Conservative Democrat

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In American politics, a conservative Democrat is a member of the Democratic Party with more conservative views than most Democrats. Traditionally, conservative Democrats have been elected to office from the Southern states, rural areas, the Rust Belt, and the Midwest.[1] In 2019, the Pew Research Center found that 14% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters identify as conservative or very conservative, 38% identify as moderate, and 47% identify as liberal or very liberal.[2]

Before 1964, the Democratic Party and Republican Party each had influential liberal, moderate, and conservative wings. During this period, conservative Democrats formed the Democratic half of the conservative coalition. After 1964, the Democratic Party retained its conservative wing through the 1970s with the help of urban machine politics. In the 21st century, the number of conservative Democrats decreased as the party moved leftward.[3][4]

The Blue Dog Coalition represents centrist and conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.[5][6]


1876–1964: Solid South[edit]

The Solid South describes the reliable electoral support of the U.S. Southern states for Democratic Party candidates for almost a century after the Reconstruction era. Except for 1928, when Catholic candidate Al Smith ran on the Democratic ticket, Democrats won heavily in the South in every presidential election from 1876 until 1964 (and even in 1928, the divided South provided most of Smith's electoral votes). The Democratic dominance originated in many Southerners' animosity towards the Republican Party's role in the Civil War and Reconstruction.[7]

1874–1928: Rise of agrarian populism[edit]

In 1896, William Jennings Bryan won the Democratic Party nomination by promoting silver over gold, and denouncing the banking system. He had a strong base in the South and Plains states, as well as silver mining centers in the Rocky Mountain states. He was weak in urban areas and immigrant communities which opposed prohibition.[8] He also won the Populist nomination. Conservative Democrats opposed him, especially in the Northeast where "Gold Democrats" were most active. "Gold Democrats" were supporters of Grover Cleveland, the hero of conservative Democrats. They formed the National Democratic Party (United States) and nominated John M. Palmer (politician), former governor of Illinois, for president and Simon Bolivar Buckner, former governor of Kentucky, for vice-president. They also nominated a few other candidates, including William Campbell Preston Breckinridge for Congress in Kentucky, but they won no elections.[9] Bryan and people he supported (especially Woodrow Wilson) usually dominated the party. However the conservatives did nominate their candidate in 1904, Alton B. Parker.[10]

1932–1948: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal coalition[edit]

The 1932 election brought about a major realignment in political party affiliation. Franklin D. Roosevelt forged a coalition of labor unions, liberals, Catholics, African Americans, and southern whites.[11][12] Roosevelt's program for alleviating the Great Depression, collectively known as the New Deal, emphasized only economic issues, and thus was compatible with the views of those who supported the New Deal programs but were otherwise conservative. This included the Southern Democrats, who were an important part of FDR's New Deal coalition. A number of chairmanships were also held by conservative Democrats during the New Deal years.[13]

Conservative Democrats came to oppose the New Deal, especially after 1936. They included Senator Harry F. Byrd and his powerful state organization in Virginia, Senator Rush Holt Sr., Senator Josiah Bailey, and Representative Samuel B. Pettengill. The American Liberty League was formed in 1934, to oppose the New Deal. It was made up of wealthy businessmen and conservative Democrats including former Congressman Jouett Shouse of Kansas, former Congressman from West Virginia and 1924 Democratic presidential candidate, John W. Davis, and former governor of New York and 1928 Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith. In 1936, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of War, Henry Skillman Breckinridge ran against Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination for president. John Nance Garner, of Texas, 32nd Vice President of the United States under Roosevelt, a conservative Southerner, broke with Roosevelt in 1937 and ran against him for the Democratic nomination for president in 1940, but lost. By 1938 conservative Democrats in Congress—chiefly from the South—formed a coalition with Republicans that largely blocked liberal domestic policy until the 1960s.[14][15]

However, most of the conservative Southern Democrats supported the foreign policy of Roosevelt and Truman.[16]

Roosevelt tried to purge the more conservative Democrats in numerous states in 1938. He especially tried to unseat those up for reelection who defeated his plan to pack the Supreme Court in 1937. He failed in nearly all cases, with a major success in defeating John J. O'Connor in Manhattan, a spokesman for big business.[17]

A different source of conservative Democratic dissent against the New Deal came from a group of journalists who considered themselves classical liberals and Democrats of the old school, and were opposed to big government programs on principle; these included Albert Jay Nock and John T. Flynn, whose views later became influential in the libertarian movement.[18]

1948–1968: Segregationist backlash[edit]

The proclamation by President Harry S. Truman and Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey of support for a civil rights plank in the Democratic Party platform of 1948 led to a walkout of 35 delegates from Mississippi and Alabama. These southern delegations nominated their own States Rights Democratic Party, better known as the Dixiecrats, nominees with South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond leading the ticket (Thurmond would later represent South Carolina in the U.S. Senate, and join the Republicans in 1964). The Dixiecrats held their convention in Birmingham, Alabama, where they nominated Thurmond for president and Fielding L. Wright, governor of Mississippi, for vice president. Dixiecrat leaders worked to have Thurmond-Wright declared the "official" Democratic Party ticket in Southern states.[19] They succeeded in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina; in other states, they were forced to run as a third-party ticket. Preston Parks, elected as a presidential elector for Truman in Tennessee, instead voted for the Thurmond-Wright ticket. Leander Perez attempted to keep the States Rights Party alive in Louisiana after 1948.

Similar breakaway Southern Democratic candidates running on states' rights and segregationist platforms would continue in 1956 (T. Coleman Andrews), and 1960 (Harry F. Byrd). None would be as successful as the American Independent Party campaign of George Wallace, the Democratic governor of Alabama, in 1968. Wallace had briefly run in the Democratic primaries of 1964 against Lyndon Johnson, but dropped out of the race early. In 1968, he formed the new American Independent Party and received 13.5% of the popular vote, and 46 electoral votes, carrying several Southern states.[20] The AIP would run presidential candidates in several other elections, including Southern Democrats (Lester Maddox in 1976 and John Rarick in 1980), but none of them did nearly as well as Wallace.


After 1968, with desegregation a settled issue, conservative Democrats, mostly Southerners, managed to remain in the United States Congress throughout the 1970s and 1980s. These included Democratic House members as conservative as Larry McDonald, who was also a leader in the John Birch Society. During the administration of Ronald Reagan, the term "boll weevils" was applied to this bloc of conservative Democrats, who consistently voted in favor of tax cuts, increases in military spending, and deregulation favored by the Reagan administration but were opposed to cuts in social welfare spending.[21]

Boll weevils was sometimes used as a political epithet by Democratic Party leaders, implying that the boll weevils were unreliable on key votes or not team players. Most of the boll weevils either retired from office or (like Senators Phil Gramm and Richard Shelby) switched parties and joined the Republicans. Since 1988, the term boll weevils has fallen out of favor.

Split-ticket voting was common among conservative Southern Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s. These voters supported conservative Democrats for local and statewide office while simultaneously voting for Republican presidential candidates. For example, Kent Hance defeated future president George W. Bush in the 1978 midterms.[22] They were sometimes humorously called "Yellow dog Democrats", or "boll weevils" and "Dixiecrats". In the House after the 1994 Republican Revolution, the Blue Dog Coalition was formed, a caucus of conservatives and centrists willing to broker compromises with the Republican leadership who acted as a unified voting bloc in the past, giving its members some ability to change legislation, depending on their numbers in Congress.


During the 2006 midterm elections, the Democratic Party ran moderates and even a few conservative Democrats for at-risk Republican seats.[23] The Blue Dog Democrats gained nine seats during the elections.[24] The New Democrats had support from 27 of the 40 Democratic candidates running for at-risk Republican seats.[23]

In his 2010 campaign for reelection, Walter Minnick, U.S. Representative for Idaho's 1st congressional district, was endorsed by Tea Party Express, an extremely rare occurrence for a Democrat.[25][26] Minnick was the only Democrat to receive a 100% rating from the Club for Growth, an organization that typically supports conservative Republicans.[27] Minnick lost to Raúl Labrador, a conservative Republican, in the general election.

The Washington Post noted the waning influence of the conservative Democrat Blue Dog Coalition voting bloc, losing over half of their previously more than 50 U.S. House members in the 2010 midterms.[28] In the 2018 House of Representatives elections, the Democratic Party nominated moderate to conservative candidates in many contested districts and won a majority in the chamber. In the aftermath of the elections, the Blue Dog Coalition expanded to 27 members.[29]

During the 117th Congress with the Senate evenly split 50-50, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia wielded enormous influence as the most conservative member of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Manchin refused to abolish the Senate filibuster for non-budget reconciliation-related legislation, but did vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court and pass the Inflation Reduction Act.[30][31] During the 2022 midterms, Democrats narrowly lost their House majority, though they gained a seat in the Senate. The Blue Dog Coalition was reduced to eight members, the lowest number in its history.[32]

In 2023, Joe Manchin, described as the most conservative Democratic senator in the nation,[33] announced he would not seek re-election in 2024.[34]

Blue Dog Coalition[edit]

The Blue Dog Coalition was formed in 1995[35][36][37] during the 104th Congress to give members from the Democratic Party representing conservative-leaning districts a unified voice after Democrats' loss of Congress in the 1994 Republican Revolution.[38] The coalition consists of centrist and conservative Democrats.[39]

The term "Blue Dog Democrat" is credited to Texas Democratic U.S. Representative Pete Geren (who later joined the Bush administration). Geren opined that the members had been "choked blue" by Democrats on the left.[40] It is related to the political term "Yellow Dog Democrat", a reference to Southern Democrats said to be so loyal they would even vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican. The term is also a reference to the "Blue Dog" paintings of Cajun artist George Rodrigue of Lafayette, Louisiana.[41][42]

The Blue Dog Coalition "advocates for fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense and bipartisan consensus rather than conflict with Republicans". It acts as a check on legislation that its members perceive to be too far to the right or the left on the political spectrum.[39] The Blue Dog Coalition is often involved in searching for a compromise between liberal and conservative positions. As of 2014, there was no mention of social issues in the official Blue Dog materials.[43]

Ideology and polls[edit]

In 2019, the Pew Research Center found that 14% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters identify as conservative or very conservative, 38% identify as moderate, and 47% identify as liberal or very liberal.[2]

According to a 2015 poll from the Pew Research Center, 54% of conservative and moderate Democrats supported same-sex marriage in 2015. This figure represented an increase of 22% from a decade earlier.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Political ideology among adults in the Midwest – Religion in America: U.S. Religious Data, Demographics and Statistics". Pew Research Center. Archived from the original on January 3, 2020. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Gilberstadt, Hannah; Daniller, Andrew (2020-01-17). "Liberals make up the largest share of Democratic voters, but their growth has slowed in recent years". Pew Research Center. Archived from the original on 2020-01-17. Retrieved 2020-06-12.
  3. ^ DeSilver, Drew (March 10, 2022). "The polarization in today's Congress has roots that go back decades".
  4. ^ Sach, Maddie (December 16, 2019). "Why The Democrats Have Shifted Left Over The Last 30 Years".
  5. ^ Edward G. Carmines, and Michael Berkman, "Ethos, ideology, and partisanship: Exploring the paradox of conservative Democrats." Political Behavior 16 (1994): 203-218. online
  6. ^ Adam J. Schiffer, "I'm not that liberal: Explaining conservative democratic identification." Political Behavior 22 (2000): 293-310.
  7. ^ C. Vann Woodward, The Origins of the New South, 1877–1913 (1951) pp 235–90
  8. ^ Kazin, Michael (2006). A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-41135-9.
  9. ^ James A. Barnes, "The gold-standard Democrats and the party conflict." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 17.3 (1930): 422–450. online Archived 2021-12-19 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ John H. Sloan, " 'I have kept the faith': William Jennings Bryan and the Democratic national convention of 1904." Southern Journal of Communication 31.2 (1965): 114–123.
  11. ^ Lubell, Samuel (1956). The Future of American Politics (2nd ed.). Anchor Press. pp. 62–63. OL 6193934M.
  12. ^ Robert C. Benedict, Matthew J. Burbank and Ronald J. Hrebenar, Political Parties, Interest Groups and Political Campaigns. Westview Press. 1999. Page 11.
  13. ^ Byrd, Robert C. (July 16, 1988). "The Senate, 1789-1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate". U.S. Government Printing Office – via Google Books.
  14. ^ James T. Patterson, "A conservative coalition forms in Congress, 1933–1939." Journal of American History 52.4 (1966): 757–772 online Archived 2022-05-08 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ Ira Katznelson, Kim Geiger, and Daniel Kryder, Limiting Liberalism: The Southern Veto in Congress, 1933–1950. Political Science Quarterly 108 (1993): 283–306 online Archived 2020-04-11 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Charles O. Lerche, "Southern Congressmen and the 'New Isolationism.' " Political Science Quarterly, 75#3, 1960, pp. 321–37,online
  17. ^ Susan Dunn, Roosevelt's Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party (2010) passim, esp. p. 204.
  18. ^ Ronald Hamowy, ed. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism (Cato Institute). pp. 356–357.
  19. ^ Lemmon, Sarah McCulloh (December 1951). "The Ideology of the 'Dixiecrat' Movement". Social Forces. 30 (2): 162–71. doi:10.2307/2571628. JSTOR 2571628.
  20. ^ The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics. Dan T. Carter. Simon & Schuster Press (1995).
  21. ^ "Boll Weevils" in Elections A-Z (ed. John L. Moore: Congressional Quarterly, 1999). Routledge ed. 2013. pp. 27–28.
  22. ^ Roger Chapman, Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia (2010) vol 1 Page 136
  23. ^ a b Hook, Janet (October 26, 2006). "A right kind of Democrat". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 14, 2009. Retrieved September 1, 2013. See also: Dewan, Shaila; Kornblut, Anne E. (October 30, 2006). "In Key House Races, Democrats Run to the Right". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 27, 2019. Retrieved November 10, 2006.
  24. ^ Michael. "Blue Dogs | The Blue Dogs of the Democratic Party". Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  25. ^ Stein, Sam (April 15, 2010). "Walt Minnick Tea Party Endorsement: Minnick Campaign Accepts". Huffington Post.
  26. ^ "Walt Minnick: The Tea Party's 'token Democrat'?". April 22, 2010. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  27. ^ Cadei, Emily (August 13, 2009). "Minnick Earns Perfect Score on 'RePork Card'". CQ Politics. Archived from the original on August 16, 2009. Retrieved October 7, 2014.
  28. ^ Kane, Paul (2014-01-15). "Blue Dog Democrats, whittled down in number, are trying to regroup". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2014-01-16. Retrieved 2014-07-23. Four years ago, they were the most influential voting bloc on Capitol Hill, more than 50 House Democrats pulling their liberal colleagues to a more centrist, fiscally conservative vision on issues such as health care and Wall Street reforms.
  29. ^ Mendoza, Jessica (June 4, 2019). "Centrist Democrats are back. But these are not your father's Blue Dogs". The Christian Science Monitor. Archived from the original on December 29, 2021. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  30. ^ Sirota, David (March 8, 2021). "Joe Biden might be in the White House, but Joe Manchin runs the presidency". The Guardian. Archived from the original on March 9, 2021.
  31. ^ Zhao, Christina (March 7, 2021). "Joe Manchin Insists He Doesn't Like Being Most Powerful Senator as He Appears on 4 Sunday Shows". Newsweek. Archived from the original on March 9, 2021.
  32. ^ Mutnick, Ally; Ferris, Sarah (January 24, 2023). "Rebranding rift guts Blue Dog Dem ranks". POLITICO. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  33. ^ Colegrove, Andrew (2016-11-10). "Senator Manchin refutes speculation of a party switch". Retrieved 2023-11-10.
  34. ^ Goodwin, Liz; Wang, Amy B.; Scherer, Michael (2023-11-10). "Senate Democrat Joe Manchin says he will not seek reelection". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2023-11-10.
  35. ^ Dumain, Emma (May 12, 2015). "20 Years In, Blue Dogs Not Ready to Roll Over". Archived from the original on August 5, 2019. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  36. ^ "History – Blue Dog Coalition". Archived from the original on April 21, 2021. Retrieved November 15, 2016.
  37. ^ "History, Blue Dog Coalition". Archived from the original on April 5, 2012. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  38. ^ Naftali Bendavid (July 28, 2009). "'Blue Dog' Democrats Hold Health-Care Overhaul at Bay". The Wall Street Journal.
  39. ^ a b Weiner, Mark (February 1, 2019). "Anthony Brindisi to co-chair Blue Dogs, caucus of moderate House Democrats". Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  40. ^ "Wordcraft Archives, November 2004". Archived from the original on February 2, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  41. ^ Suddath, Claire (July 28, 2009). "A Brief History of Blue Dog Democrats". Time. Archived from the original on July 31, 2009. Retrieved September 7, 2009.
  42. ^ Safire, William (April 23, 1995). "On Language; Blue Dog Demo". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 7, 2021. Retrieved September 7, 2009.
  43. ^ Parton, Heather Digby (12 November 2014). "Bye-bye, blue dog "Democrats": What the end of conservative Dems means for America". Salon. Archived from the original on 23 December 2016. Retrieved December 24, 2016.
  44. ^ "Changing Views of Same-Sex Marriage". Pew Research Center. 2015-06-08. Archived from the original on 2020-08-05. Retrieved 2016-02-23.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brandt, Karl Gerard, "Deficit politics and Democratic unity: the saga of Tip O'Neill, Jim Wright, and the conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives during the Reagan Era" (PhD dissertation, LSU 2003). online
  • Carmines, Edward G., and Michael Berkman. "Ethos, ideology, and partisanship: Exploring the paradox of conservative Democrats." Political Behavior 16 (1994): 203–218. online
  • Claassen, Christopher, Patrick Tucker, and Steven S. Smith. "Ideological labels in America." Political Behavior 37 (2015): 253–278. online
  • Dunn, Susan. Roosevelt's Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party (2012) in 1938 online
  • Finley, Keith M. Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators and the Fight Against Civil Rights, 1938–1965 (LSU Press, 2008). ISBN 0807133450
  • Franklin, Sekou (2014). "The elasticity of anti-civil rights discourse: Albert Gore Sr., Richard Russell, and constituent relations in the 1950s and 1960s". Social Identities. 20 (1): 90. doi:10.1080/13504630.2013.840574. S2CID 144032586.
  • Frederickson, Kari A. The Dixiecrat revolt and the end of the Solid South, 1932-1968 (U of North Carolina Press, 2001). online
  • Heineman, Kenneth J. "Catholics, Communists, and Conservatives: The Making of Cold War Democrats on the Pittsburgh Front." US Catholic Historian (2016): 25–54. online
  • Katznelson, Ira, and Quinn Mulroy. "Was the South pivotal? Situated partisanship and policy coalitions during the New Deal and Fair Deal." Journal of Politics 74.2 (2012): 604–620. online
  • Katznelson, Ira, Kim Geiger, and Daniel Kryder. Limiting Liberalism: The Southern Veto in Congress, 1933–1950. Political Science Quarterly 108 (1993): 283–306 online
  • Malsberger, John W. From Obstruction to Moderation: The Transformation of Senate Conservatism, 1938–1952. (Susquehanna U. Press 2000). online
  • Manley, John F. "The conservative coalition in Congress." American Behavioral Scientist 17.2 (1973): 223–247.
  • Mead, Howard N. "Russell vs. Talmadge: Southern Politics and the New Deal." Georgia Historical Quarterly (1981) 65#1: 28–45.
  • Moore, John Robert. "The Conservative Coalition in the United States Senate, 1942–1945." Journal of Southern History (1967): 368–376. online
  • Neiheisel, Jacob R. "The 'L' word: anti-liberal campaign rhetoric, symbolic ideology, and the electoral fortunes of democratic candidates." Political Research Quarterly 69.3 (2016): 418–429.
  • Patterson, James T. "A conservative coalition forms in Congress, 1933–1939." Journal of American History 52.4 (1966): 757–772. online
  • Rubin, Ruth Bloch. Building the bloc: Intraparty organization in the US Congress (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
  • Schiffer, Adam J. "I'm not that liberal: Explaining conservative democratic identification." Political Behavior 22 (2000): 293–310.
  • Shelley II, Mack C. The Permanent Majority: The Conservative Coalition in the United States Congress (1983).
  • Ward, Jason Morgan. Defending White Democracy: The Making of a Segregationist Movement and the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936–1965 (Univ of North Carolina Press, 2011).
  • Young, Cheryl D., John J. Hindera, and Gregory S. Thielemann. "The Conservative Coalition in a New Era: Regionalism and Ideology." Southeastern Political Review 24.1 (1996): 178–188.

External links[edit]