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Factions in the Democratic Party (United States)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Democratic Party of the United States is composed of various factions or wings, some with significant overlap.

Contemporary Democratic Party factions and movements


Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. President
The modern progressive movement in the U.S. draws deeply from the left-wing populist economic and political philosophies of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, the latter occurring at the end of the Progressive Era, which was largely started by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt and his Square Deal. While Wilson considered himself a progressive, Franklin Roosevelt called himself a liberal and never explicitly adopted the progressive label.[1] Modern progressives are much more culturally liberal on social issues like race and identity, where they draw inspiration from the Civil and Voting Rights Acts proposed by President John F. Kennedy, enacted by President Johnson and advocated for by Dr. King.[2]

While it does not transcend the political philosophy of social liberalism, the Progressive wing has fused tenets of social liberalism with traditions of the Progressive Era as well as drawing more robustly from Keynesian economics, social populism, and social democracy. Progressive Democratic candidates for public office have had popular support as candidates in metropolitan areas outside the South. The first self-described liberal president was Franklin D. Roosevelt whose ideas, such as his calls for a second Bill of Rights, continue to influence progressives today.[3] President Lyndon Johnson and  Civil Rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. are influential to progressives as well, not only for their positions on race and identity but on economics as well (Johnson for the Great Society and King for his support of social democracy).[4] The writings of thinkers such as John Dewey and Lester Frank Ward helped shape liberal and progressive ideas in the United States.[5] While there are differences between them, both historical progressivism and the modern movement have the most crossover in the belief that free markets lead to economic inequalities and therefore the free market must be robustly monitored and regulated in order to protect the working class.[6] Modern progressives seriously emphasize the threat of climate change and to a greater or lesser extent rally around the Green New Deal, which was created by Rep. Ocasio Cortez and Sen. Markey, as the framework forward to tackle the issue.[7] Many progressive Democrats are also ideological descendants of the New Left of Democratic presidential candidate and Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, while others were involved in the presidential candidacies of Vermont Governor Howard Dean and U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. Still others are former members of the Green Party. This group consists disproportionately of college-educated professionals.[8] A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that a plurality (41%) resided in mass affluent households and 49% were college graduates.[9]

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.
Senator Bernie Sanders, while an Independent, caucuses with the Democratic Party and is often considered an unofficial leader of the modern progressive movement in the U.S.[10]

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is a caucus of progressive House Democrats in the Congress, along with one independent in the Senate. It is the second largest Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives and its members have included Representatives Dennis Kucinich (OH), Alan Grayson (FL), John Conyers (MI), Barbara Lee (CA), Jim McDermott (WA), Peter DeFazio (OR), Keith Ellison (MN), Ayanna Pressley (MA), Ro Khanna (CA), Mark Pocan (WI), and John Lewis (GA).[11] Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey (MA),[12][13] Russ Feingold and Tammy Baldwin (WI),[14] Jeff Merkley (OR),[15] and Sherrod Brown (OH)[16] have all been described as progressives. Other notable progressives include Henry A. Wallace,[17] Eugene McCarthy, Ted Kennedy,[18] Paul Wellstone,[19] and Stacey Abrams.[2] In 2016, the Blue Collar Caucus, a pro-labor, anti-outsourcing Caucus was formed,[20][21][22][23] with significant overlap in members with the Progressive Caucus, although some moderates such as Cheri Bustos are members as well. There are six self-described democratic socialists in the United States Congress as of 2021: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Representative Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman of New York, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Representative Cori Bush of Missouri, although political scientists have noted that the policy platforms of such “democratic socialists” has tended to align more with social democracy in the spectrum of socialism.[24] All self-described democratic socialists in Congress are members of the Democratic Party, except for Senator Sanders, who was a member of the party for his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns but caucuses with the Senate Democrats as an Independent.


The Kennedy brothers, President John F. Kennedy (right), Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (left) and Senator Ted Kennedy (middle) in 1963
The Kennedy family dynasty was extremely influential to the development and popularity of the modern liberal movement in the US throughout the 1960s, particularly from President Kennedy's New Frontier initiatives and his brother, Attorney General and later Senator Robert Kennedy's efforts on poverty, civil rights and corruption, and his appeal to poor, African American, Hispanic and young voters. The Kennedy administration's Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (later President) was also an important figure to the movement, his presidency and Great Society initiatives marking the peak of modern liberalism in the late 1960s.

Liberalism in the US began during the Progressive Era with President Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican) and his Square Deal and New Nationalism policies, with center-left ideas increasingly leaning toward the political philosophy of social liberalism, or better known in the United States as modern liberalism. The Wilson administration saw the enactment of the New Freedom, a package of progressive social programs. The rise of the women's suffrage movement, opposed by Southern Democrats but supported by Republicans and Wilson, saw the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and a push for civil rights legislation on the basis of gender. In the 1940s, liberal Democrats began pushing for desegregation and civil rights legislation for racial minorities, and in the 1960s, for immigration reform and gun control. Beyond Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, Democratic presidents advocated landmark liberal programs. Beginning in the 1970s, liberal Democrats emphasized civil rights for disabled people, consumer protection, environmentalism, LGBT rights, reproductive rights, and ending capital punishment. Following Roosevelt's New Deal, Harry S. Truman's Fair Deal, John F. Kennedy's New Frontier and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society (the latter of which established Medicare and Medicaid) further established the popularity of liberalism in the nation.

While the resurgence of conservatism and the Third Way of Bill Clinton's New Democrats briefly weakened the influence of social liberalism, Barack Obama acted as an ideological bridge between the Third Way and more traditional modern liberalism.[25] While characterizing himself as a New Democrat,[26] Obama's presidency was comparatively further to the left than the Third Way ethos espoused by Bill Clinton (as was the campaign run by Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004, albeit slightly closer to Clinton's center[27]). The key legislative achievement of the Obama administration, the passage and enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), was generally supported among liberal Democrats.[28] Regarding cultural progress, liberal Democrats achieved expansion of LGBT rights, federal hate crime laws, rescinding the Mexico City Policy, later reinstituted by President Donald Trump, rescinding the ban on federal taxpayer dollars to fund research on embryonic stem cells, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the Cuban thaw. In the 2010s, liberal Democrats began pushing for the legalization of cannabis, succeeding in several states. Barack Obama did not crack down on states that legalized cannabis during his presidency.[29] In 2011, the Democratic Leadership Council, which supported more centrist and Third Way positions, was dissolved. In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton eschewed her husband's "New Covenant" centrism for more liberal proposals such as rolling back mandatory minimum sentencing laws, a debt-free college tuition plan for public university students, and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.[30][31] Moreover, Joe Biden, despite having largely been a centrist over the course of his career,[32] has increasingly adopted more social liberal policies during his presidency.[33] Both Buttigieg and Vice President Kamala Harris have been described as "pragmatic progressives", but align with liberalism, advocating for progressive policies, but with more modest and transitionary plans for implementation.[34][35] Pragmatic progressive policies include those such as Buttigieg's proposed plan in his 2020 presidential campaign for a public option to operate as a "glide path" to eventual Medicare for All.[36]


The Third Way movement can trace some of its origins to pro-Vietnam war moderate Hubert Humphrey winning of the Democratic presidential nomination over anti-Vietnam war progressive Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 United States presidential election[37] as well as angst following the landslide victory of Republican Ronald Reagan over the more left-leaning Democrat Walter Mondale at the 1984 presidential election,[38]. However, the Third Way is most associated with the New Democrats and the presidency of Bill Clinton. During the Cold War, the Democratic movement became anti-communist. The success of purer social liberalism was weakened with the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the ensuing tide of conservative popularity in response to a perception of liberal failure.[39] The Clinton Administration responded by adopting a synthesis of right-wing and left-wing ideas in the Third Way. During the 1992 United States presidential election, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, both members of the Democratic Leadership Council, each ran as a New Democrat, positioning themselves as Democrats willing to synthesize fiscally conservative views with the more culturally liberal position of the Democratic Party ethos, or to harmonize center-left and center-right politics. In 1994, Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.[40] One of Clinton's key Third Way achievements was the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, representing a substantial change in welfare and workfare in the nation. Despite indications of cultural liberality, though, the Clinton Administration signed many controversial cultural bills into law, including the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell ban on openly gay service in the Armed Forces. Most moderate Democrats in the House of Representatives are members of the New Democrat Coalition, although there is considerable overlap in the membership of New Democrats and Blue Dogs, with most Blue Dogs also being New Democrats.[41] Third Way policies have largely been minimized with increasing social liberal emphasis during the presidency of Barack Obama and that trend has largely continued during the presidency of Joe Biden, although the Third Way is still a large coalition in the modern Democratic Party.[42][43]


The conservative coalition was an unofficial coalition in the United States Congress bringing together a conservative majority of the Republican Party and the conservative, mostly Southern wing of the Democratic Party. It was dominant in Congress from 1937 to 1963 and remained a political force until the mid-1980s, eventually dying out in the 1990s. In terms of Congressional roll call votes, it primarily appeared on votes affecting labor unions. The conservative coalition did not operate on civil rights bills, for the two wings had opposing viewpoints.[44] However, the coalition did have the power to prevent unwanted bills from even coming to a vote. The coalition included many committee chairmen from the South who blocked bills by not reporting them from their committees. Furthermore, Howard W. Smith, Chairman of the House Rules Committee, often could kill a bill simply by not reporting it out with a favorable rule and he lost some of that power in 1961.[45] The conservative coalition was not concerned with foreign policy as most of the Southern Democrats were internationalists, a position opposed by most Republicans.[citation needed]

Today, conservative Democrats are generally regarded as members of the Democratic Party who are more conservative than the national political party as a whole. The Blue Dog Coalition was originally founded as a group of conservative Democrats. After reaching a peak of 59 members in 2008, the caucus was decimated following the 2010 election, reduced to only 26 members. The caucus has shifted left in recent years, adopting more liberal stances on social issues and aligning more closely with Democratic Party policies.[46] The Coalition remains the most conservative grouping of Democrats in the house, broadly adopting socially liberal and fiscally conservative policies and promoting fiscal restraint,[47] although some members retain socially conservative views.[46] Currently, 19 House members are part of the Blue Dog Coalition.[48]

Coalitions' electoral results

House of Representatives
Election year Blue Dog Coalition New Democrat Coalition Congressional Progressive Caucus Democratic Socialists of America
56 / 257
59 / 257
71 / 257
26 / 193
42 / 193
77 / 193
14 / 200
53 / 200
68 / 200
14 / 188
46 / 188
68 / 188
18 / 193
61 / 193
78 / 193
26 / 233
103 / 233
96 / 233
2 / 233
19 / 222
94 / 222
95 / 222
4 / 222

See also

Republican Party
Libertarian Party


  1. ^ Wilentz, Sean (2018). "Fighting Words: No, "liberal" and "progressive" aren't synonyms. They have completely different histories—and the differences matter". Democracy Journal. Retrieved June 10, 2022.
  2. ^ a b Kevin Powell (May 14, 2020). "The Power of Stacey Abrams". The Washington Post.
  3. ^ Vaughan, Sophie (February 25, 2020). "How Bernie Sanders is Reviving the Promise of FDR's Economic Bill of Rights". Retrieved January 9, 2022.
  4. ^ King, Martin Luther Jr. (2015). West, Cornel (ed.). The Radical King. Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-1282-6.
  5. ^ Commager, Henry Steele, ed. (1967). Lester Ward and the Welfare State. New York: Bobbs-Merrill.
  6. ^ Zeitz, Joshua (June 1, 2019). "Progressives Should Read Progressive History—So They Don't Blow It This Time". Politico. Retrieved June 2, 2022.
  7. ^ Summers, Juana (January 13, 2021). "Progressives Gear Up For Broad New Push On Climate Action". NPR. Retrieved June 2, 2022.
  8. ^ "Judis, B. J. (11 July 2003). The trouble with Howard Dean.". Archived from the original on September 21, 2012. Retrieved July 19, 2007.
  9. ^ "Pew Research Center. (10 May 2005). Beyond Red vs. Blue". Retrieved July 12, 2007.
  10. ^ Gambino, Lauren (December 28, 2016). "Progressives see a leader in Bernie Sanders as they prepare to fight back". The Guardian.
  11. ^ "Congressional Progressive Caucus : Caucus Members". Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  12. ^ Roller, Emma (July 18, 2004). "Elizabeth Warren's 11 Commandments of Progressivism". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  13. ^ Conradis, Brandon (September 1, 2020). "How Markey took down a Kennedy". The Hill. Retrieved November 4, 2021.
  14. ^ Amanda Terkel (December 6, 2011). "Tammy Baldwin Delivers Passionate Defense Of Progressivism". HuffPost. Retrieved November 4, 2021.
  15. ^ "Jeff Merkley – the Progressive Wing".
  16. ^ Tucker, D.R. (May 21, 2017). "What Can Brown Do for the Democratic Party?". Washington Monthly. Retrieved November 4, 2021.
  17. ^ Peter Dreier (February 3, 2013). "Henry Wallace, America's Forgotten Visionary". TruthOut.
  18. ^ Perrin, Dennis (September 26, 2009). "Ted Kennedy: The Last Progressive". HuffPost. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  19. ^ Dreier, Peter (October 25, 2015). "Paul Wellstone's Ordinary Life and Extraordinary Legacy". HuffPost. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  20. ^ "It's time to rebuild the American Dream".
  21. ^ "Boyle and Veasey form "Blue Collar Caucus" in Congress".
  22. ^ "Democrats start a new caucus to reach Trump voters".
  23. ^ "Can Democrats win back the blue-collar voters that flipped to Trump?".
  24. ^ Suzuki, Jeffrey. "Is Sanders Actually a Democratic Socialist?". Berkeley Economic Review. Retrieved May 28, 2022.
  25. ^ Yglesias, Matthew (July 26, 2016). "Bill Clinton is still a star, but today's Democrats are dramatically more liberal than his party". Vox. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  26. ^ Lee, Carol; Martin, Jonathan. "Obama: 'I am a New Democrat'". Politico. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  27. ^ How Liberal is John Kerry? Archived October 21, 2012, at the Wayback Machine October 19, 2004. Retrieved June 23, 2022.
  28. ^ Clement, Scott. "Moderate Democrats are quitting on Obamacare". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  29. ^ Ingraham, Christopher. "Obama says marijuana should be treated like 'cigarettes or alcohol'". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  30. ^ Przybyla, Heidi. "Party of Clinton looks different than in 1992". USA Today.
  31. ^ Enten, Harry. "Hillary Clinton Was Liberal. Hillary Clinton Is Liberal". FiveThirtyEight.
  32. ^ Sumlin, Emily. "Joe Biden's long political career features several policy shifts". Al Jazeera. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  33. ^ Kapur, Sahil; Seitz-Wald, Alex. "Joe Biden is proving progressives wrong. And they're loving it". NBC News. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  34. ^ David Mislin, Pete Buttigieg reviving pragmatic, progressive ideals of Social Gospel, UPI (November 7, 2019), republished at The National Interest (November 11, 2019).
  35. ^ Seitz-Wald, Alex (August 11, 2020). "Kamala Harris: A pragmatic progressive different from Biden in many ways". NBC News. Retrieved May 27, 2022.
  36. ^ Thompson, Priscilla (September 19, 2019). "Buttigieg unveils health plan, calls it 'glide path' to Medicare for All". NBC News. Retrieved May 28, 2022.
  37. ^ Nathanson, Iric (May 25, 2011). "Two favorite sons: the Humphrey-McCarthy battle of 1968". MinnPost. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  38. ^ From, Al (December 3, 2013). "Recruiting Bill Clinton". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  39. ^ Krugman, Paul (2007). The Conscience of a Liberal. New York: W. W. Norton.
  40. ^ Lussenhop, Jessica (April 18, 2016). "Clinton crime bill: Why is it so controversial?". BBC News. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  41. ^ Skelley, Geoffrey (December 20, 2018). "The House Will Have Just As Many Moderate Democrats As Progressives Next Year". FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  42. ^ Yglesias, Matthew (July 26, 2016). "Bill Clinton is still a star, but today's Democrats are dramatically more liberal than his party". Vox. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  43. ^ Kapur, Sahil; Seitz-Wald, Alex. "Joe Biden is proving progressives wrong. And they're loving it". NBC News. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  44. ^ Katznelson, 1993
  45. ^ Bruce J. Dierenfield, Keeper of the Rules: Congressman Howard W. Smith of Virginia (1987)
  46. ^ a b Mendoza, Jessica (June 4, 2019). "Centrist Democrats are back. But these are not your father's Blue Dogs". Christian Science Monitor.
  47. ^ Kane, Paul (February 19, 2020). "Blue Dog Democrats celebrate a milestone but stand alone on a core issue — fiscal restraint". Washington Post. Retrieved July 19, 2022.
  48. ^

External links

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