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What is a Conservative Democrat?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated: May 17, 2024

In the United States, a member of the Democratic Party who holds personal political views that are conservative in comparison to those of the majority of his or her political party is known as a conservative democrat. Although views considered typical for a conservative democrat change over time, many support gun rights, a strong military, education, free market capitalism, smaller government, and fiscally conservative policies and may be anti-abortion with a demonstrably stronger religious orientation than moderate and liberal Democrats. Like liberal Republicans, conservative Democrats are a minority wing in the party but may provide deciding votes on divisive political issues.

Although conservative Democrats are elected all over the United States, most come from Southern states and have been previously known as “Dixiecrats” or “Boll Weevils.” These terms were not always used in a complimentary fashion by Democratic Party representatives who drew attention to conservative Democrats that did not vote with the party on key issues. For example, the term “boll weevils” was frequently applied to conservative Democrats in the 1980s who consistently voted in favor of then Present Ronald Reagan’s increase of military spending, tax cuts and deregulation of the financial system.

Before 1964, both major parties were broken down into liberal, moderate and conservative factions. As the conservative wing of the Republican Party slowly rose to prominence and eventual dominance with the 1980 election of Reagan, Democrats underwent realignment. Rather than grow its conservative wing, the Democrats became markedly more moderate and most members joined the conservative and moderate Democratic Leadership Council.

As a partial result of the Democratic Party realignment, a conservative Democrat may sometimes find him or herself at odds with the party and more in agreement with Republicans. One of the main points of distinction between conservative Democrats and Republicans is the former’s adherence to economic views that are liberal in comparison to those of the latter. In addition, a conservative Democrat may support increasing spending on education and other social programs that a moderate or conservative Republican would not.

Beginning in 1994, conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives and the Senate began organizing themselves in coalitions and caucuses. One of the most well known of these groups in the House is the Blue Dog Democrats whose members profess to support national and financial security as well as bipartisanship. There are other conservative Democrat single-issue caucuses in the House that were formed by pro-life members or those that support gun rights. In the Senate, members of the Democratic Leadership Council generally adopt centrist positions on most issues and promote neo-liberal fiscal policy.

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Discussion Comments
By anon997755 — On Feb 23, 2017

Is there a Conservative Democrat out there who has the courage to step up and remove the Old Guard? Must be able to communicate and create a positive environment for change that benefits all Americans.

By irontoenail — On May 29, 2012

@bythewell - Unfortunately, the world doesn't work like that. If I was a politician and I had to vote for something that I had made clear that I felt strongly about, I would vote with my conscience.

As long as I had been truthful and hadn't been spouting one thing and intending to vote another, I don't see anything wrong with that. If my party doesn't like it, they can tell me to get lost.

People compromise too much when it comes to politics. They try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one.

I would rather stick to my own ideals. Either people would want me in power, or they wouldn't, that's the whole point of elections in the first place.

By bythewell — On May 29, 2012

@pastanaga - I think people should be able to think for themselves, of course. But, if you join a political party as a politician, I think to some extent you're agreeing to try and uphold their policies whether you believe in them all or not.

Now, there are some points in which people make up their own minds, sure. In fact it can be good for a party to have a range of opinions in their ranks.

But, you shouldn't expect the party to support you in elections and then turn around and vote against the majority of your fellow politicians.

If you disagree with party policy so strongly then you can run as an independent, or join a different party. I think there are too many politicians out there who want to have their cake and eat it too.

By pastanaga — On May 28, 2012

It's hardly surprising that a section of conservative democrats and liberal republicans should exist.

I really dislike the traditional in the US for people to stick to the political party that their family has always supported, whether or not they know or understand anything about their politics.

I think that's one of the reasons we end up with people getting angry over issues that don't really seem all that important in the grand scheme of things, like gay marriage. I mean, that's an issue that's very important to the people it affects, but compared to issues with taxes, or even abortion, I can't see a logical reason why it's being fought so rabidly.

The only explanation I can really come up with is that the politicians know that people aren't familiar with tax issues and won't get excited about them. So they pick on a topic they can get people excited over.

Then there are people who really do care about politics and they don't want anything to do with these pointless hot topics. And they are the ones who get called "liberal republican" or "conservative democrat" because they can think for themselves and don't just tow the party line.

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