New Democrats

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This article is about the US political faction. For the Canadian social democratic political party, see New Democratic Party (Canada). For the Greek political party, see New Democracy (Greece).

New Democrats, in the United States politics, was an ideologically centrist faction within the Democratic Party that emerged after the victory of Republican George H. W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election. They were an economically liberal and "Third Way" faction which dominated the party for around 20 years starting in the late 1980s after the US populace turned much further to the political right. They are represented by organizations such as the New Democrat Network and the New Democrat Coalition.


After the landslide electoral losses to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, a group of prominent Democrats began to believe their party was out of touch and in need of a radical shift in economic policy and ideas of governance.[1][2] The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was founded in 1985 by Al From and a group of like-minded politicians and strategists.[3] They advocated a political "Third Way" as an antidote to the electoral successes of Reaganism.[1][2]

The landslide 1984 Presidential election defeat spurred centrist democrats to action, and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was formed. The DLC, an unofficial party organization played a critical role in moving the Democratic Party’s policies to the center of the political spectrum. Prominent Democratic politicians such as former Vice President Al Gore, Vice President Joseph Biden participated in DLC affairs prior to their candidacy for the 1988 Democratic nomination.[4]

The DLC espoused policies that moved the Democratic Party to the center. However, the DLC did not want the Democratic Party to be “simply posturing in the middle.” Thus, the DLC declared their ideas to be “progressive”, and a third way to address the problems of the 1990s. Examples of the DLC’s policy initiatives can be found in The New American Choice Resolutions[4][5]

Although the label "New Democrat" was briefly used by a progressive reformist group including Gary Hart and Eugene McCarthy in 1989,[6] the term became more widely associated with the policies of the Democratic Leadership Council, who in 1990 renamed their bi-monthly magazine from The Mainstream Democrat to The New Democrat.[7] When then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton stepped down as DLC chairman to run for president in the 1992 presidential election, he presented himself as a "New Democrat".[8]

Claims that Robert F. Kennedy was a New Democrat[edit]

As a harbinger of modern liberalism and progressivism, Robert F. Kennedy has been described as the first "New Democrat".[9][10][11] As former President Bill Clinton described in his book My Life:

"In the 1968 Indiana primary, Bobby Kennedy became the first New Democrat. He believed in civil rights for all and special privileges for none, in giving poor people a hand up rather than a handout: work was better than welfare. He understood in a visceral way that progressive politics requires the advocacy of both new policies and fundamental values, both far-reaching change and social stability. If he had become President, America's journey through the rest of the twentieth century would have been very different."[12]

Bill Clinton as a New Democrat[edit]

Bill Clinton was the single Democratic politician of the 1990s most identified with the New Democrats; his promise of welfare reform in the 1992 presidential campaign, and its subsequent enactment, epitomized the New Democrat position, as did his 1992 promise of a middle class tax cut and his 1993 expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor.[2] New Democrat and Third Way successes under Clinton, and the writings of Anthony Giddens, are often regarded to have inspired Tony Blair in the United Kingdom and his policies.[13]

Bill Clinton presented himself as a centrist candidate to draw white, middle-class voters who had left the Democratic Party for the Republican Party. In 1990, Bill Clinton became the DLC chair. Under his leadership, the DLC founded two-dozen DLC chapters and created a base of support. In 1989, there were 219 DLC members. By the spring of 1992, there were 700.[4]

During the 1992 and 1996 Presidential elections, Clinton ran as a “New Democrat.” However, based on voters’ perception of Clinton’s positions on an ideological scale, he was perceived to be just as liberal as 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis was in 1988. Thus, the Democratic Party’s success based on the New Democratic moniker is inconclusive. [14]

New Democrats were more open to deregulation than the previous Democratic leadership had been. This was especially evident in the large scale deregulation of agriculture and the telecommunications industries. The New Democrats and allies on the DLC were responsible for the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

An important part of New Democrat ideas is focused on improving the economy. During the administration of Bill Clinton, New Democrats were responsible for passing the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. It raised taxes on the wealthiest 1.2% of taxpayers,[15] while cutting taxes on 15 million low-income families and making tax cuts available to 90% of small businesses.[16] Additionally, it mandated that the budget be balanced over a number of years, through the implementation of spending restraints. This helped oversee the longest peace-time economic expansion in the United States' history.[17] Overall, the top marginal tax rate was raised from 31% to 40% under the Clinton administration.

Barack Obama as a New Democrat[edit]

On March 10, 2009, Barack Obama, in a meeting with the New Democrat Coalition, told them that he was a "New Democrat", "pro-growth Democrat", "supports free and fair trade", and "very concerned about a return to protectionism."[18]

New Democratic Governors[edit]

New Democrats and the 2016 Presidential Election[edit]

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley addressed wage inequality and corporate power in a forum in South Carolina. All three claimed distance from economic orthodoxy in Washington.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wayne LeMieux, The Democrats' New Path, 2006, ISBN 978-1-4196-3872-5
  2. ^ a b c John F Harris, The Survivor:Bill Clinton in the White House, Random House, 2005, ISBN 978-0-375-50847-9
  3. ^ Al From, Founder of the DLC and New Democrats
  4. ^ a b c Hale, Jon F. "The Making of the New Democrats." Political Science Quarterly 110, no. 2 (1995): 207-221.
  5. ^ "DLC: The New American Choice Resolutions ." Democratic Leadership Council. (accessed February 25, 2013).
  6. ^ Herman, Steven L. (December 4, 1989). "The "New Democrats" are Liberals and Proud of It". Associated Press. 
  7. ^ Rae, Nicol C. (1994). Southern Democrats. Oxford University Press. p. 117. ISBN 0-19-508709-7. 
  8. ^ Kelly, Michael (September 28, 1992). "The 1992 Campaign: The Democrats; Clinton Uses Farm Speech to Begin New Offensive". New York Times. 
  9. ^ Steel, Ronald, In Love With Night: The American Romance With Robert Kennedy
  10. ^ CNN
  11. ^ review of The last campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 days that inspired America, Publishers Weekly vol. 255 iss. 13 p. 48
  12. ^ "Excerpt from My Life". Archived from the original on 2012-05-30. 
  13. ^ Sidney Blumenthal The Clinton Wars, 2003, ISBN 0-374-12502-3
  14. ^ Alvarez, R. Michael, and Jonathan Nagler. "Economics, Entitlements, and Social Issues: Voter Choice in the 1996 Presidential Election." American Journal of Political Science 42, no. 4 (1998): 1361.
  15. ^ 1994 State of the Union Address
  16. ^ Presidential Press Conference - 08/03/1993
  17. ^ April 2, 1999: The Longest Peacetime Expansion in History
  18. ^ Obama: 'I am a New Democrat'
  19. ^

External links[edit]