The Democratic Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with its rival, the Republican Party. Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world's oldest active political party.
In its early years, the Party supported limited government, state sovereignty and opposed banks and the abolition of slavery. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition in the 1930s, the Democratic Party has promoted a social liberal platform, Well into the 20th century, the party had conservative pro-business and Southern conservative-populist wings; following the New Deal, however, the conservative wing of the party largely withered outside the South. The New Deal Coalition of 1932–1964 attracted strong support from voters of recent European extraction—many of whom were Catholics based in the cities. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the core bases of the two parties shifted, with the Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northeastern states becoming more reliably Democratic. The once-powerful labor union element became smaller and less supportive after the 1970s. White evangelicals and Southerners have become heavily Republican at the state and local levels since the 1990s. People living in urban areas, women, college graduates, sexual and gender minorities, millennials, and black, Latino, Jewish, and Asian Americans tend to support the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party's philosophy of modern liberalism advocates social and economic equality, along with the welfare state. It seeks to provide government regulation in the economy. Policies such as environmental protection, support for organized labor and labor unions, the introduction of social programs, affordable college tuition, universal health care, equal opportunity, and consumer protection form the core of the party's economic policy. On social issues, it advocates campaign finance reform, LGBT rights, police and immigration reform, stricter gun laws, and the legalization of marijuana.
There have been 15 Democrats who have served as president of the United States. The first was Andrew Jackson, who was the seventh president and served from 1829 to 1837. The most recent was Barack Obama, who was the 44th and held office from 2009 to 2017. As of 2019, the Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives, 14 state government trifectas (governorship and both legislative chambers), the mayoralty of numerous major American cities, and 18 total state legislatures. Four of the nine sitting justices of the Supreme Court had been appointed by Democratic presidents.
Democratic Party officials often trace its origins to the inspiration of the Democratic-Republican Party, founded by Thomas Jefferson, James 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. They have been more liberal on civil rights issues since 1948. On foreign policy, both parties have changed position several times.
The Democratic Party evolved from the Jeffersonian Republican or Democratic-Republican Party organized by Jefferson and Madison in opposition to the Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. The Democratic-Republican Party favored republicanism; a weak federal government; states' rights; agrarian interests (especially Southern planters); and strict adherence to the Constitution; it opposed a national bank, close ties to Great Britain and business and banking interests. The Democratic-Republican Party came to power in the election of 1800.
After the War of 1812, the Federalists virtually disappeared and the only national political party left was the Democratic-Republicans. The era of one-party rule in the United States, known as the Era of Good Feelings, lasted from 1816 until the early 1830s, when the Whig Party became a national political group to rival the Democratic-Republicans.
The Democratic-Republican Party split over the choice of a successor to President James Monroe. 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:
Behind the platforms issued by state and national parties stood a widely shared political outlook that characterized the Democrats:
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.
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 at both the April Democratic convention in Charleston's Institute Hall and 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 President, John 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.
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.
Agrarian Democrats demanding free silver 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 elected Woodrow Wilson 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 pass the Versailles Treaty (which involved 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.
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 and won most presidential elections until 1968. Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected to the presidency in 1932, came forth with 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 to the unemployed, help distressed farmers and undertake large-scale public works projects. It marked the start of the American welfare state. 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 white Southerners from the Democratic coalition with their use of the Southern strategy and resistance to New Deal and Great Society liberalism. 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.
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 was not able to see its passage.
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.
Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon was able to capitalize on the Democrat's confusion that year and won the 1968 election to become the 37th president and would win again 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, being 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 tectonic plates of the political landscape in favor of the Republicans for years to come.
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 "shoe-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.
Arkansas governor Bill Clinton was one such figure, who 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 to both liberals and 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.
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 the methods of how to combat terrorism while preserving human rights, homeland security, expanding access to health care, labor rights, environmentalism and the preservation of liberal government programs. Following twelve years of Republican congressional rule, the Democrats regained majority control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 elections. Barack Obama won the Democratic Party's nomination and was elected as the first African American president in 2008. The Democrats gained control of both chambers of Congress in the wake of the 2007 economic recession. The Democratic Party under the Obama presidency 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 kept its minority in the House of Representatives and in 2014 the party lost control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. 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 has won back a majority in the House from the 2018 Midterm Election.
According to a Pew Research poll, the Democratic Party has become more socially liberal and secular compared to how it was in 1987. 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.
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. 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
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.
Each state also has a state committee, made up of elected committee members as well as ex officio committee members (usually elected officials and representatives of major constituencies), which in turn elects a chair. County, town, city and ward committees generally are composed of individuals elected at the local level. State and local committees often coordinate campaign activities within their jurisdiction, oversee local conventions and in some cases primaries or caucuses and may have a role in nominating candidates for elected office under state law. Rarely do they have much funding, but in 2005 DNC Chairman Dean began a program (called the "50 State Strategy") of using DNC national funds to assist all state parties and pay for full-time professional staffers.
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.
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 conservative, pro-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 Democratic Party, once dominant in the Southeastern United States, is now strongest in the Northeast (Mid-Atlantic and New England), Great Lakes region and the West Coast (including Hawaii). The Democrats are also very strong in major cities (regardless of region).
Social scientists Theodore Caplow et al. argue that "the Democratic party, nationally, moved from left-center toward the center in the 1940s and 1950s, then moved further toward the right-center in the 1970s and 1980s". According to historian Walter Scheidel, both major political parties shifted towards promoting free market capitalism in the 1970s, with Republicans moving further to the political right than Democrats to the political left. He contends Democrats played a significant role in the financial deregulation of the 1990s and have pushed social welfare issues to the periphery while increasingly focusing on issues pertaining to identity politics.
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-business, pro-growth and fiscally conservative congressional coalition. Compared to other Democratic factions, they are mostly more supportive of the use of military force, including the war in Iraq, are more supportive of free trade and are more willing to reduce government welfare as indicated by their support for welfare reform and tax cuts.
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, a decent amount of Democratic elected officials have self-declared as being centrists. Some of these Democrats are former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Senator Mark Warner, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, former senator Jim Webb, Vice President Joe Biden, congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick and former congressman Dave McCurdy.
The New Democrat Network supports socially moderate, fiscally conservative Democratic politicians and operates the congressional New Democrat Coalition in the House and Senate. Congressman Ron Kind is the chairperson of the coalition and former senator and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was a member while in Congress. Before he became President, Senator Barack Obama was self-described as a New Democrat.
A 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.
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 Carolina, Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, Kent 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 fiscal conservatives and social conservatives and moderates, primarily Southerners, 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.
There was a split vote among many conservative Southern Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s. Some supported local and statewide conservative Democrats while simultaneously voting for Republican presidential candidates.
Social liberals (modern liberals) and progressives constitute the majority of the Democratic voter base. Liberals thereby form the largest united demographic within the Democratic base. According to the 2012 exit poll results, liberals constituted 25% of the electorate, and 86% of American liberals favored the candidate of the Democratic Party. 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 action, stem 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 is 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 are the most left-leaning, pro-labor union faction in the party who have long supported a strong regulation of business, social-welfare 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.
In 2014, progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren set out an "Eleven Commandments of Progressivism", being tougher regulation on corporations, affordable education, scientific investment and environmentalism, net neutrality, increased wages, equal pay, collective bargaining rights, defending social safety-net programs, marriage equality, immigration reform and unabridged access to reproductive healthcare. Additionally, progressives strongly oppose political corruption and therefore seek to advance electoral reform including campaign finance reform and voting rights. Today, many progressives have made a fight against economic inequality their top priority. Progressives are generally considered to be synonymous with liberals, though the two groups differ on a variety of issues, such as progressives' stronger support for universal healthcare, solutions for economic inequality, and stronger environmental regulations. Progressives tend to be seen as closer to the ideology of European social-democratic parties than mainstream or establishment liberals.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus is a caucus of progressive Democrats and is the single largest Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives. Its current chairs are 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 the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Ed Markey of Massachusetts were all members of the caucus when in the House of Representatives. Today, no Democratic Senators belong to the Progressive Caucus, but independent Senator Bernie Sanders is a member.
- Expand social security and safety net programs.
- Increase top capital gains tax and dividend tax rates to above 28%.
- Across the board tax-cuts for the low and middle class and small businesses.
- Change tax rules to not encourage shipping jobs overseas.
- Increase federal and state minimum wages.
- Modernize and expand access to public education and provide universal preschool education.
- Support for universal health care.
- Greater investment in infrastructure development.
- Increase investments in scientific and technological research and development.
- Expand the use of renewable energy and diminish the use of fossil fuels.
- Implement a carbon tax.
- Uphold labor protections and the right to unionize.
- Reform the student loan system and allow for refinancing student loans.
- Expand free college.
- Mandate equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity.
- Decriminalization or legalization of marijuana.
- Uphold network neutrality.
- Implement campaign finance reform and electoral reform.
- Uphold voting rights and easy access to voting.
- Support for same-sex marriage and civil unions. Bans on conversion therapy.
- Allow legal access to abortions and women's reproductive health care.
- Reform the immigration system and allow for a pathway to citizenship.
- Support for gun background checks and stricter gun control regulations.
- Improve privacy laws and curtail government surveillance.
- Opposition to the use of torture.
- Recognize and defend Internet freedom worldwide.
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 wages, social security, universal health care, public 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 continuously rejected laissez-faire economics as well as market socialism, instead favoring Keynesian economics within a capitalist market-based system.
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 Security, Medicare, Medicaid 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, i.e. 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.
The Democratic Party favors raising the minimum wage. They call for a $10.10/hour national minimum wage and think the minimum wage should be adjusted regularly. 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.
Democrats call for "affordable and quality health care" and many advocate an expansion of government intervention in this area. Many Democrats favor national health insurance or universal health care in a variety of forms to address the rising costs of modern health insurance. Some Democrats, such as former Representatives John Conyers and John Dingell, have called for a single-payer program of Medicare for All. The Progressive Democrats of America, a group operating inside the Democratic Party, has made single-payer universal health care one of their primary policy goals. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010, has been one of the most significant pushes for universal health care to become a reality. By April 2014, more than 10 million Americans had enrolled in health care coverage since the launch of the Affordable Care Act.
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 slashes in student loan debt and support reforms to force down tuition fees. Other proposed reforms have included nationwide universal preschool education, tuition-free college and reform of standardized testing. Democrats have the long-term aim of having low-cost, publicly funded college education with low tuition fees (like in much of Europe and Canada), which should 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.
Democrats believe that the government should protect the environment and have a history of environmentalism. In more recent years, this stance has had as its emphasis alternative 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 most important 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, he 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 these changes asserting that "the climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity".
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.
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.
The modern Democratic party emphasizes egalitarianism and social equality through liberalism. They support voting rights and minority rights, including LGBT rights, multiculturalism 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 liberalism, civil libertarianism and feminism. Other Democratic social policies are internationalism, open immigration, electoral reform and women's reproductive rights.
The Democratic Party supports equal opportunity for all Americans regardless of sex, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender 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 legal expansion that became law.
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.
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 identified himself as "pro-life", Former President Jimmy Carter has expressed his view of abortion and his wish to see the Democratic Party becoming more pro-life: while President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi self-identify as "pro-choice". Groups such as Democrats for Life of America represent the pro-life faction of the party while groups such as EMILY's List represent the pro-choice faction. A Newsweek poll from October 2006 found that 25% of Democrats were pro-life while a 69% majority was pro-choice.
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.
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.
The Democratic Party is supportive of LGBT rights. Most support for same-sex marriage in the United States has come from Democrats, although some favor civil unions instead or oppose same-sex marriage. 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 that he "unequivocally support(ed) gay marriage" and "favor(ed) legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages". Senator 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 Biden, Al Gore and Walter Mondale also support gay marriage.
The 2016 Democratic Party platform declares: "We are committed to addressing the extraordinary challenges faced by our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. Many stem from the fundamental question of Puerto Rico's political status. Democrats believe that the people of Puerto Rico should determine their ultimate political status from permanent options that do not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States. Democrats are committed to promoting economic opportunity and good-paying jobs for the hardworking people of Puerto Rico. We also believe that Puerto Ricans must be treated equally by Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs that benefit families. Puerto Ricans should be able to vote for the people who make their laws, just as they should be treated equally. All American citizens, no matter where they reside, should have the right to vote for the President of the United States. Finally, we believe that federal officials must respect Puerto Rico's local self-government as laws are implemented and Puerto Rico's budget and debt are restructured so that it can get on a path towards stability and prosperity".
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.
The Democratic Party supports the death penalty far less than the Republican Party. Although most Democrats in Congress have never seriously moved to overturn the rarely used federal death penalty, both Russ Feingold and Dennis Kucinich have introduced such bills with little success. Democrats have led efforts to overturn state death penalty laws, particularly in New Jersey and in New Mexico. They have also sought to prevent the reinstatement of the death penalty in those states which prohibit it, including Massachusetts and New York. During the Clinton administration, Democrats led the expansion of the federal death penalty. These efforts resulted in the passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, signed into law by President Clinton, which heavily limited appeals in death penalty cases.
In 1992, 1993 and 1995, Democratic Texas Congressman Henry González unsuccessfully introduced the Death Penalty Abolition Amendment which prohibited the use of capital punishment in the United States. Democratic Missouri Congressman William Lacy Clay, Sr. cosponsored the amendment in 1993.
During his Illinois Senate career, former President Barack Obama successfully introduced legislation intended to reduce the likelihood of wrongful convictions in capital cases, requiring videotaping of confessions. When campaigning for the presidency, Obama stated that he supports the limited use of the death penalty, including for people who have been convicted of raping a minor under the age of 12, having opposed the Supreme Court's ruling in Kennedy v. Louisiana that the death penalty was unconstitutional in child rape cases. Obama has stated that he thinks the "death penalty does little to deter crime" and that it is used too frequently and too inconsistently.
In June 2016, the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee unanimously adopted an amendment to abolish the death penalty, marking the first time the party had done so in its history.
Many Democrats are opposed to the use of torture against individuals apprehended and held prisoner by the United States military and hold that categorizing such prisoners as unlawful combatants does not release the United States from its obligations under the Geneva Conventions. Democrats contend that torture is inhumane, decreases the United States' moral standing in the world and produces questionable results. Democrats largely spoke out against waterboarding.
Torture became a very divisive issue in the party after Barack Obama was elected President. Many centrist Democrats and members of the party's leadership supported the use of torture while the liberal wings continued to be steadfastly opposed to it.
Many Democrats are opposed to the Patriot Act, but when the law was passed most Democrats were supportive of it and all but two Democrats in the Senate voted for the original Patriot Act legislation in 2001. The lone nay vote was from Russ Feingold of Wisconsin as Mary Landrieu of Louisiana did not vote. In the House, the Democrats voted for the Act by 145 yea and 62 nay. Democrats split on the renewal in 2006. In the Senate, Democrats voted 34 for the 2006 renewal and 9 against. In the House, Democrats voted 66 voted for the renewal, and 124 against.
Some Democratic officeholders have championed consumer protection laws that limit the sharing of consumer data between corporations. Most Democrats oppose sodomy laws and believe that government should not regulate consensual noncommercial sexual conduct among adults as a matter of personal privacy.
The foreign policy of the voters of the two major parties has largely overlapped since the 1990s. A Gallup poll in early 2013 showed broad agreement on the top issues, albeit with some divergence regarding human rights and international cooperation through agencies such as the United Nations.
In June 2014, the Quinnipiac Poll asked Americans which foreign policy they preferred:
Democrats chose A over B by 65% to 32%; Republicans chose A over B by 56% to 39%; and independents chose A over B by 67% to 29%.
In 2002, Congressional Democrats were divided on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq: 147 voted against it (21 in the Senate and 126 in the House) and 110 voted for it (29 in the Senate and 81 in the House). Since then, many prominent Democrats, such as former senator John Edwards, have expressed regret about this decision and have called it a mistake while others, such as Senator Hillary Clinton, have criticized the conduct of the war yet not repudiated their initial vote for it (though Clinton later went on to repudiate her stance during the 2008 primaries). Referring to Iraq, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared in April 2007 the war to be "lost" while other Democrats (especially during the 2004 presidential election cycle) accused the President of lying to the public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Among lawmakers, Democrats are the most vocal opponents of Operation Iraqi Freedom and campaigned on a platform of withdrawal ahead of the 2006 midterm elections.
A March 2003 CBS News poll taken a few days before the invasion of Iraq found that 34% of Democrats nationwide would support it without United Nations backing, 51% would support it only with its backing and 14% would not support it at all. The Los Angeles Times stated in early April 2003 that 70% of Democrats supported the decision to invade while 27% opposed it. The Pew Research Center stated in August 2007 that opposition increased from 37% during the initial invasion to 74%. In April 2008, a CBS News poll found that about 90% of Democrats disapprove of the Bush administration's conduct and want to end the war within the next year.
Democrats in the House of Representatives near-unanimously supported a non-binding resolution disapproving of President Bush's decision to send additional troops into Iraq in 2007. Congressional Democrats overwhelmingly supported military funding legislation that included a provision that set "a timeline for the withdrawal of all US combat troops from Iraq" by March 31, 2008, but also would leave combat forces in Iraq for purposes such as targeted counter-terrorism operations. After a veto from the President and a failed attempt in Congress to override the veto, the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007 was passed by Congress and signed by the President after the timetable was dropped. Criticism of the Iraq War subsided after the Iraq War troop surge of 2007 led to a dramatic decrease in Iraqi violence. The Democratic-controlled 110th Congress continued to fund efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Presidential candidate Barack Obama advocated a withdrawal of combat troops within Iraq by late 2010 with a residual force of peacekeeping troops left in place. He stated that both the speed of withdrawal and the number of troops left over would be "entirely conditions-based".
On February 27, 2009, President Obama announced: "As a candidate for president, I made clear my support for a timeline of 16 months to carry out this drawdown, while pledging to consult closely with our military commanders upon taking office to ensure that we preserve the gains we've made and protect our troops [...] Those consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months". Around 50,000 non-combat-related forces would remain. Obama's plan drew wide bipartisan support, including that of defeated Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain.
The Democratic Party has been critical of the Iran's nuclear weapon program and supported economic sanctions against the Iranian government. In 2013, the Democratic-led administration worked to reach a diplomatic agreement with the government of Iran to halt the Iranian nuclear weapon program in exchange for international economic sanction relief. As of 2014, negotiations had been successful and the party called for more cooperation with Iran in the future. In 2015, the Obama administration agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which provides sanction relief in exchange for international oversight of the Iranian nuclear program. In February 2019, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution calling on the United States to re-enter the JCPOA, which President Trump withdrew from in 2018.
Democrats in the House of Representatives and in the Senate near-unanimously voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists against "those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States" in Afghanistan in 2001, supporting the NATO coalition invasion of the nation. Most elected Democrats continue to support the Afghanistan conflict and some, such as a Democratic National Committee spokesperson, have voiced concerns that the Iraq War shifted too many resources away from the presence in Afghanistan. Since 2006, Democratic candidate Barack Obama has called for a "surge" of troops into Afghanistan. As president, Obama sent a "surge" force of additional troops to Afghanistan. Troop levels were 94,000 in December 2011 and kept falling, with a target of 68,000 by fall 2012. Obama planned to bring all the troops home by 2014.
Support for the war among the American people has diminished over time and many Democrats have changed their opinion and now oppose a continuation of the conflict. In July 2008, Gallup found that 41% of Democrats called the invasion a "mistake" while a 55% majority disagreed. In contrast, Republicans were more supportive of the war. The survey described Democrats as evenly divided about whether or not more troops should be sent—56% support it if it would mean removing troops from Iraq and only 47% support it otherwise. A CNN survey in August 2009 stated that a majority of Democrats now oppose the war. CNN polling director Keating Holland said: "Nearly two thirds of Republicans support the war in Afghanistan. Three quarters of Democrats oppose the war". An August 2009 Washington Post poll found similar results and the paper stated that Obama's policies would anger his closest supporters.
The Democratic Party has both recently and historically supported Israel. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in 2009: "When it comes to Israel, Republicans and Democrats speak with one voice". A 2008 Gallup poll found that 64% say that they have a favorable image of Israel while only 16% say that they have a favorable image of the Palestinian Authority. Within the party, the majority view is held by the Democratic leadership although some members such as John Conyers Jr., George Miller, Nick Rahall, Dave Obey, Pete Stark, Dennis Kucinich and Jim McDermott as well as former President Jimmy Carter are less or not supportive of Israel. The party leadership refers to the few Democrats unsympathetic to Israel as a "fringe".
The 2008 Democratic Party platform acknowledges a "special relationship with Israel, grounded in shared interests and shared values, and a clear, strong, fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy". It also included:
A January 2009 Pew Research Center study found that when asked "which side do you sympathize with more", 42% of Democrats and 33% of liberals (a plurality in both groups) sympathize most with the Israelis. Around half of all political moderates or independents sided with Israel. The years leading up to the 2016 election have brought more discussion of the party's stance on Israel as polls reported declining support for Israel among the party faithful. Gallup suggested that the decline in support might be due to tensions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.
The rise of the progressive Bernie Sanders-aligned faction of the party, which tends to trend more pro-Palestine, is also likely responsible for the decline in support for Israel. A 2016 Pew Research poll found that while Clinton supporters sympathized more with Israel than Palestinians by a 20-point margin, Sanders supporters sympathized more with Palestinians than with Israel by a 6-point margin. In June 2016, DNC members voted against an amendment to the party platform proposed by Sanders supporter James Zogby calling for an "end to occupation and illegal settlements". In August 2018, Rashida Tlaib, who supports a one-state solution, and Ilhan Omar, who has referred to Israel as an "apartheid regime" won Democratic primaries in Michigan and Minnesota. In November 2018, shortly after being elected to Congress, Omar came out in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Professionals, those who have a college education and those whose work revolves around the conception of ideas have supported the Democratic Party by a slight majority since 2000. Between 1988 and 2000, professionals favored Democrats by a 12-percentage point margin. While the professional class was once a stronghold of the Republican Party, it has become increasingly split between the two parties, leaning in favor of the Democratic Party. The increasing support for Democratic candidates among professionals may be traced to the prevalence of social liberal values among this group:
A study on the political attitudes of medical students, for example, found that "U.S. medical students are considerably more likely to be liberal than conservative and are more likely to be liberal than are other young U.S. adults. Future U.S. physicians may be more receptive to liberal messages than current ones, and their political orientation may profoundly affect their health system attitudes". Similar results are found for professors, who are more strongly inclined towards liberalism and the Democratic Party than other occupational groups. The Democratic Party also has strong support among scientists, with 55% identifying as Democrats, 32% as independents and 6% as Republicans and 52% identifying as liberal, 35% as moderate and 9% as conservative.
Academics, intellectuals and the highly educated overall constitute an important part of the Democratic voter base. Academia in particular tends to be progressive. In a 2005 survey, nearly 72% of full-time faculty members identified as liberal while 15% identified as conservative. The social sciences and humanities were the most liberal disciplines while business was the most conservative. Male professors at more advanced stages of their careers as well as those at elite institutions, tend to be the most liberal. Another survey by UCLA conducted in 2001/2002 found 47.6% of scholars identifying as liberal, 34.3% as moderate and 18% as conservative. Percentages of professors who identified as liberal ranged from 49% in business to over 80% in political science and the humanities. Social scientists, such as Brett O'Bannon of DePauw University, have claimed that the "liberal" opinions of professors seem to have little if any, effect on the political orientation of students.
Those with graduate education have become increasingly Democratic beginning in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 elections. Intellectualism, the tendency to constantly reexamine issues, or in the words of Edwards Shields, the "penetration beyond the screen of immediate concrete experience", has also been named as an explanation why academia is strongly democratic and liberal.
In the past, a self-identified Republican was more likely to have a 4-year college degree, but according to some recent surveys similar percentages of Republicans and Democrats are likely to have 4-year college degrees and Democrats are more likely to hold post-graduate degrees.
An analysis of 2008 through 2012 survey data from the General Social Survey, the National Election Studies and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press led to a slightly different assessment of the overall educational status of self-identified Democrats and Republicans:
Studies have shown that younger voters tend to vote mostly for Democratic candidates in recent years. Despite supporting Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, the young have voted in favor of the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since Bill Clinton in 1992 and are more likely to identify as liberals than the general population. In the 2004 presidential election, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry received 54% of the vote from voters of the age group 18–29 while Republican George W. Bush received 45% of the vote from the same age group. In the 2006 midterm elections, the Democrats received 60% of the vote from the same age group. Polls suggest that younger voters tend to be more liberal than the general population and have more liberal views than the public on same-sex marriage and universal healthcare, helping Barack Obama carry 66% of their votes in 2008. The Young Democrats of America are an affiliated organization of members of the party younger than 36 that advocates for youth issues and works for youth voter turnout.
Although the gender gap has varied over many years, women of all ages are more likely than men to identify as Democrats. Polls in 2009 indicated that 41% of women identify as Democrats while only 25% of women identify as Republicans and 26% as independents whereas 32% of men identify as Democrats, 28% as Republicans and 34% as independents. Among ethnic minorities, women also are more likely than males to identify as Democrats. Also, American women that identified as single, living with a domestic partner, divorced, separated, or widowed are more likely than men in these categories to vote Democratic, in contrast to married Americans which split about equally between Democrat and Republican. Women in these categories are significantly more likely than males in these categories to vote Democratic. The National Federation of Democratic Women is an affiliated organization meant to advocate for women's issues. The Woman's National Democratic Club works to promote the Democratic party. National women's organizations that support Democratic candidates are Emily's List, which aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office and often but not always the National Organization for Women.
Americans that identify as single, living with a domestic partner, divorced, separated, or widowed are more likely to vote Democratic in contrast to married Americans which split about equally between Democrat and Republican.
GSS surveys of more than 11,000 Democrats and Republicans conducted between 1996 and 2006 came to the result that the differences in fertility rates are not statistically significant between these parties, with the average Democrat having 1.94 children and the average Republican having 1.91 children. However, there is a significant difference in fertility rates between the two related groups liberals and conservatives, with liberals reproducing at a much lower rate than conservatives.
According to national media exit polling, LGBT Americans typically vote Democratic in national elections within the 70–77% range. In heavily gay precincts in large cities across the nation, the average was higher, ranging from 85–94%. This trend has continued since 1996 when Bill Clinton won 71% of the LGBT vote compared to Bob Dole's 16% and 13% for others. In 2000, Al Gore won 70% to George W. Bush's 25% with 5% for others, in 2004 John Kerry won 77% to George W. Bush's 23%, in 2008 Barack Obama won 70% to John McCain's 27% with 3% to others and in 2012 Barack Obama won 76% to Mitt Romney's 22% with 2% to others. Patrick Egan, a professor of politics at New York University specializing in LGBT voting patterns, calls this a "remarkable continuity", saying that "about three-fourths vote Democratic and one-fourth Republican from year to year". Notable LGBT Democrats include current Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, current Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, and current Governor Jared Polis of Colorado. The late activist and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was a Democrat as is former Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts. The National Stonewall Democrats is an LGBT advocacy group associated with the Democratic Party. The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus is a congressional caucus of 153 Democrats that work and advocate for LGBT rights within the House of Representatives.
Since the 1930s, a critical component of the Democratic Party coalition has been organized labor. Labor unions supply a great deal of the money, grass roots political organization and voting base of support for the party. Democrats are far more likely to be represented by unions, although union membership has declined, in general, during the last few decades. This trend is depicted in the following graph from the book Democrats and Republicans—Rhetoric and Reality. It is based on surveys conducted by the National Election Studies (NES).
The historic decline in union membership over the past half-century has been accompanied by a growing disparity between public sector and private sector union membership percentages. The three most significant labor groupings in the Democratic coalition today are the AFL-CIO and Change to Win labor federations as well as the National Education Association, a large, unaffiliated teachers' union. Both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win have identified their top legislative priority for 2007 as passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. Other important issues for labor unions include supporting industrial policy (including protectionism) that sustains unionized manufacturing jobs, raising the minimum wage and promoting broad social programs such as Social Security and universal health care.
While the American working class has lost much of its political strength with the decline of labor unions, it remains a stronghold of the Democratic Party and continues as an essential part of the Democratic base. Today, roughly a third of the American public is estimated to be working class with around 52% being either members of the working or lower classes. Yet as those with lower socioeconomic status are less likely to vote, the working and lower classes are underrepresented in the electorate. The working class is largely distinguished by highly routinized and closely supervised work. It consists mainly of clerical and blue-collar workers. Even though most in the working class are able to afford an adequate standard of living, high economic insecurity and possible personal benefit from an extended social safety net make the majority of working class person left-of-center on economic issues. However, most working class Democrats differ from most liberals in their more socially conservative views. Working class Democrats tend to be more religious and likely to belong to an ethnic minority. Socially conservative and disadvantaged Democrats are among the least educated and lowest earning ideological demographics. In 2005, only 15% had a college degree, compared to 27% at the national average and 49% of liberals, respectively. Together, socially conservative and the financially disadvantaged comprised roughly 54% of the Democratic base. The continued importance of the working class votes manifests itself in recent CNN exit polls, which shows that the majority of those with low incomes and little education vote for the Democratic Party.
However, since at least 1980 there has been a noticeable decline in support for the Democratic Party among white working-class voters. In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama carried 40% of white voters without college degrees to John McCain carrying 58%. In the 2010 midterms, Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives only carried 33% of the white working class vote compared to 63% for the Republican candidates. In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama carried 36% of white working class voters to Mitt Romney carrying 61%. In the 2014 midterms, Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives carried 34% of the white working class vote compared to 64% for the Republican candidates. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton only carried 28% of white working class voters to Donald Trump carrying 67%.
The Democratic Party receives support from secular organizations such as the Secular Coalition for America and many agnostic and atheist Americans. Exit polls from the 2008 election showed that voters with a religious affiliation of "none" accounted for the 12% of the electorate and overwhelmingly voted for Obama by a 75–25% margin. In his inaugural address, Obama acknowledged atheists by saying that the United States is not just "Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus but non-believers as well". In the 2012 election cycle, Obama has moderate to high rankings with the Secular Coalition for America whereas the majority of the Republican candidates have ratings in the low-to-failing range.
Although a diverse group themselves, atheists and secular people may include individuals who are fiscally conservative. In this case, fiscally conservative atheists and secularists will come together due to their opposition to the religiously bound social policies of the Christian right. There is still a social stigma relating to atheism in the nation and polls show that a majority of the American people would be more comfortable voting for a Muslim or gay candidate than an atheist.
From the end of the Civil War, African Americans primarily favored the Republican Party due to its overwhelming political and more tangible efforts in achieving the abolition of slavery, particularly through President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The South had long been a Democratic stronghold, favoring a state's right to legal slavery. In addition, the ranks of the fledgling Ku Klux Klan were composed almost entirely of white Democrats who were angry over the poor treatment they had received at the hands of northerners and who were also bent on reversing the policies of Reconstruction. However, African Americans began drifting to the Democratic Party when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president. Support for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s by Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson helped give the Democrats even larger support among the African American community, which consistently vote between 85-95% Democratic.
Prominent modern-day African American Democratic politicians include Jim Clyburn, Elijah Cummings, Maxine Waters, John Lewis, Barbara Lee, Charles Rangel, John Conyers, Senator Cory Booker and former President Barack Obama, who managed to net over 95% of the African American vote in the 2008 election. Despite being unaffiliated, the NAACP often participates in organizing and voter turnout drives and advocates for progressive causes, especially those that affect people of color. Within the House of Representatives, the Congressional Black Caucus, consisting of 44 black Democrats, serves to represent the interests of African Americans and advocate on issues that affect them.
The Hispanic population, particularly the large Mexican American population in the Southwest and the large Puerto Rican and Dominican populations in the Northeast, have been strong supporters of the Democratic Party. In the 1996 presidential election, Democratic President Bill Clinton received 72% of the Hispanic vote. In following years, the Republican Party gained increasing support from the Hispanic community, especially among Hispanic Protestants and Pentecostals. With his much more liberal views on immigration, President Bush was the first Republican president to gain 40% of the Hispanic vote in the 2004 presidential election. Yet the Republican Party's support among Hispanics eroded in the 2006 midterm elections, dropping from 44% to 30%, with the Democrats gaining in the Hispanic vote from 55% in 2004 to 69% in 2006. Democrats increased their share of the Hispanic vote in the 2008 presidential election, with Barack Obama receiving 67%. According to exit polls by Edison Research, Obama increased his support again in 2012, winning 71% of Hispanic voters.
Cuban Americans still tend to vote Republican, though there has been a noticeable change starting with the 2008 elections. During the 2008 elections, Barack Obama received 47% of the Cuban American vote in Florida. According to Bendixen's exit polls, 84% of Miami-Dade Cuban American voters 65 or older backed McCain, while 55% of those 29 or younger backed Obama, showing that the younger Cuban American generation has become more liberal.
Unaffiliated Hispanic advocacy groups that often support progressive candidates and causes include the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens. In the House of Representatives, the Democratic caucus of Hispanic Americans is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The Democratic Party also has strong support among the Native American population, particularly in Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and North Carolina. Although now a small percentage of the population (virtually non-existent in some regions), most Native American precincts vote Democratic in margins exceeded only by African-Americans.
Modern-day Democratic Native American politicians include Congresswomen Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico and former Congressman Brad Carson of Oklahoma as well as Principal Chief Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation and Governor Bill Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation.
Jewish American communities tend to be a stronghold for the Democratic Party, with more than 70% of Jewish voters having cast their ballots for the Democrats in the 2004 and 2006 elections. Al Gore received 79% of the Jewish votes in 2000 and Barack Obama won about 77% of the Jewish vote in 2008. Support tends to vary among specific sectarian groups. For example, only 13% of Orthodox Jews supported Barack Obama in 2008 while around 60% of Conservative Jews and Reform Jews did so. A 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 60% of self-described Jews identified as Democratic or leaning towards the party, compared to 33% with those feelings towards Republicans.
Jews as an important Democratic constituency are especially politically active and influential in large cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago and play critical roles in large cities within presidential swing states, such as Philadelphia, Miami and Las Vegas. Many prominent national Democrats in recent decades have been Jewish, including Chuck Schumer, Carl Levin, Abraham Ribicoff, Ben Cardin, Henry Waxman, Martin Frost, Joseph Lieberman, Bernie Sanders, Dianne Feinstein, Barney Frank, Barbara Boxer, Paul Wellstone, Rahm Emanuel, Russ Feingold, Herb Kohl and Howard Metzenbaum.
Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have leaned Democratic since the Iraq War. Zogby found in June 2007 that 39% of Arab Americans identify as Democrats, 26% as Republicans and 28% as independents.
Arab Americans, who are in general socially conservative yet with more diverse economic views, historically voted Republican until recent years, having supported George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000.
A 2012 poll found that 68% of Muslim Americans surveyed support Barack Obama.
The Democratic Party also has considerable support in the small yet growing Asian American population. The Asian American population had been a stronghold of the Republican Party until the 1992 presidential election in which George H. W. Bush won 55% of the Asian American vote, compared to Bill Clinton winning 31% and Ross Perot winning 15% of the Asian vote. Originally, the vast majority of Asian Americans consisted of strongly anti-communist, pro-democracy Vietnamese refugees, Chinese Americans, Taiwanese Americans, Korean Americans and socially conservative Filipinos who fled Ferdinand Marcos in the 1960s through the 1980s and the general Republican Party's socially conservative, fervently anti-communist position strongly resonated with this original demographic. The Democratic party made gains among the Asian American population starting in 1996 and in 2006, won 62% of the Asian American vote. Exit polls after the 2008 presidential election indicated that Democratic candidate, Barack Obama won 62% of the Asian American vote nationwide. In the 2012 presidential election, 73% of the Asian American electorate voted for Obama's re-election.
Barack Obama has the support of 85% of Indian Americans, 68% of Chinese Americans and 57% of Filipino Americans. The Asian American community's increasing number of young voters has also helped to erode traditionally reliably Republican voting blocs such as Vietnamese and Filipino Americans, leading to an increase in support for Democrats. Prominent Asian American Democrats include Senators Tammy Duckworth, Daniel Inouye, Daniel Akaka and Mazie Hirono, former Governor and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Representatives Mike Honda, Judy Chu, Doris Matsui and Norman Mineta.
As of 2019, there have been a total of 15 Democratic Party Presidents.