Political Party Conservative and Liberal Stances
Using a combination of polling results, official party positions, and Congressional votes, we have been able to identify the general political preferences of American liberals and conservatives. The table below outlines the stances of Democrats and Republicans on current political issues. These stances are based off of the opinions and beliefs of the majority of each party.
Political Party Leanings
Capital punishment, colloquially referred to as the ‘death penalty’, is generally supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. The official 2016 Republican Party Platform reiterated the party’s support for capital punishment based on its interpretation of the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution. Meanwhile, the 2016 Democratic Party Platform expressively committed to abolishing the death penalty, which it cited as being a ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ that is both ineffective and costly. Public polling supports the party platforms, with 77% of Republicans favoring capital punishment in 2018, compared to only 35% of Democrats.
Mandatory prison sentences, or mandatory minimums, require people convicted of certain crimes, often drug related, to serve a set amount of time in prison for their offense. Historically, most major mandatory sentencing regulations have been introduced by Republican lawmakers. Furthermore, the 2016 Republican Party Platform briefly expressed support for mandatory minimums, praising them as an important and effective tool for ensuring public safety. Recent public polling, however, indicates that Americans are broadly opposed to mandatory prison sentences, regardless of their party affiliation. While Democrats are still more inclined than their Republican counterparts to oppose mandatory sentencing (83% oppose), a steady majority of Republican voters (66%) would support eliminating mandatory minimums.
Gun control, a broad category of policies that aim to reduce access to gun ownership, is typically advocated for by Democrats and opposed by Republicans. The 2016 Democratic Party Platform outlined the party’s commitment to reducing gun violence by implementing universal background checks, closing loopholes in firearm sales regulations, and restricting access to assault weapons. Meanwhile, the Republican Party Platform expresses firm commitment to the Second Amendment and opposition to any measures that would infringe on access to firearms. Party platforms appear to be consistent with public opinion; 86% of Democratic-leaning voters support stricter gun legislation, while only 31% of Republican-leaning voters do.
Both parties are generally supportive of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. Only a slim minority of Americans would support repealing the Second Amendment; 39% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans, totaling 21% across the general public. While both parties are in general consensus about the right to own guns, the Republican Party believes that gun rights should be unrestricted, while the Democratic Party believes precautions ought to be implemented to ensure that firearms do not fall into the wrong hands.
Universal background check legislation would require any individual seeking to purchase a firearm to first undergo a comprehensive background check. Among voting demographics, support for universal background checks is quite high, with 84% of Republican voters and 96% of Democratic voters expressing support for expanded background check requirements. However, while the Democratic Party explicitly includes support for expanded background checks in its platform, the Republican Party is yet to include universal background checks in its platform. Rather, its references to gun policy are generally in opposition to any policies that could limit access to gun ownership.
The arming of school officials has been floated as a potential solution to school shootings by several prominent Republicans, including President Trump. Among voters, Democrats are typically opposed to the prospect of increased firearm presence in schools, while Republicans are generally more supportive; 86% of Democrats believe arming teachers is a bad idea, while 68% of Republicans would support it. Neither of the 2016 party platforms include an official stance on this topic.
While the War on Drugs was originally championed by Republican presidents, namely Reagan, Nixon, and H.W. Bush, voters of both parties have recently shifted to be less supportive of harsh drug legislation. 77% of Democratic and 51% of Republican voters believe that the justice system should focus on the rehabilitation of drug users, rather than prosecution. Support for the War on Drugs among party leadership, however, remains split; the Democratic party platform commits to reversing the War on Drugs, while the Republican platform alludes to support for it with its reference to the “progress made over the last three decades against drug abuse”.
Generally, criminal justice reform polls well among both Democratic and Republican voters. 87% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans would like to see the US prison population reduced. However, despite general support for criminal justice reform among voters of both parties, the Republican party leadership has been more hesitant to embrace it. The 2016 party platform reiterated support for measures such as mandatory minimums and capital punishment, practices that are often critiqued by proponents for criminal justice reform. This contrasts with the Democratic platform, which expressly commits to criminal justice reform.
Republicans and Democrats are oppositely split on the issue of abortion. Democrats, per their official platform, are committed to ensuring access to safe and legal abortion care, while Republicans (also according to their platform) are committed to protecting fetal life. These positions are consistent with the opinions of voters; according to a Pew poll, 82% of Democrats believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 62% of Republicans believe it should be illegal in all or most cases. Furthermore, nearly half (48%) of Republican voters and leaders would support overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that established a legal right to abortion access.
Polling suggests that Democrats are more sympathetic towards rape abortionthan Republicans are; in cases of rape or incest, 77% of Democratic voters support allowing abortion at any stage in the pregnancy, while only 46% of Republicans do.
Support for Planned Parenthood, an organization centered on providing reproductive care including contraception and abortion services, is relatively partisan. Polling indicates that 89% of Democrats view Planned Parenthood positively, compared to only 36% of Republicans. Further polling shows that 63% of Republicans would support defunding Planned Parenthood, while only a marginal 7% of Democrats would. Planned Parenthood is mentioned in both the Democratic and Republican 2016 party platforms; the Democratic Party commits to protect federal funding of Planned Parenthood, while the Republican Party expresses the desire to cut its funding.
Support for same-sex marriage is higher among Democratic-identifying voters than Republican-identifying voters; 75% of Democrats support same-sex marriage, while only 37% of Republicans do. The Republican platform reiterates the party’s belief that marriage should be “between one man and one woman,” while the Democratic platform emphasizes its support for LGBT rights.
Democratic voters are far more likely to be in support of anti-discrimination laws against LGBT individuals. A Gallup poll reports that 74% of Democrats are supportive of anti-discrimination legislation, compared to only 27% of Republicans. Likewise, the most recent Democratic platform expresses commitment to enacting protections for LGBT rights, while the Republican platform does not.
While Republicans are typically opposed to reparations, Democrats are gradually becoming more supportive of the notion. A Gallup poll reports that while only 8% of Republican voters believe that descendants of African slaves ought to be eligible for reparations, 47% of Democrats do. Neither of the party platforms address proposals for reparations, although Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to explore the possibility of reparations for slavery.
Affirmative action programs, which enable colleges and universities to consider ethnicity and race as a factor for admissions, are considerably popular among the American public according to a 2017 Pew report, with 71% of Americans expressing support. Among Democrats, 84% of voters are supportive of affirmative action. Republicans are more split, with approximately half supporting and half opposing affirmative action programs. Neither of the 2016 party platforms take an explicit stance on the topic.
Both the Democratic and Republican party platforms highlight religious freedom as an important right. Polling indicates that religious freedom is a topic of equal importance to both Democratic and Republican voters.
Marijuana legalization is becoming increasingly popular among both Democrats and Republicans. Although the Republican platform is critical of marijuana legalization, polling indicates that 55% of Republicans favor legalization, while just 44% are opposed. Meanwhile, 78% of Democrats support legalization.
Traditionally, both Democrats and Republicans have favored abolishing the Electoral College. However, support among Republicans steadily diminished following the 2016 election. The most recent polling results indicate that while 75% of Democratic voters expressed support for eliminating the Electoral College and electing presidents according to popular vote, only 32% of Republican voters say the same. The most recent Republican Party platform aligns with these polling results; it explicitly condemns calls to “abolish or distort” the Electoral College.
Republicans and Democrats are typically divided on the issue of taxation. While the Democratic Party platform advocates for raising taxes for wealthy Americans and corporations, the Republican platform denounces high tax rates and even goes as far as to advocate for the repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment, which instituted the federal income tax. Polling reflects similar sentiments among voters. When polled about the Trump Administration’s 2017 tax code, which implemented broad tax cuts, 71% of Republicans reported that they were satisfied with the new tax system, compared to 79% of Democrats that disapprove.
Polling indicates that flat-rate taxation is a popular concept among Republicans; 59% of Republicans would support a flat-rate tax versus just 25% of Democrats.
Both Democrats and Republicans appear to be in support of private enterprise. Both the Democratic and Republican platforms expressed some criticism of nationalized enterprise, particularly in the context of trade. While it can be noted that the Republican platform mentioned support for private enterprise more frequently than the Democratic platform, there is no polling to suggest that Democratic voters would support nationalizing enterprise.
Both the Democratic and Republican platforms advocate for the protection of individual property rights. Polling indicates that 76% of Americans would be more likely to vote for a candidate that would fight for private property protections; the poll found no significant variation between demographic or political groups.
Neither the Democratic nor the Republican party platforms mention the topic of eminent domain. Polling, however, suggests that both Democrats and Republicans oppose the use of eminent domain; 80% of Americans, including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, were opposed to the ruling of Supreme Court case Kelo v City of New London, which ruled that cities could exercise eminent domain to seize property in the interest of “economic development”.
Polling suggests that Democrats are more opposed to protectionist trade measures than Republicans are; 63% of Republicans view free trade agreements negatively, compared to 67% of Democrats that view them positively. While the 2016 Democratic Party platform expressed that free trade is a good thing, the Republican platform appeared more cautious about free trade agreements.
Polling indicates that both Republicans and Democrats hold positive views of competitive capitalism; 78% of Republicans viewed capitalism positively, as did 55% of Democrats. However, it can also be noted that Democrats expressed similar support for elements of socialism, with 65% viewing it positively.
Democrats and Republicans are divided on the issue of federal spending. In a Pew poll, 74% of Republicans reported that they would prefer decreased federal spending, and in turn, decreased federal services, while 67% of Democrats reported the opposite. Voters were especially split on the topics of healthcare, education, and welfare, with Democrats reporting support for increased spending in those arenas.
School choice has been a defining issue for the Department of Education under the Trump Administration. Both President Trump and his appointed Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, have identified school voucher programs and other school choice initiatives as a priority. The administration has been criticized by a number of prominent Democrats, who have argued that school vouchers funnel money away from public education. Polling, however, indicates voters are much less divided on this issue; 61% of Republicans are supportive of voucher programs, as are 52% of Democrats.
Democrats and Republicans appear to have very differing perspectives on public education spending. On one hand, the Democratic Party platform outlines a commitment to increasing federal investment in public education. In comparison, the Republican Party platform is critical of current education spending, citing that the “overall results” of the education system do not justify the vast amount of funds being allocated to it. These partisan preferences are also reflected in polling; 73% of Democratic voters would like to see federal spending on education increase, compared to only 43% of Republicans.
Neither the Republican nor the Democratic party platform addresses the issue of teacher pay specifically. However, the Republican platform advocates specifically for merit pay for “good” teachers, while the Democratic platform advocates for more funding to be allocated to supporting both teachers and students. Polling suggests that proposals to raise the salaries of public school teachers are slightly more popular among Democrats; almost 60% of Democrats would support increasing pay, compared to a little under 40% of Republicans.
Both the Democratic and Republican party platforms express support for charter schools, although the Democratic does express some weariness about paying for for-profit charter schools, and advocates for increased oversight on charter schools to ensure that they are neither destabilizing public schools nor excluding students of color. Among voters, support for charter schools appears to be higher among Republicans; 61% of Republicans support the formation of charter schools, compared to just 40% of Democrats.
While a stance on Common Core education standards is not made clear in the Democratic Party platform, the Republican platform explicitly congratulates efforts to repeal the ‘one-size-fits-all’ standards. While Democrats have traditionally been more supportive of the Common Core, polling suggests that voters among both parties are beginning to view its standards negatively; 48% of Democrats support Common Core, compared to only 35% of Republicans. In both cases, support for the Common Core has diminished to below 50%.
Polling indicates support for clean energy among both Democratic and Republican voters. 87% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans have expressed support for clean energy innovation, and 83% of Democrats and 54% of Republican voters would support a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030. However, the support for clean energy present among Republican voters is not present among Republican leadership. The Trump Administration, for instance, has expressed adamant opposition to clean energy solutions such as wind and solar power, and has maintained a commitment to supporting the coal and oil industries. Furthermore, while clean energy is not mentioned once in the Republican Party platform, the Democratic platform expresses enthusiastic support for clean energy solutions and articulates a goal to transition the economy to be clean energy-based.
Belief in climate science is remarkably higher among Democrats than Republicans. The Republican Party platform explicitly rejects the findings of intergovernmental climate researchers such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and accordingly disavows agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol. In comparison, the Democratic platform expressed support for climate policies recommended by climate scientists and commits to international environmental standards such as those outlined in the Paris Agreement. A Pew poll indicates that belief in climate science is prevalent among Democratic voters; 90% report that they believe the government should take action to address the threats of climate change. Meanwhile, Republican voters are less consistent in their beliefs. 65% of liberal Republicans agree that climate change is a threat, compared to just 24% of conservative Republicans.
Environmental regulations are more popular among Democrats than Republicans. Polling shows that while 65% of Democratic voters believe in the necessity of governmental environmental regulations, only 39% of Republican voters report the same. When asked specifically about the Trump Administration, which is notoriously opposed to environmental regulations, 65% of Republicans reported that they agree with the administration’s environmental policies, while only 8% of Democrats said the same. Accordingly, the Democratic Party platform commits to restoring the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to instate environmental regulations including clean air and water standards and public lands protections. Meanwhile, the Republican platform condemns the EPA for being an overreach of federal power.
Republicans tend to be more supportive of the oil industry than Democrats are. The Democratic Party platform outlines a goal to reduce reliance on oil by instead encouraging the production and use of cleaner, renewable energy sources. In comparison, the Republican platform declares support for all sources of marketable energy, and explicitly cites oil as such a source. Polling concludes that Republican voters have far more favorable views of oil fracking than Democratic voters do, by a wide margin of 62% to 29%, respectively.
Like they tend to be with other non-renewable energy sources, Republicans also demonstrate support for the coal industry. The Republican platform identifies coal as one of the ‘marketable’ sources of energy that the party supports the production and use of. Comparatively, the Democratic platform places priority on the production of renewable energy. Likewise, polling indicates that Republicans are far more supportive of coal mining, with 66% of conservative Republicans reporting support for the coal industry. This compares to just 9% of liberal democrats that would like to see the coal industry expand.
Polling indicates that illegal immigration is regarded to be a much bigger issues among Republican voters than Democratic voters; 75% of Republican voters perceive illegal immigration to be a major issue, compared to just 19% of Democratic voters. Accordingly, the Republican party platform emphasizes the perceived need to curb illegal immigration, while the Democratic platform is focused more on providing pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and streamlining the process of visa applications.
The construction of a border wall is a highly partisan issue. The Republican platform explicitly endorses the construction of a wall along the Southern border, while the Democratic platform expresses harsh opposition to the concept. Polling reflects a similar partisan divide; 82% of Republican voters favor the construction of a Southern border wall, while 93% of Democratic voters are opposed.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is a policy that grants deferred action on deportation to immigrants that were brought to the United States unlawfully as children. The Republican Party platform does not take a specific position on DACA, although votes on a 2019 bill to extend a pathway to citizenship to such immigrants was split along partisan lines, with only 7 Republican representatives voting in favor. Meanwhile, the 2016 Democratic platform committed to protecting DACA from being overturned. Unlike other immigration issues, DACA does not provoke a harsh partisan divide among voters. Polling indicates that while a strong majority of 92% of Democratic voters support DACA, so do 50% of Republican voters.
Democrats tend to regard refugee migration more positively than Republicans. The Republican Party platform assumes the position that refugee intake is a potential national security threat and thus that increased screenings on refugee applicants is a necessity. The Democratic platform, meanwhile, speaks more generously about refugees, but still acknowledges a need for some form of screening. The difference between the parties’ perceptions of refugee migration is best reflected by polling. A Pew poll shows that 74% of Democrats believe the US has a responsibility to take in refugees, compared to only 26% of Republicans.
Sanctuary cities, cities that “[limit] cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agents in order to protect low-priority immigrants from deportation,” are typically defended by Democrats and criticized by Republicans. While the Democratic platform does not explicitly mention sanctuary cities, Democratic Congresspeople have frequently taken steps to protect sanctuary cities from being defunded. In comparison, the Republican platform explicitly calls for sanctuary cities to be defunded, on the basis that they technically violate federal law.
Neither of the 2016 party platforms speak specifically about ICE. However, as the actions of the agency have become a recent topic of discussion, Democratic candidates and officeholders have begun to advocate for increased oversight on ICE, with some even advocating for its abolition. Polling reflects a harsh partisan divide over ICE; 77% of conservative Republicans view ICE in a positive light, compared to 82% of liberal Democrats that view the agency unfavorably.
The travel ban, a policy which limits immigration to the United States from several ‘high-risk’ countries, was proposed and implemented by the Republican Trump Administration. The Democratic platform condemned the ban on multiple occasions, criticizing it mainly for its concentration on majority-Muslim nations. Polling indicates that while 81% of Republican voters approve of the travel ban, only 9% of Democratic voters do.
Military spending seems to be higher of a budget priority for Republicans than for Democrats. The Republican Party platform makes multiple calls to strengthen the military, presumably requiring increased funding. It also condemns cuts to the defense budget. Comparatively, the Democratic platform points to waste within the defense budget, which can be interpreted as a call to reduce defense spending to some extent. While majorities in both parties appear to be opposed to increasing military spending, Republicans are certainly more open to the idea; polling shows that 37% of Republicans would increase defense spending, compared to just 12% of Democrats.
The War on Terror, an initiative that was originally launched by the Republican G.W. Bush Administration, appears to be somewhat more popular among Republicans that Democrats. Polling indicates that 65% of Republican voters support their party’s approach to the War on Terror. Meanwhile, passing policy that would reverse the trajectory of the War on Terror seems to be a priority for 2020 Democratic candidates.
Nationalism, made distinct from patriotism by its propensity to advance one nation to the detriment of others, is an ideology that appears to resonate more with Republicans than Democrats. Nationalist sentiments appear to be reflected in polling. One poll indicates that 57% of Republican voters are concerned that immigration poses a threat to the national identity of America. This compares to the 86% of Democratic voters that perceive x to be essential to the collective American identity. Polling also reflects a widespread association between the current Republican administration and nationalist sentiments; 56% of voters report that they believe President Trump has not done enough to distance himself from white nationalist groups. 83% of Democratic voters interpret the president’s nationalist associations to be problematic, compared to just 26% of Republican voters.
As the United States is not a part of the European Union (EU), neither party has established an official stance on EU power or Brexit. However, separately from any official party stances, individual politicians have made statements on the European Union, with Democratic politicians usually speaking in favor of the institution and Republicans against. President Trump, for instance, has tweeted his support for Brexit on several occasions, while the position of former President Obama was anti-Brexit.
Democrats tend to regard the United Nations more favorably than Republicans do. While the Democratic Party platform recognizes the United Nations for its important role in international relations, the Republican platform recognizes it only for its potential. The Republican platform additionally calls for the continued funding of the institution to be contingent upon several structural changes, indicating dissatisfaction within the party regarding the institution in the status quo. Polling supports these sentiments; 77% of Democrats view the United Nations favorably, compared to just 36% of Republicans.
A majority in both parties view Israel favorably. One Gallup poll reports that 83% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats, along with 72% of independents hold positive views about Israel. Likewise, both the 2016 Democratic and Republican party platforms affirm the state of Israel and condemn the rise of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
In the wake of President Trump’s decision to use military force to assassinate Qasam Soleimani, a top Iranian general, polling has reflected that support for the President’s strategy is split along partisan lines. While 81% of Democrats feel that Trump’s actions have increased the likelihood of a major armed conflict between the United States and Iran, only 26% of Republicans express the same concern. Similarly, 75% of Democratic voters report that they believe that recent action against Iran has made the US less safe, while 56% of Republican voters report the opposite; they believe that military aggression against Iran has increased the safety of US citizens.
Democrats are more open to government interference than Republicans are. While the Republican Party platform explicitly condemns ‘big government’, the Democratic platform calls on the federal government to promote equality where it sees the free market failing to do so. Polling indicates that 69% of Democratic voters are inclined to support a bigger government with more services, while 77% of Republican voters would prefer to have a smaller government with fewer services.
Democrats are generally more supportive of government regulations, while Republicans are generally more opposed. The Democratic platform calls for increased regulations in several spheres, including environmental and labor policy. Meanwhile, the Republican platform frequently condemns federal regulations and even goes as far as to call regulation “quiet tyranny”. Polling data indicates that Democrats often report higher support for regulatory agencies than Republicans do; 59% of Democrats view the IRS favorably versus 49% of Republicans, 77% of Democrats view the FBI favorably versus 66% of Republicans, and 61% of Democrats view the EPA favorably versus 55% of Republicans.
Government dependency appears to be a considerable concern for Republican voters. Polling indicates that 68% of Republicans view entitlements negatively, believing that they create dependency, while 71% of Democratic voters believe the opposite. Additionally, the Republican platform expresses concern regarding government dependency several times.
Universal healthcare is a priority for the Democratic Party, whose platform cites support for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act to demonstrate the party’s commitment to the issue. In comparison, the Republican platform promotes “vigorous competition” in the healthcare industry rather than supporting a universalized approach. Polling reflects similar sentiments among voters; 85% of Democrats believe that it ought to be the government’s responsibility to provide healthcare for all, while 68% of Republicans disagree.
The Democratic platform expresses support for systems of socialized healthcare such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, the Republican platform acknowledges the importance of socialized healthcare programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, but expresses a desire to limit access to these programs to just the elderly and absolute impoverished. The Republican platform also condemns the Affordable Care Act, implying a limit to the extent of socialized healthcare that the party will tolerate.
Both parties support private healthcare. While the Democratic Party does call for a unilateral expansion of public healthcare services, its platform does not call for the abolition of private insurance. Although several Democratic presidential candidates have expressed interest in the eventual dissolution of private health insurance, this has not become the official stance of the party. Polling suggests widespread support for maintaining private healthcare options among both Democratic and Republican voters; 88% of Democrats would prefer a public-option healthcare plan, which would allow private insurance programs to exist alongside a public system. Meanwhile, most Republicans are opposed to expanding public healthcare coverage at all.
Doctor-assisted suicide is not a major talking point within the Democratic Party, although it has been denounced by Republicans, in the party’s platform. Polling does not reflect a major polarity in public opinion on the topic, although a slight majority (53%) of Democratic voters approve of assisted suicide. This compares to 37% of Republicans.
The Republican Party has traditionally been opposed to the use of embryonic stem cells in research. The past two Republican presidents (George W Bush and Donald Trump) have enacted bans on federally funded embryonic stem cell research; President Bush’s ban was overturned by President Obama. The 2016 Republican Party platform reiterated the party’s opposition to embryonic stem cell research. While the Democratic platform does not articulate an official stance, polling indicates that Democratic voters are supportive of stem cell research; 60% of Democrats prioritize research over the protection of embryonic life versus 37% of Republicans (note: this poll is slightly dated, it is possible that these numbers have shifted).
Democrats tend to be supportive of welfare programs, while Republicans are less supportive. The Democratic Party platform expresses support for welfare programs such as Social Security and condemns Republican proposals to cut funding for welfare programs such as SNAP and Medicaid. Meanwhile, the Republican platform articulate opposition to the expansion of welfare programs and expresses concern that they create a culture of dependency. Polling indicates that Republicans are more willing to cut funding for welfare programs than Democrats are; 55% of Republicans would cut welfare spending in order to reduce budgetary deficits. Meanwhile, 84% of Democrats would prioritize maintaining welfare spending over deficit reduction.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) has become a cornerstone in the platform of Democratic presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, who proposes a $1000 monthly stipend for every American over the age of 18. Polling shows that 65% of Democrats would support a UBI, compared to just 28% of Republicans.
The Democratic Party platform commits to resisting efforts to privatize Social Security. Meanwhile, the Republican platform says that the party is open to all options to reform Social Security, given that they do not raise taxes. Presumably, then, privatization is on the table for Republicans.