Factions in the Democratic Party (United States)
- 1 Progressive wing
- 2 Liberal wing
- 3 Centrist wing
- 4 Libertarian wing
- 5 Conservative wing
- 6 Other wings
- 7 Ethnic minorities
- 8 Overlap
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 External links
Progressives tend to advocate a relatively social democratic agenda. Unifying issues among progressive Democrats include opposition to the War in Iraq, opposition to economic liberalism and social conservatism, opposition to all corporate influence in government, support for universal health care or single-payer health care, revitalization of the national infrastructure and steering the Democratic Party in the direction of being a more forceful party. Compared to other factions of the party, they've been most critical of the Republican Party, and most supportive of direct democracy.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is a caucus of progressive Democrats, along with one independent, in the U.S. Congress. It is the single largest Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives. Its members have included Congressmen Dennis Kucinich, Alan Grayson, John Conyers (MI), Jim McDermott (WA), John Lewis (GA); as well as Senators Paul Wellstone (MN), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Barbara Lee (CA), Sherrod Brown (OH), and Bernie Sanders (VT).
Many progressive Democrats are ideological descendants of the New Left of Democratic Presidential candidate/Senator George McGovern of South Dakota; others were involved in the presidential candidacies of Vermont Governor Howard Dean and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; and still others are disaffected former members of the Green Party. This groups consists disproportionately of college-educated professionals. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that a plurality, 41%, resided in mass affluent households and 49% were college graduates.
Progressive Democratic candidates for public office have had popular support as candidates in metropolitan areas outside the South, and among African-Americans nationwide. Other famous progressives include Eugene McCarthy and Ted Kennedy.
Liberal Democrats are to the left of centrist Democrats but more moderate than the progressive wing in the party. The liberal faction was dominant in the party for several decades, although they have been hurt by the rise of centrist forces such as President Bill Clinton. Compared to conservatives and moderates, liberal Democrats have advocated protectionism, more spending on welfare and social programs, multiculturalism, a less militaristic foreign policy, and have a reputation of being more forceful in pushing for civil liberties. Many consider the progressive faction to be liberal, but this is refuted by many progressives, because while progressives advocate for progressivism and social democracy, liberals tend to advocate social liberalism.
Prominent liberal Democrats include current U.S. President Barack Obama, 2016 presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Barbara Boxer (CA), Russ Feingold (WI), Tom Harkin (IA), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA).
Though centrist and center-right Democrats differ on a variety of issues, they typically foster a mix of political views and ideas. Compared to other Democratic factions, they are mostly more supportive of the use of military force, including the war in Iraq, are more supportive of free trade, and are more willing to reduce government welfare, as indicated by their support for welfare reform and tax cuts.
While not representing a majority of the Democratic Party electorate, a decent amount of Democratic elected officials have self declared as being centrists. Some of these Democrats are former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Senator Mark Warner, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, former senator Jim Webb, Vice President Joe Biden, and congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The Democratic Leadership Council was a group that supported centrist Democrats and called for the Democratic Party to be the party of centrism. The New Democrat Network supports moderate Democratic politicians and operates the congressional New Democrat Coalition in the House and Senate. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was a member of the coalition when in congress and Senator Barack Obama self-described as a New Democrat.
Civil liberties advocates, and people against national debt, also often support the Democratic Party because its positions on such issues as civil rights and separation of church and state are more closely aligned to their own than the positions of the Republican Party, and because the Democrats' economic agenda may be more appealing to them than that of the Libertarian Party.
They oppose gun control, the "War on Drugs," protectionism, corporate welfare, governmental borrowing, and an interventionist foreign policy. Some civil libertarians also support the party because of their support of habeas corpus for unlawful combatants, opposition to torture of suspected terrorists, extraordinary rendtition, warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention without trial or charge, the Patriot Act, the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and what they see as the erosion of the protections of the Bill of Rights.
In the 2010s, following the revelations by Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance in 2013, the increasing advent of online decentralization and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the perceived failure of the War on Drugs, and the police violence in places like Ferguson, Democratic lawmakers such as Senators Ron Wyden, Kirsten Gilibrand, and Cory Booker and Representative Jared Polis have worked alongside libertarian Republicans like Senator Rand Paul and Representative Justin Amash to curb what is seen as government overreach in each of these areas, earning plaudits from such traditional libertarian sources as Reason Magazine. The growing political power of Silicon Valley, a longtime Democratic stronghold that is friendly to economic deregulation and strong civil liberties protections while maintaining traditionally liberal views on social issues, has also had a serious impact on the increasingly libertarian leanings of young Democrats.
Many anti-war and civil libertarian Democrats were energized by the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Ron Paul, a constituency that has arguably embraced the 2016 presidential campaign of independent Democrat Bernie Sanders for the same reasons. Additionally, Alaska Senator and presidential aspirant Mike Gravel left the Democratic Party midway through the 2008 presidential election cycle to seek the Libertarian Party presidential nomination.
The Democratic Freedom Caucus (DFC) is an organized group of this faction, although it prefers to use terms such as "freedom Democrats" or "freedom-oriented Democrats". The DFC does not use the term "libertarian" on its website, because while it advocates individual liberty and limited government power, it considers its economic policies to be more progressive than, for example, the Libertarian Party. This is especially so because the DFC is in the tradition which holds that land and natural resources are subject to fundamentally different economic laws than human-made products (such as machinery, buildings, etc.), so its view of economic freedom advocates somewhat different economic policies. Specifically, the DFC advocates in its platform a tax shift away from things like labor, (and the products thereof), and sales and towards spatial-locations and natural resources.
Another group, The Libertarian Democratic Caucus (LDC) seeks to build libertarian coalitions on issues regardless of political party. The Democratic Freedom Caucus tends to focus on taxation while the LDC targets civil liberty issues such as legalizing victimless crimes. The LDC is a Democratic organization, but it advocates working with the Libertarian Party and libertarian Republicans, such as the Libertarian Republican Caucus, on issues they have in common.
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Conservative Democrats are Democratic Party members with conservative political views, or with views relatively conservative with respect to those of the national party. While such members of the Democratic Party can be found throughout the nation, actual elected officials are disproportionately found within the Southern states, and to a lesser extent within rural regions of the several states generally, more commonly in the West.
The Democratic Party had a conservative element, mostly from the South and Border regions, into the 1980s. Their numbers declined sharply as the Republican Party built up its Southern base. They were sometimes humorously called "Yellow dog Democrats," or "boll weevils," "Dixiecrats." Nowadays, they are often called a Democrat In Name Only. In the House, they form the Blue Dog Democrats, a caucus of fiscal and social conservatives and moderates, primarily southerners, willing to broker compromises with the Republican leadership. They have acted as a unified voting bloc in the past, giving its forty plus members some ability to change legislation. The Blue Dogs added nine new members as a result of the 2006 midterm elections. Occasionally, the term "conservative Democrat" is also made to describe politicians who are left-of-center on economic issues but conservative on social issues, or communitarians, rather as many "liberal Republicans" are fiscal conservatives.
Prominent communitarian or more conservative Democrats of recent time include Senators Ben Nelson (NE), Zell Miller (GA), Mary Landrieu (LA), and John Breaux (LA); as well as Congressmen Ike Skelton (MO), Gene Taylor (MI), Henry Cuellar (TX), Collin Peterson (MN), and Jim Marshall (GA).
Many conservative Southern Democrats defected to the Republican Party, beginning with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the general leftward shift of the party. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, Kent Hance and Ralph Hall of Texas, and Richard Shelby of Alabama are examples of this. The influx of conservative Democrats into the Republican Party is often cited as a reason for the GOP's shift further to the right during the late 20th century, as well as the shift of its base from the Northeast and Midwest to the South.
A newly emerging trend is the return of active pro-life Democratic groups and candidates. Some of these candidates have won office or are backed by the party establishment in their state. The largest national pro-life group within the party is the Democrats for Life of America. Pro-life candidate Bob Casey, Jr. (PA) was elected as a U.S. Senator in the 2006 midterm elections.
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Since the 1930s, a critical component of the Democratic Party coalition has been organized labor. Labor unions supply a great deal of the money, grass roots political organization, and voting base of support for the party. In recent years union membership in the United States has been declining substantially. The overall percentage of employed wage and salary workers that are union members fell to 12 percent in 2006, a significant decline from U.S. unions' peak membership of 36 percent in the mid-1950s. This historic decline in union membership has also been accompanied by a growing disparity between public sector and private sector union membership, as currently about 36.5 percent of public sector workers are union members, whereas approximately 7.8 percent of private sector workers belong to unions. Despite declining membership numbers, union members and their families vote in disproportionately greater numbers than the population at large, with as many as one in four votes in the 2004 election coming from union households. Because union members vote in high numbers, as well as the organizational and financial resources unions can bring to bear, they continue to have significant influence on the Party.
The three most significant labor groupings in the Democratic coalition today are the AFL-CIO, a labor federation of 53 national unions representing 9 million public and private sector workers; the Change to Win Federation, which broke away from the AFL-CIO in 2005 and currently includes seven national unions representing approximately 6 million public and private sector workers; and the National Education Association, a 3.2-million-member independent union unaffiliated with either the AFL-CIO or Change to Win, which primarily represents teachers and other education workers.
Both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win have identified their top legislative priority for 2007 as passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, make it easier for employees to join a union and would increase penalties for employer violations of the National Labor Relations Act. Other important issues for labor unions include support for industrial policy (including fair trade) that sustains unionized manufacturing jobs, raising the minimum wage, and promoting broad social programs such as social security and universal health care.
Prominent politicians associated with the labor wing include Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (also a member of the Progressive Caucus) and Byron Dorgan, the populist senator from North Dakota, as well as former Presidential candidate John Edwards. Most of the members in this faction identify with the progressive faction of the party.
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The Christian left shares many policy goals with Democratic Party, although the movement is arguably smaller and less influential on the party when compared to the Christian right, which is generally more affiliated with the Republican Party.
Christian left includes Peace churches, elements of Protestant mainline churches, elements of Roman Catholicism and some parts of the evangelical community. Their concerns regarding social justice, welfare, universal health care, education and foreign aid are more in line with the Democratic economic agenda than the laissez-faire economic approach of the Republicans. Their social views of capital punishment, defense and militarism, civil rights and equality are also left-wing. On moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality, the Christian left are often, although not always, more in line with Democrats. They may either disagree with Biblical literalism on these issues or may hold opposition but choose to prioritize social justice and other issues over social issues.
The Democratic Party receives a lot of support among secular organizations such as the Secular Coalition for America, many agnostics and atheists. Exit polls from the 2008 election showed that although a religious affiliation of "none" accounted for 12% of the electorate, they overwhelmingly voted for Obama by a 75–25% margin. In his inaugural address, Obama acknowledged atheists by saying that the United States is not just "Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus but non-believers as well." In the 2012 election cycle, Obama has moderate to high rankings with the Secular Coalition for America, whereas the majority of the Republican candidates have ratings in the low-to-failing range.
Atheists and secular people, although a diverse group themselves, may include individuals who are fiscally conservative. In this case, fiscally conservative atheists and secularists will come together due to their opposition to the religiously-bound social policies of the Christian right.
There is still a social stigma relating to atheism in the nation and polls show that a majority of the American people would be more comfortable voting for a Muslim or gay candidate than an atheist.
A large portion of the Democratic voting base are ethnic minorities. The Democrats' positions on affirmative action and civil rights, the economy, and immigration have attracted many minorities to the party.
Originally, the Republican Party was favored by African Americans after the end of the civil war and emancipation of black slaves. This trend started to gradually change in the 1930s with Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs that gave economic relief to all minorities including African Americans and Hispanics. Support for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s by Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson helped give the Democrats even larger support among the African American community, although their position also alienated the Southern white population. Today African Americans have as strong support for the Democratic Party as any group has for either party, voting 90% Democratic in the 2000 presidential election, 88% Democratic in the 2004 presidential election and 95% Democratic in the 2008 presidential election.
The Hispanic population, particularly the large Mexican American population in the Southwest and large Puerto Rican, Dominican, and South American populations in the Northeast have been strongholds for the Democratic Party. Hispanic Democrats commonly favor liberal views on immigration, which supersedes in priority over the socially conservative views that many Hispanics hold. In 1996 presidential election, Democratic President Bill Clinton received 72% of the Hispanic vote.
After a period of incremental gains under George W. Bush, the Republican Party's support among Hispanics seriously eroded after a heated and acrimonious debate within the party during the 109th Congress over immigration reform. Nationwide protests helped galvanize Hispanic political participation, and in the 2006 mid-term elections, Democrats increased their share the Hispanic vote from 2004 by 14 points to 69%. The trend continued in 2008, as Barack Obama carried the Latino vote with 67%. Obama expanded his share of the Latino vote to 71% in the 2012 Presidential election
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The Democratic Party also has considerable support in the small but growing Asian American population. The Asian American population had been a stronghold of the Republican Party until the United States presidential election of 1992 in which George H. W. Bush won 55% of the Asian American vote, compared to Bill Clinton winning 31%, and Ross Perot winning 15% of the Asian vote. Originally, the vast majority of Asian Americans consisted of strongly anti-communist, pro-democracy Vietnamese refugees, Chinese Americans, Taiwanese Americans, Korean Americans, and socially conservative Filipinos who fled Ferdinand Marcos in the 1960s through the 1980s, and the general Republican Party's socially conservative, fervently anti-communist position strongly resonated with these original demographic.
The Democratic party made gains among the Asian American population starting with 1996 and in 2006, won 62% of the Asian American vote. This is due to demographic shifts in the Asian American community, with growing numbers of well educated, usually American-born Chinese and Asian Indian immigrants that are typically economic centrist and social progressives. The Asian American community's increasing number of young voters has also helped to erode traditionally reliably Republican voting blocs such as Vietnamese and Filipino Americans, leading to an increase in support for Democrats. Prominent Asian-American Democrats include late senator Daniel Inouye, Daniel Akaka, Gary Locke, Mike Honda, David Wu, Doris Matsui, and Norman Mineta.
Muslims make up about 0.6% of Americans and in the 2008 election, 89% of Muslim Americans voted for Barack Obama. Muslim Americans tend to be financially well off, as many in the community are small businessmen and educated professionals. They also tend to be socially conservative. Prior to 2002, most tended to vote for Republicans for these reasons. However, after 9/11 many experienced hostility and discrimination, and many right-wing religious and political leaders attacked Islam as both a violent religion and a threat to American values. Furthermore, most Muslim Americans opposed the Iraq War, solidifying their shift to the Democratic Party.
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Jewish communities tend to be a stronghold for the Democratic Party, with more than 70% of Jewish voters having cast their ballots for the Democrats in the 2004 and 2006 elections. Of the 29 Jewish Senators and Congressmen currently serving in Congress, 28 are Democrats (Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is a Democrat as of 2015; he had been the longest-serving independent in U.S. congressional history, though his caucusing with the Democrats had entitled him to committee assignments, and at times gave Democrats a majority.).
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The Democratic Party also has strong support among the Native American population, forming sizable political blocs in Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Alaska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
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There is some overlap between factions. All left-wing factions have overlap with each other. Liberals, progressives and organized labor are all closely linked, for example. Also, centrist and conservative factions have retained a working relationship when in government. Also there are regional factors, many factions are more likely to vote for the Democratic Party in blue states than in red states.
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- 21st Century Democrats
- Blue Dog Coalition
- Change to Win Federation
- National Education Association
- Democracy For America
- Democratic Freedom Caucus
- Democrats For Life of America
- Progressive Democrats of America