Republican & Democrat Beliefs: Social & Economic Issues

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

If you pay even a little attention to politics, you've probably heard about some debates between America's two major political parties. In this lesson, we'll explore some political beliefs of each party and see where they overlap and where they differ.

American Partisanship

Here's a government question for you: which article of the US Constitution outlines our policy on political parties? The first, second, fourth? Actually, none. Our constitution says nothing about political parties, but nonetheless they have become an extremely important aspect of our political process. Currently, there are two dominant parties. The Democratic Party is the liberal faction, generally supporting big government and an attitude of social responsibility. The Republic Party represents political conservatives by supporting limited government intervention and individual liberties. Sometimes these two parties have gotten along, sometimes they haven't. Let's take a look through some of their policies and see what these differences really mean for American politics.

Economic Issues

One of the biggest issues consistently in national politics is the economy. Everybody's talking about it, but people have different ideas on how to handle it. In general, Democrats support government intervention and building up the economy from the lower and middle classes with taxes. On the other side, Republicans tend to support an unfettered free market, tax breaks, and building up the economy from the upper classes first.

Democratic Policies

Let's look at what the Democrats believe about the economy first. In general, Democrats believe that economic health requires fiscal discipline, monitored by the federal government. So, the government does intervene in the economy, and tries to steer it through social programs ranging from federal unemployment insurance to Medicare, programs designed to stabilize America's most unstable populations so that they can improve their financial situations and begin positively contributing to society. Doing this requires a lot of money, so Democrats tend to see raising taxes as a moral responsibility that gives the government the tools to guide the economy.

A great example of this policy is found in the American Jobs Act, a pair of laws proposed by Democratic president Barrack Obama in 2011. These laws are meant to stimulate the economy by encouraging production in the United States and increasing American jobs. Sounds great, right? Here's where this becomes a liberal policy: the way we'll do this is through tax cuts to small businesses and laborers, stabilized minimum wage, and improved education all through direct intervention of federal money and bureaucracy. It's that reliance on the government, not the free market, and the focus on small business and the working class that makes this an exemplary Democratic policy.

President Obama

Republican Policies

So, what do the Republicans think about this? Well, Republicans tend to support a much more laissez-faire style economy, which basically means that the government stays hands off. Fixing the economy means giving breaks to the wealthy so that they can privately invest in the economy, and letting businesses make the economic decisions they feel are best. Secure investments, individual decisions, and capitalist competition drive economic growth.

One of the best examples of this policy came from the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Reagan embraced a policy of trickle-down economics which has defined conservative ideas about the economy for the last few decades. The idea was that the wealthiest citizens and private businesses had the most money to invest, so they should be given tax breaks and benefits. As they thrived, they would re-invest their wealth into American society, improving the lives of the rich, the middle class, and then the lower class, creating what they considered the most economically stable base for the nation.

Ronald Reagan

Social Policies

Democratic Policies

It should be pretty evident by now that Democrats and Republicans have some different views in terms of the role of government. For Democrats, who believe in a more active government, ideas like the economy and society tie closely together. This dates back to the Great Depression, when Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt created several federal social welfare programs, including social security, in order to stimulate the economy. The idea was that the economy can't recover without a thriving society, and that the government has an obligation to use its power to help society thrive. That's why we have federal safety nets like welfare.


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