Democrats vs. Republicans: 2004 update

Click here for the 2000 original

The page for the question, "Democrats vs. Republicans: What DO they believe?" is by far the most popular page on the FAQ list. As I recall, it was the most popular question on also. So I'm going to give it an update for 2004, trying to answer some of the more popular questions.

Q: What's changed with the liberal-conservative scale in 2004?

Several issues have moved significantly in recent years.

The most important is the parties' attitudes towards the budget deficit. The Republicans now say "Deficits don't matter" (quoting Dick Cheney), while the Democrats now include in their party platform an explicit call for deficit reduction (see ). A generation ago, the two parties' viewpoints were exactly opposite what they are now. This was once a defining characteristic of conservatives - fiscal responsibility, they called it, while labeling the Democrats as "tax-and-spend liberals." President Clinton proved that wrong - he balanced his budgets, while Pres. Bush had a larger imbalance than any in history.

Most Democrats have accepted free trade - some still call for "fair trade," but opposing NAFTA has become the extremist viewpoint. Even those who oppose free trade are forced to call for fair trade as a FORM of free trade - no serious politician calls for isolation on the trade front any more. This process was called "trade liberalization" but it was really a conservative idea that the liberals accepted.

Most Republicans have accepted gay rights - most still call for restrictions (and a Constitutional ban on gay marriage) but many would accept civil unions as a compromise. Less than 10 years ago, Gov. Howard Dean (D, VT) was considered ultra-liberal for allowing civil unions in Vermont. This year, Gov. Mitt Romney (R, MA) led the conservatives in calling for civil unions in Massachusetts. The difference was that Massachusetts started allowing same-sex marriage, so civil unions became the compromise position instead of the extreme position. All but the conservative extremists now say, "equal benefits for same-sex couples are acceptable, just not within the institution of marriage." That's a major and recent change.

All three of these changes - which I consider the most significant in recent years - move toward the "socially liberal and fiscally conservative" point in the political spectrum. Some other changes move in the other direction: (1) The Democrats in 2000 endorsed the death penalty (a move toward more social conservatism). But that's still very much an open debate and I think the next few years will determine whether capital punishment remains in favor. (2) The Democrats in Congress in 2003 voted to increase defense spending (a move toward more fiscally liberal spending). But that's a response to the War on Terror and may not endure over time.

Q: Why do you measure political philosophy on only two axes, social and economic, instead of including a third axis for foreign affairs?

A: The basic reason that follows the two-axis method is because we can represent it graphically on our political philosophy charts. Our two-axis method is a much better analytical tool than the one-axis "left-right" spectrum reported in the popular press, but admittedly it's not perfect. A 3-axis method would certainly be more accurate, although it would be impossible to represent it in a nice summary image and with a nice summary philosophy.

Many political scientists use a two-axis social-economic analysis. It's the basis of the most common political self-description I hear: "I'm socially liberal but fiscally conservative", which describes former Governor Howard Dean (D, VT), former Governor William Weld (R, MA), Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R, CA), and former Governor Jesse Ventura (I, MN). I chose people from several parties because that self-description doesn't fit the two major parties very well at all. In's political philosophy chart, they would all come out as libertarian-leaning, which is what they mean by "socially liberal and fiscally conservative."

Other political scientists do use a 3-axis analysis. The "Almanac of American Politics," which I call my political Bible, does exactly that - rating all members of Congress on three scales, social, economic, and foreign. At, we separate the foreign affairs components into social issues (like immigration rules, and attitude toward the UN) and economic issues (like free trade rules, and attitude toward military spending). Hence we account for people's views on foreign affairs without complicating things with a third axis.

Q: What are these political philosophy charts? And how do the major candidates rate?

You can see every politician's chart by scrolling down to the bottom of their main page or byu clicking on their "VoteMatch" link at the upper left of each page.

George W. Bush is a Moderate Conservative

Dick Cheney is a Populist-Leaning Conservative

These two candidates are pretty close politically - and Cheney rarely voices his distinctions from Bush, so it's hard to discern his own viewpoints. Some instances where they differ are on gay marriage (Cheney would leave it to the states, Bush would not), and on free trade (Bush is more supportive than Cheney's isolationist voting record).

John Kerry is a Moderate Libertarian-Leaning Liberal

John Edwards is a Populist-Leaning Liberal

Edwards is more populist than Kerry - that means he's less socially liberal and also less fiscally conservative. Their key differences are on free trade (Kerry supports, Edwards prefers "fair trade"), and on the death penalty (Kerry opposes, Edwards supports).

Ralph Nader is a Populist-Leaning Liberal

If you need an explanation for why Ralph Nader had positive things to say about John Edwards in the Democratic primaries, you can base it on their political philosophy matching. Edwards agrees with Nader on Nader's key issues of free trade (although Edwards makes an exception for China). And on corporate malfeasance, Edwards, a trial lawyer, certainly agrees with Nader.

Michael Badnarik is a Hard-Core Libertarian

The Libertarian Party nominee comes out as a hard-core libertarian - if he didn't, the libertarians would all write me en masse and insist that I change some of his quiz answers (in fact, they still do, but his label is my best defense).

-- Jesse Gordon
jesse @
August 2004

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