US Democrats, Republicans Diverge Sharply on Government's Role

    Ken Bredemeier
    More than just choosing the American leader, voters in the November 6 U.S. presidential election also will effectively be deciding what role they want the federal government to play in their lives.

    Either U.S. President Barack Obama, the Democratic incumbent, will be re-elected, or his Republican challenger, wealthy businessman Mitt Romney, will take over in January.
     
    Aside from winning a political contest, however, the two candidates represent political parties that have grown increasingly distinct over a several-decade evolution.  The person who wins a four-year term in the White House is likely to present a sharply different view than the other of the scope of the national government’s programs, taxation and spending.

    Steve Smith, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, explains the distinctions between the two American political parties.

    “The two camps do represent very different views of the role of the federal government.  The Democrats and the President Obama camp certainly believe that the federal government should have a strong, positive role in addressing the major challenges that face American society.  The Romney-Republican camp believes that the federal government should stay out of many aspects of American life and that the overall role of the federal government should shrink.  Along with that, taxes should shrink, in their view.”

    In shorthand form, Obama’s Democratic Party has come to represent a robust expansion of the federal government, with a broad health care plan for the uninsured and regulation of major Wall Street financiers.  Meanwhile, Romney’s Republican Party, aside from cutting taxes, wants to repeal the near-universal health care plan, sharply trim federal regulation of American corporations and eliminate other programs, such as support for a government-funded broadcasting system.

    George Nation, a professor of finance and law at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, says the differences are rooted in the philosophical differences between the two presidential candidates.

    “On the one hand you have President Obama who believes strongly in the power of government to improve peoples’ lives directly.  And I think in Governor Romney is someone who believes in the power of government to allow people to improve their lives.”

    John Gilmour, a public policy professor at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, says the political viewpoint of the two parties has shifted over a lengthy period of time.

    “The Democrats have long supported big programs, social insurance programs, Social Security and Medicare, that provide, in the case of Social Security, pensions for the elderly, and in the case of Medicare, health insurance for the elderly.  Also Medicaid [health care assistance for the poor.] The Republicans traditionally have been relatively supportive of those programs, but they are less so today.”

    All three academics point to legal and societal changes in the U.S. in the last half century that have served to split the parties along ideological lines, with little overlap.  The 1960s civil rights movement in the southern portion of the country pushed many conservative Democrats into the Republican Party.  Liberal supporters of gender equality and abortion rights more often than not landed in the Democratic Party, while those supporting conservative social values, lower taxation and less government joined like-minded people in the Republican Party.

    Smith says the distinctions between the parties are well-known to voters.

    “This difference between the parties is now so well established, so well recognized that long before this presidential campaign started, the public had a pretty good idea about this important difference between the two parties.”

    The philosophical gap between the two American political parties has often led to a stalemate in attempts to enact major legislation in Congress.  Soon after the election, the country is faced with a major spending and taxation debate, the outcome of which only partly depends on the election results.  Some significant decisions will require action even before Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney starts a new term in office early next year.

    Gilmour says Americans can expect the political gridlock will continue.

    “What we have with two polarized parties is the new normal. That’s what we should expect for the foreseeable future.  The problem is that our political institutions are based on compromise and accommodation.  They don’t work well with polarized parties.”

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora