American political ideologies are variations on classical liberalism. As a result, these ideologies tend to be very similar: Almost everyone in the United States, for example, believes in limited government, the free market, and individual liberty. Democrats just happen to lean slightly to the left and Republicans slightly to the right. Differences arise between these two groups because each party has a slightly different opinion on how best to achieve these goals. American political ideologies, like all others, are not monolithic. Republicans frequently disagree with other Republicans, and Democrats frequently disagree with other Democrats. In the end, however, members of both parties share very similar core beliefs, unlike members of political parties in most other countries.
Political scientists sometimes organize the four major American political ideologies with respect to their preference for the size and influence of the political government. Libertarians favor almost no government at all, whereas socialists, at the other end of the spectrum, favor a high degree of government intervention. At the center of the spectrum, American liberals and conservatives represent a balance of the two extremes. Note that adherents to all four ideologies still favor representative democratic governments.
American liberalism argues that the government needs to act to ensure equality among its citizens. Historically, for example, liberal groups worked to promote civil rights for African Americans and other minorities. In current politics, many liberals are pushing for gay rights, affirmative action, open immigration, and similar policies.
American Liberal Beliefs
Generally, liberals push for social, political, and economic equality, as well as expansive civil liberties. Liberals generally want the government to help the poor and make sure that the rich do not have too much power. Although they support capitalism, liberals do not want a completely free market; some government action is needed to ameliorate the worst aspects of the market. Therefore, liberals tend to favor:
- Graduated income taxes that tax the wealthier more than the poor
- Welfare programs to aid the poor
- Major government spending on education
- Job-retraining programs for unemployed workers
- Action to promote equal opportunity
- Expanded civil liberties
The chart on the following page lists the different views held by liberals and conservatives on a variety of issues. Of course, individual beliefs transcend general categories: Some conservatives are pro-choice, some liberals are anti–gun control, and some liberals and conservatives might not have strongly held views on any of those issues.
|Abortion||Legal and open to all women||Immoral and should be banned|
|Gun control||Heavy restrictions||Few restrictions|
|Taxes||Higher, progressive||Lower, flatter|
|Affirmative action||Necessary to make up for centuries of discrimination||Unfair because it reversely favors some and excludes others|
|Gay marriage||Should be legal||Should be illegal|