Skip to main content

Understanding American Politics: A Beginners Guide To Political Parties

It's Party Time

It's election time again, and in the spirit of having a more informed electorate, I have been writing the "Understanding American Politics" series. It this edition, I'll cover the big one: the difference between Republicans and Democrats.

You've heard the rhetoric, seen the commercials, and have been inundated with advertising, and now with the conventions behind us, I think it's time to "set the record straight" and give you a non-partisan breakdown of what the two parties actually stand for.

***A Warning Before We Begin***

I put this warning on all of my articles that deal with anything even remotely political, but on this one, considering the topic at hand, I'm adding a little caveat.

Do not bring the partisan talking points to this article. There are plenty of places on the web, including the forums here at HubPages, for you to engage in what ever sort of discussion you wish; this article is not one of those places.

If you just have to go partisan, then by all means, create your own Hub, I have no problem posting links to "Rebuttal Hubs" if you feel that strongly about a particular topic.

The Political Parties: Get That Advil Ready

In American Politics, you'll usually hear people refer to us as having a "two party system". Even though it can seem this way, at any given time, there are actually around 50 "official" political parties. I say "at any given time" because they have a tenancy to come and go. I call these "official" parties because they are all registered with the FEC, which means that they have had to meet certain criteria in regards to fundraising, committee structure, and membership.

So if there are so many parties, how come you usually only hear about Republicans and Democrats? Well, while a fair bit of it has to do with the fringe nature of some of the parties in question (The American Nazi Party, The Communist Party of America, and The Party for Socialism and Liberation just to name a few), most of it has to do with the "Golden Rule". No, not the one in your bible, the "Golden Rule of Politics":

"He who has the gold, makes the rules".

The Republicans and Democrats have the vast majority of the money; and when I say "vast majority" I'm not kidding. This election cycle, they'll close in on 2 Billion dollars. With all of that money (and the influence and power that comes with it), the Democrats and Republicans decide who runs, who debates, and who gets the media coverage.

Now I know what you're saying: "Wrong! I know the law, the Constitution sets the rules, not the politicians". Aww, look at you- you're so cute. Listen folks, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but the Constitution doesn't apply to this part. The Constitution covers the General Election and sets the eligibility for who can run. Actually choosing the candidates is strictly governed by the parties.

Lewis Black on The Democrats and Republicans


When you ask most people to tell you what they know about the Republican Party, you'll usually get one of two responses: "Corrupt, evil, businessmen who hate the poor, and all minorities", or "Ignorant, racist rednecks from the South". While both of those characterizations are false, it's undeniable that the GOP has had some image problems in the past.

History: Considering the stereotype, I'm guessing it's going to surprise most of you to learn that the Republican Party was actually founded up North (Wisconsin to be exact) as an "anti-slavery" party back in the 1800s. In fact, the first ever Republican elected President played a very active in putting an end to slavery, his name was Abraham Lincoln.

Scroll to Continue

Today: These days, the "Grand Old Party" (which is what GOP stands for by the way) is considered the "Conservative" party. While this is another generalization, as there are a great many conservative Democrats and Independents, it is true that most Socially Conservatives align themselves with the Republican party.

The Platform: The Republican platform centers on reducing the role of the Federal Government, a more constructionist interpretation of the Constitution, balancing the budget, and promoting several socially conservative issues (defense of marriage, gun ownership, etc). Here is a link to the complete breakdown on their website:

2012 Republican Platform


Originally, the Democratic Party was idealized as a sort of "people's party", championing anti-federalist issues and fighting against the formation of a "ruling class" in a very young nation that, at the time, had known nothing but Monarchy and Imperialism.

History: One of the oldest political parties in the world, the Democratic Party has it's roots firmly in the foundation of America. The modern Democratic Party gets it's ideology from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's Democrat party of the 1700's.

Today: The Democratic party today is associated with Social Liberalism, and greater involvement of the Federal Government in people's day-to-day lives. Because of the Social and Economic platform, the majority of minorities (say that five times fast) have migrated to the Democratic Party.

The Platform: The Democratic platform focuses on Social and Economic equality, education reform, and health care. There is a large push on issues such as Gay Marriage, Immigration, and Voting Rights. Here is a link to the full platform breakdown.

2012 Democratic Platform

So Why All The Hate?

When you look at both platforms, they both seem to be really great. The issues they address are issues that people actually care about, and there seem to be some really great people working on both sides. So what's the source of all of this madness? Well, where are two main sources:

EWoCs (Extremists, Wackos, other Crazies): Pronounced like the Star Wars characters, these people represent the "there but for the grace of God" segment of the population. They are stubborn beyond belief, thoroughly convinced of their own superiority and the nobility of their cause, unwilling to engage in rational discussion, and immune to facts. With these people, it's best to just smile and nod, and avoid engaging with them at all costs.

The Media: The media is the larger, more sinister culprit in all of this. They know better (at least they used to), and yet they sell out their journalistic integrity in the name of ratings. Anyone who doubts this need only look to two prime examples:

  • States being called early for Bush in 2000 and Obama in 2008
  • The "Did they or didn't they" screw up on the Supreme Court Decision on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

I could do a whole HubPages worth of Hubs just on media bias and mistakes, but you should get the point by now.

Related Articles