AP®︎/College US Government and Politics
A high-level overview of liberal and conservative ideologies and their roles in American political parties.
The two major political parties in the United States, the Democratic and Republican Parties, correspond closely with liberal and conservative ideologies, respectively. These ideologies influence US policy debates, which often concern the appropriate amount of government intervention in the economy or in social behavior.
Although there’s a strong correlation between an individual’s ideology and their party choice, Americans hold a range of opinions on economic and social issues that don’t always fit neatly onto a simple “left-right” continuum. For this reason, some political scientists have proposed a political “spectrum” that charts individual beliefs on multiple dimensions.
Dominant US ideologies and political parties
|conservative ideology||Conservatives tend to believe that government should be small, operating mainly at the state or local level. They favor minimal government interference in the economy and prefer private sector-based solutions to problems. “Social conservatives” believe that government should uphold traditional morality, and therefore should impose restrictions on contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Conservatives are said to fall on the “right wing” of the axis of political beliefs, a convention that dates from the place where conservatives sat in assembly during the French Revolution.|
|Democratic Party||One of the two main political parties in the United States. Founded in 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, the Democratic Party is the world’s oldest active political party. Although its platform has transformed many times over the years, today the core values of the Democratic Party align with liberal ideology.|
|liberal ideology||The definition of liberalism has changed over time, but modern-day liberals tend to believe that government should intervene in the economy and provide a broad range of social services to ensure well-being and equality across society. Liberals usually believe that the government should not regulate private sexual or social behaviors. They are said to fall on the “left wing” of the axis of political beliefs, a convention that dates from the place where supporters of the revolution sat in assembly during the French Revolution.|
|progressive ideology||‘Progressive' is used interchangeably with 'liberal' by many today; others argue that the two terms are distinct. Those who consider the terms separate may say that liberals believe in protecting previously disadvantaged groups from discrimination, while progressives believe it’s the government’s job to address past wrongs and reform the systemic issues that caused those disadvantages in the first place.|
|Republican Party||One of the two main political parties in the United States. Founded in 1854 by anti-slavery activists, the Republican Party’s platform has also transformed over the years to address issues of concern to its constituents. Today, the core values of the Republican Party align with conservative ideology|
Other ideologies and parties
|communitarian||Communitarians tend to support legislation that emphasizes the needs of communities over the rights of the individual. They are likely to be economically liberal, but socially conservative.|
|Green Party||The fourth-largest party in the United States. Founded in 2001, the Green Party favors a strong federal government. Its candidates often run on a platform of grassroots democracy, nonviolence, social justice, and environmentalism.|
|Libertarian Party, libertarian ideology||The third-largest party in the United States. Founded in 1971 by people who felt that the Republican and Democratic parties no longer represented the libertarian intentions of the Founders; libertarians favor limited government intervention in personal, social, and economic issues.|
|nationalists||Nationalists tend to promote the interests of their nation, and often believe in the superiority of their nation over others.|
How does political ideology influence government policymaking?
Do you think that political beliefs fall on a continuum or a spectrum? Why?
Want to join the conversation?
- I’m doing some political research on my own, without the curriculum, because I don’t really know where I fall in politics. I was wondering if the Libertarian ideology is different from the liberal ideology, or if they are the same thing. Thank you.(5 votes)
- Libertarian and liberal ideologies are quite different.
Liberals believe that the government that the government should intervene in social issues to prevent inequality and injustice, while libertarians believe that such government interventions interfere with personal freedom.(7 votes)
- Why does Democratic Party align with liberal ideology?(3 votes)
- As I understand it, parties tend to change according to the people in them. It's a relationship where the people affect the party, but the party affects them back. A century ago, the Democratic party was the less liberal one, and over time it's slowly changed and adapted to the political environment.
There is nothing subjective that means a party has to align with any one ideology over another, but you can think of it as social evolution. Language is the way it is due to its past. Same with nations, cultures, race, gender, and political parties.
Great question! I hope I helped you to understand.(5 votes)
- So if a person is a left libertarian on the political compass would they align more with the democratic or republican party?(2 votes)
- Libertarians are pretty much their own thing. They have their own separate voting party and nominee during elections. Their views do not align with either Republicans or democrats.(4 votes)
- Many historians struggle to define conservatism. What animated the conservative movement in the United States?(2 votes)
- Which of the following political parties would have agreed with the ideological perspectives in the passage when it was written?(2 votes)
- o How does political ideological conflict impact societies?(0 votes)
- 1. It may be hard to decide as an individual if one of those parties is what you agree with.
2. Also in societies when we disagree in opinion it can cause division or hard feelings among us, that is why we can't let politics separate us.
3. When the parties are in conflict between Congress and the President because of different political party beliefs, there is gridlock. Where the government essentially shuts down.(4 votes)
- I'm not sure where I fall politically. To put it simply, i believe that the government should only interfere with freedom of speech if it disrupts social equality. Everyone should have the right to say what they want as long as it doesn't interfere with equality. Where would this put me? I think I'm either a liberal or left libertarian. Thanks.(1 vote)
- Hi there!
One's political ideology is based on a lot more than your view on a single issue. Based on what you wrote about the freedom of speech, I would think you are generally left-winged. If you want a more specific answer, I could try to help more but it would require you to answer your thoughts on other issues too :)(2 votes)