Q. 45: What Are the Two Major Political Parties in the United States?

Logos of the two main US political parties
US politics is dominated by the Democrat and Republican parties.

To pass the US citizenship test, you will have to answer 10 of a possible 100 questions. The following question is from the USCIS test.

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

Answer:

Democratic and Republican.

The following is a full explanation of the USCIS question:

The Political Parties of the United States – Democrats and Republicans

The political history of the United States has largely been dominated by a two-party system where only a pair of major political parties carry significant influence in governmental operations.

While many other political parties have been created and have occasionally held some sway in elections, they have never gained the same traction as the two main parties in control of the political spectrum.

For the past 160 years, the Democrat and Republican Parties have been the two primary political organizations responsible for running the country.

Democrat Party – Creation

The Democrat Party is the oldest current political party in the United States, tracing its origins back to the 1790s soon after the founding of the nation.

Originally known as the Democratic-Republican Party, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison founded it as a counterbalance to the Federalist Party. The Democratic-Republican Party endorsed a more limited central government emphasizing agrarianism, republicanism, and expansionism.

Leaders of the Democratic-Republican Party were alarmed at the rapid expansion of federal authority championed by the Federalist Party. They feared that the federal government’s increasing role in banking and finance would stifle freedom.

In contrast, the Federalist’s preference for manufacturing over farming ran counter to the ideals of republican democracy. Ultimately, the Democratic-Republican Party achieved rapid success, forcing the Federalist Party into extinction and dominating government policy for the first two decades of the 1800s.

Democrat Party – History and Evolution

Eventually, the Democratic-Republican Party transitioned into the Democrat Party under the leadership of President Andrew Jackson, who took office in 1829. Jackson continued to espouse many of the traditional views of the original Democratic-Republican Party, with its appeal to the common man. Under Jackson, the Democrat Party quickly crystallized into a pro-slavery, pro-expansionist, anti-tariff, and anti-bank party.

After the Civil War, the Democrat Party, which had been the principal political party of the southern states, struggled to regain its footing in the political world. It wouldn’t again dominate politics until 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt took office and revolutionized the federal government.

Under Roosevelt, the Democrat Party formulated many of the views that it holds today, turning the federal government into a significant presence in all areas of society.

The Democrat Party struggled with bitter internal division in the immediate decades following the presidency of Roosevelt, though, as the liberal wing of the party openly clashed with its conservative counterpart over the Civil Rights movement.

Eventually, the party was able to purge itself of much of the institutional racism that had maligned its history, helping to successfully lead the way in the Civil Rights movement along with Republican support. It has had great success in presidential elections since 1992, winning five of the last eight contests and winning the popular vote in seven of them.

Democrat Party – Current Philosophical Views

The Democrat Party currently believes that the federal government should be very active in all facets of everyday life, from healthcare to education and economics.

About one-third to one-half of the party is characterized as progressive, embracing socialism and the redistribution of wealth by the federal government.

As a general rule, the Democrat Party supports higher taxes, more government spending, increased investment in cleaner energy, a more limited foreign policy, and is pro-choice. 

Republican Party – Creation

The Republican Party was formed in the mid-1850s as an anti-slavery counterbalance to the pro-slavery Democrat Party. It was comprised of three main political components, remnants of the dissolved Whig Party, the Free-Soil Party, and the Know-Nothing Party.

In addition to opposing slavery, the Republican Party supported a national banking system, internal improvements, and higher tariffs, reflecting the continued influence of the Whig Party. 

Republican Party – History and Evolution

After the dissolution of the Whig Party, a new major party was desperately needed to counteract the Democrat Party, which had dominated politics for the last three decades. While large portions of the Whig Party had generally opposed slavery, the party as a whole did not take a robust stance against the institution. This alienated voters in the abolitionist upper northeast region of the country, who would often form minor anti-slavery political parties to run in elections, hopelessly splitting the vote.

The Republican Party, led by Abraham Lincoln, successfully mobilized the abolitionist movement, creating the first major anti-slavery party that could effectively challenge the pro-slavery Democrat Party.

After the Civil War, the Republican Party would dominate politics for the next 65 years, overseeing an unprecedented period of economic growth that would transform the United States into the world’s leading economic power.

During this era, problems with worker conditions would split the party into a conservative wing, which favored less government interference in business, and a progressive wing, which wanted the federal government to take an active role in improving worker conditions.

After the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, the Republican Party was forced to take a back seat, as the Democrats would dominate politics for the next five decades.

The conservative movement led by Ronald Reagan’s successful presidency in the 1980s helped the Republican Party gain back much of its influence and result in Republicans capturing both houses of Congress in the early 1990s.

For much of the 21st Century, the Republican Party has generally had success in a local and mid-term election but has struggled to unify behind an effective leader to promote their beliefs. 

Republican Party – Current Philosophical Views

The Republican Party currently believes that the federal government should take a less active role in everyday life, allowing individual citizens and the private sector to take a more active role in society. It comprises several different partisan elements, including libertarians, conservatives, moderates, and neo-conservatives, which are often difficult to mobilize in a national election effectively.

As a general rule, the Republican Party supports lower taxes, less government spending, increased investment in fossil fuels, a more active foreign policy, and is pro-life. 

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