If you’re a kid who is starting to learn about government, you are probably hearing
a lot about “politics” and “politicians” and “political parties.” Do you know what
those words mean?
Politicians are the people who try to get elected to positions in government; politics
are the different ideas people have about what the government should do and how
the government should do it. Political parties are organized groups of people that
share the same opinions on those political subjects.
For example, one important topic that people have disagreed about in the United
States ever since it was created is the role of government. Should there be a strong
central government for all of the states that makes lots of laws and is very involved
in the day to day lives of people, or should the central government have very few
powers and responsibilities and let the states make the laws based on what the
people in each state want?
Back when the Constitution was written in 1787, there were no political parties in
the United States. The first political parties began because of that question of
whether or not to have a strong U.S. government. The first political party, the
Federalists, were the ones who supported the Constitution which at that time was
considered a step in the direction of strong central government. The Anti-
Federalists were the people who were afraid that the new government created by
the Constitution would become too strong and take away their rights.
Over time, the parties changed names, but that key question of how strong the
government should be was one of the main subjects that made one party different
from the others. Today, the Democrats are considered to be the party that is in
favor of a strong U.S. government, while the Republicans are the ones who
generally want to limit the powers of the government.
There are other important subjects on which most of the members of the two main
political parties disagree, of course. How much people should pay in taxes to the
the government and what those tax dollars are used for is another important issue
on which the parties take different sides. How we get along with other countries
and whether to go to war is another subject that political parties have disagreed
about, too. But most of these disagreements usually come down to this: What
should the government do, and how should it do it.