U.S. politics is dominated by its two major political parties, the Democrats and Republicans. While it's impossible to pigeonhole all members of either party on every political issue, there are several key views that are held by the vast majority of each party’s members. These key points are summarized in the parties' platforms.
Democrats tend to favor a higher degree of government oversight of health care to ensure that health care is available to all people. Republicans oppose universal health care legislation based on the belief that these programs, including the Affordable Health Care Act passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2010, will drive up overall prices and negatively impact the quality of health care.
Both Republicans and Democrats favor tax cuts in some instances. Republicans favor across-the-board tax cuts, both for individuals of all income levels and for corporate interests. Democrats favor tax cuts for lower and middle-income families, but believe taxes should be raised on wealthy individuals and corporations. In many cases, Democrats favor temporary exceptions for businesses that are creating employment opportunities.
Generally speaking, Democrats support more tax dollars going to welfare, food stamps, unemployment benefits, Medicaid and other programs designed to support people in need. Most Republicans acknowledge some need for such programs, but favor tighter controls and less funding for them. Many Republicans favor government funding of privately run social programs, while Democrats believe the federal and state governments should run social welfare programs.
Republicans tend to be conservative on social issues, while Democrats tend to be progressive. The Republican Party's platform opposes the legalization of gay marriage and favors legally defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. The Democratic Party's platform supports extending the rights to marriage and all of the benefits that come with it to gay couples. Republicans tend to oppose abortion and believe it should be restricted in most cases. Democrats tend to be pro-choice, believing that all decisions regarding abortion should be between a woman and her doctor. Republicans generally oppose any attempts to introduce gun control legislation. Democrats have a wide variety of stances on the issue, but generally support some measure of gun control.
Environmentalism and Energy Issues
When environmental concerns and energy concerns clash, as they often do, Democrats tend to vote in favor of environmental concerns, while Republicans tend to favor energy concerns. Democrats often oppose efforts to open new areas to drilling for oil based on concerns about the environment. Republicans support allowing companies to expand their oil-drilling activities. Democrats stress renewable resources such as solar and wind power in their efforts to achieve energy independence and favor government subsidies for these industries. Republicans support allowing market conditions to dictate which types of energy are used.
Labor and Free Trade
Republicans believe that the best way to ensure prosperity for the largest number of Americans is to create an environment favorable to businesses, believing that all Americans benefit when businesses are prosperous. Democrats approach the issue from the other side, suggesting that businesses prosper when all people have more resources with which to purchase their products. Democrats favor increases to the minimum wage; Republicans oppose minimum wage hikes. Democrats are more likely to favor trade restrictions in an effort to protect American jobs, while Republicans are more likely to favor free trade in an effort to keep costs down for consumers and promote the profitability of business.
There is widespread disagreement about foreign policy in both parties. Both parties have favored military intervention in other countries in some instances. Generally speaking, when military involvement is believed to be called for, Democrats favor targeted strikes while Republicans favor displacing enemy regimes. Both parties agree that U.S. aid is sometimes needed in other parts of the world, but they sometimes disagree about who should receive aid and what the nature of the aid should be.