Currently, there are two major political parties that dominate American politics: the Democratic party and the Republican party. A Democrat identifies with the centrist-to-left wing ideals of the Democratic party, while a Republican identifies with the centrist-to-right wing ideals of the Republican party. While an individual voter may not agree with every position taken by his or her chosen political party, a Democrat tends to believe in a progressive social agenda, workers' rights, diplomacy over military action, and a clear separation between church and state.
Members of the Democratic party may identify themselves as politically or socially conservative, moderate or liberal. Historically, the party has appealed to academics and professionals with progressive to liberal leanings, although there is a faction of so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats who espouse political conservatism while endorsing socially progressive programs. Many of these conservatives are from Southern states that have recently moved to the political right.
The Democratic party has also aligned itself with the plight of minority populations and the economically challenged. Members generally believe that the federal and state governments have an obligation to provide essential services for citizens in need, as well as legal recognition and protection for oppressed or poorly represented minority groups. Social Security, public welfare, and food stamp programs are the direct result of Democratic presidencies.
A Democrat may also strongly support the needs and rights of workers over the demands of management. Establishing a federal minimum wage was accomplished during Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, for example. Many labor unions gained strength during this party's administrations as well. The Civil Right Act of 1965 was enacted during Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson's time in office. Democratic president Bill Clinton also signed a law allowing workers to take unpaid leaves of absence during times of family need.
Many people who consider themselves part of this group also support the idea of universal health care for all citizens, a concept that led to the development of Medicaid and Medicare. A woman's right to choices about her own reproductive health is also a platform for the Democratic party, which was tested most notably during the Supreme Court case Roe vs Wade. The controversial right to seek out a legal abortion continues to be a source of strong disagreement between the Democratic and Republican parties. Another divisive issue is the use of capital punishment, with many Democrats believe should be abolished entirely, or at least severely restricted.
A member of the Democratic party is free to form his or her own opinion on the party's general political stances or candidates, as is a member of the Republican party. The national parties, however, do hold primaries and caucuses to determine the political candidates who best represent the ideals of the parties as a whole. A registered Democrat votes for the candidate who best represent his or her own political viewpoint, and the winners become the official candidates of the party.
Some politically active Democratic party members may become delegates to the national convention or even receive appointments to higher office if a Democratic candidate wins the election. He or she can also assist with grassroots lobbying efforts or work on a favored candidate's election campaign.