|Senate Leader||Joe Biden(President of The U.S. Senate)Robert Byrd (Senate president pro tempore)Harry Reid (majority leader)|
|House Leader||Nancy Pelosi (speaker)Steny Hoyer (majority leader)|
|Political Position||Fiscal: Center, Center left
Social: Center, Center left
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. It is the oldest political party in continuous operation in the United States and it is one of the oldest parties in the world.
The Democratic Party traces its origins to the Democratic-Republican Party, founded by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other influential opponents of the Federalists in 1792. However, the modern Democratic party truly arose in the 1830s, with the election of Andrew Jackson. Since the division of the Republican Party in the election of 1912, it has gradually positioned itself to the left of the Republican Party on economic and social issues. Until the period following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Democratic Party was primarily a coalition of two parties divided by region. Southern Democrats were typically given high conservative ratings by the American Conservative Union while northern Democrats were typically given very low ratings. Southern Democrats were a core bloc of the bi-partisan conservative coalition that lasted through the Reagan-era. The economically activist philosophy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which has strongly influenced American liberalism, has shaped much of the party's economic agenda since 1932, and served to tie the two regional factions of the party together until the late 1960s. In fact, Roosevelt's New Deal coalition usually controlled the national government until the 1970s.
In 2004, it was the largest political party, with 72 million voters (42.6% of 169 million registered) claiming affiliation. By comparison the Republican Party only has 55 million members. An August 2008 estimate is that 51% of registered voters, including independents, lean toward the Democratic Party and 38% lean toward the Republican Party. Since the 2008 general elections, the Democratic Party is the majority party for the 111th Congress; the party holds an outright majority in the House of Representatives and the Democratic caucus (including two independents) constitutes a majority in the United States Senate. Democrats also hold a majority of state governorships and control a majority of state legislatures. Barack Obama, the current President of the United States, is the 16th Democrat to hold that office.
Since the 1890s, the Democratic Party has favored "liberal" positions (the term "liberal" in this sense describes social liberalism, not classical liberalism). In recent exit polls, the Democratic Party has had broad appeal across all socio-ethno-economic demographics. The Democratic Party is currently the nation's largest party. In 2004, roughly 72 million (42.6 percent) Americans were registered Democrats, compared to 55 million (32.5 percent) Republicans and 42 million (24.8 percent) independents.
Historically, the party has favored farmers, laborers, labor unions, and religious and ethnic minorities; 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 pro-business wing, typified by 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.
In recent decades, the party has adopted a centrist economic and more socially progressive agenda, with the voter base having shifted considerably. Once dominated by unionized labor and the working class, the Democratic base currently consists of a large number of well-educated and relatively affluent liberals as well as those in the socially more conservative working class. Today, Democrats advocate more social freedoms, affirmative action, balanced budget, and a free enterprise system tempered by government intervention (mixed economy). The economic policy adopted by the modern Democratic Party, including the former Clinton administration, may also be referred to as the "Third Way". The party believes that government should play a role in alleviating poverty and social injustice, even if such requires a larger role for government and progressive taxation.
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 Pacific Coast (including Hawaii). The Democrats are also strongest in major cities.
The Democratic Party evolved from Anti-Federalist factions that opposed the fiscal policies of Alexander Hamilton in the early 1790s. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison organized these factions into the Democratic-Republican Party. The party favored states' rights and strict adherence to the Constitution; it opposed a national bank and wealthy, moneyed interests. The Democratic-Republican Party ascended to power in the election of 1800. After the War of 1812, the party's chief rival, the Federalist Party disbanded. Democratic-Republicans split over the choice of a successor to President James Monroe, and the party faction that supported many of the old Jeffersonian principles, led by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, became the Democratic Party. Along with the Whig Party, the Democratic Party was the chief party in the United States until the Civil War. The Whigs were a commercial party, and usually less popular, if better financed. The Whigs divided over the slavery issue after the Mexican–American War and faded away. In the 1850s, under the stress of the Fugitive Slave Law and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, anti-slavery Democrats left the party. Joining with former members of existing or dwindling parties, the Republican Party emerged.
The Democrats split over the choice of a successor to President James Buchanan along Northern and Southern lines, while the Republican Party gained an ascendancy in the election of 1860. As the American Civil War broke out, Northern Democrats were divided into War Democrats and Peace Democrats. Most War Democrats rallied to Republican President Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans' National Union Party. 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 the extremely violent disenfranchisement of African Americans took place in the 1890s, the South, voting Democratic, became known as the "Solid South." Though Republicans continued to control the White House until 1884, 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 and 1916. Wilson led Congress to, in effect, put to rest the issues of tariffs, money, and antitrust that had dominated politics for 40 years with new progressive laws. The Great Depression in 1929 that occurred under Republican President Herbert Hoover and the Republican Congress set the stage for a more liberal government; the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives nearly uninterrupted from 1931 until 1995 and won most presidential elections until 1968. Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected to presidency in 1932, came forth with government programs called the New Deal. New Deal liberalism meant the promotion of social welfare, labor unions, civil rights, and regulation of business. The opponents, who stressed long-term growth, support for business, and low taxes, started calling themselves "conservatives."
Issues facing parties and the United States after the Second World War included the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement. Republicans attracted conservatives and white Southerners from the Democratic coalition with their resistance to New Deal and Great Society liberalism and the Republicans' use of the Southern strategy. African Americans, who traditionally supported the Republican Party, began supporting Democrats following the ascent of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, the New Deal, and the Civil Rights movement. The Democratic Party's main base of support shifted to the Northeast, marking a dramatic reversal of history. Bill Clinton was elected to the presidency in 1992, governing as a New Democrat when the Democratic Party 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 Roosevelt to serve for two terms. The Democratic Party regained majority control of Congress in the 2006 elections. Some of the party's key issues in the early 21st century in their last national platform have included the methods of how to combat terrorism, homeland security, expanding access to health care, labor rights, environmentalism, and the preservation of liberal government programs.
Initially calling itself the "Republican Party," Jeffersonians were labeled "Democratic" by the opposition Federalists, with the hope of stigmatizing them as purveyors of democracy or mob rule. By the Jacksonian era, the term "The Democracy" was in use by the party; the name "Democratic Party" was eventually settled upon. In the 20th and 21st centuries, "Democrat Party" is a political epithet that is sometimes used by opponents to refer to the party. The current official name of the party is the "Democratic Party."
The most common mascot symbol for the party is the donkey. According to the Democratic National Committee, the party itself never officially adopted this symbol but has made use of it. They say Andrew Jackson had been labeled a jackass by his opponents during the intense mudslinging that occurred during the presidential race of 1828. A political cartoon depicting Jackson riding and directing a donkey (representing the Democratic Party) was published in 1837. A political cartoon by Thomas Nast in an 1870 edition of Harper's Weekly revived the donkey as a symbol for the Democratic Party. 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 Midwestern states such as 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. In New York, the Democratic ballot symbol is a five-pointed star. For the majority of the 20th century, Missouri Democrats used the Statue of Liberty as their ballot emblem. This meant that when Libertarian candidates received ballot access in Missouri in 1976, they could not use the Statue of Liberty, their national symbol, as the ballot emblem. Missouri Libertarians instead used the Liberty Bell until 1995, when the mule became Missouri's state animal. From 1995 to 2004, there was some confusion among voters, as the Democratic ticket was marked with the Statue of Liberty, and it seemed that the Libertarians were using a mule.
Although both major political parties (and many minor ones) use the traditional American red, white, and blue colors in their marketing and representations, since election night 2000 the color blue has become the identified color of the Democratic Party, while the color red has become the identified color of 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, much to the confusion of non-American observers, as blue is the traditional color of the right and red the color of the left outside of the United States (c.f. red for the Liberals and blue for the Conservatives in Canada, or red for Labour and blue for Conservative in the United Kingdom). Blue has also been used by party supporters for promotional efforts (e.g ActBlue, BuyBlue, BlueFund) and by the party itself, which in 2006 unveiled the "Red to Blue Program" to support Democratic candidates running against Republican incumbents in the 2006 midterm elections.
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 after the Democrats won Congress in 2006. More recently, the emotionally similar song "Beautiful Day" by the band U2 has become a favorite theme song for Democratic candidates. John Kerry used the song during his 2004 presidential campaign, and it was used as a celebratory tune by several Democratic Congressional candidates in 2006. Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man is traditionally performed at the beginning of the Democratic National Convention.