A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

The ‘Democratic’ or ‘Democrat’ Party?


Q: Is it the “Democratic” Party or the “Democrat” Party?

A: The proper term is “Democratic Party.”

FULL QUESTION

Why does everyone keep referring to the Democrats as Democratic? … Is the use of Democrat as an adjective by Republican talking heads grammatically incorrect? Is it malevolent? Does it have a strategic value?

FULL ANSWER

The party traces its roots to 1792 and the anti-federalist faction led by Thomas Jefferson. The Jeffersonians called themselves “Republicans” at first, and later “Democratic-Republican.” The party splintered in the late 1820s, and the faction led by Andrew Jackson in his successful presidential campaign of 1828 became the modern Democratic Party. It formally adopted the name “Democratic Party” at its convention in 1844.

However, some Republican leaders have made a habit of referring to their opposition incorrectly and discourteously as the “Democrat Party.” The reason isn’t entirely clear; it may be meant to imply that the party isn’t sufficiently “democratic” in the general sense, or may just be meant as a petty insult. In August 2006, Hendrik Hertzberg traced this Republican usage, which he termed a “slur” on his party, back to the 1940s. He says it was used by opponents to needle the powerful Pendergast organization in Kansas City, which backed Harry Truman. He also says it was used often by the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

More recently, President Bush has used the term regularly, even employing it in his 2007 State of the Union address when he said, “I congratulate the Democrat majority” in Congress, referring to his own party’s defeat in the mid-term congressional elections the previous year. He did that either deliberately or out of habit; the prepared remarks that he was reading, and which had been given to reporters beforehand, used the proper name of the party.

Sources

The Democratic Party Web site, “Our History.”

Hertzberg, Hendrik. “The IC Factor.” The New Yorker, 7 Aug. 2006.

Copeland, Libby. “President’s Sin of Omission?” Washington Post, 25 Jan. 2007.

From the President, a Two-Letter Jab at the Democrats.” Wall Street Journal, 23 Jan. 2007.

Democratic Party,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed 4 Dec. 2007.