Percentage of liberals (blue) and conservatives (red) in favor of major political proposals in the United States. (Pew Research Center, 2021)
Percentage of liberals (blue) and conservatives (red) in favor of major political proposals in the United States. (Pew Research Center, 2021)

American political ideologies usually align with the left–right political spectrum, with most Americans identifying as liberal, moderate, or conservative. Modern American liberalism is defined by welfare capitalism and social liberalism, developing during the Progressive Era and the Great Depression. Modern American conservatism is defined by social conservatism and economic liberalism, developing as a response to the New Deal and the civil rights movement. Besides modern liberalism and conservatism, the United States has a notable libertarian movement, and historical political movements in the United States have been shaped by ideologies as varied as republicanism, populism, separatism, socialism, monarchism, and nationalism.

Americans of different demographic groups are likely to hold different beliefs. Men, White Americans, the elderly, Christians, and Americans without college degrees are more likely to be conservative, while women, African Americans, young adults, non-Christians, and highly educated Americans are more likely to be liberal. American liberalism and American conservatism are different from liberalism and conservatism in other parts of the world, and ideology in the United States is defined by individualism rather than collectivism. However, American politics shares some commonalities with Western Europe and South America.

History

Early republicanism

Depiction of the signing of the Constitution in 1787
Depiction of the signing of the Constitution in 1787

Political ideology in the United States first developed during the American Revolution as a dispute between monarchism and republicanism.[1] The Loyalists were monarchists, advocating that the Thirteen Colonies retain their colonial status under the monarchy of Great Britain, while the Patriots were republicans, advocating independence from Great Britain and the establishment of a liberal government based on popular sovereignty with no king and no inherited aristocracy. There would be an elite based on achievement, and that elite had a duty to provide leadership. Patriot victory made republicanism into the foundational ideology of the United States.[1]

Advocates of republicanism at the time emphasized the importance of Enlightenment values to republican ideology, such as civic virtue and benevolence, and their vision of society involved an elite leadership team that represented the people and served in government.[1] The Constitution of the United States was ratified in 1789 to establish republicanism as the governmental system of the United States, introducing traditions such as separation of powers and federalism to the country. Early American republicanism was the first major liberal ideology in the United States, and it became the foundation for both modern conservatism and modern liberalism.[1]

As American government developed in the 1790s, the classical republican ideals of civic virtue and aristocracy were challenged by more liberal ideas of democracy and self-interest.[1] The Federalist Party was founded by Alexander Hamilton to support political candidates that advocated classical republicanism, stronger federal government, and the American School of economics, while the Democratic-Republican Party was founded by Thomas Jefferson to support political candidates that advocated the agrarian and anti-federalist ideals of Jeffersonian democracy.[2] The Federalists saw most of their support in New England, with the other states supporting the Democratic-Republicans.[3] The influence of Federalists declined during the 1800s, and Jeffersonian democracy came to be the only major ideology during the Era of Good Feelings.[4]

The Democratic-Republican Party fractured in the 1820s as a result of the political rivalry between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.[5] Jackson established his ideology of Jacksonian democracy, and the Democratic Party was created to support Jackson. Much like Jefferson, Jackson supported popular democracy, rule by the people over elites, and minimal government intervention in the economy.[6] However, the Democratic Party was not a direct successor to the Democratic-Republican Party, and they differed in other areas.[5] Unlike Jefferson, Jackson's Democrats advocated political patronage and a stronger executive branch.[7] The National Republican Party was created to oppose Jackson, advocating government intervention in the economy and opposing unrestrained individualism.[8] Anti-Masonry also saw prominence at this time, and the National Republican Party merged with the Anti-Masonic Party in 1833 to form the Whig Party.[9] The Whigs advocated for the American System, which consisted of protectionism through tariffs, a national bank, and internal improvements.[10]

Slavery and the Civil War

Union states (blue) and Confederate states (red) in 1864
Union states (blue) and Confederate states (red) in 1864

Slavery had been present in the United States since colonial times, but it did not become a major political issue until the 1830s.[11] National political ideology was not as influential during this period, with sectional politics between the northern and southern states driving political activity.[12] All of the northern states had abolished slavery by 1805, but it was still widely practiced in the southern states until the Civil War. Abolitionism had been present in the United States since the country's foundation, but this period of sectionalism brought it into the mainstream, and by the 1840s slavery had become the nation's primary political issue.[13] The Republican Party was formed in the 1850s to reflect the political ideologies of the northern states, supporting social mobility, egalitarianism, and limitations on slavery.[14] The two major political factions of the Republican Party were the Radical Republicans, who supported total abolition of slavery and strong action against the secessionist states, and the moderates, who supported concessions with the southern states.[15]

Secessionism became prominent in South Carolina during the Nullification crisis in 1832. Secessionists opposed the tariffs of 1828 and 1832, threatening to secede if the federal government attempted to enforce them.[16] The secessionist movement in South Carolina grew more popular in the 1850s as the issue of slavery became more contentious. In 1961, fearing that the federal government would restrict or abolish slavery, South Carolina led 10 other states in seceding from the United States and forming the Confederate States of America.[17] Democrats in the northern states were split between the War Democrats that supported military action to prevent secession and the Copperheads that opposed military action.

During the Reconstruction era, politics focused on resolving the issues of the Civil War. The ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, and ideologies based on the issue of slavery were made irrelevant. The Radical Republicans supported liberal reforms during Reconstruction to advance the rights of African Americans, including suffrage and education for freedmen.[18] White supremacy was a major ideology in the southern states, and restrictions on the rights of African Americans saw widespread support in the region, often enforced through violent means as well as political.[19] The conservative Bourbon Democrats took power in the Democratic Party during this period.

The Gilded Age

During the Gilded Age, the Republican Party fractured on the issue of the spoils system in the federal government. Senator Roscoe Conkling led the conservative Stalwarts, who supported the traditional political machine and wished to retain the spoils system. Those that opposed Conkling, especially supporters of Senator James G. Blaine, made up the liberal Half-Breeds, who supported civil service reform to abolish the spoils system. The Stalwarts primarily resided in the three states most influenced by machine politics: New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. They were also prevalent among southern Republicans, though the Solid South was overwhelmingly Democratic.[20]

The Democratic Party continued to be divided by sectional politics during the Gilded Age. Ideologies based on monetary issues produced conflict within both major parties. Silverites opposed the nation's de facto gold standard and supported a return to bimetallism.[21] Small government ideals were still prominent at this time, with neither major party seeking to expand the government.[22] By the 1870s, both major political parties supported industrialization, and in response, supporters of populist agrarianism established the People's Party. The Panic of 1893 accelerated these disputes, causing a major party realignment. The People's Party was absorbed by the Democratic Party, and the conservative Bourbon Democrats lost influence. Populism, agrarianism, and bimetallism became the dominant ideologies in the Democratic Party, led by William Jennings Bryan.[21]

Other major ideological groups during the Gilded Age include the Mugwumps, the Greenbacks, and the Prohibitionists. The Mugwumps were a loosely formed collection of anti-corruption conservatives that left the Republican Party. The Greenbacks were the largest of a series of labor related movements that advocated an increased money supply, increased government regulation, and an income tax. The Prohibitionists were a single-issue group that advocated prohibition of alcohol.[23]

The Progressive Era

Depiction of William Jennings Bryan after giving the Cross of Gold speech in 1896
Depiction of William Jennings Bryan after giving the Cross of Gold speech in 1896

In the 1890s and 1900s, progressivism developed as a major political ideology in the United States. Progressives opposed the effects of industrialization in the United States, supporting major governmental and societal reform to counteract them. These reforms were inspired by the moral ethos of evangelicalism and the development of the social sciences.[24] Progressives sought to end corruption, increase public participation in government, and expand government with the goal of improving society.[25] The progressive movement resulted in the rejection of laissez-faire capitalism in the United States and the foundation of welfare capitalism. Progressives came from multiple political traditions, and different factions within progressivism also contributed to prohibitionism, direct democracy, and feminism.[26]

The Democrats during the Progressive Era moved away from the conservative, small government ideology under which they had operated in the late-19th century.[27] The Democratic Party at this time did not advocate a single ideological system but was composed of several competing populist factions that opposed the Republican Party.[28] The Democrats adopted plebiscitarian democracy, in which political leaders were seen as answering directly to the common citizen rather than political machines serving as a middle-man.[29] Many progressive reforms became popular within the Democratic Party to increase direct democracy and give citizens more power over government operations,[30] and they also adopted the idea of the Living Constitution during this period.[31] During the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, Wilsonianism was developed as an idealist foreign relations ideology.

Republicans during the Progressive Era were divided between a conservative faction and a progressive faction.[27] Theodore Roosevelt split from the Republican Party in 1912, and his supporters formed the short-lived Progressive Party. This party advocated a strong collectivist government and a large number of social and political reforms.[32] Far-left ideologies also saw brief popularity during this time. The Socialist Party of America was led by Eugene V. Debs and advocated for collective ownership of many industries.[33] The anarchist movement in the United States was responsible for several terrorist attacks during the 1910s.[34]

The New Deal coalition

President Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act
President Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act

During the Great Depression, small government conservatism became less popular, and Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the New Deal coalition. The Democratic Party at this time expanded on the reformist beliefs of progressivism, establishing social liberalism and welfare capitalism as the predominant liberal ideology in the United States. Supporters of Roosevelt's liberalism advocated financial reform, increased government regulation, and social welfare programs, encapsulated in the New Deal. Conservative Republicans and southern conservative Democrats formed the conservative coalition during Roosevelt's second term. Following the presidencies of Roosevelt and Truman, however, the Democratic Party moved away from populism in the 1950s.[35] American liberalism also shifted its perspective on poverty during this time, emphasizing it as a long term social issue rather than a crisis that could be fixed with a sufficient response.[36]

The Republican Party's progressive wing had dissipated leading up to the Great Depression. The party instead began to advocate for small business, equal opportunity, and individualism. These ideas became the foundation of modern fiscal conservatism that would define the Republican Party through the 20th century.[37] The foundations of modern social conservatism were also developed by the Republican Party of the 1920s and 1930s, with Herbert Hoover emphasizing politics as a means to protect the American family and American morality.[38] Rather than strengthening of government to do good as advocated by progressivism, conservative Republicans sought to restrict the government to prevent harm.[39] The Republican Party came out strongly against the New Deal programs of the 1930s, arguing that "big government" threatened to become tyrannical.[40]

In the 1960s, national politics moved to the civil rights movement, and the New Deal coalition ended as support for civil rights and racial justice became major aspects of liberalism in the United States.[41] White supremacy was predominant in the southern United States, with third-party white supremacist candidates carrying southern states in the 1948 and 1968 presidential elections. As a result of the Cold War, Americanism developed as its own distinct conservative ideology that rejected foreign ideas and Communism in particular.[42] Neoconservatism also developed within the conservative wing of the party, made up of former Democrats that were disillusioned with the party's liberalism.[43] Libertarianism developed as a minor ideology in the 1960s, and Libertarian Party was founded in 1971.

Reagan Era and the 21st century

Though conservatives opposed welfare spending during the New Deal era, this opposition did not became a core tenet of American conservatism until the 1970s.[44] Southern conservatives were united under the Republican Party at this time through the Southern strategy. Conservatism had been seen as a dying ideology following the defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, but the Reagan administration in the 1980s returned American conservatism to the political mainstream.[45] The Reagan coalition brought together segregationists, businessmen, libertarians, and Christian fundamentalists that rejected the leftward shift of the country in the previous decades, instead advocating laissez-faire economics and traditional values while opposing Communism and the civil rights movement.[45] The Republican Study Committee was founded in 1973 to support the conservative majority of the Republican Party, and the Tuesday Group was founded in 1995 to represent the moderate wing of the party.

Liberals in the 1970s and 1980s expanded its focus on inclusivity and minority rights.[46] In the 1990s, support for conservative policies resulted in Third Way politics to become popular in the Democratic Party, led by the New Democrats. This ideology consisted of support for free trade, free markets, and reduction of government spending.[47] The Congressional Progressive Caucus was formed in 1991 to promote left-wing politics in the Democratic Party, the Blue Dog Coalition was founded in 1995 to promote centrism and conservatism in the party, and the New Democrat Coalition was founded to represent Third Way politics in 1997.

The 2010s were marked by increasing polarization and populism among candidates and voters. The Tea Party movement formed as a right-wing populist response to the election of Barack Obama in 2008.[48] This populism in turn led to Trumpism following the election of Donald Trump in 2016.[49] Right-wing populism during this period focused on protectionist fiscal conservatism as well as cultural issues surrounding immigration and identity politics.[50][51][52] Left-wing populism became more influential during the 2010s as well, starting with the Occupy movement developing in 2011. Left-wing populist ideologies popularized in the 2010s include social democracy and democratic socialism.

Prominent ideologies

Political ideology in the United States is usually defined with the left–right spectrum, with left-leaning ideas classified as liberalism and right-leaning ideas classified as conservatism.[53][54] Those who hold beliefs between liberalism and conservatism or a mix of beliefs on this scale are called moderates. Within this system, there are different ways to divide these ideologies even further and determine one's ideology.[55] Ideological positions can be divided into social issues and economic issues, and the positions a person holds on social or economic policy might be different than their position on the political spectrum.[56] The United States uses a de facto two-party system. The political parties are flexible and have undergone several ideological shifts over time. Since the mid-20th century, the Democratic Party typically supports liberal policies and the Republican Party typically supports conservative policies.[57] Third parties play a minor role in American politics, and members of third parties rarely hold office at the federal level.

Conservatism

Main articles: Conservatism in the United States and History of conservatism in the United States

Ronald Reagan

Modern conservatism in the United States traces its origins to the small government principles of the Republican Party in the 1920s, and it developed through opposition to the New Deal coalition and the civil rights movement in the mid-20th century.[45][37] The rise of the Reagan coalition led to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, establishing conservatism as a major ideology in the United States. This coalition advocated laissez-faire economics, social conservatism, and anti-communism with support from libertarians, northern businessmen, southern segregationists, and the Christian right.[45][58] In the early 21st century, right-wing populism and neo-nationalism gained considerable influence among the conservative movement. Right-wing populism became the predominant conservative faction in response to the increasing liberalization of society, beginning with the Tea Party movement of 2009 and continuing with the presidency of Donald Trump.[50][59]

There are several different schools of thought within American conservatism. Social conservatives and the Christian right advocate traditional values, decentralization, and religious law, fearing that the United States is undergoing moral decline. Fiscal conservatives (or classical liberals) advocate small government, tax cuts, and lower government spending. Americans that identify as conservative will typically support most or all of these ideas to some extent, arguing that small government and traditional values are closely linked.[60] Neoconservatives form an interventionist wing of the conservative movement, advocating peace through strength and the use of force to promote democracy and combat threats abroad.[43] American right-wing populists advocate tax cuts, protectionism, and opposition to immigration, framing politics as a battle against "elites" from above and "subversives" from below.[50][51][52]

As of 2021, over one-third of the American public self-identifies as conservative. The Republican Party represents conservatives in the United States, with 74% of Republicans identifying as conservative, compared to only 12% of Democrats.[61] As of 2022, Republican leaning voters are more likely than Democrats to prioritize the issues of immigration, the budget deficit, and strengthening the military.[62] A Pew Research study in 2015 found that the most reliable Republican demographics were Mormons and Evangelicals, particularly White Americans in each group.[63]

Liberalism

Main articles: Liberalism in the United States, Modern liberalism in the United States, and Progressivism in the United States

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Modern liberalism in the United States originates from the reforms advocated by the progressive movement of the early 20th century.[24] Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented the New Deal in response to the Great Depression, and the New Deal programs defined social liberalism in the United States, establishing it as a major ideology in the United States. In the 1960s, it expanded to include support for the civil rights movement.[41] Following the rise of the Reagan coalition in the 1980s and the shift toward conservatism in the United States, American liberals adopted Third Way liberalism. A movement of left-liberal progressivism and left-wing populism emerged within liberalism following the Great Recession and Occupy Wall Street.[64][65]

Liberalism in the United States is founded on support for strong civil liberties, cultural liberalism, and cultural pluralism.[66] Liberal social beliefs include support for more government intervention to fight poverty and other social issues through programs such as welfare and a social safety net, as well as opposition to government intervention in moral and social behavior.[67] Liberal economic beliefs include support for a mixed economy that uses a capitalist system maintained with economic interventionism and regulation, as well as opposition to both laissez-faire capitalism and socialism as means to distribute economic resources. Keynesian economics commonly factor into liberal economic policy. Those that identify as liberal will typically support liberal economic policies as a means to support liberal social policies.[67] Liberals within the modern progressive movement support greater redistribution of wealth, increases to the federal minimum wage, a mandatory single-payer healthcare system, and environmental justice.[64][65][68] Regarding international relations, American liberals are divided between realism and Wilsonianism.[67]

As of 2021, about one-fourth of the American public self-identifies as liberal. The Democratic Party represents liberals in the United States, with 50% of Democrats identifying as liberal, compared to only 4% of Republicans.[61] Liberals vote mostly in favor of the Democratic Party, constituting half of the Democratic base.[61] As of 2022, Democratic leaning voters are more likely than Republicans to prioritize the issues of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, race, and poverty.[62] A Pew Research study in 2015 found that the most reliable Democratic demographics were African Americans, atheists, and Asian Americans.[63]

Moderates

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Moderates prioritize compromise and pragmatism, and moderate politics vary depending on the political circumstances of the era. During the American Revolution, moderates generally supported the ideas of the revolutionary Patriots, but they were concerned about the potential consequences of open revolution.[69] During the Civil War, Southern moderates opposed secession, while Northern moderates advocated a more gradual response to slavery than the strong abolitionism and civil rights proposed by Radical Republicans.[15][70] During Reconstruction, moderate Republicans sought to increase support for civil rights in the South instead of implementing them through force.[71] In the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower operated under his policy of "Modern Republicanism" that promoted moderate politics in response to the New Deal coalition and the Conservative coalition.[72]

Moderates identify as neither liberal nor conservative, holding a mix of beliefs that does not necessarily correspond to either group. They typically believe that issues are too complex for simple partisan solutions to work and that the two major political parties are too ideological. Some policy stances have strong support from moderates, including background checks on gun purchases and investing in renewable energy.[73] Beyond a resistance to the terms liberal and conservative, there is little that unites moderates ideologically, and moderates can hold a variety of political positions.[74][75] As of 2021, over one-third of the American public self-identifies as moderate. Self-identified moderates make up about one-third of the Democratic Party, about one-fifth of the Republican Party, and about half of independents.[61]

Minor ideologies

Fascism

Further information: Fascism in North America § United States

Charles Coughlin

Fascism was never widely accepted in the United States, and no fascist party ever gained prominence in American politics. However, there were prominent American supporters of fascism in the 1930s, including Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. Charles Coughlin, at one point the second most popular radio host in the United States, openly advocated fascist ideals during his program. A significant minority of Americans at the time were also sympathetic to fascism because of its antisemitism, its anti-communism, and what was perceived as its economic success.[76] The Friends of New Germany and its successor the German American Bund represented the largest Nazi organizations in the United States, which is estimated to have had 25,000 members.[77] Several Nazi political parties have been created since the end of World War II, but none have seen significant membership or electoral success.

Present day Nazism in the United States is called Neo-Nazism. There are many factors that cause someone to radicalize and adopt Nazism, including a traumatic past, a search for meaning through extremism, and a propensity to violence or aggression.[78][79] In 2017, ABC News/Washington Post polling found that 9% of Americans believe neo-Nazi beliefs are "acceptable".[80] The Federal Bureau of Investigation recognized neo-Nazis as a major domestic terror threat in 2020.[81] The words "fascist" and "Nazi" are sometimes used erroneously as epithets to describe political figures and ideologies, but these uses of the terms are generally disputed by academics that study the subject.[82][83][84]

Libertarianism

Main article: Libertarianism in the United States

Ron Paul

Libertarianism in the United States refers to the right-libertarianism that was first developed in the 1970s as a revival of classical liberalism. American libertarianism is founded on the idea of severely limited government and reduction of social programs, with supporters of libertarianism advocating fiscal conservatism, social liberalism, and isolationist foreign policy.[85] Libertarians make up a notable minority group in American politics, with about 11% of Americans saying that the term describes them well as of 2014. Men were twice as likely to identify with the term as women, and Democrats were half as likely to identify with the term as Republicans or independents.[86] As of 2013, 68% of libertarians were men, 94% of libertarians were white, and 62% of libertarians were under the age of 50. Religiously, 50% of libertarians were Protestant, 27% were religiously unaffiliated, and 11% were Catholic.[87]

Libertarianism is promoted by the Libertarian Party, the largest minor party in the United States. Libertarians in the United States typically vote for the Republican Party, with only a small portion voting for the Democratic Party or the Libertarian Party.[87][88] Some libertarians have begun voting for the Democratic Party in 2020 in response to the right-wing populism of the Republican Party.[89][90] Some major think tanks in the United States operate from a libertarian perspective, including the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation.

Monarchism

Main article: Monarchism in the United States

Alexander Hamilton

Before the American Revolution, the Thirteen Colonies were ruled by the Crown of Great Britain as a monarchy. The Founding Fathers of the United States largely rejected monarchism in favor of republicanism, and the Revolutionary War was fought to free the colonies from monarchy. About one-fifth of Americans during the revolution were part of the loyalist faction that wished to remain a monarchy under the British crown, and after the United States became an independent country, thousands of loyalists emigrated to Britain or to other colonies.[91] Following the revolution, some individuals supported the continuation of monarchism in the United States. Most notably, Alexander Hamilton proposed an elective monarchy as the American system of government, favoring a strong executive with lifetime rule.[92] Other supporters of monarchism at the time include the military officers that advocated in the Newburgh letter that George Washington become a monarch and the alleged Prussian scheme that sought to put the United States under the rule of Prince Henry of Prussia.

No major monarchist movements have emerged since the 18th century. The Constantian Society advocated monarchy in the late 20th century, but it did not see mainstream success. However, elements of monarchism still exist in the function of the United States presidency. The office had many of its functions based on those of the British monarch, including its status as a unitary executive, its capacity over foreign affairs, and powers such as the presidential veto.[92]

Separatism

Main article: Secession in the United States

Jefferson Davis

Many separatist movements have advocated secession from the United States, though most of these movements have seen little support. The most significant separatist movement was secessionism in the southern United States in the 1860s. Politicians from the southern states declared independence and established the Confederate States of America, an unrecognized government led by Jefferson Davis, resulting in the American Civil War.[17] Following the Civil War, the states were reincorporated into the union, and the Supreme Court ruled that unilateral secession was unconstitutional in Texas v. White.[93]

The Republic of Texas was created when it seceded from Mexico before ultimately joining the United States. Since the admission of Texas as a state, various Texas secession movements have developed. A common misconception purports that Texas reserved the right to secede when it was admitted, but no such legal provision exists.[94] The status of Puerto Rico in the United States has long been debated, with independence being one of the options considered.[95] Other notable separatist groups in the United States include Ka Lahui Hawaii and the Alaskan Independence Party, both of which have had membership in the tens of thousands.[96][97]

Other notable proposals for secession have been suggested in the past. The Kentucky Resolution by Thomas Jefferson threatened secession in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. The Nullification crisis represented another threat of secession in 1832. In the 21st century, political polarization has resulted in higher support for a division of the United States.[98] As of 2021, two-thirds of Republicans in Southern states support a renewed Confederacy.[99] Some extremist groups support racial separatism, which advocates separatism on the basis of race or ethnicity instead of geography. White separatism and Black separatism advocate the creation of ethnostates along racial lines.

Socialism

Main articles: American Left, History of the socialist movement in the United States, and Anarchism in the United States

Eugene V. Debs

Socialists advocate the abolition of capitalism and private property in favor of collective ownership of the means of production.[100][101] The Socialist Party of America was founded in 1901, and it saw moderate success as a third party, electing two members to Congress and running Eugene V. Debs as a notable third-party candidate in 1912 and 1920.[102] At the same time, anarchism gained a following in the United States and became the motivating ideology behind a wave of left-wing terrorism, including several bombings and the assassination of William McKinley.[34][103] Following the Russian Revolution, socialism was negatively received by Americans, and strong social backlash to socialism resulted in the Red Scare. The New Left briefly existed as a socialist movement in the 1960s and 1970s.[104]

In the 21st century, perceptions of socialism have improved in the United States, especially among young Americans.[105] As of 2022, the Democratic Socialists of America is the largest socialist group in the United States, reporting over 92,000 members and having elected four members to Congress, all of which sitting as Democrats.[106] This group advocates democratic socialism, including the nationalization of major industries and the transfer of other industries from private ownership to workers' ownership.[107] Several members of the group have held office in the United States.

The words "socialist" and "communist" are sometimes used erroneously as epithets to describe political figures and ideologies. Many politicians, political groups, and policies in the United States have been referred to as socialist despite supporting welfare capitalism with government programs and regulations.[108][109][110] When polled, a significant portion of Americans were unable to accurately identify what socialism was, believing it to refer to government spending, welfare programs, equal rights, liberalism, or being social.[111][112]

Demographics of ideological groups

Further information: Demographics of the United States

Men in the United States tend to be slightly more conservative than women. As of 2021, 41% of men identified as conservative, compared to 32% of women.[61] Voter turnout tends to be slightly higher among women than among men.[113] A gender gap has been found to exist in voting patterns, with women more likely to vote for the Democratic Party since the 1970s. Military intervention and the death penalty are significantly more popular among men than women, while gun control and welfare are significantly more popular among women than men.[114][115] Men that identify with hypermasculinity and women that identify with hyperfemininity have been found to lean more conservative than those that do not.[116]

Younger Americans tend to lean liberal, while older Americans tend to lean conservative. As of 2021, 23% of Americans aged 18 to 29 are conservative, compared to 45% of Americans aged 65 and up. Likewise, 34% of Americans aged 18 to 29 are liberal compared to 21% aged 65 and up.[61] Americans' political ideologies generally do not change much as they grow older, but ideological shifts in one's life are more likely to move to the right than to the left.[117] Younger voters and older voters typically consider the same factors when voting. After reaching their mid-60s, correct voting sharply declines among voters, with a majority of elderly voters in their 80s and 90s casting votes that contradict their stated beliefs. This is attributed to decreasing cognitive capabilities as well as an ability to access up-to-date information due to slower manual dexterity and difficulty using technology.[118]

As of 2014, Christians make up 85% of conservatives and 52% of liberals, non-Christian faiths make up 3% of conservatives and 10% of liberals, and the religiously unaffiliated make up 11% of conservatives and 36% of liberals. A majority of Mormons and Evangelical Protestants and a plurality of Catholics in the United States identify as conservative, while a plurality of Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and "nones" identify as liberal.[119] Identifying with a religious tradition has been found to reduce political participation, but participation in church activities has been found to increase political participation. Religious Americans that believe in a God who intervenes in human affairs are less likely to participate in politics.[120] Political beliefs and religious beliefs in the United States are closely intertwined, with both affecting the other.[121][122]

Highly educated Americans are more likely to be liberal. In 2015, 44% of Americans with college degrees identified as liberal, while only 29% identified as conservative. Americans without college experience were about equally likely to identify as liberal or conservative, with roughly half identifying as having mixed political values.[123] This divide primarily exists between educated and uneducated white voters, and it marks a reversal of previous trends where college-educated whites were more conservative.[124] Several reasons for this phenomenon have been proposed, including college graduates spending more time in liberal cities, a prioritization of science over traditional authority, college students being exposed to new ideas, and conservative distrust of higher education.[125][126][127] Income is not a major factor in political ideology. In 2021, each income group had a nearly identical distribution of ideologies, matching the general population.[61]

Comparison to global politics

While liberal and conservative are the primary ideological descriptors in the United States, they do not necessarily correlate to usage of the terms in other countries. In the United States, liberalism refers specifically to social liberalism and cultural liberalism, and it leans farther to the left than liberalism in other countries.[67][128] Conservatism is derived from the traditions of a society, so American conservatism reflects the ideas of classical liberalism and Christian belief that were dominant in the early history of the United States.[129] American politics is dominated by individualist ideology instead of the collectivist ideology that influences politics in some European countries. American citizens expect less influence and intervention by the government and are less likely to accept it. Ideologies that advocate collective rights are not well received by American voters if they come at the cost of individual rights.[130]

Americans and Western Europeans have a similar conception of democracy and governance, which is distinct from that found in the rest of Europe. Americans and Western Europeans are similarly progressive as well. However, Americans place higher priority on freedom of religion than Western European countries, and Americans are more likely to believe that individual success is within a person's control.[131] Both European style social democracy and European style nativism have become more prominent in the 21st century United States.[132][133] Democracy in both the United States and European countries are threatened by rising anti-establishmentism and the resulting extremism and polarization. The United States in particular is more susceptible to polarization than European countries due to its political structure, but it is more resilient to extremist ideologies for the same reason.[134]

Historically, the development of democracy and politics in the United States is closely related to that of South America. Both regions have a shared history of colonialism, revolutionary war, federalist republicanism, and presidential systems. Political traits that are sometimes considered distinct to the United States are also common in South America, including common ideological positions on religion, crime, economy, national identity, multiculturalism, and guns.[135][136]

See also

References

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