11 Ways the Major Political Parties in the US Are Different From 50 Years Ago 

Aaron Edwards
Updated September 20, 2019 20.6k views 11 items

The politics of Washington DC are always changing. The differences between the political parties seem more widespread and insurmountable than ever in 2016, but there was a time when Democrats and Republicans were very different. Times change, as do demographics, and parties follow votes. The stalwart Democrats of today have much in common with the progressive Republicans of old, and some steadfastly conservative states used to be unwaveringly Democrat.  

So what happened? While the Civil War set the stage for liberal Republicans and socially conservative Democrats (especially where race was concerned), the Civil Rights movement started a chain reaction that ended up completely flipping the electoral map. When Democrats had no choice but to push for civil rights, the Republicans changed their platform to scoop up disenfranchised southern votes. Within thirty years, political battle lines and the electoral map we’re familiar with in 2016 was cemented. The differences between the parties today and 50 years ago are shocking to say the least.

Read on to learn how the Republic party changed, how the Democratic party changed, and about differences between political parties. 

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Democrats Opposed Abolishing Slavery
Democrats Opposed Abolis... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 11 Ways the Major Political Parties in the US Are Different From 50 Years Ago
Photo: National Atlas/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Originally, the Democratic Party was the ultra-conservative group in American politics. Democrats controlled the South, and many of them opposed the abolishment of slavery in the 1860s. But as times changed, so did party members. The Civil Rights movement was a juggernaut in the South, and Democrats couldn’t ignore it. When President Lyndon Johnson championed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it became the beginning of the end for Democrats in the South.  

Democrats Actually Voted for Republican Candidates
Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

Believe it or not, there were times over the last fifty years that voters didn’t vote down party lines. In the late '70s, people were fed up with President Carter’s limp administration and his inability to resolve issues such as the Iranian Hostage Crisis. When the 1980 election pitted Carter against Ronald Reagan, the latter was able to reach across party lines and convince democrats to vote for him. The liberals who did vote for the Republican candidate were known as Reagan Democrats. While the occurrence has yet to repeat itself (at least, to the same extent), it proved that under the right circumstances, people were more open to voting for the other side than they are today.

The Ku Klux Klan Were Very Anti-Republican
The Ku Klux Klan Were Ve... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 11 Ways the Major Political Parties in the US Are Different From 50 Years Ago
Photo: Arete13/flickr/CC-BY-ND 2.0

In 2016, it seems easy to associate the KKK with Republicans, but in the past, nothing could have been further from the truth. Founded in 1866, the KKK quickly spread across the south to oppose the Republican’s Reconstruction-era policies. In the wake of the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, the Republicans were working on creating an equal political and economic environment for blacks, a policy that was quickly met with resistance. Though Congress tried to curtail KKK activities, several Democratic victories in the states legislatures made it much harder to enact legal retribution against violent white supremacists. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s that a spotlight was put on the KKK and efforts were made to bring their actions to light.  

The Republicans Originally Wanted Universal Healthcare
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Video: YouTube

When the Affordable Care Act rolled out, Republicans were extremely unhappy with it. There were claims that the bill was unconstitutional because of the individual mandate, which essentially says you need to have health insurance or else you could pay a penalty. As a result, Republicans called to repeal the bill. However, individual mandates were part of a proposal in 1989 by the Heritage Foundation, a proposal that was backed by a large number of Republicans. President Obama has gone on record saying the Heritage Foundation’s proposal influenced his bill, which doesn’t seem to matter to modern day Republicans.