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Why Did the Democratic and Republican Parties Switch Platforms?

Did the Democratic and Republican Parties switch platforms? Many people seem to think so. What’s the reality behind that?

The Republican Party Was Founded to Halt Slavery Using Big Government

Before you can talk about whether they switched platforms, you have to understand their early positions. Republican Party formed in 1854. Its main purpose was to stop the expansion of slavery.

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During the 1860s, Republicans, who dominated northern states, orchestrated an ambitious expansion of federal power, helping to fund the transcontinental railroad, the state university system and the settlement of the West by homesteaders, and instating a national currency and protective tariff. Democrats, who dominated the South, opposed these measures. After the Civil War, Republicans passed laws that granted protections for African Americans. Democrats largely opposed these expansions of power.

Democrats Adopted Socialist Ideas from Europe

Then in the early 1900s, the Democratic party adopted the expanding progressivism and socialism of European countries. In the 1930s, Democratic president Franklin Roosevelt won reelection that year on the strength of the New Deal, a set of Depression-prolonging reforms. Roosevelt won in a landslide against Republican Alf Landon, who opposed these massive expansions of federal power. The Democratic Party quickly became the party of big government.

People argue that, the Democratic Party then became the party of big government and the Republican party of big government became rhetorically committed to curbing federal power. How did this switch happen?

Republicans Change Their Minds… But Did They Switch Platforms?

But Republicans didn’t immediately favor limited government. “Instead, for a couple of decades, both parties are promising an augmented federal government[.]” Rauchway wrote in a 2010 blog post for the Chronicles of Higher Education. Republican rhetoric drifted to the counterarguments gradually. The party’s small-government platform cemented in the 1930s with its heated opposition to the New Deal.

But why did Democrats start advocating for big government? According to Rauchway, both parties were trying to win the new Western states. The admission of new western states to the union in the post-Civil War era created a new voting bloc, and both parties were competing for them.

Democrats Wanted to Entice Western Settlers With Money

Democrats thought they figured out a strategy. Republican federal expansions in the 1860-70s favored big businesses in the Northeast, such as banks, railroads and manufacturers. Yet small-time farmers like those who had gone west received very little. Both parties tried to exploit this frustration, by promising the little guy some of the federal monies. Democrats stuck with this stance — favoring federally funded social programs and benefits — while Republicans were gradually driven to the counterposition of smaller, hands-off government.

The Parties Did Not Switch Platforms

From a business perspective, Rauchway pointed out, the loyalties of the parties did not really switch. “Although the rhetoric and to a degree the policies of the parties do switch places,” he wrote, “their core supporters don’t — which is to say, the Republicans remain, throughout, the party of bigger businesses; it’s just that in the earlier era bigger businesses want bigger government and in the later era they don’t.”

In other words, businesses needed things that a bigger government could provide, such as infrastructure. Once these things were in place, a small, hands-off government became better for business.

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Written by David

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