In practice, Christian democracy is often considered centre-right on cultural, social, and moral issues (and is thus a supporter of social conservatism), and it is considered centre-left "with respect to economic and labor issues, civil rights, and foreign policy" as well as the environment. Specifically, with regard to its fiscal stance, Christian democracy advocates a social market economy. In Europe, where Christian democrats defined their views as an alternative to the more leftist ideology of social democracy, Christian democratic parties are moderately conservative and centre-right overall, whereas in the very different cultural and political environment of North and South America they tend to lean to the left in economic issues and to the right in social issues.
Worldwide, many Christian democratic parties are members of the Centrist Democrat International and some also of the International Democrat Union. Examples of major Christian democratic parties include the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany, the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), Ireland's Fine Gael, the Christian Democratic Party in Chile, Switzerland's Christian Democratic People's Party and the People's Party in Spain. Today, many European Christian democratic parties are affiliated with the European People's Party (or the more right-wing and soft Eurosceptic European Christian Political Movement, part of the European Conservatives and Reformists group) and many Christian democratic parties in the Americas are affiliated with the Christian Democrat Organization of America.
As a generalization, it can be said that Christian democratic parties in Europe tend to be moderately conservative, and in several cases form the main conservative party in their respective countries (e.g. in Germany, Spain, Belgium, and Switzerland: Christian Democratic People's Party of Switzerland (CVP), Christian Social Party (CSP), Evangelical People's Party of Switzerland (EVP), and Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland (EDU)). In Latin America, by contrast, Christian democratic parties tend to be left-leaning and to some degree influenced by liberation theology. These generalizations, however, must be nuanced by the consideration that Christian democracy does not fit precisely into the usual categories of political thought, but rather includes elements common to several other political ideologies, including conservatism, liberalism, and social democracy:
Initially many Catholic political movements in the 19th century had opposed capitalism and socialism equally as both were seen as based on materialism and social conflict. They instead preferred the ideal of self-sufficient peasants and the guild-organized craftsmen that many Catholic encyclicals advocated. However by 1914, many of these movements had later reconciled themselves to capitalism as the prevailing economic system while at the same time helping to organize Catholic workers and peasants within that system, as socialism became to be seen as the greater threat.
Consequently, this has led the social market economy which has been widely influential across much of continental Europe. The social market is a largely free market economy based on a free price system and private property, but is supportive of government activity to promote competitive markets with a comprehensive social welfare system and effective public services to address social inequalities that result from free market outcomes. The market is seen not so much an end in itself but as a means of generating wealth in order to achieve broader social goals and to maintain societal cohesion. This particular model of capitalism, which is sometimes called Rhine–Alpine capitalism or social capitalism, is contrasted to Anglo-American capitalism or enterprise capitalism. Whereas the former stresses partnership and cooperation, the latter is based on the unrestricted workings of market economics and as a consequence there is a willingness on the part of Christian democratic parties to practice Keynesian and welfarist policies.