as third-party candidate Ross Perot.

Arkansas governor Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 as the Democratic nominee. He labeled himself and governed as a “New Democrat“. The party adopted a centrist economic yet socially progressive agenda, with the voter base after Reagan having shifted considerably to the right. In an effort to appeal both to liberals and to fiscal conservatives, Democrats began to advocate for a balanced budget and market economy tempered by government intervention (mixed economy), along with a continued emphasis on social justice and affirmative action. The economic policy adopted by the Democratic Party, including the former Clinton administration, has been referred to as “Third Way“. The Democrats lost control of Congress in the election of 1994 to the Republican Party. Re-elected in 1996, Clinton was the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected to two terms.

Al Gore, Clinton’s vice-president, narrowly captured the popular vote in the general election in 2000, but lost to George W. Bush in the electoral college, after the U.S. Supreme Court called a halt to a manual recount of disputed Florida ballots.

Midway through Bush’s second term, Democrats capitalized on popular opposition to the ongoing Iraq War and regained control of the House and Senate.

21st century

In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as well as the growing concern over global warming, some of the party’s key issues in the early 21st century have included combating terrorism while preserving human rights, expanding access to health carelabor rights, and environmental protection. The Democrats regained majority control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 electionsBarack Obama won the Democratic Party’s nomination and was elected as the first African American president in 2008. Under the Obama presidency, the party moved forward reforms including an economic stimulus package, the Dodd–Frank financial reform act, and the Affordable Care Act. In the 2010 elections, the Democratic Party lost control of the House and lost its majority in state legislatures and state governorships. In the 2012 elections, President Obama was re-elected, but the party remained in the minority in the House of Representatives and lost control of the Senate in 2014. After the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the Democratic Party transitioned into the role of an opposition party and currently hold neither the presidency nor the Senate but won back a majority in the House in the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats have been extremely critical of President Trump, particularly his policies on immigration, healthcare, and abortion, as well as his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Pew Research Center, Democrats became more secular and socially liberal between 1987 and 2012. Based on a poll conducted in 2014, Gallup found that 30% of Americans identified as Democrats, 23% as Republicans and 45% as independents. In the same poll, a survey of registered voters stated that 47% identified as Democrats or leaned towards the party—the same poll found that 40% of registered voters identified as Republicans or leaned towards the Republican Party.

In 2018, Democratic congressional candidate Tom Malinowski, who was later elected, described the party:

We’re now the party of fiscal responsibility in America. We didn’t just add $2 trillion to the national debt for that tax cut that Warren Buffett didn’t want … We’re the party of law enforcement in America; we don’t vilify the Federal Bureau of Investigation every single day. We’re the party of family values. We don’t … take kids from their parents at the border. We’re the party of patriotism in America that wants to defend this country against our foreign adversaries.— Tom Malinowski in July 2018.

In 2016, after a tough primary battle with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton captured the Democratic nomination, becoming the first female presidential nominee of any major party in U.S. history.

But against most expectations, Clinton lost in the general election that November to businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump, while Republican gains in congressional elections left Democrats in the minority in both the House and Senate.

2020 Democratic Candidates

The slate of candidates running for president from the Democratic Party as of October 2019 include Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Corey Booker, Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer.

Name and Symbols

The Democratic-Republican Party splintered in 1824 into the short-lived National Republican Party and the Jacksonian movement which in 1828 became the Democratic Party. Under the Jacksonian era, the term “The Democracy” was in use by the party, but the name “Democratic Party” was eventually settled upon and became the official name in 1844. Members of the party are called “Democrats” or “Dems”.

The term “Democrat Party” has also been in local use, but has usually been used by opponents since 1952 as a disparaging term.

The most common mascot symbol for the party has been the donkey, or jackass. Andrew Jackson‘s enemies twisted his name to “jackass” as a term of ridicule regarding a stupid and stubborn animal. However, the Democrats liked the common-man implications and picked it up too, therefore the image persisted and evolved. Its most lasting impression came from the cartoons of Thomas Nast from 1870 in Harper’s Weekly. Cartoonists followed Nast and used the donkey to represent the Democrats and the elephant to represent the Republicans.

In the early 20th century, the traditional symbol of the Democratic Party in Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Ohio was the rooster, as opposed to the Republican eagle. This symbol still appears on Oklahoma, Kentucky, Indiana, and West Virginia ballots. The rooster was adopted as the official symbol of the national Democratic Party. In New York, the Democratic ballot symbol is a five-pointed star.

Although both major political parties (and many minor ones) use the traditional American colors of red, white and blue in their marketing and representations, since election night 2000 blue has become the identifying color for the Democratic Party while red has become the identifying color for the Republican Party. That night, for the first time all major broadcast television networks used the same color scheme for the electoral map: blue states for Al Gore (Democratic nominee) and red states for George W. Bush (Republican nominee). Since then, the color blue has been widely used by the media to represent the party. This is contrary to common practice outside of the United States where blue is the traditional color of the right and red the color of the left. For example, in Canada red represents the Liberals while blue represents the Conservatives. In the United Kingdom, red denotes the Labour Party and blue symbolizes the Conservative Party. Any use of the color blue to denote the Democratic Party prior to 2000 would be historically inaccurate and misleading. Since 2000, blue has also been used both by party supporters for promotional efforts—ActBlue, BuyBlue and BlueFund as examples—and by the party itself in 2006 both for its “Red to Blue Program”, created to support Democratic candidates running against Republican incumbents in the midterm elections that year and on its official website.

In September 2010, the Democratic Party unveiled its new logo, which featured a blue D inside a blue circle. It was the party’s first official logo; the donkey logo had only been semi-official.

Jefferson-Jackson Day is the annual fundraising event (dinner) held by Democratic Party organizations across the United States. It is named after Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, whom the party regards as its distinguished early leaders.

The song “Happy Days Are Here Again” is the unofficial song of the Democratic Party. It was used prominently when Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated for president at the 1932 Democratic National Convention and remains a sentimental favorite for Democrats today. For example, Paul Shaffer played the theme on the Late Show with David Letterman after the Democrats won Congress in 2006. “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac was adopted by Bill Clinton‘s presidential campaign in 1992 and has endured as a popular Democratic song. The emotionally similar song “Beautiful Day” by the band U2 has also become a favorite theme song for Democratic candidates. John Kerry used the song during his 2004 presidential campaign and several Democratic Congressional candidates used it as a celebratory tune in 2006.

The 2016 campaign of Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders used the hopeful Simon & Garfunkel song “America” for one of its campaign advertisements, with the complete permission of the still-active duo of popular American musicians. As a traditional anthem for its presidential nominating convention, Aaron Copland‘s “Fanfare for the Common Man” is traditionally performed at the beginning of the Democratic National Convention.

Current structure and composition

National committee

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is responsible for promoting Democratic campaign activities. While the DNC is responsible for overseeing the process of writing the Democratic Platform, the DNC is more focused on campaign and organizational strategy than public policy. In presidential elections, it supervises the Democratic National Convention. The national convention is subject to the charter of the party and the ultimate authority within the Democratic Party when it is in session, with the DNC running the party’s organization at other times. The DNC is chaired by former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Major party groups

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) assists party candidates in House races and its current chairman (selected by the party caucus) is Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois. Similarly, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), headed by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, raises funds for Senate races. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), chaired by Oregon legislator Tina Kotek, is a smaller organization with much less funding that focuses on state legislative races. The DNC sponsors the College Democrats of America (CDA), a student-outreach organization with the goal of training and engaging a new generation of Democratic activists. Democrats Abroad is the organization for Americans living outside the United States and they work to advance the goals of the party and encourage Americans living abroad to support the Democrats. The Young Democrats of America (YDA) is a youth-led organization that attempts to draw in and mobilize young people for Democratic candidates but operates outside of the DNC. The Democratic Governors Association (DGA), chaired by Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, is an organization supporting the candidacies of Democratic gubernatorial nominees and incumbents. Likewise, the mayors of the largest cities and urban centers convene as the National Conference of Democratic Mayors.

Ideology

Upon foundation, the Democratic Party supported agrarianism and the Jacksonian democracy movement of President Andrew Jackson, representing farmers and rural interests and traditional Jeffersonian democrats. Since the 1890s, especially in northern states, the party began to favor more liberal positions (the term “liberal” in this sense describes modern liberalism, rather than classical liberalism or economic liberalism). In recent exit polls, the Democratic Party has had broad appeal across all socio-ethno-economic demographics.

Historically, the party has represented farmers, laborers, labor unions and religious and ethnic minorities as it has opposed unregulated business and finance and favored progressive income taxes. In foreign policy, internationalism (including interventionism) was a dominant theme from 1913 to the mid-1960s. In the 1930s, the party began advocating welfare spending programs targeted at the poor. The party had a fiscally conservativepro-business wing, typified by Grover Cleveland and Al Smith; and a Southern conservative wing that shrank after President Lyndon B. Johnson supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The major influences for liberalism were labor unions (which peaked in the 1936–1952 era) and the African American wing, which has steadily grown since the 1960s. Since the 1970s, environmentalism has been a major new component. The 21st century Democratic Party is predominantly a coalition of centrists, liberals, and progressives, with significant overlap between the three groups.

The Democratic Party, once dominant in the Southeastern United States, is now strongest in the Northeast (Mid-Atlantic and New England), the Great Lakes region, and the West Coast (including Hawaii). The party is also very strong in major cities (regardless of region).

Centrists

Centrist Democrats, or New Democrats, are an ideologically centrist faction within the Democratic Party that emerged after the victory of Republican George H. W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election. They are an economically liberal and “Third Way” faction which dominated the party for around 20 years starting in the late 1980s after the United States populace turned much further to the political right. They are represented by organizations such as the New Democrat Network and the New Democrat Coalition. The New Democrat Coalition is a pro-growth and fiscally moderate congressional coalition.

One of the most influential centrist groups was the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a nonprofit organization that advocated centrist positions for the party. The DLC hailed President Bill Clinton as proof of the viability of “Third Way” politicians and a DLC success story. The DLC disbanded in 2011 and much of the former DLC is now represented in the think tank Third Way.

While not representing a majority of the Democratic Party electorate, some Democratic elected officials have self-declared as being centrists. These Democrats include former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Senator Mark Warner, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, former Senator Jim Webb, former Vice President Joe Biden, congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, and former congressman Dave McCurdy.

The New Democrat Network supports socially liberal and fiscally moderate Democratic politicians and is associated with the congressional New Democrat Coalition in the House. Congressman Derek Kilmer is the chair of the coalition, and former senator and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was a member while in Congress. In 2009, President Barack Obama was self-described as a New Democrat.

Conservatives

conservative Democrat is a member of the Democratic Party with conservative political views, or with views relatively conservative with respect to those of the national party. While such members of the Democratic Party can be found throughout the nation, actual elected officials are disproportionately found within the Southern states and to a lesser extent within rural regions of the United States generally, more commonly in the West. Historically, Southern Democrats were generally much more ideologically conservative than conservative Democrats are now.President Barack Obama meeting with the Blue Dog Coalition in the State Dining Room of the White House in 2009

Many conservative Southern Democrats defected to the Republican Party, beginning with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the general leftward shift of the party. Strom Thurmond of South CarolinaBilly Tauzin of LouisianaKent Hance and Ralph Hall of Texas and Richard Shelby of Alabama are examples of this. The influx of conservative Democrats into the Republican Party is often cited as a reason for the Republican Party’s shift further to the right during the late 20th century as well as the shift of its base from the Northeast and Midwest to the South.

Into the 1980s, the Democratic Party had a conservative element, mostly from the South and Border regions. Their numbers declined sharply as the Republican Party built up its Southern base. They were sometimes humorously called “Yellow dog Democrats“, or “boll weevils” and “Dixiecrats“. In the House, they form the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of conservatives and centrists willing to broker compromises with the Republican leadership. They have acted as a unified voting bloc in the past, giving its members some ability to change legislation, depending on their numbers in Congress.

Split-ticket voting was common among conservative Southern Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s. These voters supported conservative Democrats for local and statewide office while simultaneously voting for Republican presidential candidates.

Liberals

Social liberals (modern liberals) are a large portion of the Democratic base. According to 2018 exit polls, liberals constituted 27% of the electorate, and 91% of American liberals favored the candidate of the Democratic Party.[100] White-collar college-educated professionals were mostly Republican until the 1950s, but they now compose a vital component of the Democratic Party.

A large majority of liberals favor moving toward universal health care, with many supporting a single-payer system. A majority also favor diplomacy over military actionstem cell research, the legalization of same-sex marriage, stricter gun control and environmental protection laws as well as the preservation of abortion rights. Immigration and cultural diversity are deemed positive as liberals favor cultural pluralism, a system in which immigrants retain their native culture in addition to adopting their new culture. They tend to be divided on free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and organizations, with some seeing them as more favorable to corporations than workers. Most liberals oppose increased military spending and the mixing of church and state.

This ideological group differs from the traditional organized labor base. According to the Pew Research Center, a plurality of 41% resided in mass affluent households and 49% were college graduates, the highest figure of any typographical group. It was also the fastest growing typological group between the late 1990s and early 2000s. Liberals include most of academia and large portions of the professional class.

Progressives

Progressives are the most left-leaning faction in the party and support strong business regulations, social programs, and workers’ rights. Many progressive Democrats are descendants of the New Left of Democratic presidential candidate Senator George McGovern of South Dakota whereas others were involved in the 2016 presidential candidacy of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Progressives are often considered to be synonymous with liberals, though progressives are sometimes considered to show stronger support for universal health care, solutions for economic inequality, and environmental regulations.

In 2014, progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren set out “Eleven Commandments of Progressivism”: tougher regulation on corporations, affordable education, scientific investment and environmentalismnet neutrality, increased wages, equal pay for women, collective bargaining rights, defending social programs, marriage equality, immigration reform, and unabridged access to reproductive healthcare. In addition, progressives strongly oppose political corruption and seek to advance electoral reforms such as campaign finance rules and voting rights protections. Today, many progressives have made combating economic inequality their top priority.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is a caucus of progressive Democrats chaired by Representatives Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Pramila Jayapal of Washington. Its members have included Representatives Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, John Conyers of Michigan, Jim McDermott of Washington, John Lewis of Georgia, Barbara Lee of California, and Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and Ed Markey of Massachusetts were members of the caucus when in the House of Representatives. While no Democratic Senators currently belong to the CPC, independent Senator Bernie Sanders is a member.

Political positions

Social policy

Economic issues

Equal economic opportunity, a base social safety net provided by the welfare state and strong labor unions have historically been at the heart of Democratic economic policy. The welfare state supports a progressive tax system, higher minimum wagesSocial Securityuniversal health carepublic education and public housing. They also support infrastructure development and government-sponsored employment programs in an effort to achieve economic development and job creation while stimulating private sector job creation. Additionally, since the 1990s the party has at times supported centrist economic reforms, which cut the size of government and reduced market regulations. The party has generally rejected laissez-faire economics as well as market socialism, instead favoring Keynesian economics within a capitalist market-based system.

Fiscal policy

Democrats support a more progressive tax structure to provide more services and reduce economic inequality by making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay the highest amount in taxes. Democrats support more government spending on social services while spending less on the military. They oppose the cutting of social services, such as Social SecurityMedicareMedicaid and various other welfare programs, believing it to be harmful to efficiency and social justice. Democrats believe the benefits of social services in monetary and non-monetary terms are a more productive labor force and cultured population and believe that the benefits of this are greater than any benefits that could be derived from lower taxes, especially on top earners, or cuts to social services. Furthermore, Democrats see social services as essential towards providing positive freedom, freedom derived from economic opportunity. The Democratic-led House of Representatives reinstated the PAYGO (pay-as-you-go) budget rule at the start of the 110th Congress.

Minimum wage

The Democratic Party favors raising the minimum wage. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 was an early component of the Democrats’ agenda during the 110th Congress. In 2006, the Democrats supported six state ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage and all six initiatives passed. In May 2017, Senate Democrats introduced the Raise the Wage Act which would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024 and marks a leftward turn in Democratic economic policies.

Health care

Democrats call for “affordable and quality health care” and favor moving toward universal health care in a variety of forms to address rising healthcare costs. Some Democratic politicians favor a single-payer program or Medicare for All, while others prefer creating a public health insurance option.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010, has been one of the most significant pushes for universal health care. As of December 2019, more than 20 million Americans have gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Education

Democrats favor improving public education by raising school standards and reforming the Head Start program. They also support universal preschool and expanding access to primary education, including through charter schools. They call for addressing student loan debt and reforms to reduce college tuition. Other proposals have included tuition-free public universities and reform of standardized testing. Democrats have the long-term aim of having publicly funded college education with low tuition fees (like in much of Europe and Canada), which would be available to every eligible American student. Alternatively, they encourage expanding access to post-secondary education by increasing state funding for student financial aid such as Pell Grants and college tuition tax deductions.

Environment

Democrats believe that the government should protect the environment and have a history of environmentalism. In more recent years, this stance has emphasized renewable energy generation as the basis for an improved economy, greater national security, and general environmental benefits.

The Democratic Party also favors expansion of conservation lands and encourages open space and rail travel to relieve highway and airport congestion and improve air quality and economy as it “believe[s] that communities, environmental interests, and the government should work together to protect resources while ensuring the vitality of local economies. Once Americans were led to believe they had to make a choice between the economy and the environment. They now know this is a false choice”.

The foremost environmental concern of the Democratic Party is climate change. Democrats, most notably former Vice President Al Gore, have pressed for stern regulation of greenhouse gases. On October 15, 2007, Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to build greater knowledge about man-made climate change and laying the foundations for the measures needed to counteract it.

Renewable energy and fossil fuels

Democrats have supported increased domestic renewable energy development, including wind and solar power farms, in an effort to reduce carbon pollution. The party’s platform calls for an “all of the above” energy policy including clean energy, natural gas and domestic oil, with the desire of becoming energy independent. The party has supported higher taxes on oil companies and increased regulations on coal power plants, favoring a policy of reducing long-term reliance on fossil fuels. Additionally, the party supports stricter fuel emissions standards to prevent air pollution.

Trade agreements

Many Democrats support fair trade policies when it comes to the issue of international trade agreements and some in the party have started supporting free trade in recent decades. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration and a number of prominent Democrats pushed through a number of agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since then, the party’s shift away from free trade became evident in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) vote, with 15 House Democrats voting for the agreement and 187 voting against.

Social issues

The modern Democratic Party emphasizes egalitarianism and social equality through liberalism. They support voting rights and minority rights, including LGBT rightsmulticulturalism and religious secularism. A longstanding social policy is upholding civil rights, which affect ethnic and racial minorities and includes voting rights, equal opportunity and racial equality. The party championed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which for the first time outlawed segregation. Democrats made civil rights and anti-racism a core party philosophy. Carmines and Stimson say that “the Democratic Party appropriated racial liberalism and assumed federal responsibility for ending racial discrimination”.

Ideological social elements in the party include cultural liberalismcivil libertarianism and feminism. Other Democratic social policies are internationalismopenness to immigrationelectoral reform and women’s reproductive rights.

Equal opportunity

The Democratic Party supports equal opportunity for all Americans regardless of sex, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientationgender identity, religion, creed, or national origin. Many Democrats support affirmative action programs to further this goal. Democrats also strongly support the Americans with Disabilities Act to prohibit discrimination against people based on physical or mental disability. As such, the Democrats pushed as well the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, a disability rights expansion that became law.

Voting rights

The party is very supportive of improving voting rights as well as election accuracy and accessibility. They support ending voter ID laws and increasing voting time, including making election day a holiday. They support reforming the electoral system to eliminate gerrymandering as well as passing comprehensive campaign finance reform. They supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as a party have often been pioneers for democracy in the United States.

Abortion and reproductive right

The Democratic Party believe that all women should have access to birth control and support public funding of contraception for poor women. In its national platforms from 1992 to 2004, the Democratic Party has called for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare”—namely, keeping it legal by rejecting laws that allow governmental interference in abortion decisions and reducing the number of abortions by promoting both knowledge of reproduction and contraception and incentives for adoption. The wording changed in the 2008 platform. When Congress voted on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003, Congressional Democrats were split, with a minority (including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) supporting the ban and the majority of Democrats opposing the legislation.

The Democratic Party opposes attempts to reverse the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which declared abortion covered by the constitutionally protected individual right to privacy under the Ninth Amendment; and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which lays out the legal framework in which government action alleged to violate that right is assessed by courts. As a matter of the right to privacy and of gender equality, many Democrats believe all women should have the ability to choose to abort without governmental interference. They believe that each woman, conferring with her conscience, has the right to choose for herself whether abortion is morally correct.

Former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid was anti-abortion and former President Jimmy Carter has expressed his wish to see the Democratic Party becoming more pro-life, while former President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi favor abortion rights. Groups such as Democrats for Life of America represent the anti-abortion faction of the party while groups such as EMILY’s List represent the abortion rights faction. A Newsweek poll from October 2006 found that 25% of Democrats were anti-abortion while a 69% majority was in favor of abortion rights.

The 2016 Democratic Party platform expresses support for “‘a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion’ and enumerates no limits on that right.” It further calls for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal tax dollars for elective abortions.

Immigration

Many Democratic politicians have called for systematic reform of the immigration system such that residents that have come into the United States illegally have a pathway to legal citizenship. President Obama remarked in November 2013 that he felt it was “long past time to fix our broken immigration system”, particularly to allow “incredibly bright young people” that came over as students to become full citizens. The Public Religion Research Institute found in a late 2013 study that 73% of Democrats supported the pathway concept, compared to 63% of Americans as a whole.

In 2013, Democrats in the Senate passed S.744, which would reform immigration policy to allow citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States and improve the lives of all immigrants currently living in the United States.

LGBT rights

The Democratic Party is supportive of LGBT rights. Most support for same-sex marriage in the United States has come from Democrats. Support for same-sex marriage has increased in the past decade according to ABC News. An April 2009 ABC News/Washington Post public opinion poll put support among Democrats at 62% whereas a June 2008 Newsweek poll found that 42% of Democrats support same-sex marriage while 23% support civil unions or domestic partnership laws and 28% oppose any legal recognition at all. A broad majority of Democrats have supported other LGBT-related laws such as extending hate crime statutes, legally preventing discrimination against LGBT people in the workforce and repealing Don’t ask, don’t tell. A 2006 Pew Research Center poll of Democrats found that 55% supported gays adopting children with 40% opposed while 70% support gays in the military, with only 23% opposed. Gallup polling from May 2009 stated that 82% of Democrats support open enlistment.

The 2004 Democratic National Platform stated that marriage should be defined at the state level and it repudiated the Federal Marriage Amendment. While not stating support of same-sex marriage, the 2008 platform called for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage and removed the need for interstate recognition, supported antidiscrimination laws and the extension of hate crime laws to LGBT people and opposed the Don’t ask, don’t tell military policy.  The 2012 platform included support for same-sex marriage and for the repeal of DOMA.

On May 9, 2012, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to say he supports same-sex marriage. Previously, he had opposed restrictions on same-sex marriage such as the Defense of Marriage Act, which he promised to repeal, California‘s Prop 8, and a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage (which he opposed saying that “decisions about marriage should be left to the states as they always have been”), but also stated that he personally believed marriage to be between a man and a woman and that he favored civil unions that would “give same-sex couples equal legal rights and privileges as married couples”. Earlier, when running for the Illinois Senate in 1996 he said, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages”.  John Kerry, Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, did not support same-sex marriage. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and former Vice Presidents Joe BidenAl Gore and Walter Mondale also support gay marriage.

Legal issues

Gun control

With a stated goal of reducing crime and homicide, the Democratic Party has introduced various gun control measures, most notably the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Brady Bill of 1993 and Crime Control Act of 1994. However, some Democrats, especially rural, Southern, and Western Democrats, favor fewer restrictions on firearm possession and warned the party was defeated in the 2000 presidential election in rural areas because of the issue. In the national platform for 2008, the only statement explicitly favoring gun control was a plan calling for renewal of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban.

Resources:

en.wikipedia.org, “History of the Democratic Party,” By Wikipedia editors; history.com, “Democratic Party,” By History.com editors;

Addendum:

#NamePortraitStatePresidency
start date
Presidency
end date
Time in office
7Andrew JacksonAndrew jackson headFXD.jpgTennesseeMarch 4, 1829March 4, 18378 years, 0 days
8Martin Van BurenFrancis Alexander - Martin Van Buren - Google Art Project.jpgNew YorkMarch 4, 1837March 4, 18414 years, 0 days
11James K. PolkJames Knox Polk by George Peter Alexander Healy (detail), 1846 - DSC03261.JPGTennesseeMarch 4, 1845March 4, 18494 years, 0 days
14Franklin PierceGeorge Peter Alexander Healy - Franklin Pierce - Google Art Project.jpgNew HampshireMarch 4, 1853March 4, 18574 years, 0 days
15James BuchananJames Buchanan painted by J. Eichholtz.jpgPennsylvaniaMarch 4, 1857March 4, 18614 years, 0 days
17Andrew JohnsonPresident Andrew Johnson.jpgTennesseeApril 15, 1865March 4, 18693 years, 323 days
22Grover ClevelandStephenGroverCleveland.jpgNew YorkMarch 4, 1885March 4, 18898 years, 0 days
24March 4, 1893March 4, 1897
28Woodrow WilsonThomas Woodrow Wilson, Harris & Ewing bw photo portrait, 1919.jpgNew JerseyMarch 4, 1913March 4, 19218 years, 0 days
32Franklin D. Roosevelt1944 Official Campaign Portrait session (8145288140).jpgNew YorkMarch 4, 1933April 12, 1945[a]12 years, 39 days
33Harry S. TrumanTRUMAN 58-766-06 (cropped).jpgMissouriApril 12, 1945January 20, 19537 years, 283 days
35John F. KennedyJohn F. Kennedy, White House color photo portrait.jpgMassachusettsJanuary 20, 1961November 22, 1963[a]2 years, 306 days
36Lyndon B. Johnson37 Lyndon Johnson 3x4.jpgTexasNovember 22, 1963January 20, 19695 years, 59 days
39Jimmy CarterJimmy Carter Crop.jpgGeorgiaJanuary 20, 1977January 20, 19814 years, 0 days
42Bill ClintonBill Clinton.jpgArkansasJanuary 20, 1993January 20, 20018 years, 0 days
44Barack ObamaOfficial portrait of Barack Obama.jpgIllinoisJanuary 20, 2009January 20, 20178 years, 0 days

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