Its 2004 political platform expresses commitment to "a Strong and Respected America," a "Strong, Growing Economy," "Strong, Healthy Families," and a "Strong American Community."
The New Democrat movement of the 1980s and 1990s, however, has tried to move the Democratic agenda in favor of a more centrist approach. This is a primary complaint of many members of the Green Party, leading some Greens, such as David Cobb, to declare, "The Democratic Party is where progressive politics go to die." Democrats generally challenge the validity of the Green critique, citing the important Democratic role in pushing progressive reforms in many states and localities. The Green response to this is that those progressive programs are not being safeguarded by centrist Democrats, and that the country would be better served with election reform measures which would give more progressive third party candidates the opportunity to win races than they have under the current system.
"A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion" by Thomas Nast
On January 19, 1870, a political cartoon by Thomas Nast appearing in Harper's Weekly titled "A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion" for the first time symbolized the Democratic Party as a donkey. Since then, the donkey has been widely used as a symbol of the Party, though unlike the Republican elephant, the donkey has never been officially adopted as the Party's logo.
For the majority of the 20th Century, Missouri Democrats used the Statue of Liberty as their ballot emblem. This meant that when Libertarian candidates received ballot access in Missouri in 1976, they could not use the Statue of Liberty, their national symbol, as the ballot emblem. Missouri Libertarians instead used the Liberty Bell until 1995, when the mule became Missouri's state animal. From 1995 until 2004 there was some confusion on the behalf of voters, as the Democratic ticket was marked with the Statue of Liberty, and it seemed that the Libertarians were using a donkey.
A Democratic activist over the last four decades, and delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, State Representative Mark B. Cohen of Philadelphia, said "One cannot fully understand Democratic policy proposals unless one understands the past. Year after year, the Democrats took ideas that were considered impractical and converted them into programs considered to be necessities by many Americans. Democratic campaign rhetoric is full of symbolic references to these achievements."
The Democratic Party was formed from the Andrew Jackson-led "Democratic-Republican" faction of the old Republican Party (now, referred to as the "Democratic-Republicans" for convenience). Following his defeat in the election of 1824 despite having a plurality of the popular vote, Jackson set about building a political coalition strong enough to defeat President John Quincy Adams in the election of 1828. The coalition that he built was the foundation of the subsequent Democratic Party.
In the 1850s, following the disintegration of the Whig Party, the Southern wing of the Democratic Party became increasingly associated with the expansion of slavery, in opposition to the newly revamped United States Republican Party. Democrats in the Northern states opposed this new trend, and at the 1860 nominating convention the Party split and nominated two candidates (see U.S. presidential election, 1860). As a result, the Democrats went down in defeat – part of the chain of events leading up to the United States Civil War. During the war, Northern Democrats fractured into two factions, War Democrats, who supported the military policies of Republican President Abraham Lincoln, and Copperheads, who strongly opposed them.
After the war, the Democrats were a shattered party. Nevertheless, the party benefited from white Southerners' resentment of Reconstruction and consequent hostility to the Republican Party. Once Reconstruction ended, and the disenfranchisement of blacks was re-established, the region was for several decades known as the "Solid South" because it reliably voted Democratic (although neither major party tried to use federal power against the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation). The Democratic Party was also competitive in the mid-Atlantic and lower Midwest. The presidential elections of the years 1876 to 1892 were close, and the Democrats had control of the House of Representatives for most of this period. The reforming Democratic Governor of New York, Grover Cleveland, won the Presidency in 1884 and 1892. In 1888 he won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote, as also happened to the Democratic candidate in 1876, Samuel J. Tilden, and in 2000 to Al Gore.
In 1924 at the Democratic national convention, a resolution denouncing the white-supremacistKu Klux Klan was introduced, there was much debate and the majority of Democratic delegates voted not to condemn the Klan. This resolution later passed during the 1948 national convention as part of a larger resolution endorsing civil rights.
The stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression set the stage for a more interventionist government and Franklin Delano Roosevelt won a landslide victory in 1932, campaigning on a platform of "relief, recovery, and reform". (see U.S. presidential election, 1932) After winning re-election in 1936, Roosevelt claimed a mandate and embarked on an ambitious legislative program. He was stymied, however, by an alliance of Republicans and conservative Democrats. Frustrated by the conservative wing of the party, Roosevelt made an attempt to rid himself of it, and in 1938, he actively campaigned against five incumbent conservative Democratic senators. However, Roosevelt's attempt to purge the party of its conservatives failed when all five senators won re-election despite Roosevelt's efforts. (Thirty years later, the party did find itself largely divorced from its southern conservative wing, but with much less satisfaction at the result than Roosevelt might have anticipated.)
Roosevelt's New Deal programs focused on job-creation through public works projects as well as on social welfare programs such as Social Security. His policies soon paid off by uniting a diverse collection of Democratic voters called the New Deal Coalition, which included labor unions, minorities (most significantly, Catholics and Jews), liberals, and the traditional base of Southern whites. This united voter base allowed the Democrats to control the government for much of the next 30 years.
The New Deal Coalition began to fracture as more Democratic leaders voiced support for civil rights, upsetting the party's base of Southern Democrats. When Harry Truman's platform displayed support for civil rights and anti-segregation laws during the 1948 Democratic National Convention, many Southern Democratic delegates split from the party and formed the "Dixiecrats", led by Strom Thurmond (who would later join the Republican party). Over the next few years, many white Democrats in the "Solid South" drifted away from the party. On the other hand, African-Americans, who had traditionally given strong support to the Republican party since its inception as the "anti-slavery party", shifted to the Democratic party due to its New Deal economic opportunities and support for civil rights. The party's dramatic reversal on civil rights issues culminated when Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Republicans began their Southern strategy, which aimed to woo the conservative Southern Democrats. Southern Democrats took notice of the fact that 1964 Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act (an unusual departure from his previous support for such legislation), and in the 1964 election Goldwater's only electoral victories outside his home state of Arizona were in Southern states. The degree to which the Southern Democrats had abandoned the party became evident in the 1968 Presidential election when every former Confederate state except Texas voted for either Republican Richard Nixon or independent George Wallace, a former Southern Democrat. Defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey's electoral votes came mainly from the Northern states, marking a dramatic shift from the 1948 election 20 years earlier, when the losing Republican candidate's electoral votes were mainly concentrated in the Northern states.
Of the seven U.S. Presidents since Lyndon Johnson, two (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton) have been Democrats; the rest have been Republicans, who have often controlled one or both chambers of the U.S. Congress at the same time. During right-wing Republican President Ronald Reagan's term, conservative Democrats who supported many of Reagan's policies were called "Reagan Democrats". Many of them left the Democratic Party and became Republicans.
The Democratic Leadership Council has in recent years worked to move the Party towards a centrist position. With the Party retaining left-of-center supporters as well as supporters holding moderate or conservative views on some issues, the Democrats are generally a catch all party with widespread appeal to most opponents of the Republicans. This includes organized labor, educators, environmentalists, supporters of civil rights, progressive taxation proponents, gays, supporters of gun control, pro-choice groups and other opponents of the social conservatism favored by many Republicans.
In the 1990s the Democratic Party re-invigorated itself, in part by moving to the right on economic and social policy. President Bill Clinton implemented a balanced federal budget and welfare reform, traditionally Republican causes. Labor unions, which had been steadily losing membership since the 1960s, found they had also lost political clout inside the Democratic Party: Clinton enacted the NAFTA free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico over the strong objection of the unions.
In the extremely close 2000 Presidential election, some progressives, unhappy with the centrist shift of the Party, instead supported the leftist Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. Many Democrats cited this "spoiler effect" as a key cause of Gore's defeat. Some Nader supporters, while agreeing that Nader probably did influence the contested Florida election, counter that Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan won more votes in some states (Wisconsin, Iowa and Oregon) than Bush lost by. Many Greens also criticize the Democrats for calling them "spoilers", and simultaneously not supporting electoral reform such as Instant Runoff Voting. (Some Republicans have countered that if Ross Perot had not run in 1992 and therefore taken away votes from President George H.W. Bush, then Bill Clinton would never have been elected. Other analyses have suggested that Perot had no impact on the electoral vote of any state but Ohio, and that Clinton would have won even without Ohio's electoral votes.) The issue of the "Nader Factor" surfaced again in the 2004 election, when Nader ran as an independent (and, in some states, as the Reform Party candidate), but benefited from financial and get-on-the-state-ballot petition support by some Republicans eager to re-elect President George W. Bush. Unlike the 2000 election, however, transferring all of the Nader votes to the Democratic candidate (John Kerry) would not have changed the outcome of the election.
Since then, many Democrats have voiced serious concern over the future of their party, and voiced a variety of strategies for moving forward. Some have said that they need to move further towards the center to regain seats in the House and Senate and possibly win the presidency in 2008. One topic of discussion is the party's policies surrounding reproductive rights, especially abortion. Rethinking the party's position on gun policy has also been a topic of discussion of late. Others, such as commentator Thomas Frank in What's the Matter with Kansas?, have suggested that the Democrats need to re-focus on economic populism, while still others have focused on the party's perceived organizational and tactical shortcomings. These debates were reflected in the 2005 campaign for chair of the Democratic National Committee, which Howard Dean won over the objections of many party insiders.
Factions of the Democratic Party
It should be noted defining the views of any "faction" of any political party is difficult at best, and that any attempt to apply labels within a single political party is no more effective than the application of broad labels to political parties as a whole. Keeping that in mind, there are several ideological groups widely recognized within the modern-day Democratic Party:
The Blue Dog Democrats are a congressional grouping of fiscal and social conservatives and moderates, primarily southerners, willing to broker compromises with the Republican leadership. They have acted as a unified voting bloc in the past, giving its thirty members some ability to change legislation. The name appears to be both a reference to several well-known Louisiana paintings featuring blue dogs, as well as a reference to the old "yellow dog" Democrats having been "choked blue."
Clintonistas - Political journalists often speak of the political advisors and allies surrounding Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton as a kind of faction, though such individuals hardly have a unified ideological leaning. Though formally a New Democrat, Hillary Clinton is generally considered more liberal than the DLC.
"Deaniacs" - Howard Dean, a failed candidate for the party's 2004 presidential nomination, emerged as a major player in the Democratic party and a leading opponent to the powerful New Democrats group. His campaign organization "Dean for America" became a new group, Democracy for America, to remain active after the election.
Southern Democrats - Socially conservative southern white Democrats, previously a key element in the Democratic coalition, are increasingly rare, many having been defeated, or opting not to run, in the 1994, 2002, and 2004 elections.
Organized labor - As a key source of political contributions, volunteers, and field organizing expertise, labor unions hold significant sway in the Democratic Party. Former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt was a leading supporter of labor's agenda in Congress.
African-American Leadership - African Americans are members of many factions, however there is a Democratic African-American Leadership group which coalesces around the Congressional Black Caucus leadership and is generally considered liberal in outlook. Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson can be considered its most prominent new and old leaders respectively.
Civil libertarians often (but not always) support the Democratic Party because its positions on such issues as civil rights and separation of church and state more closely resemble their own than the positions of the Republican Party do, and because the Democrats' economic agenda may be more appealing to them than that of the Libertarian Party. They oppose the "War on Drugs", preventative law, protectionism, corporate welfare, immigration restrictions, governmental borrowing, and the USA being the world's police officer.
 Resigned.  Died while in office and was not replaced.  Johnson succeeded Republican President Abraham Lincoln with whom he had been elected on a Union ticket in 1864.  The Greeley/Brown ticket was nominated by both the Democrats and the Liberal Republican Party. Greeley died shortly after the election.  Died of natural causes.  Assassinated.
The usual adjective used in connection with the party is "Democratic", e.g., "Democratic Party" or "Democratic candidates", whereas members of the party are "Democrats". In order to avoid the arguably positive connotation of the word "democratic", Republicans will occasionally use "Democrat" as the adjective form, but this is relatively rare and generally regarded as incorrect. The abbreviation "Dems" is sometimes used to refer to members of the Party, but unlike "GOP", it is generally not acceptable in formal contexts, such as the text of news articles. When identifying an elected representative, the single letter "D" is used to denote a Democrat, followed by a hyphen and an abbreviation of the locale he or she represents. For example, Barbara Boxer, a Democratic U.S. senator from California may be referred to as "U.S. Sen. Barbara L. Boxer (D-CA)" or, in Associated Press style, "U.S. Sen. Barbara L. Boxer, D-Calif."