The Democratic Party, Explained
Updated: Mar 4
The Democratic Party is one of the two major forces in US politics. The party is today primarily associated with ‘liberal’ and more progressive policies.
This cheat sheet will provide you with an overview of the Democratic Party from its historical origins to its modern-day beliefs.
Birth and First Steps
Founded in the early 19th Century, The Democratic Party was created from the Democratic-Republican party that had until then dominated the political system.
The party was originally opposed to government intervention and supported strictly following the Constitution. It also was strongly favoured by the Southern, slave-owning states, from where most of the party’s votes originally came.
Changing of the Times
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Democratic party became increasingly associated with the growing middle class. At this point, the party started attracting less White, Catholic and Southern voters, and became increasingly supported by the middle class and Black electorate.
This shift was strengthened by President Lyndon B. Johnson passing the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Following his election, the Democrats dominated government and the presidency until around the 1980s.
The New Age
Following Barack Obama’s election victory in 2008, the Democrats political ideology was mainly focused on:
Expanding the US welfare state
A progressive approach to society
Promoting multiculturalism and international cooperation
The Party Today
Following Joe Biden’s election victory against Donald Trump, he has pledged to implement a seemingly progressive agenda while president. This includes:
Raising the minimum wage to $15
Re-joining the Paris Climate Accord and investing in tackling climate change
Criminal justice reform
Expanding the healthcare system
Taking a more active and multilateral approach in foreign policy
Reversing Trump’s immigration policies
There have been some tensions between Biden’s moderate wing of the Democratic Party and more progressive voices such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
These progressives seek more left-wing policies such as free healthcare for all, increasing workers’ and union rights, as well as extensive tax and criminal justice reform.
During his presidency, Biden will likely have to work with this faction in his party, especially since the power of the Democrats’ progressive wing has grown since of the 2020 election when many moderates lost their seats.
Current Government Representation
In Congress, the Democrats currently hold:
46 of 100 seats in the Senate
233 of 435 seats in the House of Representatives
Following the recent elections, the exact composition of Congress remains uncertain. However, we know that the Democrats:
Will lose seats in the House of Representatives, but remain the majority party
Have at least 48 seats in the Senate, with the possibility of winning 2 more pending an election in Georgia
Major Democratic Figures
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The only president to serve four consecutive terms, his ‘New Deal’ economic policy helped the USA recover from the Great Depression and started the welfare state.
Roosevelt reversed US isolationism in foreign policy and brought them into WW2, pioneering an active foreign policy that continues into current times.
Lyndon B. Johnson
His progressive approach to welfare and his commitment to the ‘Great Society’ introduced a national health insurance programme and initiatives to tackle poverty.
The Civil Rights Act, a significant law which outlawed discrimination based on characteristics such as race and gender, was passed under his presidency.
The first black president, his election victory was not only important symbolically, but also allowed the Democrats to pass more progressive laws.
For example, the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, assured millions the right to health insurance.
For more resources, head to our dedicated US Politics section.