50 Ways the Democratic and Republican Parties Are The Same

1. Both parties engage in and benefit from gerrymandering, the practice of redrawing district lines for partisan gain. In 2010, Republicans invested millions in statewide races to retake state legislatures for the purpose of controlling congressional redistricting. Since then, Republicans have created highly gerrymandered maps in states like North Carolina and Virginia. Democrats are guilty of gerrymandering as well: Maryland hosts some of the most contorted, gerrymandered districts in the country. Gerrymandering is one of the leading reasons that many congressional races are not competitive.

2. Both parties also thwart efforts to combat gerrymandering, such as amendments making gerrymandering illegal and the adoption of independent redistricting commissions. In Florida, where gerrymandering is outlawed by the state constitution, Democrat-sponsored bills to create an independent redistricting have led nowhere, and in Maryland, Democrats have been reluctant to give up control over redistricting after a commission appointed by the state’s Republican governor recommended handing mapmaking over to an independent panel.

3. At the federal level, both parties benefit from congressionally mandated single-member districts (SMDs). Last passed in 1967, this mandate requires that only one House member can represent a congressional district (except in Hawaii and New Mexico). According to Duverger’s law, SMDs tend to produce a two-party system because there can only be one winner, which encourages voters to vote strategically for a major party candidate to prevent the opposing major party candidate from winning. There has been no major bipartisan effort to allow states to experiment with alternative modes of congressional representation, such as multimember districts (MMDs).

4. Both parties control the process of formally electing the president. First, in each state, parties create a slate of loyal electors. After the presidential election in November, the electors from the party whose nominee won the popular vote in each state then cast their votes for president. Thus, instead of electors being chosen in a nonpartisan way and having the freedom to vote their conscience (as envisioned by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 68), they are selected by the parties and must, according to state laws and party pledges, vote for the parties’ nominees.

5. Despite consistent polling showing that voters are unhappy with their limited choice of candidates and want more options in general elections, both parties discourage support for third party and independent candidates by describing them as “spoilers” and by framing ballots cast for them as “wasted votes.” Yet evidence shows that such candidates often draw votes from both parties.

6. Both parties benefit from strict ballot access laws that make it difficult for independent and third party candidates to contest elections. In some states, third party candidates must demonstrate high levels of support in terms of past election results or party membership. In other states, candidates must collect and defend the validity of thousands of signatures to qualify for ballot access – often a time-consuming and expensive process. Partisan forces regularly engage in litigation to keep third party and independent challengers off the ballot.

7. Both parties benefit from what is arguably bipartisan control over the presidential debates, which have been run by the Committee on Presidential Debates (CPD) since 1988. When announcing its formation in 1987, then-RNC Chair Frank Fahrenkopf (now the CPD’s co-chair) stated that it was not likely third party candidates would be included, and then-DNC Chair Paul Kirk said they should be excluded. Only one non-major party candidate has participated in the CPD-sponsored debates – Ross Perot, in 1992. In 2000, the CPD implemented new rules for inclusion in the debates, requiring a candidate to stand at 15 percent in national polls to qualify.

8. At the state level, both parties view voting rights in terms of what will benefit their members and candidates or hurt the opposing party. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the Republican House majority leader championed a voter ID law in 2012 by stating that it would “allow Governor Romney to win the state.” Democrats are also advocating for the enfranchisement of current and former felons, who tend to support Democrats over Republicans. In Maryland, Democrats overrode the Republican governor’s veto in February 2016 to enfranchise 40,000 felons on parole or probation, and in Virginia, the Democratic governor extended suffrage to ex-felons through an executive order in April 2016.

9. In most states, partisan officials are responsible for overseeing and administering elections – a responsibility that is often abused for partisan gain. In 2012, for instance, Minnesota’s Democratic secretary of state re-named two amendments put on the ballot in a way that, according to the amendments’ conservative proponents, misled voters. And in 2014, Kansas’s Republican secretary of state refused a Democratic nominee’s request to have his name removed from a ballot so as to make the senatorial race between the incumbent Republican and an independent more competitive, and when he was overruled, he demanded the Democrats choose a new nominee (a call that went unheeded).

10. In most states, both parties control primary elections by requiring voters to use a single partisan ballot for multiple races, barring voters from selecting other candidates outside the party. In 2000, the Supreme Court invalidated compulsory jungle primaries, where voters could select any candidate, regardless of partisan affiliation, for each race. Alaska does use a blanket primary system that maximizes voter choice, but parties have the option not to participate.

11. The leaders of both national parties oppose opening primaries to non-members. Speaking about the use of closed primaries in the party’s presidential nomination process, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in May 2016 that “the party’s nominee should be chosen by members of the party.” Days later, RNC chair Reince Priebus told an audience at a breakfast event, “I believe that only Republicans should vote in Republican primaries.”

12. In states that do not have mandatory open primaries, the parties have usually only allowed non-members to participate when they are in the minority. In 1986, the Supreme Court allowed the Republican Party of Connecticut to include independents in its primaries, despite the state’s closed primary law, and today, in South Dakota’s congressional primaries, Democrats allow unaffiliated voters to participate, whereas Republicans require sworn affiliation to their party 15 days prior to an election.

13. Both parties receive considerable subsidies from the government at the local, state, and federal levels. In many states, the parties’ primary elections are funded by taxpayers, including states that bar independents from participating in these primaries. Between 1976 and 2012, the federal government also subsidized the major parties’ national conventions, but that funding was abolished in 2014. Nevertheless, the nonprofit host committees that organize these conventions receive financial assistance from state and local government, and the federal government spends tens of millions of dollars to help with security at these events.

14. Both parties have altered their presidential nominating processes to protect their respective establishments to the detriment of outsider candidates. In the 1980s, Democrats created a class of delegates called superdelegates in order to “return a measure of decision-making power and discretion to the organized party” by allowing to vote at the convention “a substantial number of party leader and elected official delegates.” These superdelegates have been instrumental in weakening the campaigns of anti-establishment candidates such as Gary Hart in 1984 and Bernie Sanders in 2016.  In 2012, the RNC changed an arcane rule to prevent Ron Paul from appearing on the ballot at the national convention to facilitate the nomination of Mitt Romney.

15. A majority of Americans believe that there should be a limit on the amount of money that independent groups can spend on political campaigns, yet candidates from both major parties, even those who disagree with the Citizens United decision of 2010 allowing unlimited independent spending, continue to rely on super PACs for support. Hillary Clinton, for instance, despite stating her desire to see Citizens United overturned, is the beneficiary of a network of super PACs and has personally courted super PAC donors. Likewise, Donald Trump, who has called super PACs “very corrupt,” benefits from pro-Trump independent groups, one of which is led by an individual who held a fundraising event for Trump a week before its creation.

16. A majority of Americans also believe that lobbyists have too much power in politics, yet both parties remain highly dependent on them for campaign contributions and policy advice. The DNC and RNC accept donations from lobbyists, and many members of Congress devote significant amounts of time to soliciting contributions from donors, including lobbyists. In return, lobbyists and wealthy donors are given a greater share of their attention, resulting in influence on legislation that reflects their interests.

17. Members of Congress from both parties are part of the “revolving door” in Washington, whereby former politicians become registered lobbyists or unregistered “government relations” consultants. One study found that half of retiring senators and a third of retiring House members go on to become lobbyists, with equal frequency by Democrats and Republicans. Benefiting from their connections, they are able to affect policy while often substantially increasing their income.

18. In Congress, members of both parties are significantly wealthier than most Americans. The median net worth of both Democrats and Republicans is approximately $1 million. The demographic with the highest median net worth in the U.S. – those aged 65 to 69 – own less than $200,000 in wealth.

19. Both national parties have been involved in scandals involving the solicitation and acceptance of foreign money, which are barred in the case of federal elections. In the 1990s, the DNC and the Clinton-Gore campaign were fined for soliciting and receiving millions of dollars in donations from individuals in China, Korea, and Venezuela. An RNC-affiliated nonprofit was also scrutinized for having secured a loan guarantee worth $2.1 million from a Hong Kong business that was allegedly used to funnel money to the RNC for the 1994 midterm elections (though no punishment was meted out). More recently, former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe, now the governor of Virginia, has been investigated for accepting money from foreign-owned corporations for his gubernatorial campaign (which is legal, unlike accepting money from foreign nationals), and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been accused of illicitly soliciting foreign politicians for donations.

20. Through equal three-to-three representation in the Federal Election Commission, both parties have caused gridlock that has prevented the commission from enforcing federal election law. According to the 1974 law that created the FEC, no more than three members can be from the same party, and at least four votes are needed for the commission to act. One commissioner, Ann Ravel, has described the FEC as “paralyzed” and “worse than dysfunctional” and flatly states that it is “failing to enforce the nation’s campaign finance laws.

21. Both parties engage in obstructionism and contribute to gridlock in Washington. As the former Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (R-Nev.) effected inaction by proposing so many amendments that Republican proposals were crowded out, and as former Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio) often relied on the unofficial “Hastert rule” by which the House leader only brought a bill to the floor if the majority of his party was expected to support it (Boehner said in 2012 that he was “not interested in passing something with mostly Democrat votes”). The Republican-led Senate in the 114th Congress has also practiced obstructionism, refusing to question and vote on President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court. The two latest iterations of Congress, the 112th and 113th, have been the least productive in recent congressional history.

22. Despite earmarks having been banned since 2011, members of Congress from both parties continue to win federal funding for “pork barrel” projects that benefit their constituents. In 2014, the omnibus budget bill and the farm bill both contained such provisions, as did the defense bill in 2015. Academic studies suggest that acquiring such spending increases incumbents’ fundraising and likelihood of reelection.

23. Both parties have used the federal government to monitor and silence their political opponents. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, for instance, relied on the J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to spy on peaceful dissidents, including anti-war protestors, members of New Left groups, and even Martin Luther King, Jr. President Nixon also involved federal agencies in surveilling political opponents while also deploying those in his inner circle to track and silence those on “enemies list.” The George W. Bush and Obama administrations have also been embroiled in scandals related to the tracking and persecution of political opponents and critics.

24. Recent presidential administrations of both parties have been accused of hostility toward the press. Reagan’s Pentagon, for instance, banned journalists from traveling to Grenada to report on the U.S.’s invasion in 1983, and between 1991 and 2009, presidents left in place a ban on photographs of soldiers’ coffins flown through Dover Air Force Base. The George W. Bush and Obama administrations have also been criticized for their relationships with the press.

25. Both parties benefit from “horserace” election coverage that focuses primarily on strategy and personality at the expense of policy and substance and that sidelines the views and candidacies of third party and independent viewpoints. One study of the media’s coverage of the 2016 primary contests determined that “There was no appreciable variation between the Republican and Democratic coverage. In each case, the competitive game was the primary focus and in nearly equal amounts, while substantive concerns got the least amount of attention, again in nearly equal amounts.” Also, by excluding third party and independent candidates in their polling, the media leaves a majority of voters unaware of alternative candidates.

26. Both parties have a dominant presence in the media. Democratic and Republican politicians regularly appear on network and cable television to deliver talking points, and partisan strategists and consultants are given ample airtime to provide biased spin and analysis. A study by MediaMatters found that among network Sunday talk shows in 2015, only 35 percent of all guests were “neutral” in terms of their ideology, with 26 percent categorized as “progressive” and 39 percent categorized as “conservative.” And a study by the media watchdog group FAIR confirmed in 2014 a partisan and ideological bias among guests appearing on MSNBC and Fox News Channel evening programs: on the former, Democrats outnumbered Republicans, and on the latter, Republicans outnumbered Democrats.

27. Though Americans have consistently affirmed their opposition to negative advertising, candidates in both parties, and the parties themselves, continue to deploy them. A study by the Wesleyan Media Project found a steady increase in the use of negative advertising by the presidential nominees between 2004 and 2012, and evidence suggests that Clinton and Trump will devote vast sums of money to negative ads in 2016.

28. Both parties, through contracts with privately-run partisan companies, have access to vast amounts of information about voters’ lives, including their personal information, online activity, and consumption habits. Both parties, after analyzing this data, partner with firms to craft “microtargeted” messages to appeal to various niches within the electorate.

29. Despite taxpayer-funded bailouts being highly unpopular, both parties have supported them. In 2008, President Bush signed off on the unpopular Wall Street bailout, and later diverted funds from the TARP program to support the unpopular bailout of the automotive industry, which Obama extended in 2009.

30. Administrations from both parties have provided business favors to political supporters. The Bush administration, for example, awarded billions of dollars in federal contracts to a subsidiary of Halliburton, which had been formerly run by his vice president, Dick Cheney. And the Obama administration hurriedly extended a $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, a now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer, whose investors had donated to the Obama campaign in 2008.

31. Presidents from both parties have handed down controversial pardons and sentence commutations. President Clinton pardoned individuals with close ties to his family, including acquaintances of Hillary Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham. Clinton also pardoned the commodities trader Marc Rich after Rich’s ex-wife made a hefty donation to the Clinton Library. President George W. Bush controversially commuted the 30 month prison sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter,” Libby, once the chief of staff of Vice President Dick Cheney, who had been found guilty on charges related to the leaking of the identity of a CIA officer. Under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, the president “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment,” and such decisions are not reviewable or challengeable.

32. The Constitution does not mention political parties, and neither major party existed at the time of the country’s founding. The Democratic Party emerged in the 1820s and 1830s as a successor to Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party, and the Republican Party was formed in 1854 as a coalition of individuals from various parties who opposed the expansion of slavery.

33. The Democratic and Republican parties have dominated national politics since the mid-nineteenth century. The last president to belong to a different party was Millard Fillmore, a Whig, who served between 1850 and 1853. Since then, there has also been a steady trend toward bipartisan dominance in Congress. During the 34th Congress (1855-1857), Democrats and Republicans held 83.8 percent of the seats. During the current 114th Congress (2015-2017), they hold 99.8 percent of the seats (among voting members).

34. Over the last several decades, there has been a steady decline in voters’ identification with both parties. According to Gallup, in 1988, 36 percent of U.S. adults self-identified as Democrats, 31 percent as Republicans, and 33 percent as independents. In 2015, 29 percent self-identified as Democrats, 26 percent as Republicans, and 42 percent as independents.

35. The public has overall negative opinions of both major parties, according to the Pew Research Center. Since 2012, at least half the public has had a negative view of the Republican Party, and as of 2015, only 37 percent of the public had a positive view of the Grand Old Party. On the whole, the public has tended to have a slightly more favorable view of the Democratic Party, but it has seen a general decline since President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. As of 2015, its favorability rating was at 45 percent.

36. Members of both parties harbor negative feelings toward the opposite party. According to one survey from June 2016, 55 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Republicans say they have a “very unfavorable” view of the other party, and 87 percent of both parties said the other party makes them feel frustrated, afraid, or angry.

37. Both parties are responsible for the growth of the federal debt. The United States began accumulating significant debt during the Reagan years, during which the debt tripled from $900 billion to $2.7 trillion. Save several years of budget surpluses at the end of Clinton’s tenure, consistent deficits – approved by Congresses and presidents of both parties – have pushed the federal debt above $19 trillion.

38. Both parties are also responsible for the growth in America’s trade deficit, which has contributed to unemployment and the stagnation of workers’ wages. Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the trade deficit grew as a result of increased demand for foreign capital (prompted by federal deficits) and because of decreased exports (caused by an appreciation of the dollar, making U.S. products more expensive). Since then, while there are many causes of the growth of the trade deficit – including deficit-inducing free trade agreements, a decline in competitiveness and exporting among key American industries, and the combination of high domestic spending and high foreign saving — both parties have allowed the trade deficit to soar from $32 billion in 1980 (in 2015 dollars) to more than $500 billion in 2015.

39. Both parties have approved policies that violated Americans’ civil liberties. In 2006, a federal judge ruled that the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program was unconstitutional, and a year later, a federal judge deemed unconstitutional two provisions of the Patriot Act, passed with bipartisan support in 2001. And in 2015, a federal appeals court ruled that Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allowed the NSA to collect in bulk Americans’ phone records – a practice that President Obama initially defended following the leaks in 2013 — violated the Constitution.

40. Since World War II, administrations from both parties have deployed American forces without a congressional declaration of war. Instead, Congress has authorized the use of force in broad and open-ended resolutions, including the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution from 1964 and the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) from 2001.

41. Unlike many democratic countries, which have strong fascist, socialist, and sectarian political parties, the Democratic and Republican parties are essentially liberal, pro-capitalist, and nonsectarian in nature.

42. Despite a significant diversity in American public opinion and a plurality of voters self-identifying as independents, both parties regularly claim to speak for and represent the whole of “the American people.” DNC chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, for instance, has said that regarding Republican ideas on economic leadership, “This isn’t what the American people want,” despite many Americans preferring the GOP to the Democratic Party regarding economic policy. RNC chair Reince Priebus has said that when it comes the GOP’s opposition to using taxpayer money to fund abortions, “the American people are with us on,” although many Americans hold the contrary position.

43. Despite American opinion being quite split regarding whether or how to fight ISIS, both parties, according to their 2016 platforms, recommend similar policies. Both favor aerial bombardment of ISIS territory to assist local ground troops. Neither favors a major commitment of American troops or total disengagement.

44. Again, despite a diversity in public opinion regarding the war in Afghanistan and how to proceed, both parties have similar positions. The Democratic platform supports President Obama’s decision to keep more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan until the end of his term. While the Republican platform criticizes the president for his handling of the war, congressional Republicans generally favor keeping thousands of American troops in Afghanistan and oppose a significant escalation or reduction in troop levels.

45. Both platforms contain similar ideas related to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both identify Israel a major ally and affirm the need to ensure Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over its enemies. Both believe Jerusalem, as an undivided city, should remain the capital of Israel, and both criticize the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Polls, however, show Americans with a diveristy of views toward Israel, the conflict with the Palestinians, and the legitimacy of the BDS movement.

46. Both parties boast similar positions on trade, with neither platform embracing outright protectionism or unconditional free trade. The Democratic platform calls for reviewing and updating existing trade deals, and states the party will oppose agreements “that do not support good American jobs, raise wages, and improve our national security.” Likewise, the Republican platform, while acknowledging the benefits of free trade, affirms that the U.S. needs “better negotiated trade agreements that put America first.”

47. Despite most Americans opposing the status quo of the Federal Reserve, with many calling for its reform or abolition, neither party platform advocates drastic changes to the central bank’s role or structure. The Democratic platform calls for maintaining its independence and its dual mandate of balancing unemployment and inflation, and the Republican platform, while supporting a commission to examine the possibility of setting a fixed value for the dollar, calls for increased transparency and accountability, including through an annual audit of the Federal Reserve.

48. While the public is split over the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), neither party outright opposes this controversial method of capturing fossil fuels. The Republican platform says it respects “the states’ proven ability to regulate the use of hydraulic fracturing.” The Democratic platform supports the federal regulation of fracking while also maintaining that it “should not take place where states and local communities oppose it.”

49. Though by some accounts a majority of Americans support a single-payer healthcare system, neither party endorses this position in its platform. The Democratic platform calls for maintaining the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while also stating that “Americans should be able to access public coverage through a public option.” The Republican platform calls for repealing the ACA and promoting market-centered reforms, affirming that “Consumer choice is the most powerful factor in healthcare reform.”

50. Both parties support the Export-Import Bank (EIB), which provides financial assistance to American businesses, despite strong opposition to it across the political spectrum. Though its charter was allowed to expire in 2015, congressional Republicans are looking to resuscitate the bank’s lending activities (the EIB is not mentioned in the GOP’s platform), and the Democratic platform says the party will “defend” Export-Import Bank because it “supports good-paying jobs across the country and allows American workers and manufacturers to compete on a level playing field.”

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About Andrew Gripp

Andrew Gripp received a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Delaware and an M.A. from Georgetown University, specializing in Democracy and Governance. His interests include U.S. and international politics, moral and political philosophy, science and religion, and literature. You can find him on Twitter @andrewgripp.
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