The Democrats' dominant worldview was once social conservatism and economic liberalism while populism was its leading characteristic in the rural South. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt ran as a third-party candidate in the Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party, leading to a switch of political platforms between the Democratic and Republican Party and Woodrow Wilson being elected as the first fiscally progressive Democrat. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition in the 1930s, the Democratic Party has also promoted a social liberal platform, supporting social justice.
Today, the House Democratic caucus is composed mostly of centrists and progressives, with a smaller minority of conservative Democrats. The party's philosophy of modern liberalism advocates social and economic equality, along with the welfare state. It seeks to provide government intervention and regulation in the economy. These interventions, such as the introduction of social programs, support for labor unions, affordable college tuitions, moves toward universal health care and equal opportunity, consumer protection and environmental protection form the core of the party's economic policy. The party has united with smaller liberal regional parties throughout the country, such as the Farmer–Labor Party in Minnesota and the Nonpartisan League in North Dakota.
Well into the 20th century, the party had conservative pro-business and Southern conservative-populist anti-business wings. The New Deal Coalition of 1932–1964 attracted strong support from voters of recent European extraction—many of whom were Catholics based in the cities. After Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s, the pro-business wing withered outside the South. After the racial turmoil of the 1960s, most Southern whites and many Northern Catholics moved into the Republican Party at the presidential level. The once-powerful labor union element became smaller and less supportive after the 1970s. White Evangelicals and Southerners became heavily Republican at the state and local level in the 1990s. Racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, such as Jewish Americans, Hispanic Americans, Arabic Americans and African Americans, tend to support the Democratic Party much more than they support the rival Republican Party, giving the Democratic Party its current membership lead over the Republicans.
15 Democrats have served as President under 16 administrations: the first was seventh President Andrew Jackson, who served from 1829 to 1837; Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms from 1885 to 1889 and 1893 to 1897; and thus is counted twice (as the 22nd and 24th President). The most recent was the 44th President Barack Obama, who held the office from 2009 to 2017.
Currently, the Democrats are the opposition party due to having the minority of seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as having the minority of governorships and state legislatures (full control of 13/50, split control of five others). However, they do have "trifectas" (the Executive branch and both chambers of the Legislative branch) in eight states and the mayoralty of major American cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Washington, D.C.
The Democratic Party traces its origins to the inspiration of the Democratic-Republican Party, founded by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other influential opponents of the Federalists in 1792. That party also inspired the Whigs and modern Republicans. Organizationally, the modern Democratic Party truly arose in the 1830s with the election of Andrew Jackson. Since the nomination of William Jennings Bryan in 1896, the party has generally positioned itself to the left of the Republican Party on economic issues. They have been more liberal on civil rights issues since 1948. On foreign policy, both parties changed position several times.
The Democratic Party evolved from the Jeffersonian Republican or Democratic-Republican Party organized by Jefferson and Madison in opposition to the Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. The party favored republicanism; a weak federal government; states' rights; agrarian interests (especially Southern planters); strict adherence to the Constitution; and it opposed a national bank, close ties to Great Britain and business and banking interests. The Democratic-Republican Party came to power in the election of 1800.