Since the 1890s, the U.S. Democratic Party has primarily aligned itself with social liberalism. It has generally been the strongest party in the Northeast, Great Lakes region, Pacific Coast and most major cities. The Democrats appeal to a broad range of demographics and embrace a variety of progressive views.
Forms of Liberalism
Democrats have long been known as the liberal party in the United States, whereas Republicans are often more socially and fiscally conservative. Democrats tend to support progressive social causes, a stronger taxation system and social programs based on community responsibility. The democratic sense of "liberal" refers to social liberalism, an ideology that seeks a balance between individual liberty, social justice and the common good. Like classical liberalism, social liberalism supports a market economy and expansion of civil rights to all citizens. However, social liberalism says government should be involved in addressing issues such as poverty and access to education and health care.
While Democrats have maintained broad appeal, over the years they have received much of their support from lower-income workers, laborers, ethnic minorities and social liberals. Some of this support has to do with the party's focus on favoring business regulations and a progressive approach to taxation. Such measures, the party says, increase market fairness, prevent unfair labor practices and fund social programs intended to help the disadvantaged. Since the 1930s, the Democrats have focused on the advancement of welfare programs, civil rights and abortion rights. Broadly, on foreign policy matters, Democrats are seen as less hawkish than their Republican counterparts.
Government's Role in Society
Democrats generally support government funding to help to those in poverty and those facing social injustice. They are more likely to believe government initiatives and regulations can develop the economy and reduce business practices they argue negatively affect average Americans. Republicans, meanwhile, generally believe that the less government is involved with business, the more businesses can create jobs and thus reduce the need for social programs, which they say generate too much debt. On a national level, Republicans would generally prefer to have much of the federal government's regulatory power transferred back to states. Many Democrats have adopted a combination of these views.
The partisan divide between congressional Democrats and Republicans is often vast, but there is some overlap. Like many Republicans, socially conservative Democrats have expressed opposition to abortion and gay marriage. In 2010, 34 House Democrats voted with their Republican counterparts against President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, just as eight Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military. Congressional Democrats and Republicans have come together more closely in extreme situations -- they were in nearly full agreement on pursuing al-Qaida immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks -- and on matters where basic party values weren't at stake.
Some libertarians, who are often associated with Republicans but more firmly support smaller government, have also found themselves in agreement with Democrats. Libertarian positions favoring stronger privacy protection and isolationist foreign policy have sometimes overlapped with Democrats' liberal views.
- CNN: 2006 Election Exit Polls
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Liberalism
- New York Times: Geography Is Dividing Democrats Over Energy
- New Statesman: The Origins of Social Liberalism
- OnTheIssues: Democratic Party on Tax Reform
- PBS NewsHour: Not So Strange Bedfellows -- Democrats and Republicans on Syria
- Huffington Post: Economic Optimists and Pessimists
- A Libertarian Democrat Manifesto; Terry Michael
- Final Vote Results for Roll Call 165
- Senate Repeals Ban Against Openly Gay Military Personnel
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