The Party Issues

According to the most recent polls, roughly one-third of the American electorate identifies with the Republicans, one-third with the Democrats, and the remainder consider themselves independents. What makes someone a Republican or Democrat? Where do the parties stand on various issues? Although individual members of both parties sometimes differ with their leadership, the Republicans and Democrats generally disagree on the following issues:

  • Taxes. Republicans favor broad-based tax cuts; Democrats favor targeted tax cuts directed at lower income Americans. In 2001 and 2003, President George W. Bush won passage of two of the largest tax cuts in American history.

  • Government spending. Democrats support larger federal spending programs administered from Washington; Republicans favor reduced spending in the form of “block grants” to the states. Democratic spending proposals usually outpace the rate of inflation, while Republican proposals usually remain at or below the rate of inflation.

  • Foreign policy. Democrats favor working through international organizations such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to combat terrorism; Republicans believe that the United States has the right as a sovereign nation to act alone against terrorist threats, and subscribe to the “Bush Doctrine” of pre-emptive strikes when necessary.

  • Abortion. Democrats believe abortion should remain legal; Republicans believe there is no constitutional right to an abortion. No Republican president or vice president has ever been pro-choice.

  • Although abortion law has not changed since the 1973 landmark decision Roe v. Wade, it remains one of the most divisive issues in American politics. While virtually every Democrat in Congress is “pro-choice,” only two-thirds of Republicans are “pro-life.” Pro-choice Republicans are considered moderate Republicans, while pro-life Republicans are regarded as conservative.

  • Affirmative action. Democrats support the use of preferential treatment to achieve racial diversity; Republicans oppose race-based quotas and set-asides, but support economic-based affirmative action. In 2003, President Bush spoke out against a University of Michigan affirmative action policy that used race as a numerical factor in the admissions process.

  • Social Security reform. Republicans favor partially privatizing Social Security and the creation of individual retirement accounts; Democrats oppose privatization and individual retirement accounts.

  • Health care. Democrats support universal health-care coverage guaranteed by the federal government; Republicans favor health maintenance organization (HMO) reform and incremental coverage. Both parties support improving prescription drug benefits.

  • Education. Republicans favor less federal spending and greater local control; Democrats favor increased federal spending and control. In 1995, the Republican Congress tried to abolish the Department of Education, but was rebuffed by President Clinton.

  • Minimum wage. Democrats support regular increases in the minimum wage; Republicans oppose it. During the Clinton administration, the minimum wage increased from $4.25 to $5.15, the largest increase during an eight-year period.

  • Same-sex unions. Democrats generally favor same-sex unions and gay rights; Republicans oppose them.

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