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There are two main political parties in
the United States
A learner's guide to
discovering the United States
the Democrats and the Republicans.
Until the end of the twentieth century,
there was no massive ideological
difference between them. According to the normal meanings of the words democratic
both of the parties are democratic
parties, and both are republican.
As in Europe and many other parts of the
world, one party is distinguished by the color red, and the other by
the color blue, though curiously blue and red in American politics mean
the opposite of their meanings in European politics. In Europe, red
designates the political left, such as Britain's Labour Party or French
or Spanish Socialists; in the USA it is the color of the Republican
party, which is on the right. Blue is the color used in
Europe by conservative parties, Britain's Conservatives, France's
Republicans... but in the USA Blue is the color of the Democrats, who
are more to the left than the US Republicans.
the 19th century, the Democrats have been represented by a donkey, and
the Republicans by an elephant.. though there is no clear explanation
as to why.
The classic left-right divide, that
exists in most democratic nations, has not been a clear feature of
American party politics over the last hundred years. The similarities
between the two parties are confusing, even to many Americans, and
perhaps explain why only about 60% of Americans bother to vote. To make
matters even more confusing, the Democrats, the older of the two
parties, were originally known as the Republican Democrats; and while
the Republicans are the more conservative of the two parties, both
parties have traditionally attracted a mixture of conservatives and
liberals. In American English, the term "liberal" means socially
progressive, making it more or less an opposite of "libertarian" (see
Nevertheless, the parties are different;
and since the start of the twenty-first century they have moving
further apart than ever before. The polarization of the parties has
accelerated since 2015 when Donald Trump won the Republican Party's
presidential nomination. Trump positioned himself firmly on the right –
some say the far right - of the party, and since then, and even more so
since Trump was defeated in the 2020 election, the differences between
the two main parties in American politics have been highlighted and
Since the 1930's, when Franklin D.
Roosevelt launched the New Deal, the Democrats have been noted as the
party with the more social policies — policies which were extended and
developed under Kennedy's New Frontier and Johnson's Great Society
programs. At no time, however, have the Democrats ever tried to
present themselves as a socialist party, a party of the left in the
style of European Socialist or Labour parties. The word "socialist" is
too often used as a term of abuse in American political vocabulary.
Nonetheless, the popular but elderly
Bernie Sanders, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in
2019, but failed, was a liberal northern Democrat advocating policies
that would be considered normal by mainstream parties on the political
left in Europe.
Ever since the Civil War, Democratic
policies have been determined by the balance of power between the two
different groups within the party, the conservative southern Democrats
and the liberal northern Democrats.
Historically the clearest unifying
factor in the Democratic Party was its role as the main party opposed
to the Republicans. In the North, working class people, labor unions
and minorities have traditionally supported the Democrats because, for
them, the Republicans represent the party of the Establishment. In
the South on the other hand, it is traditionally the old conservative
Establishment that supports the Democrats, as the Republicans were
historically the anti-slavery party.
It is only recently that things have
slowly begun to change. With Southern conservatives turning more and
more to the Republicans, the "social democratic" tendency in the
Democratic party is becoming more predominant, confirming the
commitment to effective social policies and greater social justice.
The Democrats are strongest in the old
industrial heartland and the oldest established parts of the USA,
notably New England and the North East. They are also strong in
California and the West Coast.
The Republican Party, the "G.O.P."
(Grand Old Party), came into existence in the north in 1854 as the
party of those who were fighting for the abolition of slavery.
Initially, many Republicans promoted
egalitarian views. In the famous Gettysburg Address of 1863, Abraham
Lincoln, the first Republican president of the USA, proclaimed the
abolition of slavery, and his aims of "preserving a nation conceived in
liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created
Though Lincoln did not mean, by these
words, that freed slaves were to enjoy all the same rights as white
Americans, the republicanism that he represented had strong roots in
the American revolution and in the ideals of social justice that had
inspired the revolutionaries.
In his inaugural speech, on being
elected president for the first time, Lincoln even said:
is only the fruit of labor, and
could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the
superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration
Few Americans today would recognize
these as "Republican" words
When I once questioned a
Republican Party spokesman in Washington about who
could have said these words; his answer was "maybe Karl Marx."
Since the end of the last century, the
have moved firmly to the right, promoting themselves as the party of
"law and order", tough policies, the family and "traditional" values.
Ronald Reagan cut social programs so that he could cut taxes, relaxed
control in 1986, reversed environmental legislation and nominated very
conservative judges to the Supreme Court. Yet in spite of his intention
to reduce government spending, he increased it through extra spending
on defense. The two Bushes and later Donald Trump have helped push the
Republican party further to the right, amplifying the differences
between the two main parties.
The Republican Party is strongly
supported by business (more so than the Democrats, who of course
also have support from the business world); however many businesses
have expressed their reservations about the way the Republican party is
moving since the defeat of Donald Trump in the 2020 elections.
Finally, the Republican party is also
strongly supported by the
"Religious Right" and by the anti-tax, and anti-abortion lobbies.
Geographically, Republicanism is strongest in rural America.
Minor political parties in the USA
In spite of the dominance of the two big parties, there are actually
dozens of political parties in the USA, though few of them get much
attention. Among the principal minor parties are:
- The Reform Party:
Though it describes itself as "the leading moderate, centrist
and populist political party", the Reform Party is now on the right
wing of American the US political spectrum. Founded by the moderate
Ross Perot in 1995 following his remarkable 18.9 % share of the popular
vote in the 1992 presidential election, the party began life as a
centrist party, even fielding maverick environmental
campaigner and former Green presidential candidate Ralph
Nader as its presidential candidate in the 2002 primaries in some
states. In recent years its influence has declined.
- The Libertarian Party
As its name implies, this is a libertarian party
proposing many populist and popular platforms based on its defense of
individual liberties. While many of the party's policies, such as its
tolerance of individual freedoms including gender, sound
attractive, this is a party of the far right, hostile to taxes, hostile
to state intervention in the economy, against the Social Security
system, and in favor of the legalization of prostitution.
- The Constitution Party
calls itself "the Party of Integrity, Liberty, &
Prosperity!" It is however a very conservative Christian party,
formerly called the U.S.Taxpayers Party. The party rejects the science
behind climate change, dislikes taxation, and opposes abortion,
same-sex marriages and other progressive agendas. Its platform is to
“restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to
limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.”
- The Green Party: A
left-of-center party committed to peace, ecology, social
justice and democracy", sharing the values represented by other Green
Parties in other countries.
Apart from the Green Party of the United
States, these parties play little part in American political life. The
Greens on the other hand supposedly contributed to the election of
George Bush in 2001, and the defeat of the Democratic candidate Al Gore
(probably one of the "greenest" mainstream politicians in the USA in
recent times), by refusing to withdraw their candidate, Ralph Nader,
presidential election. Nader polled 2.5% of the vote – most of which
would have gone to Gore had Nader not been running.
For a full list of minor US parties, see
For more background to the USA.....
Book / ebook
Background to modern America
people, places and
that have played a significant role in the shaping of modern
America. A C1-level Advanced English reader for speakers of other
languages, and anyone wanting to learn some of the background
today's USA. Twenty-two texts, with vocabulary guides and
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