It is wrong to suggest that all Democrats share the same convictions or that within the Republican Party there are no factions. In general, Democrats are more liberal in that they favor progressive change in society, freedoms from government intervention into one’s private and social life, and regulations on economic activity and businesses. Republicans are generally more conservative in favor of traditional organizations and the status quo, limitations on personal and social activities, and liberties from public control over business and economic activity. However, not all Democrats are liberal and not all Republicans are conservative. For example, individuals in the American South–or both parties and political ideologies–tend to be more conservative, while their Northeast and West Coast neighbours are typically more liberal. Furthermore, not everyone adheres to the values of the two main parties and there are several minor or “third parties” in the United States, although their candidates are rarely elected (Remini 35-43).
Below are some issues that are frequently discussed by the news media and politicians. Every four years during a presidential election, both major parties convene at a national convention and draft a platform, which is an agenda for the next four years and spells out their positions on the issues of the day. The current party platforms reveal the parties’ positions on the following controversial issues:
- Democrats say that abortion is a woman’s right and should be legal, while Republicans think that abortion should be illegal and restricted by government
- Democrats’ opinion is that flag burning is political speech and is protected by the Constitution; Republicans oppose them and claim that the flag is protected from burning by a constitutional amendment
- In their speeches Democrats announce that gun control is needed, as for the Republicans they insist that gun control is unconstitutional.
- According to the Democrats’ platform they are in favor of strong regulations to protect the environment. Republicans look at this problem from economic point of view: “strong environmental laws harm the economy”, they say.
- Democrats: “strong anti-discrimination laws are needed”. Republicans: “You can trust people and companies not to discriminate”.
- Democrats debate that it is important to increase the minimum wage to help workers; Republicans’ response is as follows “first of all, to raise the minimum wage means to hurt businesses”.
- Democrats stand for the Government which should require universal access to healthcare, while Republicans state that private insurers are preferable to government mandates.
- According to Democrats, the Government should increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for public programs, Republicans: “cutting taxes for everyone helps the economy”.
- Democrats write that military spending is to be cut; veteran’s benefits are to be expanded; the US is to act in concert with other nations and/or with support from NATO and the UN. Republicans declare that military spending is to be increased; veteran’s benefits are to be cut; the US is not to be constrained by other nations or by NATO and the UN
- Democrats strongly oppose the death penalty: “it is not a deterrent and innocent people are in jeopardy”. Republicans are less sentimental in this issue: “the death penalty is necessary and effective” – that is their message.
- Democrats announce that gays’ rights and marriage are civil rights; Republicans view is traditionalistic, they say that marriage is a sacred trust between a man and woman only.
- Democrats oppose the practice of the prayer in school, they believe it is the violation of the separation between church and state. Republicans, again, follow the tradition arguing that the prayer in school is a religious right and our Judeo-Christian heritage (Shafer & Badger 22-70; Gould 14-97).
Thus as the above mentioned facts show, Democratic and Republican Parties are different in some very important ways. Nevertheless, the main difference is not one of politics, but of political culture. There are two fundamental differences between the parties in which all others are rooted. The first one is structural: in the Democratic Party power flows upward and in the Republican Party power flows downward. The second is attitudinal: Republicans see themselves as insiders even when they are out of authority, and even when they are in power, Democrats regard themselves as outsiders.
- Structural difference: Party Structure and the Flow of Power. The Democratic Party is composed of constituencies. These constituencies are those that define themselves as having a prominent trait that creates a com-mon agenda that the party must react to. Party constituencies generally meet as separate caucuses at the National Conventions (Sabato & Larson 122). The Republican Party also has appropriate elements, but they are not as essential as the constituent organizations of the Democratic Party because they are not power-exercising mechanisms and are not primary reference groups. It is described as “clearly the homogenous political party” compared to the Democrats. The basic components of the Republican Party are geographic units and ideological factions. Unlike the Democratic groups, these entities exist only as internal party mechanisms, these are primarily channels for mobilizing support and distributing information on what the Party leaders want (Gould 159-166).
The difference in the flow of power can be seen in the operation of the national conventions. The time of delegates attending the Democratic Convention is mainly occupied by caucus conferences if not in session. In addition to state caucus meetings there are caucus meetings for any group which wishes to call one, and non-members can attend them. Competing candidates for the Presidential nominations acknowledge the importance of the group by speaking to its caucus (Sabato & Larson 223-226). Republicans, apart from those of their countries, do not attend caucuses. They go to receptions. These receptions are usually closed (the entrance is by invitation only). Receptions are supported privately, each group having its own room.
The kind of interaction between delegates at caucuses is very different from that at receptions. Caucuses are intended to be areas where delegates discuss, discuss and decide before the Convention on appropriate problems. Despite the occasional speech at Republican receptions, discussion is largely private. As a result, individuals generally speak to individuals they already know and most probably agree with them. Receptions are not places to affect the group. They are places to network; to be seen and to get information (Gould 206-242).
In the flow of authority, the distinct direction also generates distinct legitimacy conceptions. In the Democratic Party, legitimacy depends on who you represent and who you are in the Republican Party. It is this difference which makes the Democratic Party so much more responsive to demands for reform within it and the Republican Party so much more responsive to changes in leadership (Remini 99-104).
- Attitudinal difference: World View. It has been asserted that society as a whole has a cultural and structural “core” that is more or less peripheral to most members of society.” (Shafer & Badger 188). Republicans see themselves as representing the center while Democrats view society from the periphery. The Republican center does not include the State, i.e. the national government’s significant organs. Republicans have always felt tension between the state and society and looked at the former with suspicion even when they were in authority (at least the Presidency). Since Republicans (as individuals) control most of the major private institutions, particularly economic ones, a strong central government is seen as a threat to their power. To counterbalance personal eco-nomic domination, the Democratic periphery feels a powerful government is needed. They believe that the main role of the State should be to verify personal eco-nomic authority. Nevertheless, Democrats are ambivalent toward the State. Their ambivalence derives not from a suspicion of strength, but from concern that the State will not act as they feel it should (Shafer & Badger 218, 243-248).
Although Republicans do not want to boost state authority, they still feel that it is inherently desirable what they are and their conception of the American dream. They are insiders who constitute the heart of American society and bear the basic principles of American society. They claim that, unlike the Democrats, the Republican Party and Republican policies constitute the national interest, which only serves the “unique interests” that are strong in it. (Gould 113).
The Democrats have a very different world view and a different concept of the meaning of representation. For them, representation does not mean the articulation of a single consistent program to improve the country, but the inclusion of all appropriate organizations and points of view. Their concept of representation is “delegatory,” in which accurate reflection of the parts is necessary to the welfare of the whole (Sabato & Larson 39-59).
Guided by a more unitary conception of representation as meaning the correct articulation of the national interest, Republicans feel the needs of minorities will be met best by improving the economy. They think that every aspect will profit most from what benefits the whole. While the Party sometimes offers separate programs or advantages to discrete groups, it does so reluctantly and only because it has to satisfy Democratic criticism that it ignores the requirements of such communities.
Democrats do not partly have an embedded understanding of a national interest because they do not see themselves as the core of society. As is typical of outsiders, in the belief that what is not inherently acceptable and something fresh could lead to something better, Democrats are predisposed to “change” and “experimentation” (Shafer & Badger 128).
To the extent that the Republican idea of a national interest can be summed up in one sentence, individual success would be promoted. Insiders usually see their accomplishments as being due to their own merit and effort rather than to social structure or pure luck elements. Success is its own justification. So what worked for them, or what they recognize as working for them, should work for everyone. For government to interfere, other than to remove barriers to individual action, is undesirable (Remini 190-202).
The word that would most aptly characterize what Democrats want is fairness. This is a prevalent objective of outsiders who do not recognize their destiny as a result of their own failure. They are rather skeptical that there is a linear relationship between individual effort, ability and reward and feel that a major function of government is to make life more fair (Judis & Teixeira 165).
There are some noticeable differences in the political parties. There are absolutely different notions of the structure of the Party and its ultimate goal. In brief, Democrats tend to favor an active role for government in society and believe that such involvement (anything, from environmental regulations against polluting to anti-discrimination laws) can improve the quality of life and help achieve the larger goals of opportunity and equality. Republicans, on the other side, tend to favor a restricted position for government in society and think that such dependence on the private industry (companies and people) (e.g. avoiding unnecessary environmental regulations or anti-discrimination legislation) can enhance financial efficiency and help attain the broader objectives of liberty and self-reliance.
- Gould, Lewis. Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans. 2003.
- Judis, John B. and Ruy Teixeira. The Emerging Democratic Majority. 2004.
- Remini, Robert V. The House: The History of the House of Representatives. 2006.
- Sabato, Larry J. and Bruce Larson. The Party’s Just Begun: Shaping Political Parties for America’s Future. 2001.
- Shafer, Byron E. and Anthony J. Badger, eds. Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775-2000. 2001.