What’s the Difference Between Democrats And Republicans?

What’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans? A lot of people are frankly pretty apolitical and frankly don’t know a lot about the two parties. I am a conservative and a Republican, but I would like to try to provide at least the accurate essence of what Democrats believe in before offering the Republican counter.

I understand that many people are not particularly involved in politics until major elections. It is not a matter of ignorance, but rather a matter of being occupied with raising children and running households. When an election rolls around, many people want to make the right decisions for themselves and for their country, but become bogged down in a morass of partisan claims and counter-claims.

The truth is, Democrats and Republicans differ on nearly everything today. But let me focus on three categories – social policy, domestic policy, and foreign policy – and try to describe a few key differences.

Social policy: This includes attitudes toward religion and to what extent traditional morality should be followed, encouraged, or legislated.

First of all, understand that Republicans and Democrats are largely split between religious lines:

U.S. voters are split along religious lines

Nov 30, 2003 by Steven Thomma Knight Ridder Newspapers

DES MOINES, Iowa — Want to know how Americans will vote next Election Day? Watch what they do the weekend before.

If they attend religious services regularly, they probably will vote Republican by a 2-1 margin. If they never go, they likely will vote Democratic by a 2-1 margin.

This relatively new fault line in American life is a major reason the country is politically polarized. And the division is likely to continue or even grow in 2004.

A new poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center For The People & The Press this fall confirmed that the gap remains; voters who frequently attend religious services tilt 63-37 percent to Bush, and those who never attend lean 62-38 percent toward Democrats.

“We now have the widest gap we have ever had between Republicans and Democrats,” said Andy Kohut, the director of the Pew survey.

“It’s THE most powerful predictor of party ID and partisan voting intention,” said Thomas Mann, a political scholar at the Brookings Institution, a center-left Washington research center. “And in a society that values religion as much as (this one), when there are high levels of religious belief and commitment and practice, that’s significant.”

It doesn’t matter whether one is a Protestant, a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim, or a Hindu; the more often one goes to religious services, the more likely one is to vote Republican. And the less religious one is, the more likely one is to vote Democrat.

It is appropriate to introduce here the concepts of “conservatism” and “liberalism.” Conservatives overwhelmingly tend to vote Republican, and believe in traditional religious, moral, and family values. The key word here is “traditional”; conservatives want to “conserve” our traditions. They would believe strongly in an idea traditionally ascribed to Alexis de Tocqueville: “America is great because she is good, and If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” Liberals, on the other hand, vote almost exclusively Democrat, and believe that morals and values evolve and change over time, and that society should be “progressive” to suit the times. A key quote might be, “When in Rome, do as the Romans,” with the view that ethics is not about fixed morays, but rather about how most people happen to behave.

With this in mind, we can begin to understand why Democrats strongly favor gay rights, homosexual marriage, and abortion. And we can understand why Republicans tend to condemn these things. The Judeo-Christian ethic that condemns these and other “choices” and “lifestyles” simply is not as relevant to Democrats as it is to Republicans.

As a conservative, I believe in the Bible, and in biblical morality. I also believe in the wisdom of founding fathers such as John Quincy Adams, who said, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Before I move on, I want to emphasize that I am not attempting to claim that all Democrats are “godless,” or even that all Democrats are “liberal.” I am simply pointing out the documented fact that poll after poll has revealed that Democrats as a whole are considerably less religious than Republicans, and that certain views logically follow from that. Even religious Democrats tend to take a more “progressive” view on many issues than the more traditional-minded conservatives.

Domestic Policy: here I will talk about two issues – the role of judges and the role of government in society, especially economic policy.

I mention judges because – for both political parties – a President’s appointment of judges (especially in the Supreme Court, but also the many federal judges) are THE most significant aspect of a President’s power. Interestingly, the very fact that judges ARE so important itself underscores a crucial difference between Democrats and Republicans.

I think a passage from the Article Three Society provides an excellent comparison. Democrats strongly favor activist judges, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Republicans favor originalist judges, such as Antonin Scalia:

The battle over the courts, at its core, is how to look at the Constitution. An activist judge would say that the Constitution is a “living document”. This, of course gives judges the opportunity to define this incredible document anyway they see fit and to “breath into it” any new “rights” that they see fit to install. Further, they see their role limited only by the boundries of their imaginations. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg remarked to a gathering of the American Society of International Law, “The notion that it is improper to look beyond the borders of the United States in grappling with hard questions has a certain kinship to the view that the U.S. Constitution is a document essentially frozen in time as of the date of its ratification.” A truly activist view!

An originalist, on the other hand, looks at the Constitution with awe and respect. He or she has read the federalists’ papers and other supporting documentation and understands that our rights are from God and therefore are unchanging. Further, any decisions made in regard to legislation is in light of the Founders’ original intent. Robert Bork stated that this way of thinking “appeals to a common sense of what judges’ roles ought to be in a properly functioning constitutional democracy. Judges are not to overturn the will of the legislative majorities absent a violation of a constitutional right, as those rights were understood by the framers.”

Let me provide a little more context for the thinking of judicial activists.

One of the great activist judges of the modern era, Justice Thurgood Marshall, said:

I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever “fixed” at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound.

And with that view toward both the founding fathers and the Constitution they framed, his judicial philosophy was basically:

You do what you think is right and let the law catch up.

And the attitude of Justice Marshall is similar to other activists judges, such as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to this day. She believes that:

… a too strict jurisprudence of the framers’ original intent seems to me unworkable.

Thomas Jefferson, a founding father, took a decidedly different view:

“To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men and not more so. They have with others the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. Their maxim is boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem [good justice is broad jurisdiction], and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign
within themselves.”

Our current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, agreeing with Jefferson, said:

“I had someone ask me in this process — I don’t remember who it was, but somebody asked me, you know, ‘Are you going to be on the side of the little guy?’ And you obviously want to give an immediate answer, but as you reflect on it, if the Constitution says that the little guy should win, the little guy is going to win in court before me. But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well, then, the big guy is going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution. That’s the oath.”

And Edwin Meese III, President Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General, said:

“The American people will never be able to regain democratic self government – and thus shape public policy – until we curb activist judges.”

Thus the divide between Democrats and Republicans on the role of judges. Those who want changes – particularly sweeping and radical changes – in our nation’s social policy far more swiftly than could ever occur in our legislature favor judicial activists and support Democrats. Those who believe that Congress wisely and deliberately limited the role of the judicial branch, and that the people should decide matters such as abortion, gay rights, etcetera, favor originalist judges and support Republicans.

Allow me to provide a word of warning before moving on: there’s an enormous downside to judicial activism, as Scalia pointed out in a debate with the ACLU’s Nadine Strossen:

Scalia, a leading conservative voice on the high court, sparred in a one-hour televised debate with American Civil Liberties Union president Nadine Strossen. He said unelected judges have no place deciding politically charged questions when the Constitution is silent on those issues.

Arguing that liberal judges in the past improperly established new political rights such as abortion, Scalia warned, “Someday, you’re going to get a very conservative Supreme Court and regret that approach.”

His point was that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. And a “right wing” court, taking its cue from a “left wing” judicial philosophy, could impose their will on the country with the same impunity as liberal justices have held for decades in imposing sweeping social changes. The only thing keeping conservatives from doing so is their commitment to the originalism that judicial activists repudiate.

Moving on to the role of government in society, especially economic policy, the difference is readily understood thus: Democrats tend to favor big government, with large social support structures (such as welfare) and bureaucracies intended to administer those services, and Republicans favor limited, smaller government, with funding going to the state and local levels rather than to the federal government.

Republicans have generally believed that the free market was the best way to build a solid economy, and that people should be allowed to keep most of what they earned. Democrats believed a big government-directed economy was the best way to guarantee the economic security of the most helpless people in society, and believe that the rich should be required to pay a higher percentage of their wealth than less affluent people. This is the progressive tax code. Republicans, believing that it is the rich who create wealth with their investment and their businesses, favor a tax code that does not “unduly penalize” the rich for their hard work and success. Democrats, believing that the rich are more fortunate, and therefore should be required to be more generous in order to fund big government social support structures, favor a tax code that “makes the rich pay their fair share.”

Frankly, the more a person desires to work hard, earn a good living, and keep what he or she earns, the more likely he or she is to vote Republican. The more a person wants to ensure that he or she have a government-provided safety net should he or she fail, the more likely he or she is to vote Democrat. It isn’t that conservatives are callous regarding the poor and needy; in fact, they tend to be considerably more generous than liberals with their personal finances. But they do not believe that their assets should be seized by out-of-control government and then have their money largely wasted on inefficient bureaucracies.

Allow me to state a few realities about taxes and the economy from a decidedly Republican perspective. First of all, under the current Bush tax cuts, the top 50% of income earners will pay 97% of the tax burden. The bottom 50% of income earners will pay only 3% of taxes. And the the bottom 45% of income earners will actually pay 0% of the federal tax burden. Further, the richest 1.3 million tax-filers — those Americans with adjusted gross incomes of more than $365,000 in 2005 — paid more income tax than all of the 66 million American tax filers below the median in income. Ten times more. It is simply a myth that the rich are not “paying their fair share.” They are paying a great deal.

Furthermore, lower tax rates not only create more total revenue for the government by rewarding investment rather than penalizing it, but it even results in the wealthier paying a greater actual percentage of their wealth than a higher tax rate would:

Lower tax rates have be so successful in spurring growth that the percentage of federal income taxes paid by the very wealthy has increased. According to the Treasury Department, the top 1% of income tax filers paid just 19% of income taxes in 1980 (when the top tax rate was 70%), and 36% in 2003, the year the Bush tax cuts took effect (when the top rate became 35%). The top 5% of income taxpayers went from 37% of taxes paid to 56%, and the top 10% from 49% to 68% of taxes paid. And the amount of taxes paid by those earning more than $1 million a year rose to $236 billion in 2005 from $132 billion in 2003, a 78% increase.

Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas about building the nation’s economy and providing for its citizens. Democrats want to ensure that people have access to government support structures; Republicans want to ensure that people have access to jobs. By mandating high tax rates that often serve to penalize investment and limit capital, by having legislation that imposes burdensome restrictions and requirements, by imposing “global warming” environmental mandates, by doing little to restrict frivolous lawsuits, and by working to make it easier to unionize and harder for businesses to resist unionization, it is quite possible that Democrats are causing the very thing no one wants: corporations to “export jobs” or even to relocate overseas.

Currently, the United States has the second highest corporate tax rate in the world. Even many Democrats are increasingly beginning to realize that the tax rates businesses face in the U.S. are way out of step with our major economic competitors.

Finally, Democrats and Republicans differ on Foreign Policy. If there are tendencies to excess, the Democrats tend to verge on weakening the military and engage in a policy of appeasement, and the Republicans tend to support an overly powerful military and engage in a policy of force.

Democrats want to work primarily through the United Nations; Republicans distrust and even mock the U.N. as an instrument of global socialism that has never once resolved a significant crisis.

Democrats view our standing in the “global community” as paramount and are willing to negotiate and compromise with the “international community” toward “resolution”; Republicans prefer to form key alliances based on trust and mutual cooperation and only work with the larger international community when they believe they can obtain the results most beneficial to American national interests.

Republicans favor a larger and more powerful military as both a deterrent and as a “negotiation asset” (i.e., “Speak softly and carry a big stick”); Democrats favor using money Republicans would put into the military and instead direct it into social programs while relying on international cooperation and consensus for security.

Democrats favor treating international terrorism and Islamic jihadism as criminal acts that depend far more on the police than upon the military for resolution, believing that the U.S. itself is responsible for creating much of the terrorism. Republicans believe that international terrorism and Islamic jihadism represent a threat to our culture and demand that we fight against using every resource available. And Republicans see increasing international weakness, appeasement, apathy, and nihilism, rather than American imperialism, as the chief causes of terror.

Democrats would be quick to point to Iraq as an example of everything that is wrong with the Republican approach to foreign policy, but it is important to point out that Democrats played a significant role in the Iraq war as well. For example, 60% of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted to pass the Iraq War Resolution, and the war authorization actually passed in both the House and Senate by wider margins than did the 1991 Gulf War Resolution. And an examination of quotations compiled by Freedom Agenda reveals that Democrats were every bit as determined as Republicans to force Saddam Hussein to open his regime to weapons inspections or be overthrown by force. Republicans would argue that the real question isn’t why the Republicans went so wrong in Iraq, but rather why the Democrats demonstrated so much weakness and betrayal of their previous commitments.

While this does not necessarily demonstrate that Republicans are in the right as regarding foreign policy and Democrats in the wrong, it is worth mentioning that current and former veterans support Republicans over Democrats by a 56% to a 34% margin, according to Gallup, continuing a long-time support for Republicans among veterans.

So there you have it. There are many enormous differences between Republicans and Democrats, and they ultimate come down to differences in priorities and differences in values. I hope that this has enabled readers to better understand both parties and what they stand for, so they can vote for their candidates accordingly.

As a conservative, I did not present the Democrat’s case. Let them do that themselves. But I did attempt, in pointing out the differences, to fairly and accurately represent the view that typifies the Democratic Party.

There are other issues. Democrats tend to believe in man-caused global warming; while Republicans view this notion skeptically. And, partially as a consequence of their stance on global warming, many Democrats oppose any significant increase in domestic oil production, while Republicans believe that increasing domestic oil production is the only viable path toward reducing our dependence on foreign oil while we search for practical alternative energy sources. Again, a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats ultimately believe it is up to the government to decide and “set” energy policy, while Republicans believe that the free market would be in a much better position to create better and cheaper energy if the government would just quit meddling and get out of the way.

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4 Responses to “What’s the Difference Between Democrats And Republicans?”

  1. Stacey Derbinshire Says:


    I’m just getting started with my new blog. Would you want to exchange links on our blog-rolls?

    BTW – I’m up to about 100 visitors per day.

  2. Michael Eden Says:

    I saw one article you had about the economic necessity to drill for our own domestic oil as a means of weaning ourselves off the foreign tap.

    That is one of my big issues as well.

    I’d be interested in learning a little more about your perspective just to see if we’d make good “allies.”

    I’ll try to remember to email you.

  3. george mauro Says:

    Very well written. Do you think thedivision may be instigated and amplified for political reasons or otherwise?

  4. Michael Eden Says:


    Thank you, and good question.

    First, I think that Democrats and Republicans both have distinct and basically internally consistent political philosophies, which themselves derive from distinct (as in “different”) worldviews.

    Which is to say that there are clear and obvious divisions.

    That said, I also believe that many, if not most, of the politicians in office – both Democrat AND Republican – are cynical opportunists, more than they are consistent ideological Democrats or Republicans. What do I mean by that? I mean that these politicians basically exploit a political base, and pay lip service to it in order to exploit the support of that base, rather than truly believing the crap they espouse.

    Soon, we might be seeing just such an example of a political division which will be “instigated and amplified for political reasons” in the form of tax cuts. Both Democrats and Republicans claim they want middle class tax cuts (though I must point out that Republicans have ALWAYS wanted them, while Democrats are Johnny-come-latelies). Democrats are saying that Republicans are “holding the middle class tax cuts hostage” to get tax cuts for the rich. Well, the obvious flip-side of that is that Democrats are holding middle class tax cuts hostage in order to get their Marxist class warfare and redistribution of wealth doctrines. Republicans could at least say that if they were savvy enough.

    That’s already enough grandstanding. But it gets worse. Democrats want to enact permanent tax cuts for the middle class, and then agree to a one year moratorium on tax cuts for the rich. Why do they want that? Because they want to put the Republican Party in the bind a year or two from now of “seeking tax cuts for the rich.” Which is why Republicans, if they are smart, will insist on either a permanent extension of ALL the tax cuts, or a temporary extension of all the tax cuts.

    But then, what would be good for Republicans politically would then be bad for the nation. Because making the tax temporary would only continue the lack of permanence that is hurting the economy. Investors and businesses need to know what is going to happen, not just now, but several years into the future. Or they will continue to be paralyzed and will continue to sit on the sidelines.

    Which means that Republicans should simply demand permanent tax cuts, or shut down the government. But that action, no matter how correct, might turn the people against them.

    So Democrats and Republicans – who both claim to want tax cuts – may end up turning tax cuts into a political football.

    Which is just one of many examples of how what both parties could come together upon becomes a football.

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