Living Reference: Political Left vs Right Visualized

This is a living reference article, meaning that it may change or grow over time and is provided as an objective source of reference that may be cited by those on the Political Left and the Political Right without preferential treatment of one over the other. This is a collection of sourced and cited Infographics that help visualize the Political Left vs Right.

Some of the Infographics cited are accompanied by additional information provided in text.

Information is Beautiful: Left vs Right US

By David McCandless and Stefanie Posavec for the book Information is Beautiful. This version is US only.

Screenshot of summary page at Daily Infographic. Source:

By David McCandless and Stefanie Posavec for the book Information is Beautiful. This is the World version.

UNC SOE Learn NC: Political parties in the United States

All material reposted here from Learn NC conforms to the website’s Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic License.

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997–2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education — this is [from] a historical archive of their website.

Political parties have shifted many times in 220 years of national politics. Even when parties have kept the same names for long periods, their issues, principles, supporters, and regional support all change over time.

The colored lines represent organized parties that had a significant impact on national politics, electing members of Congress or receiving more than 1% of the vote for President. Where the lines merge and split, parties split or party affiliations changed dramatically in a short period of time. Presidential candidates are also listed for each party. The winner of each presidential election is designated with a bulls-eye.

1788–1840 Parties in the New Nation

Political parties in the United States, 1788–1840. Source:

First party system (1792–1820)

The first party system began with divisions in Washington’s cabinet between Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton supporters, who had strongly favored adopting the Federal Constitution, continued to call themselves Federalists. Jefferson’s supporters called themselves Democratic-Republicans. At the time, “parties” or “factions” were considered disloyal and suspect, but strong party identities emerged by 1796. State parties operated in the elections of 1794, and the Presidential elections of 1796 and 1800 were strongly competitive.

Many — though not all — Democratic-Republicans gradually came to support a stronger government and “internal improvements,” such as roads and canals, that would help commerce. As belief in broad-based democracy spread, support for Federalists eroded. After the War of 1812 — which most Americans saw as a victory but which Federalists had opposed — the Federalist Party crumbled.

Partisan newspapers, often funded by party leaders, were the most important campaign tool in this period.


  • The name “Federalist” originally referred to supporters of the Federal Constitution in the debates over its ratification.
  • Wanted strong central government to promote commerce and manufacturing, including a national bank.
  • Tended to be suspicious of democracy.
  • Suppord England in its wars with France.
  • Support came especially from urban areas, business, and upper classes.
  • Strongest in New England and coastal towns.


  • Originally called themselves Republicans; called “Democrats” or “Democratic-Republicans” by opponents who saw democracy as dangerous.
  • Believed that America’s future was with small farmers and opposed “monied interests.”
  • Argued for states’ rights and small government.
  • Supported France in its wars with England.
  • Support came from farmers as well as workers and craftsmen in towns.
  • Strongest in the South and West.

1820–1860 Parties in the Antebellum Era

Political parties in the United States, 1820–1860. Source:

Second party system (1828–1854)

The second party system emerged from a split within the Democratic-Republican Party. The two main factions were led by Andrew Jackson, hero of the War of 1812 and Indian wars, and Henry Clay, Speaker of the House of Representatives. Jackson’s followers formed the Democratic Party, while Clay’s formed the Whig Party. Although the parties were fairly evenly divided in Congress, the Whigs elected only two Presidents, both of whom died in office.

Democrats gradually came to support many Whig policies, such as industrialization and railroads, draining Whig support. The issue of slavery and its expansion into the western territories territories finally split the Whigs in the early 1850s.

During this period, for the first time, most voters identified strongly with one party or another. The first party nominating conventions were held, and the parties used parades and other events to rally voters. Some 80 percent of eligible voters turned out at the polls. Several “third parties” were also active in this period, electing representatives to Congress and keeping issues such as slavery and immigration in the public eye.

The second party system broke down in the 1850s over the issue of slavery. The Whig Party split early in the decade, and its members joined the Democratic Party, the American or “Know-Nothing” Party (which lasted only a few years), or (in the north and west) the new Republican Party. Some northern Democrats also joined the new Republican Party. The South, by 1860, was almost exclusively Democratic.


  • Organized around Andrew Jackson in the 1820s. During Jackson’s Presidency, supported a strong President.
  • Believed in small government and states’ rights.
  • Economically conservative. Opposed banks, especially the National Bank, and paper money. Believed the tariff was a tax on the poor to help the rich.
  • Pushed for westward expansion.
  • Support came especially from farmers, rural areas, and the frontier. Most urban immigrants, especially Catholics, also voted Democratic.


  • Believed that Congress should be stronger than the President. Saw Jackson’s power as dangerous, and took the name “Whig” after Revolutionary Patriots who had fought against monarchical rule.
  • To promote industry, supported a tariff (tax) on imported manufactured goods.
  • Wanted “modernization” of the economy and society. Supported banks, education, moral reform, and “internal improvements” such as railroads.
  • Support came from cities and market towns. Most conservative Protestants were Whigs, as were nearly all wealthy men.

Free Soil

  • Opposed the expansion of slavery into the western territories, but were not in favor of abolition. Ran on the slogan “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men.”
  • Exclusively a northern and western party. Drew support from former Whigs and some northern Democrats.
  • Emerged after the Mexican War but was quickly replaced by the Republican Party.

American (Know-Nothing)

  • Opposed immigration, especially of Catholics.
  • Originally worked in secret, and when asked about their activities, replied “I know nothing.”
  • In the 1850s, as the American Party, elected some representatives to Congress.


  • Formed from former Whigs, Free-Soilers, and a few northern Democrats who opposed the expansion of slavery.
  • Adopted much of the Whig platform, supporting industry and urban growth, education, and division of western lands into homesteads for farmers.
  • Strongly nationalist, supporting unity and expansion of national interests.
  • Opposed expansion of slavery into the western territories, but did not call for abolition.
  • More likely to support moral reform, including Prohibition.
  • Supported by a coalition of northern businessmen, skilled craftsmen, professionals, commercial farmers, and African Americans.

1870–1900 Parties in the Gilded Age

Political parties in the United States, 1820–1860. Source:

Third party system (1868–1896)

The third party system emerged from divisions over slavery. The two major parties of the 1850s continued to dominate American politics after the Civil War. They are the same parties still in existence today, but their issues, beliefs, and supporters have changed many times.

After the Civil War, the major parties were tightly organized. In cities, party “bosses” organized voters, especially immigrants. Voters were extremely loyal to their parties, and voter turnout was high. Both parties were made up of coalitions of people with diverse interests.

At the national level, both parties were largely controlled by business interests in the 1880s and 1890s. During economic downturns, farmers in the South and West organized in opposition to both parties. These “Populists” failed to build a solid party organization, but they succeeded in putting farmers’ issues on the Democratic agenda.


  • After the Civil War, became essentially the only party in the South as African Americans were increasingly prevented from voting.
  • In the North and West, support continued from farmers, workers, and Catholic immigrants as well as some businessmen who had opposed the Civil War.
  • Continued to support a low tariff and economically conservative policies.
  • Tended to oppose reforms such as Prohibition.
  • After the Civil War, controlled at the national level by Northern businessmen.


  • Adopted much of the antebellum Whig platform, supporting industry and urban growth, education, and division of western lands into homesteads for farmers.
  • Strongly nationalist, supporting unity and expansion of national interests.
  • More likely to support moral reform, including Prohibition.
  • Supported by a coalition of northern businessmen, skilled craftsmen, professionals, commercial farmers, and African Americans.

People’s (Populist)

  • Supported mainly by farmers in the South and West. Tried but largely failed to build a coalition with industrial workers.
  • Advocated government ownership of railroads and regulation of commerce.
  • Best known for supporting expansion of the money supply, by printing “greenbacks” and ending the gold standard.
  • Elected representatives to Congress, but failed to win a national election. Supported a “fusion” ticket with Democrats in 1896 and 1900.

1896–1929 Parties in the Early 20th Century

Political parties in the United States, 1896–1929. Source:

Fourth party system (1896–1932)

The Republicans’ victory in the election of 1896 began an era of Republican dominance that lasted for 36 years. The only Democratic president during this period, Woodrow Wilson, was elected when the Republican Party split in 1912.

Voting blocs were essentially the same as in the third party system, with Republicans stronger than ever in the industrial North and winning support from people of all economic classes. Business interests dominated for most of this period, but the Progressive movement rose in response, demanding reforms of industry and society. Reform had some support from both parties; the questions of how to promote business while reining in its abuses dominated domestic politics. The U.S. also became increasingly involved in international affairs, in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and in Europe during World War I.

In the election of 1896, the Republicans spent unprecedented amounts of money and used new advertising techniques to reach voters. Their techniques of fundraising and advertising now became the norm for both parties.


  • Effectively the only party in the “solid South,” with African-Americans prevented from voting.
  • Still supported by farmers, especially in the West, but support dwindling in the Northeast.
  • Southern influence meant support for economically conservative policies.
  • Supported by most immigrant groups in northern cities, who favored pro-labor policies.
  • Tended to oppose reforms such as Prohibition.


  • Included some Progressive reformers such as Theodore Roosevelt, but dominated by pro-business conservatives after World War I.
  • Strongly nationalist, supporting unity and expansion of national interests, but opposed entry into World War I. Isolationist after the war.
  • More likely to support moral reform, including Prohibition.
  • Dominated politics in the 1920s after the failures of Woodrow Wilson’s international policies.
  • Strongly supported by women after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

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— Antyal