American Voice 2004: Is there any difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties?

Date: 1 Jun 2004 | posted in: From the Desk of David Morris, The Public Good | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Q.   I’m thinking of not voting in the next election except maybe for a third-party candidate. After all, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties. Is there?


Your opinion is shared by millions and is reinforced daily by David Letterman, Jay Leno, patronizing political ads and banal 20 second news bites from candidates. Politicians do themselves no favors by chanting empty slogans like a mantra: “lower taxes”, “more jobs”, “a strong defense”, “a safer environment”.

But for those willing to look behind the trite catchphrases of politicians and the shockingly shallow way in which the media reports on politics a considerable difference emerges. This is best demonstrated not by looking at what politicians say, but how they vote.

Surprisingly, that’s not easy to do. T.V. and newspapers rarely break down votes on legislation by party. So if the vote in the Senate, say, is 70-30 in favor of a bill the average person could conclude that the bill had gained widespread bipartisan support when a closer examination might reveal that 100 percent of one party voted in favor and 75 percent of the other party voted against.

Here are just a few of the legislative votes that illuminate the differences between the parties.

See Also:  Set of Charts/Graphs of Votes By Party on 10 Key Issues

USA PATRIOT Act Amendment

The amendment to the USA PATRIOT Act would have restricted authorities from acquiring information from libraries, bookstores, and other businesses. A “yes” vote is a vote to approve the amendment. 93 percent of Democrats voted “yes”. 90 percent of Republicans voted “no”. (July 8, 2004)


Class Action Fairness Act

The bill moves class action lawsuits from state courts to federal courts. In the Senate, over 80 percent of Republicans voted for the bill. Over 80 percent of Democrats voted against it. (July 8, 2004)


Same-sex Marriage Bill

The bill approves a Constitutional Amendment that prohibited same-sex marriages. This was a cloture vote. Almost 90 percent of Repulicans in the Senate voted to approve the bill. Over 90 percent of Democrats voted against the bill. (July 14, 2004)


Spending Control Act

The bill imposes spending controls but does not require spending reductions to offset tax reductions nor does it allow tax increases to offset spendind increases. The White House describes the bill in this way: “This proposal recognizes that spending is the problem. Tax increases could not be used to offset mandatory spending under this proposal. And it would not subject tax relier legislation to pay-as-you-go procedures.” In the House of Representatives, almost 65 percent of Republicans voted for the bill and 95 percent of Democrats voted against it.(June 25, 2004)


Fighting global warming by reducing carbon emissions

About 85 percent of Republicans voted against. About 75 percent of Democrats voted for the proposal.(October 30, 2003)


Reducing the concentration of media ownership

On a resolution disapproving of the Federal Communications Commission decision to allow greater concentrated ownership of newspapers, t.v. and radio stations, 95 percent of the Senate Democrats voted in favor; 80 percent of the Senate Republicans voted against.(September 16, 2003)


Easing access to inexpensive imported prescription drugs

The bill died in the Senate. Some 60 percent of Republicans voted against it; 75 percent of Democrats voted for it.(July 23, 2003)


Prohibiting discrimination by employers against gays

This bill died in the Senate. Over 80 percent of the Senate Republicans voted against it; over 90 percent of the Senate Democrats voted for it.(September 10, 1996)


Eliminating the Estate Tax

In the House, 98 percent of Republicans voted in favor of a bill eliminating the Estate Tax; nearly 70 percent of Democrats voted against it.(June 18, 2003)


Raising the minimum wage

In the House 60 percent of Republicans voted against raising the minimum wage over two years from $3.35 to $4.25 an hour; only 4 percent of Democrats did so. (May 23, 1996) In the Senate 100 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans voted for the raise. (August 2, 1996)



Reducing the ability of local, state and federal governments to regulate imports of goods, services and capital from Mexico and Canada

In the vote on the North American Free Trade Agreement, 2/3 of the House Republicans voted in favor while 60 percent of the House Democrats voted against.(November 17, 1993) In the Senate Republicans voted 4-1 in favor while a slim majority of Democrats voted against. (November 30, 1993)

The NAFTA vote reveals another possible distinction between the two major political parties. Republicans appear to have more party discipline. NAFTA, we should recall, was aggressively supported by Democratic President Bill Clinton but a majority of his own party voted against it.

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Additional Charts:

  • Prohibit an increase in the fuel efficiency of pick-up trucks (2002 Vote)


  • Increase the minimum wage by $1 over 2 years (2000 Vote)


  • Do not provide funds to implement Country of Origin Labeling (2003 Vote)


  • Extend the assault weapons ban for 10 years (2004 Vote)


  • Extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks (2004 Vote)


…One final comment

On one subject there appears to be little difference between the two political parties: the amount of federal spending. Indeed, in the last three years, when Republicans controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress, discretionary spending by the federal government rose at unprecedented rates.

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David Morris

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and currently ILSR's distinguished fellow. His five non-fiction books range from an analysis of Chilean development to the future of electric power to the transformation of cities and neighborhoods.  For 14 years he was a regular columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. His essays on public policy have appeared in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington PostSalonAlternetCommon Dreams, and the Huffington Post.