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What are the Main Political Parties in the United States?

The United States is primarily a two-party system, dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These organizations shape American policies and ideologies, with Democrats often leaning towards progressive reforms and Republicans typically advocating for conservative principles. But what do these alignments mean for the average citizen? Discover how each party's platform can impact your daily life.
Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

The United States has a multiple political party system, but the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are by far the two main American political parties. The Green Party and the Libertarian Party are two other American parties with a large base of members.

The first Green Party meetings held in the United States occurred in 1984, with the first candidate not showing up on the ballot until 1986. Ralph Nader's choice of the Green Party as his preferred political party did much to increase the growth of American "Greens." When Nader declared in November 1995 that he would run in the California Green Party primary election, states where this party previously did not have presence began forming active groups. Nader was placed on 22 state ballots and as a write-in choice in 23 more states.

Symbolized by the donkey, the Democratic party is one of the major U.S. political parties.
Symbolized by the donkey, the Democratic party is one of the major U.S. political parties.

David Nolan founded the Libertarian Party in Colorado on 11 December 1971. A philosophy professor at the University of Southern California (USC) named Roger MacBride ran as the party's candidate in the 1976 presidential race. Tonie Nathan was his vice presidential running mate, and she was the first American woman to receive an electoral vote. The Libertarian Party earned ballot status in 1976 in 32 states and was on ballots in all states in 1980.

Symbolized by the elephant, the Republican party is a major political party in the United States.
Symbolized by the elephant, the Republican party is a major political party in the United States.

The Democratic Party in the United States was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1792. It was known as the common man's party, and was at that time called the Democratic-Republican Party. Jefferson believed that political leaders should not be chosen on the basis of status and wealth. He became the first Democratic president, and his original vision of helping the poor and striving for equality remain a part of the Democratic platform today. Famous Democratic Presidents include Andrew Jackson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), John F. Kennedy (JFK), Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton.

Thomas Jefferson, who founded the Democratic-Republican party.
Thomas Jefferson, who founded the Democratic-Republican party.

The Republican Party, also known as the Grand Old Party (GOP), was founded in 1854 by people opposed to the continuation of slavery. When Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected as the president of the United States in 1860, 60 years of Democratic leadership was ended. The party's core beliefs include individual responsibility and entrepreneurialism. The GOP also emphasizes private aid organizations over institutionalized welfare. Republicans believe it is up to the individual to govern him or her self with minimal intervention from the government. Famous Republicans Presidents include Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight David Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Regan, and George Bush.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the two dominant political parties in the United States?

Sen. John McCain headed up the GOP's presidential ticket in 2008.
Sen. John McCain headed up the GOP's presidential ticket in 2008.

The United States is primarily a two-party system consisting of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The Democratic Party, founded in 1828, is considered center-left, advocating for social equality and a mixed economy. The Republican Party, established in 1854, is seen as center-right, promoting free market capitalism, and conservative social policies. These two parties have dominated American politics for over a century, with most elected officials at the national and state levels belonging to one of them.

Are there any significant third parties in the United States?

Richard Nixon was a Republican who became president.
Richard Nixon was a Republican who became president.

While the Democratic and Republican parties dominate the political landscape, there are several third parties that contribute to the political discourse. The Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and the Constitution Party are among the most notable. The Libertarian Party, advocating for civil liberties, free-market capitalism, and non-interventionism, is the largest third party by membership. However, third parties often struggle to gain traction in a system that favors the two major parties.

How do the Democratic and Republican parties differ in their political ideologies?

Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, was a Democrat.
Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, was a Democrat.

The Democratic Party generally supports a more liberal or progressive stance on social issues, advocating for government intervention in the economy to provide social services and reduce income inequality. In contrast, the Republican Party typically holds more conservative views, emphasizing limited government, individual freedoms, and traditional values. Republicans tend to favor lower taxes and less regulation on businesses, while Democrats are more inclined to support environmental protection and workers' rights.

What impact do third parties have on U.S. elections?

The election of Republican President Abraham Lincoln ended 60 years of Democratic control of the White House.
The election of Republican President Abraham Lincoln ended 60 years of Democratic control of the White House.

Third parties can have a significant impact on U.S. elections, often influencing the national conversation and drawing attention to specific issues. While they rarely win major elections, they can affect the outcome by siphoning votes from the major parties, potentially swinging closely contested races. For example, in the 2000 presidential election, some analysts believe that Ralph Nader's candidacy as the Green Party nominee may have influenced the result by attracting votes that might have otherwise gone to Democratic nominee Al Gore.

How does the U.S. political party system influence voter choice?

Both U.S. political parties have representatives in the House of Representatives and Senate, which meet in the U.S. Capitol Building.
Both U.S. political parties have representatives in the House of Representatives and Senate, which meet in the U.S. Capitol Building.

The two-party system in the United States tends to limit voter choice to the candidates representing the Democratic and Republican parties, especially in major national elections. This often results in a political landscape where voters feel compelled to choose the "lesser of two evils" rather than a candidate who fully represents their views. However, the primary system does allow for a range of choices within each party, giving voters some degree of influence over the parties' platforms and nominees.

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Discussion Comments

LoriCharlie

@SZapper - I had no idea that's why the Republican Party was founded, but it makes sense considering that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican and slavery in the United States ended under his administration. I guess I probably wouldn't do too well in a political party quiz, since I didn't even know the origins of our two main parties before reading this article.

SZapper
I think it's really interesting that the Republican Party was founded by people who opposed the continuation of slavery. Most people I know who are minorities don't vote Republican. It seems like the Republican party has strayed far from their roots on certain political party issues.

JessicaLynn
@sunnySkys - I've heard a lot of people say that same thing. If enough people voted for a third party candidate in each election, I think our electoral process would change. And I hope it does. It would be nice to have more than two options in an election.
sunnySkys
I think it's a shame that we really only have two options for political parties in this country: Democrat or Republican. Yes, we do have some third parties like the Libertarians and the Green Party mentioned here, but those parties barely have a chance at winning a presidential election.

Most people are of the mind that voting for an independent political party takes votes away from the main party with the closest views. So in an election, a lot of people don't want to waste their vote on a third party candidate even if they agree with their views.

whiteplane

I know that many people think there is no real left anymore. The Republican Party has shifted far to the right and many Democrats have quietly and slowly shifted into positions that are probably more accurately considered moderate Republican.

Even Obamacare, a piece of legislation that every Republican pundit has labeled radical and Socialist, is made up largely of proposals originally conceived by Republicans. I am hoping that we can shift back in the other direction but I can't see that happening any time soon.

cyprus

My article definitely does "mention Abraham Lincoln as a famous Republican President" so I'm not sure what you mean?

In the last paragraph above, the article states: "When Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected as president of the United States in 1860, 60 years of Democratic leadership was ended."

anon68576

Odd you did not mention Abraham Lincoln as a famous Republican President.

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    • Symbolized by the donkey, the Democratic party is one of the major U.S. political parties.
      By: Carsten Reisinger
      Symbolized by the donkey, the Democratic party is one of the major U.S. political parties.
    • Symbolized by the elephant, the Republican party is a major political party in the United States.
      By: CE Photography
      Symbolized by the elephant, the Republican party is a major political party in the United States.
    • Thomas Jefferson, who founded the Democratic-Republican party.
      By: Robert Gil
      Thomas Jefferson, who founded the Democratic-Republican party.
    • Sen. John McCain headed up the GOP's presidential ticket in 2008.
      Sen. John McCain headed up the GOP's presidential ticket in 2008.
    • Richard Nixon was a Republican who became president.
      By: tommy japan
      Richard Nixon was a Republican who became president.
    • Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, was a Democrat.
      By: David Gilder
      Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, was a Democrat.
    • The election of Republican President Abraham Lincoln ended 60 years of Democratic control of the White House.
      By: ra3rn
      The election of Republican President Abraham Lincoln ended 60 years of Democratic control of the White House.
    • Both U.S. political parties have representatives in the House of Representatives and Senate, which meet in the U.S. Capitol Building.
      By: Andrea Izzotti
      Both U.S. political parties have representatives in the House of Representatives and Senate, which meet in the U.S. Capitol Building.
    • John F. Kennedy was a famous Democratic president.
      By: ビッグアップジャパン
      John F. Kennedy was a famous Democratic president.
    • Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Democrat who was elected to four terms as president.
      Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Democrat who was elected to four terms as president.