Criticism: Explore the criticism supporters of the parties have of each other
Identify positive legislation/directives/agencies/policies & so on for each party
Create a Political Party for the 21st Century:
-Future Plans/Plans for a better America
CRITICAL ESSAY: Why do Third Parties experience limited success in America? (Consider history, political strength, access, and what would it take to gain a major victory?).
MAGAZINE ARTICLE: (a) Discuss the issue of realignment involving African Americans’ shift from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party;
(b) and the dominance of the Democratic Party in the South to the emergence of the Republican Party’s influence in the region. LEARNING OBJECTIVES
After students have read and studied this chapter, they should be able to:
Distinguish between a political party, an interest group, and a faction.
Identify the functions of a political party.
Identify the two major-party face-offs that developed in the years before the Civil War crisis.
Distinguish between the various parties or tendencies that have adopted the name Republican.
Explain the transformation of the Democratic Party from a party of limited government, states’ rights, and racism to a party of strong government, national authority, and support for civil rights.
Describe the core constituents and economic beliefs of the Republican and Democratic parties.
Explain how economic politics and cultural politics often pull in different directions.
Describe the three faces of a political party, including the party organization, the party in electorate, and the party-in-government.
Explain how the winner-take-all election system works against third parties.
Distinguish between ideological third parties and splinter parties.
Explain what realignment is and identify the four most important realignments in American history.
Briefly describe the rise of independent voters and split ticket voting.
Define the concept of demographically based political tipping.
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
Do democratic governments need political parties? If a democratic government has political parties, will the structure always be a two-party system? What factors impact how many political parties will exist?
Would proportional representation for the House of Representatives be a good idea? How about for the Electoral College?
Why does the U.S. have only two major parties?
Is the United States returning to the era of personal politics? Consider the increase in the number of independent voters and ticket splitters.
Is party identification a major factor for voters in presidential elections?
Why is it difficult for independent candidates or minor party candidates to get elected to Congress?
What types of factors influence one’s party identification? If you consider yourself to be a “party identifier,” why do you identify with your party?
What inferences can be made about the voting population through the closely divided elections of 2000 and 2004?
What role did third parties play in the 2000 presidential elections?
Under what circumstances could a viable third party emerge to challenge the Democrats and Republicans?
BEYOND THE BOOK
The question of when the anachronistic label “Democratic-Republican” came into existence to describe the Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson is an interesting one. Despite some effort, we have not been able to pin down who coined the term, but it clearly did not come into use until the 20th century. The apparent purpose of the coinage was to claim that Jefferson’s party was the direct ancestor of the Democratic Party of today. While in a way that is a true enough claim, the fact is that the Whigs could also claim to be direct descendents of the Jeffersonian Republicans, and through them, the modern Republican Party could make the claim as well. A footnote: the one instance in which a major political party ever referred to itself as the “Democratic Republicans” came after the election of the second president Adams, when the term “Democratic Republican” was, for a time, an alternative to “Jacksonian Republican.” These people were soon to be simply the Democrats, of course.
So how did Democrats get assigned the color blue, and Republicans the color red? This seems a bit of a reversal, because red was traditionally the color of the political left, dating back to the days of the French Revolution when the term “left” was first coined. And the Democrats are presumably to the left of the Republicans. In countries such as Canada and Britain, the conservatives are always blue and the more left-of-center parties are red. The answer seems to be that in the United States, red came to be identified specifically with the communist movement. During the “red scare” following World War II, certain Republicans attempted to gain political traction by accusing the Democrats of being “soft on communism.” (Fear of this charge, in fact, may have helped lead Democratic President Lyndon Johnson into his fateful decision to fight Vietnamese communists with U.S. troops.) To avoid any appearance of echoing this accusation, network news departments avoided assigning the color red to the Democrats in election-eve results maps. They gave it to the Republicans instead, on the assumption that there could be no confusion—no one has ever credibly accused the Republicans of being soft on communism. The color blue was left over for the Democrats. Hence another American political reversal, paralleling the reversal of the meaning of liberalism as detailed in Chapter 1.
The text is purposefully vague about how proportional representation (PR) would work. It is a complicated topic, and many groups of students might be confused by it. If your students are relatively advanced, however, you could spend a little time on this topic. For the House, there are basically two realistic ways to do it. One is to have fewer congressional districts than there are available House seats. The extra House seats can be awarded to a party’s statewide list to make up for any departure from proportionality at the district level. This is how the Germans do it, by the way. A second method would be to transfer surplus votes from one congressional district to another. Consider Oregon, which under PR would almost always break 3-2 in favor of the Democrats. The actual Oregon delegation in 2003-2005, however, was 4-1 for the Democrats. Under this PR system, the one Republican who turned in the best relative performance while still coming in second would go to Washington instead of the Democrat in that district. In a large state, this system would elect some third-party candidates.
A second PR problem: If you had PR for the Electoral College, how do you keep the race from being constantly thrown into the House? Even Ralph Nader in 2000 would have kept either major party from obtaining a majority. Some countries have a set minimum percent of the vote a party must reach before votes for that party begin to count. In Germany, that threshold is 5%, which would certainly have eliminated Nader’s ability to tie up the race. As noted below, however, Ross Perot received 19% in 1992. What could stop such a candidate from sending the race to the House? The answer: awarding electoral votes only to the top two finishers in each state. Under such a modified PR system, Perot would have gotten exactly four electoral votes, two from Bush and two from Clinton. Of course, such a plan would tend to preserve the two-party system. Its only real benefit would be to make the electoral vote a more faithful reflection of the popular one.
Do cultural politics trump economic politics nowadays? A map of the presidential election results would seem to argue that this is so. Prosperous culturally liberal states confront less-well-off culturally conservative ones. However, cultural issues may have more to do with whether a particular state goes Republican or Democratic than whether the country as a whole goes Republican or Democratic. The reason for this is that cultural politics may have a stronger regional component than economic politics. “The poor you will always have with you,” and the rich as well. In any locality, the rich and poor measure themselves against each other, and not against people living in some more remote region. Though some states are richer than others, the “skewed bell curve” of income within any state or locality looks about the same. Economic issues may likewise hit home relatively equally all over the country. Cultural values, however, really do pit different parts of the country against each other. Therefore, even if economic issues move many more voters than cultural ones, the even dispersion of the impact of such issues would not change the striking cultural appearance of the partisan map. (It would merely move some marginal states from red to blue, or vice versa.)
The 1992 presidential election serves as an example of the impact a candidate who is not affiliated with one of the two major parties can have on the electoral process. Ross Perot ran as an independent candidate and received 19 percent of the total popular vote. Only two candidates not affiliated with a major party have received a higher percentage of the popular vote in this century (T. Roosevelt, 1912 and LaFollette, 1924). However, Perot, like Roosevelt and LaFollette, did not win the election. In fact, Perot did not receive any electoral votes, though he did push George H. W. Bush into third place in Maine and Bill Clinton into third place in Utah. Nonetheless, many would contend that he impacted the election by taking votes from either Bush or Clinton. Note also, when a candidate runs for the office of president and is unsuccessful and then runs again four years later, the percentage of vote the candidate receives will probably be less. Perot received only 8.5 percent of the popular vote in 1996.
In the United States the voting population is nearly evenly divided between people who identify themselves as Democrats, as Republicans and as “independents,” (a voter who does not identify with a political party). Very few people are actually “card-carrying” party members, however.
What Is a Political Party?
A political party is “a group of political activists who organize to win elections, to operate the government, and to determine public policy.” This definition makes a distinction between a political party and an interest group. Interest groups want to influence public policy, but are not interested in controlling the government. This definition also distinguishes parties from factions, which are smaller groups of individuals, often within a political party, who are acting together in pursuit of some special interest or position. For a political party to be successful, it must unite diverse groups that have different policy orientations. These are the functions of political parties in the United States:
Recruiting candidates to run for elective offices at all levels of government on the party label. By attracting quality candidates the party enhances its chance of winning the elective positions and controlling the government.
Organizing and running elections is technically a government responsibility, but the parties mobilize citizens to vote and participate.
Presenting alternative policies to the electorate is an essential role. By understanding the position of each party on the major issues the voter has some indication of the position of the party’s candidates.
Accepting the responsibility of operating government at all levels of the government is crucial to the functioning of the political process. Parties organize Congress (see Chapter 11 for details on committee organization), affect how the president selects individuals to serve in the executive branch (see Chapters 12 and 13 for details) and how the president nominates federal judges (see Chapter 14 for details on the nomination process). Parties also perform the same functions at the state and local levels of government.
Providing organized opposition to the party in power is an essential role for a party that does not control one or another branch of the government.
A History of Political Parties in the United States
Political parties did not exist when the Constitution was drafted and are not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution. Yet the debate on the ratification of the Constitution helped give rise to the first political parties.
The Formative Years: Federalists and Anti-Federalists. The two-party system can be said to have originated in the debate between supporters of the Constitution (the Federalists) and those who though the states should be the locus of authority and advocated a Bill of Rights (the Anti-Federalists). Under George Washington and John Adams, the Federalist Party was the first party to control the national government. By 1796, however, another party came into the political process. This party was headed by Thomas Jefferson and was called the Republicans. (Do not confuse this party with the later party of Lincoln.) While Jefferson’s party supported the Constitution, it was clearly the heir of the pre-revolutionary republican movement and the later Anti-Federalists.
The Era of Good Feelings. The Federalist Party began to erode as a viable party after 1800. (It was fatally identified with aristocratic tendencies.) By 1820 it was unable to field a presidential candidate and was essentially extinct. Only the Republicans were left to control the government. This period, sometimes called the Era of Good Feelings, is perhaps the only time in which the United States did not have a two-party system. Given the relative insignificance of parties, it is also referred to as the era of personal politics.
National Two-Party Rule: Whigs and Democrats. With the fiercely contested election of 1824, the Republican Party split into the Democrats (Jackson supporters) and the National Republicans (Adams supporters). The National Republicans soon renamed themselves the Whigs.
The Civil War Crisis. The argument over slavery first split the Whigs and then the Democrats along North/South lines. Northern Whigs formed the largest element in the new anti-slavery Republican Party.
The Post-Civil War Period.
The abolition of the “three-fifths” rule meant counting all former slaves in allocating House seats and electoral votes. With this addition, and after the readmission of all Confederate states, the reunited Democratic Party was now about as strong as the Republicans.
“Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” Cultural factors divided the parties. The Republican ranks contained an aggressive Evangelical Protestant element that was hostile to Catholicism and favored moralistic initiatives such as banning the sale of liquor. Democrats opposed a strong national government that could impose coercive moralistic measures in the North and protect the rights of the “freedmen” in the South.
The Triumph of the Republicans. The Republicans did not gain a decisive edge until 1896, when, at the bottom of an economic depression, the Democrats endorsed a pro-debtor populist platform that frightened Eastern workers. The Republicans won just in time to benefit from the end of the depression, and thus sealed their reputation as the party of prosperity.
The Progressive Interlude. A temporary split in the Republican ranks allowed the Democrats to gain control of the government under President Woodrow Wilson from 1912 to 1920. This period is significant because under Wilson, the Democrats began to move away from their former hostility to government action in the economy.
The New Deal Era. “The Great Depression shattered the working-class belief in Republican economic competence.” President Franklin Roosevelt completed the evolution of the Democrats into a party of active government. (One characterization by a sympathetic professor was, “Hamiltonian means, Jeffersonian ends.”) Roosevelt’s “big tent” was big enough to welcome African Americans, an unprecedented development.
An Era of Divided Government. Northern Democratic support for the civil rights movement tended to push Southern conservatives out of the party. The unrest of the late 1960s (urban riots, anti-Vietnam War protests) alienated other cultural conservatives from the Democrats. These voters largely became Republicans, though the process was a slow one lasting decades, not an overnight revolution such as was seen in 1896 and 1932.
The Parties in Balance. In any event, the result has been a nation very evenly divided between the two major parties. In the years after 1968, the pattern was often a Republican president and a Democratic Congress. Under Democratic President Clinton, the pattern was reversed.
Red State, Blue State. The extraordinarily close presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 focused attention on the supposed differences between Democratic “blue states” and Republican “red states.” The geographic pattern of state support for the parties is the reverse of the pattern of 1896, neatly exemplifying the reversal of Democratic Party ideology and support.
The Two Major U.S. Parties Today
The Parties’ Core Constituents. These constituencies were set forth in Chapter 6.
Economic Beliefs. Labor and minorities have been Democratic core constituents since the New Deal era, and their social and economic positions tend to reflect this. “Republicans are more supportive of the private marketplace, and believe more strongly in an ethic of self-reliance and limited government.”
Economic Convergence? In recent years, however, and especially under President George W. Bush, the Republicans have in practice matched or exceeded the Democrats in their support for public spending.
Republican and Democratic Budgets. Still, Democrats have the reputation of supporting the less-well-off, and Republicans the prosperous.
Cultural Politics. Cultural politics have become more important in recent years as a reason why people support one of the major parties.
Cultural Politics and Socioeconomic Status. In cultural politics, the upper classes tend to be more liberal than the lower ones, a reversal of the pattern seen in economic politics.
The Regional Factor in Cultural Politics. Wealthy states and regions now appear more supportive of the Democrats, and less-well-off ones more supportive of the Republicans.
The 2004 Election: Economics and National Security. Despite the importance of cultural values in defining the parties’ core supporters, in 2004 Kerry and Bush concentrated on foreign policy and the economy, the two issues identified by the voters as the most important (see Chapter 6).
The Three Faces of a Party
Political parties in the United States can be said to be comprised of three components. The party in the electorate is comprised of the people who identify with the party or who regularly vote for the candidates of the party in general elections. Without the party in the electorate, it would not be possible for the party to have electoral success. The party organization is the second element. The function of the party organization is to provide leadership and structure for the party. The last element is the party-in-government. This includes the elected and appointed officials who gained office under the label of the party. Once in office these leaders organize to influence governmental policy toward the platform of the party.
Party Organization. In theory, each party has a pyramid-shaped organization.
The National Party Organization. While the parties have the appearance of a pyramid with the national organization on at the top and the local party organization serving as the base, this theoretical structure is not realistic. Rather, American political parties tend to operate like a confederacy, where the state parties act autonomously and have loose connections to each other and to the national committee.
Convention Delegates. The national party organization receives the most publicity during the national convention. Members of the party who have been selected to attend the convention meet to nominate the presidential candidate, approve the party platform and approve the presidential candidate’s selection of a vice-presidential candidate. This convention is held once every four years. Convention delegates typically have political views further from the center than the supporters of the party in the electorate.
The National Committee. Elected by the national convention, this body serves as the party’s governing body until the next convention.
Picking a National Chairperson. This person is picked or approved by the party’s presidential candidate. If the candidate loses, however, the National Committee may choose a different chairperson.
The State Party Organization. Each state also has a party organization. There is a state chairperson and a state central committee. Like the national party, each state party holds a state convention, which may endorse some candidates, depending on state law. A state party platform is drafted which focuses on state-level issues.
Local Party Machinery: The Grass Roots.
Patronage and City Machines. In the 1800s and early 1900s, major cities typically had powerful political “machines” that supplied welfare services and jobs to an immigrant- based clientele in return for votes. Such machines no longer exist. Welfare services are now provided by a nonpartisan bureaucracy and government jobs are assigned through competitive examinations.
Local Party Organizations Today. Local organizations have important functions, such as getting out the vote. The local party organization differs in different regions of the country. In some areas the party has little local organization. In other areas there may be a very strong local organization that controls the local governmental process. The national party has little control over local organizations.
For the parties, winning elections is important for a number of reasons. The majority party can dominate committees in legislatures, decide appointments in the executive branch, and set the political agenda.
Divided Government. Given the system of checks and balances, it is important to note that gaining a partisan majority does not mean absolute power. Indeed, in the era of ticket splitting and divided government, majority partisan advantage is almost always tempered by the opposition.
The Limits of Party Unity. Legislation often does not pass on party-line votes. The reason in part is that candidates for the House and Senate are not dependent on their party, but put together personal campaign organizations.
Party Polarization. Still, partisanship appears to have increased in recent years. Computers can be used to devise “safe seats” for both parties. With little risk of general-election competition, members of the House can be more partisan. Also, various elements of the media have discovered that “stridency sells,” and therefore promote polarization.
Why Has the Two Party System Endured?
The Historical Foundations of the Two-Party System. With great frequency throughout our history, major issues confronting the country have produced two clear sides. This duality helped to initiate a two-party system and has maintained this system through the present.
Political Socialization and Practical Considerations: For generations, all that has existed is a two party system. If individuals are not exposed to anything but a two-party system, they will not likely seek change to a different type of system.
The Winner-Take-All Electoral System. This system elects the candidate who receives a plurality of the votes. Candidates who finish second receive nothing. Assume a situation in which a party is able to gain 19 percent of the vote nationwide, but in no single district manages to attain a plurality. The party will elect no candidates.
Presidential Voting. The winner-take-all system also works in presidential voting. In all but two states, the presidential candidate with a plurality gets all the electoral votes of that state. This is the unit rule.
Popular Election of the Governors and President. In most democratic countries, the chief executive is a premier or prime minister elected by the legislature. If there are three or more parties, two or more can band together to elect a premier. In America, however, governors are elected directly by the people and presidents are elected indirectly by the people. There is no opportunity for negotiations between parties.
Proportional Representation. Many countries use proportional representation in elections. Such a system allows a party to receive the number of legislators equal to the percentage of the vote the party received. If a party receives 19 percent of the vote it would then receive 19 percent of the seats in the legislature. As long as the U.S. continues to use a winner-take-all electoral system, it is highly unlikely that a minor party will be successful.
State and Federal Laws Favoring the Two Parties. This occurs because the two major parties are in control of the policy-making process. As long as the Democrats and Republicans are in power at the state and national levels, they will continue to pass laws which favor the two-party system and will pass laws making it difficult for new parties to develop.
The Role of Minor Parties in U.S. Politics
Ideological Third Parties. Many third parties are long-lived organizations with strong ideological foundations. A historical example is the Socialist Party, which existed from 1900 to 1972. Current examples include the Libertarian Party and the Green Party.
Splinter Parties. Not all minor parties have been based on a different ideology from the major parties. A few minor parties are formed when members of one of the two major parties are dissatisfied with the leader of the major party, or the members are dissatisfied with the platform of the major party. These are usually referred to as spin-off parties. For example, the Bull-Moose Progressives were a spin-off of the Republican Party. The Progressives were those reform-minded Republicans who supported the candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt over that of William Howard Taft.
The Impact of Minor Parties. No presidential candidate has been elected from a minor party. Very few members of Congress have been elected on the label of a minor party. But minor parties have had an impact in that they raise issues that the two major parties must address. These parties also provide voters with another option.
Influencing the Major Parties. Minor parties can raise issues that major parties then adopt. The Populist Party was an example. Many of its policies were taken over by the Democrats in 1896 (which ironically hurt the Democrats rather than helping them). During its existence, the Socialist Party advanced many proposals that were picked up by liberals (and sometimes even by a bipartisan consensus).
Affecting the Outcome of an Election. Some claim that the candidacy of Ralph Nader on the Green Party ticket hurt Democrat Al Gore’s chances of winning the presidency, particularly given how close the election was. Nader may have taken votes from Gore, thus giving George W. Bush an edge.
Mechanisms of Political Change
Realignment. Key term: Realignment, a process in which a substantial group of voters switches party allegiance, producing a long-term change in the political landscape.
Realignment: the Myth of Dominance. Realignments do not have to result in a dominant party. The realignment associated with the creation of the modern Republicans eventually produced a country that was relatively evenly divided between the parties. The same is true of the most recent realignment in which conservative Democrats became Republicans.
Realignment: the Myth of Predictability. It is a happenstance that realignments have been relatively evenly spaced through American history.
Is Realignment Still Possible? Realignments followed from party coalitions that included contradictory elements—both slave owners and opponents of slavery (the Whigs), both workers and their employers (the Republicans after 1896), or both African Americans and segregationists (the Democrats after 1932). It is almost inevitable that such coalitions will break up. The political parties today, however, appear to have relatively compatible core constituents.
Dealignment. Some argue that realignment has been replaced by dealignment—a major drop-off in support for the parties.
Independent Voters. The number of independents has grown steadily since the 1930s. Split ticket voting is more common.
Not-So-Independent Voters. But many “independents” really do prefer one or another of the two parties. The number of true independents may not exceed 10% of the voters.
Tipping in Massachusetts. If one ethnic group grows more rapidly than another, it can “tip” a state from one party to the other. The famous example is Massachusetts, where in 1928 the Democratic Irish finally outnumbered the Republican Yankees.
Tipping in California? This state appears to have recently tipped to the Democrats due to an increase in the Hispanic and Asian population.
On to the Future. Will cultural and economic conservatism draw more voters to the Republicans? Or will cultural liberalism and increased immigration help the Democrats? Time will tell.
What If . . . Parties Were Supported Solely by Public Funding?
The implications of public funding of parties would include smaller party budgets, fewer party employees and most significantly, a decline in the significance of lobbyists and the power of corporate interests.
Beyond Our Borders: Multiparty Systems—The Rule Rather Than the Exception.
The United States is the rarity among nations today, with most nations operating under a system of multiple parties necessitating the formation of coalitions and the making of compromises among factions.
Which Side Are You On? Should Voters Ignore Third-Party Candidates?
If a third party espouses politics that are similar to (if more radical than) the politics of a major party, then the third party’s supporters can “shoot themselves in the foot” by placing principle above practicality. It can also happen, however, that neither party is at all close to a third party’s principles. Both George W. Bush and John Kerry were a long way from being Libertarians, for example. Also, some contests are not close, which gives third-party supporters the luxury of voting their conscience.
POLITICAL PARTIES ASSIGNMENT
What Is a Political Party?
What are the Functions of Political Parties in the United States?
A Short History of Political Parties in the United States
(Magazine article or outline)
The Three Faces of a Party (Diagram/Graphic Organizer)
Party Organization (Diagram/Graphic Organizer)
The Party in Government (Examine the Party in action)
The Two Major U.S. Parties and Their Members (Profile the two major parties)
Why Has the Two Party System Endured?
The Third Party: what is the Role of Minor Parties in U.S. Political History?
Compare and contrast the two major political parties (The Democratic and Republican parties)
Compare and contrast the two major political parties (The Democratic and Republican parties). You are to:
1. Identify ten (10) values, from either party, that you strongly agree with.
2. Explain why you agree with the political value. (An example might be - I agree with the Republican's party Pro-Life view (value) because my moral and religious beliefs tell me it is wrong to take the life of an innocent, unborn child. I believe that every life is precious.)
3. After you have decided on ten, add them up to see how many were Republican values and how many were Democratic values. If six of the ten are Democratic values, then it would indicate that you are leaning more toward being a Democrat. Of course, this depends on which ten values you choose. So choose the ten that you think are most important to you.
4. If you believe your political values are more identified with a third or minor political party you may research that political party and list 10 of their political values instead of using the information about the two major parties.
5. And finally, write at least a few paragraphs about what this exercise revealed for you. Did it confirm what you thought about your values before you did the exercise or did you realize something new about your political values? Did it help you to clarify your own personal political values? How did you feel about your results?
The history of the Democratic Party in the United States goes back to the time of our first Presidents. Thomas Jefferson, in the late 1700's, started the first political party with the conviction that the federal government was assuming too much power over domestic policy and should be stopped. His party became known as the "Democratic" party when candidate Andrew Jackson became President in 1828. Jackson was known as a man of the people. He took the Democratic party that Jefferson and his elite collegues had formed and turned it over to the citizens of the United States. The party held its first convention in 1832 to re-elect Jackson to a second term.
The Democratic National Convention began the Democratic National Committee in 1848. It has become the longest running political organization in the world. The Convention gave the committee the job of promoting the party causes between the conventions and also preparing for each of the next conventions.
On the issue of slavery at the 1860 Democratic Convention, Democrats held that each State had the right to prohibit or recognize slavery. This position caused Northern Democrats to withdraw from the convention. The Southern Democrats and the Northern Democrats each nominated their own separate candidates for President that year. The election was ultimately lost to Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln.
The Democratic Party has met every four years since 1832 to nominate a presidential and vice-presidential candidate. From 1832 to 1968, sixteen Democratic candidates have become President including James Polk, James Buchanan, Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy.
The symbol of the donkey has become known as the Democratic mascot. Thomas Nast, a famous political cartoonist, used the donkey first in an 1870 editorial cartoon to represent the an anti-war faction that he did not agree with. Nast continued using it to portray Democratic press and reporters.
Democratic Party History
From "Jacksonian Democracy" to the modern era, a look at the Democratic Party over the years
August 2, 2000
Web posted at: 11:22 p.m. EDT (0322 GMT)
The Democratic Party is the oldest existing political party in the United States. The Democrats have won 20 of 43 presidential elections since the party presented its first presidential candidate, Andrew Jackson, for the public's approval in 1828.
While there is no precise date for the beginning of the Democratic Party, the organization emerged from a wing of the dominant Democratic-Republican Party, which initially had been organized by Thomas Jefferson in the early days of the Republic in opposition to the Federalist Party.
In the late 1820s, Andrew Jackson led a splintered faction of the Democratic-Republicans to form the Democratic Party.
Most historians agree that the Democratic Party as we know it began with Jackson's successful 1828 presidential campaign. The 1828 campaign was also the origin of the Democratic Party's mascot -- the donkey. Jackson's opponents called him a "jackass" during the campaign, and Jacksonians adopted the legendarily stubborn animal as a political symbol.
Leaders of the Democratic Party encouraged the Populist movement of that era and the expansionist movement west that followed. This era was marked by grass roots democracy at the local level, especially in the new western frontier of the Ohio Valley. If an official date can be established for the beginning of the Democratic Party, it would be 1832, when the Democrats held their first nominating convention in Baltimore, ratifying "Old Hickory" - Jackson -- for a second term.
The Democrats managed to dominate American politics through the beginning of the Civil War.
Between 1828 and 1860, the last election before the Civil War, the Democrats held the White House for 24 of 32 years. The party controlled the Senate for 26 years and the House for 24 years during this period. The ideology of the party during the pre-Civil War era stressed states' rights and low government spending, but the dominant issue of the time was slavery.
In 1860, the slavery issue became so divisive and burdensome that it completely splintered and hobbled the Democratic Party. That year, the Democrats ran two separate tickets -- one southern and pro-slavery, and one northern, which espoused "popular sovereignty," a system that was intended to allow new states the option to choose whether slavery would be legalized within their borders.
This division helped Abraham Lincoln, candidate of the four-year-old, anti-slavery Republican Party, to win the White House. Lincoln swept most states outside of the South, while the slave states voted for the Southern Democratic ticket, and later seceded.
During the Civil War, which followed quickly after the 1860 election, the northern Democratic Party split into two factions -- "War Democrats" and "Peace Democrats." The War Democrats supported the war effort and Lincoln. In fact, Lincoln chose War Democrat Andrew Johnson as a vice presidential running mate in the 1864 election.
The Peace Democrats -- also known as "Copperheads" -- actively opposed the war - instead favoring a negotiated peace settlement with the South and Lincoln. This split, along with the total defeat of the South and the legacy of the bloody war, opened the way for the dominance of the Republican Party for the next 72 years.
The period after the Civil War stands out as the lowest point in the Democrats' history, when the party was unable to win the White House or control Congress. The only stronghold of Democratic power was in the South, where Republicans gave blacks the right to vote and took that right away from southerners who had fought against the Union.
Most southerners firmly believed that the Republican Party stood against their beliefs, and the region became "the Solid South" for the Democrats. During this 72-year period -- 1860-1932 -- the Democrats would occupy the White House for a scant 16 years: the terms of Grover Cleveland, 1885-1889 and 1893-1897, and Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921. In Congress, the Democrats controlled the House for 26 years and the Senate for only 10.
In 1912, when Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the presidency with Teddy Roosevelt splitting the GOP on his Bull Moose ticket, the Democratic Party began to shift away from its philosophies of strict interpretation of the Constitution and limited government. The historic 1928 candidacy of New York Governor Al Smith as the first Roman Catholic to be nominated for president by a major party, though losing, swelled the Democratic ranks and gave shape to a wide and potent coalition to come. The great stock market crash of 1929 and the depression that followed finally broke the post-Civil War GOP majority, and the Democrats now moved to take leadership of the nation as a progressive and diverse party.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his "New Deal" swept into office in 1932 propelled by a broad coalition of Roman Catholic ethnics, laborers, blacks, academics and the traditional core of southern Democratic support. FDR ousted President Herbert Hoover in a landslide that year, and the Democrats would lose only two presidential elections in the next 32 years.
In 1928, Smith had won only eight states. By 1936, FDR carried all but two. Between 1932 and 1968, only one Republican candidate -- national hero Dwight Eisenhower -- was able to capture the White House (1953-1961). During that same period, Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress for all but four years (1947-1949 and 1953-1955).
Ideologically, the party now supported a stronger central government, a more liberal interpretation of the Constitution and a federal government that took an activist role in addressing the nation's economic and social ills. Major policy items that characterized this philosophy were the New Deal programs of the 1930s, (when Social Security was established), and President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society programs of the 1960s, (when Medicare and Medicaid were established).
FDR, the only man ever elected to unprecedented third and fourth terms in the White House, died in office just months before the end of World War II in 1945. His legacy of leadership during the Great Depression and Second World War -- and the political coalition he created -- left him the towering American political figure of the 20th century. Harry Truman, his vice president, assumed office and led the nation through the final days of the war and the beginning of the Cold War against the Soviet Empire.
Truman presided over the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Marshall Plan and the United Nations. His "Cold War liberalism" - a combination of New Deal social policy and anti-Communist foreign policy -- would dominate for the next 25 years.
"Give 'em hell Harry" would also win the most famed comeback in American political history when he led the Democrats to an upset victory over the GOP and Tom Dewey in 1948.
The turning point in modern presidential politics occurred in the 1960's. Following the assassination of Democratic president John F. Kennedy, and beset by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights struggle, reactions against Johnson's Great Society spending, and the rise of controversial cultural and social issues to the political fore, the Democratic Party coalition strained to the breaking point.
The collapse of the Democrat's so-called Solid South accelerated, and millions of traditionally Democratic blue-collar and middle-class voters -- particularly northern Catholics -- strayed from the party in increasing numbers. Though LBJ defeated the strongly conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, in an historic 1964 rout, former GOP Vice President Richard Nixon would capture the White House just four years later.
Democrats would fail to regain the White House for 20 of the next 24 years. However, the Democrats' losses in presidential campaigns were balanced by strength in Congress, as well as at the state and local level.
Yet the party resisted efforts to nominate less liberal candidates for national office. The defeat of Democratic President Jimmy Carter by Ronald Reagan in 1980 marked the low-water point of this Democratic presidential nomination tendency.
Reagan and the GOP attacked the Democratic Party as relentlessly liberal and on the wrong side of large parts of the public on many hot-button social issues. Reagan would win two landslides in the 1980s, followed by the election of his vice president - George Bush -- in 1988, all accomplished with the votes of millions of so-called Reagan Democrats. During this time, Democrats struggled with some success to maintain their strength in Congress and at the state level while adjusting their message to new political realities.
In November 1992, a slow economy and public dissatisfaction with the status quo gave the Democrats the White House for the first time in 12 years. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton ran as a politically moderate "New Democrat" who was pro-business and pro-death penalty, focusing on the nation's economy ("It's the economy, stupid"). Clinton won 32 states, holding then-President Bush to 37.5 percent of the vote. While the Democrats regained the Oval Office and held Congress, the GOP picked up 10 seats in the House.
In 1994, Republicans, galvanized by Clinton administration missteps (including its ill-fated national health care proposal), ran on the "Contract With America," and took complete control of Congress for the first time since 1955. Further, the GOP claimed 30 of the nation's 50 governorships, including eight of the 10 biggest electoral states, and drew even with the Democrats in many state legislatures.
To many Republicans, the 1994 election seemed to bring about their long-anticipated political realignment, whose origins they saw in the Reagan 80s. But while the new GOP Congress was able to steer President Clinton to support some of its goals -- Clinton even declared in his 1996 State of the Union address that "the era of big government is over" -- Clinton would have considerable success sparring with them in the court of public opinion.
By the 1996 elections, after signing a welfare reform bill and following a bruising fight with the GOP over spending and tax cuts that resulted in a partial government shutdown, Clinton had sufficiently recovered to win reelection against former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. Clinton defeated Dole by an eight-point margin, with 49 percent of the vote. The Democrats failed, however, in their concerted effort to retake Congress.
In 1997, Clinton and the congressional GOP reached a balanced budget compromise that included tax cuts and more social spending. Before long the nation would enjoy a balanced budget and surpluses that continue to this day, with government spending rising to record levels. But 1998 would see the Capitol cast into the throes of the Monica Lewinsky affair, freezing regular political business in a poisoned atmosphere of scandal, accusation and retribution.
Amid severe political infighting and intense partisanship, the 1998 midterm elections saw the Democrats demonstrate unexpected strength at the polls, nearly retaking the House. Though still behind in governorships, the party claimed ever-important California.
The following month, in the face of public opposition, the House of Representatives ratified two articles of impeachment against Clinton, who had remained under a series of ethical clouds for most of his tenure in the Oval office.
In February of 1999, after a brief impeachment trial, the Senate acquitted Clinton of the charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice.
The Democrats head into the 2000 election hoping to retain the White House and reclaim at least the House.
The Clinton years have been a period of closely balanced, hard-fought, and sometimes stalemated political battles in which neither party has been able to fully enact its policy prescriptions. Clinton's New Democrat politics and sharp political skills have thwarted the Republican drive for realignment, and prevented the GOP from seeing its complete program become reality.
Now, with his vice president, Al Gore, as the party nominee and the House within easy grasp, it remains to be seen whether Bill Clinton has outperformed his party -- or if the Democrats will perform better with him off center stage.
History of the Democratic Donkey
When Andrew Jackson ran for president in 1828, his opponents tried to label him a "jackass" for his populist views and his slogan, "Let the people rule." Jackson, however, picked up on their name calling and turned it to his own advantage by using the donkey on his campaign posters. During his presidency, the donkey was used to represent Jackson's stubbornness when he vetoed re-chartering the National Bank.
The first time the donkey was used in a political cartoon to represent the Democratic party, it was again in conjunction with Jackson. Although in 1837 Jackson was retired, he still thought of himself as the Party's leader and was shown trying to get the donkey to go where he wanted it to go. The cartoon was titled "A Modern Baalim and his Ass."
Interestingly enough, the person credited with getting the donkey widely accepted as the Democratic party's symbol probably had no knowledge of the prior associations. Thomas Nast, a famous political cartoonist, came to the United States with his parents in 1840 when he was six. He first used the donkey in an 1870 Harper's Weekly cartoon to represent the "Copperhead Press" kicking a dead lion, symbolizing Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who had recently died. Nast intended the donkey to represent an anti-war faction with whom he disagreed, but the symbol caught the public's fancy and the cartoonist continued using it to indicate some Democratic editors and newspapers.
Later, Nast used the donkey to portray what he called "Caesarism" showing the alleged Democratic uneasiness over a possible third term for Ulysses S. Grant. In conjunction with this issue, Nast helped associate the elephant with the Republican party. Although the elephant had been connected with the Republican party in cartoons that appeared in 1860 and 1872, it was Nast's cartoon in 1874 published by Harper's Weekly that made the pachyderm stick as the Republican's symbol. A cartoon titled "The Third Term Panic," showed animals representing various issues running away from a donkey wearing a lion's skin tagged "Caesarism." The elephant labeled "The Republican Vote," was about to run into a pit containing inflation, chaos, repudiation, etc.
By 1880 the donkey was well established as a mascot for the Democratic party. A cartoon about the Garfield-Hancock campaign in the New York Daily Graphic showed the Democratic candidate mounted on a donkey, leading a procession of crusaders.
Over the years, the donkey and the elephant have become the accepted symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties. Although the Democrats have never officially adopted the donkey as a party symbol, we have used various donkey designs on publications over the years. The Republicans have actually adopted the elephant as their official symbol and use their design widely.
The Democrats think of the elephant as bungling, stupid, pompous and conservative -- but the Republicans think it is dignified, strong and intelligent. On the other hand, the Republicans regard the donkey as stubborn, silly and ridiculous -- but the Democrats claim it is humble, homely, smart, courageous and loveable.
Adlai Stevenson provided one of the most clever descriptions of the Republican's symbol when he said, "The elephant has a thick skin, a head full of ivory, and as everyone who has seen a circus parade knows, proceeds best by grasping the tail of its predecessor."
What We Stand For
The Democratic Party is committed to keeping our nation safe and expanding opportunity for every American. That commitment is reflected in an agenda that emphasizes the strong economic growth, affordable health care for all Americans, retirement security, open, honest and accountable government, and securing our nation while protecting our civil rights and liberties.
Our Plan We are in a critical moment that will reverberate for generations to come. We see us through these times, Democrats will work to end the war in Iraq and refocus our nation's efforts on those who attacked us on September 11. We will turn our economy around with millions of new jobs, and free ourselves from our oil dependency and invest in renewable, alternative energies. As Democrats, we will restore our civil liberties and uphold the civil rights of all. Learn more about the Democratic agenda.
The 50-State Strategy The Democratic Party is committed to winning elections at every level in every region of the country. When Democrats ask for your vote, we can win anywhere. With the 50-State Strategy, we will take back this country, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, and vote by vote.
Party Platform The Democratic Party has a long and proud history of representing and protecting the interests of working Americans and guaranteeing personal liberties for all. One of the places we articulate our beliefs is in the Party's National Platform, adopted every four years by the Delegates at the National Convention.
Charter and Bylaws Essentially, the Charter and Bylaws is the constitution of the Democratic Party. It outlines the structure of the Party organization, and the relationship among the National Convention, the National Committee, and other Party organizations or operations. The Charter and Bylaws was last amended by the Democratic National Committee at its December 5, 2005 meeting.