Difference between a Liberal and a Democrat

In the US, Liberal and Democratic views often overlap, but is there really a difference between the two?


Modern liberal ideas in the US started to form in the 20th century with the help of great statesmen such as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. In most cases, American liberals were at opposition with conservatives, but that was not always the case.

Modern liberalism has always been connected to progressivism and social liberalism, but currently the connection between liberal and progressive ideals has become a topic of much debate.

According to Wikipedia, John F. Kennedy defines a liberal as “…someone who cares about the welfare of the people – their health, their housing, their schools, their civil rights, and their civil liberties…”

Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that the Government should be able to address the nation’s problems, and is duty-bound to do so with all its power and authority. This is to ensure that the average person has the right to “his own economic and political life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Modern American liberalism is based on the Keynesian economic theory that holds that for a country to be prosperous, the government must be heavily involved in managing every aspect of the country’s economy. Liberals place institutions that fight economic inequality in high regard. They believe everyone should have equal access to healthcare and economic opportunities and also stress the importance of protecting the environment.

Liberal vs Democrat

Democrats form one of the two most prominent political parties in the US, along with the Republicans. Its roots go back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Democratic Party we now know today was established around 1828 and is considered the oldest, active political party in the world.

The Democrats once held on to classical liberalist ideals, particularly in the South where populism, or the notion that elites are oppressing the virtuous and can be overthrown if people worked together, was prevalent. In the 1890’s, it leaned more to the left in terms of an economic standpoint.

Franklin D. Roosevelt along with his New Deal coalition introduced social-liberal platforms promoting social justice. Today, the Democratic Party is made up of progressives and centrists, and a small percentage of conservative Democrats.

The Democratic Party’s ideals are based on modern liberalism principles. It believes that it is the government’s job to uphold economic and social equality. Democrats seek to have the government intervene and regulate the economy, introduce social programs, provide universal health care, support labor groups, promote equal economic opportunity, and protect consumer rights and the environment.

Liberal vs Democrat

So now, what’s the difference between a liberal and a democrat?

Democrats are practically liberals, even if they are divided into three types. Liberals believe in social justice and equality (made possible by the government) just as much as Democrats do. Both believe that there can only be liberty if the people are afforded access to important services such as healthcare and education. Liberals and Democrats both agree on protecting the environment. For them, government should be able to regulate the economy to benefit everyone, including bridging the gap between the rich and the poor.