Significant differences exist between America's two dominant political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. One of the most fiercely debated differences has to do with the parties' views regarding the ideal size, scope and function of the federal government. The parties' views on the appropriate size and role of government are fundamental to the way they approach most other political issues.

Role of Government

The Republican Party's platform suggests that the role of government is to protect individuals' rights and that individuals and society as a whole are better off when the government is involved as little as possible. They stand on the idea -- at least in theory -- that people and companies should succeed or fail based on their merits and the results of their actions, rather than on what Republicans view as government intrusion. Democrats tend to believe that the federal government should have a strong role to directly address the challenges faced by the American people, especially those which pertain to the less privileged in American society.

Rules, Rules, Rules

One of the ways the Democratic Party's view on the size and role of government plays out is in its focus on regulating businesses and industry. Most Democrats believe that key industries such as insurance, banking, health care and manufacturing should have a higher degree of government oversight. While most Republicans agree that some degree of government is necessary, they generally tend to prefer fewer restrictions on businesses and corporations. Democrats think the regulations are necessary to promote safety and general welfare. Republicans think that regulations should be relaxed to promote prosperity for business, which they contend eventually benefits everyone in society.

State Governments Vs. Federal Government

Republicans and Democrats agree that some government programs are necessary, but disagree regarding how they should be funded and overseen. In general, Republicans prefer most of the responsibility for government programs to rest with state and local governments, while Democrats favor much stronger involvement by the federal government. Examples of this include the ongoing debates about health care and education reform. Both parties agree that changes need to be made, but Republicans tend to favor allowing the states to work out needed changes while Democrats favor more direct federal oversight and involvement.

The Voters Speak...and Listen

A 2012 Gallup poll showed that American voters' views on the size of government lines up closely with the party they identify with. Eighty-two percent of Republicans polled felt that the government was doing too much, while 67 percent of Democrats felt that the government should be doing more. Both political parties use their views on the role and function of government to appeal to their base. Democrats use their view to promote the idea that they are the party who represents the "little guy" or the middle class and to paint the Republicans as out of touch with common people. Republicans use their view to promote the idea that they support a business climate that they say will ultimately benefit everyone and to present the Democrats as the party of "big government."