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What are the Main Political Parties in the United States?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated: May 17, 2024

The United States has a multiple political party system, but the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are by far the two main American political parties. The Green Party and the Libertarian Party are two other American parties with a large base of members.

The first Green Party meetings held in the United States occurred in 1984, with the first candidate not showing up on the ballot until 1986. Ralph Nader's choice of the Green Party as his preferred political party did much to increase the growth of American "Greens." When Nader declared in November 1995 that he would run in the California Green Party primary election, states where this party previously did not have presence began forming active groups. Nader was placed on 22 state ballots and as a write-in choice in 23 more states.

David Nolan founded the Libertarian Party in Colorado on 11 December 1971. A philosophy professor at the University of Southern California (USC) named Roger MacBride ran as the party's candidate in the 1976 presidential race. Tonie Nathan was his vice presidential running mate, and she was the first American woman to receive an electoral vote. The Libertarian Party earned ballot status in 1976 in 32 states and was on ballots in all states in 1980.

The Democratic Party in the United States was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1792. It was known as the common man's party, and was at that time called the Democratic-Republican Party. Jefferson believed that political leaders should not be chosen on the basis of status and wealth. He became the first Democratic president, and his original vision of helping the poor and striving for equality remain a part of the Democratic platform today. Famous Democratic Presidents include Andrew Jackson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), John F. Kennedy (JFK), Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton.

The Republican Party, also known as the Grand Old Party (GOP), was founded in 1854 by people opposed to the continuation of slavery. When Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected as the president of the United States in 1860, 60 years of Democratic leadership was ended. The party's core beliefs include individual responsibility and entrepreneurialism. The GOP also emphasizes private aid organizations over institutionalized welfare. Republicans believe it is up to the individual to govern him or her self with minimal intervention from the government. Famous Republicans Presidents include Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight David Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Regan, and George Bush.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By LoriCharlie — On Dec 01, 2012

@SZapper - I had no idea that's why the Republican Party was founded, but it makes sense considering that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican and slavery in the United States ended under his administration. I guess I probably wouldn't do too well in a political party quiz, since I didn't even know the origins of our two main parties before reading this article.

By SZapper — On Nov 30, 2012
I think it's really interesting that the Republican Party was founded by people who opposed the continuation of slavery. Most people I know who are minorities don't vote Republican. It seems like the Republican party has strayed far from their roots on certain political party issues.

By JessicaLynn — On Nov 29, 2012
@sunnySkys - I've heard a lot of people say that same thing. If enough people voted for a third party candidate in each election, I think our electoral process would change. And I hope it does. It would be nice to have more than two options in an election.
By sunnySkys — On Nov 28, 2012
I think it's a shame that we really only have two options for political parties in this country: Democrat or Republican. Yes, we do have some third parties like the Libertarians and the Green Party mentioned here, but those parties barely have a chance at winning a presidential election.

Most people are of the mind that voting for an independent political party takes votes away from the main party with the closest views. So in an election, a lot of people don't want to waste their vote on a third party candidate even if they agree with their views.

By whiteplane — On Nov 11, 2012

I know that many people think there is no real left anymore. The Republican Party has shifted far to the right and many Democrats have quietly and slowly shifted into positions that are probably more accurately considered moderate Republican.

Even Obamacare, a piece of legislation that every Republican pundit has labeled radical and Socialist, is made up largely of proposals originally conceived by Republicans. I am hoping that we can shift back in the other direction but I can't see that happening any time soon.

By cyprus — On Mar 04, 2010

My article definitely does "mention Abraham Lincoln as a famous Republican President" so I'm not sure what you mean?

In the last paragraph above, the article states: "When Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected as president of the United States in 1860, 60 years of Democratic leadership was ended."

By anon68576 — On Mar 03, 2010

Odd you did not mention Abraham Lincoln as a famous Republican President.

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