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What are Yellow Dog Democrats?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Yellow dog Democrats are Democrats who are fiercely loyal to their party, typically voting a straight Democratic ticket and always supporting Democratic candidates. The Democratic party of course greatly appreciates yellow dogs, although the term is sometimes used disparagingly to describe people who are blindly loyal to the party. Some Democrats have suggested that a small amount of disloyalty might actually be a good thing, allowing people to come up with constructive suggestions for making the party stronger.

The use of the term dates back to around 1900, when it was used to describe Southern Democrats, and it became popularized during the 1928 Presidential contest. Many Democrats in the South had lingering resentments against the Republicans left over from the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War, and as a result they decided to stand behind the Democratic party, sometimes at all costs, rather than supporting Republicans. The yellow dog Democrats were a serious force to be reckoned with in the American south as a result.

The term is a reference to the “yaller dog,” both the term for a generic Southern dog and a specific breed of dog which is widely used in the South for hunting. The implication behind the term “yellow dog Democrat” is that someone would rather vote for a mangy yaller dog than a Republican candidate. The yellow dog Democrats ensured a strong showing in Southern elections for decades, until reformations in the party and national politics began to sway the balance more towards Republicans, but the voting base of Southern Democrats continues to be quite strong, and it is often heavily courted by Democratic candidates during the primaries.

Although the term was originally used somewhat pejoratively, some Democrats have embraced it, using it as affectionate slang and a term of endearment. Loyal Democrats can even purchase yellow dog gear to proclaim their loyalty to the party, and the term is referenced by the Blue Dog Democrats, a conservative coalition of Democrats in the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill.

Depending on how one views party loyalty, yellow dog Democrats could be considered both good and bad. On the good side, yellow dog Democrats often donate substantially to the party and urge friends to vote, upping voter turnout for the party. However, blind obedience is not necessarily a desirable trait, especially in politics, and political parties often benefit from internal dissent, developing new policies and approaches in response to such dissent and in turn becoming stronger.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon927166 — On Jan 22, 2014

Here in Alabama, we had a House Representative named Bud Cramer who often described himself as a Blue Dog Democrat. He was from an area that was heavily Republican, so he managed to find a way to vote as a liberal on most social issues, but vote as a conservative on fiscal issues. He could have stayed in Congress forever if he wanted to, because he appealed equally to both parties in this area. I don't believe a true Yellow Dog Democrat would even survive the campaign process, let alone win a seat in Congress. The Democrats themselves would put up a more conservative candidate these days.

By anon340083 — On Jun 30, 2013

Blue dogs are not yellow. They tend to lean to the Right. Yellow dogs always lean to the left.

By anon340082 — On Jun 30, 2013

The term goes back to the late 1700's.

By gravois — On Aug 09, 2011

I'm a little ashamed to admit it but I have been what you would call a yellow dog for over 40 years now. I go out for every election and vote and I haven't voted for a single non-democratic candidate in that whole time. If I don't have the option to vote democrat I don't vote at all.

You might say that this is blind loyalty but it is not like I don't pay attention to the issues. I see the world a certain way. I have my own feelings about right and wrong. The democratic party in both good times and bad has always represented those values more credibly than any republican I've seen. I have to vote democrat.

I think that people who jump back and forth get too convinced by campaign promises and advertising. Over time and through the course of a term they all go back to their home base. Republicans will do one thing, democrats will do another. I will always choose the democratic option.

By tigers88 — On Aug 08, 2011

It is kind of a strange coincidence that there is also a small faction of democrats know as the "blue dogs." These are politicians who have run as democrats and generally support democratic policies, but tend to be more fiscally conservative than some of there colleagues. This is not a significant part of the party, but depending on the vote they can be significant voting block.

Until I read this article I had no idea that blue dog was meant a s a reference to yellow dog. I guess I just thought that the democrats liked to think of themselves as dogs.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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