A Guide to Political Parties: Their Common Positions on the Issues and Attitudes Toward Governance
by Edwin Quinabo
Unlike in the Philippines where party loyalty is thin, or in Europe where there are multi-influential political parties, the U.S. in modern politics is largely dominated by a two-party system: the Democratic Party and Republican Party. While there are independents who believe in principles or parts of the two dominant parties, they are usually further left or further right of the two dominant parties. Political experts say during the general election it’s often that independents will vote either Democratic or Republican out of practicality and viability. Independents or third-party voters mostly belong to the Libertarian (the largest), Socialist or Green Party. Locally in Hawaii a large independent party is the Aloha Party which has central to its political philosophy Native Hawaiian rights.
Changes within the Democratic and Republican parties
In the past decade, both the Republican Party and Democratic Party have undergone major philosophical changes.
On the Republican side, political experts say it has become a Trump brand, more nativist (extreme form of nationalism), economically protectionist (anti-globalism), more religiously conservative, and revisionist (idolizing Americana circa 1950s through 1980s that were less diverse). The Grand Old Party (GOP) of the modern era prior to Trump – the Reagan-Bushes, fiscal conservative and Wall Street elitist era) has been sidelined to today’s GOP majority that is now Trump Republicans.
Changes within the Democratic Party is punctuated by the rise of the Progressive movement where in Congress it has become the dominant political caucus, compared to local politics where moderate Democrats still make up the majority of Democrats (largely due to a need to balance a state budget that do not allow raising debt ceiling and incurring debt). Progressives are characterized as pro-worker rights (versus corporate control), socially liberal (minority rights), and pro-government (regulatory and social service oriented).
Areas of common ground and myths of both major parties
Where both Republican and Democratic parties have general common ground are support for the military and patriotism. There is some eroding at least in viewpoint by both parties in areas of the Constitution, voting rights and the nation’s capitalist infrastructure. But both parties still, for the most part, are pro-Constitutionalist, pro-voting rights and pro-capitalist.
A myth (vowed principle but not in practice) of the Republican party is fiscal conservatism, meaning that they have as a goal to keep government spending down. This hasn’t been true in practice, but used rhetorically when opposing specific policies they are opposed to.
A myth of the Democratic party is anti-foreign military adventurism and keeping military spending down. Democrats have been just as hawkish as Republicans in many aspects of U.S. foreign policy and are afraid to support lowering military spending because it supports their state’s respective local communities with jobs.
General breakdown of where political parties stand on popular issues
The Republican party:
*pro-big business (anti-banking reform, less environmental regulation, less consumer protection laws, and against antitrust laws)
*anti taxation of practically all forms
*social conservatism: against abortion and reproductive rights, pro-prayer in schools, pro-traditional marriage, against critical race theory and teaching slavery in secondary and primary education
*against most forms of social programs except (marginal support) for Medicare and Social Security; “marginal” because there have been attempts to privatize Social Security and Republicans are against giving Medicare price negotiating power
*hardline approach to criminal justice and immigration
*against government intervention in healthcare*against most forms of gun regulation
The Democratic Party:
*pro small business (pro antitrust laws) and pro mixed economy
*pro government regulation (on environment, banking and consumer laws)*pro taxation of billionaires and other forms of taxation
*socially liberal (pro-abortion/reproductive rights, pro minority, civil and LGBT rights)
*in favor of most social programs from Medicare, Medicaid, to financial assistance to the poor, seniors and children
*more liberal position on criminal justice and immigration*supports government intervention in healthcare
*supports common sense gun reform
*agree with most Republican initiatives
*the rule of thumb is Libertarians are staunchly against most forms of government intervention in business, taxation, social welfare, and are very pro-individual freedoms and property rights. Libertarians want as little as possible government control in every aspect of society
*mostly agree with most Democratic party initiatives*central to the party is environmental protection
Outside of third-party affiliation like the Libertarian or Green party, a self-identifying “independent” voter also means someone who agrees and disagrees with certain parts of both major political parties; or it could also mean they are more center politics or moderate. An independent often is less politically ideological and more fluid. Attraction to a candidate often is based on the candidate’s personal background and other areas of common identity rather than positions on the issues.
In the U.S. political parties are given significant emphasis and do matter. On the positive side to this, there is greater clarification as to who you are voting for. But on the negative side, it is also responsible for gridlock politics where little can be agreed on to push forward bipartisan legislation.
In Hawaii’s local politics where the vast majority are Democrats, there are subtle differences policy-wise that educated voters will recognize among Democrats. Such differences are usually overlooked and other considerations such as leadership and experience are scrutinized more. Innovation and creative approaches to governance are also areas to distinguish between Democratic candidates in Hawaii.
Whatever your political persuasion is, participation in the election process is affirming your beliefs and rights politically. Get out and vote.