The Icky Democrat(ic) Party

There is a weird difference in how Democrats and Republicans refer to the Democratic Party, and it comes down to the suffix “ic.” Republicans overwhelmingly use the term “Democrat Party,” while both democrats and republicans use the phrase “Democratic Party.”

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Source: Statements in the Congressional Record as Tracked by “Capitol Words”

Republicans make 90% of the mentions of “Democrat Party” in the Congressional Record between 1996–2016. “Democratic Party” is bipartisan, by comparison, with 56% of its mentions by democrats and 42% by republicans during the same period.

“Democrat Party” is a fairly uncommon phrase. “Democratic Party” is used much more often in the Congressional Record between 1996–2016.

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Indeed, historically speaking, “Democrat party” is incredibly uncommon phraseology when compared to “Democratic Party.” Google Book’s Ngram Viewer, which measures the frequency of phrases in book from 1920–2008, shows “Democrat Party” is rarely used.

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Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer

The practice of renaming the party does not seem to apply to republicans. “Republic Party” is almost never used in Congress, with its most frequent practitioner being disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner. (Here’s one example.) Democrats are more likely to mention the “Republican Party” in the Congressional Record, but both parties use that phrase almost exclusively.

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What does all this mean? If I were a journalist, I’d ask Frank Luntz or George Lakoff, who probably have written memos on the topic. If I were a political scientist, I’d write a silly pop-culture article that dramatically misunderstands Congress. But I’m a lobbyist interested in making Congress work better and how the parties think about each other, so I Googled for an old Bill Safire column — he wrote about everything — and found this.

Why, Republicans asked for years, should we allow the Democrats to get away with the adjective ‘’democratic’’? As a result, partisan Republicans, especially those who had been head of the Republican National Committee, called the opposition ‘’the Democrat party.’’

Who started this and when? Acting on a tip, I wrote to the man who was campaign director of Wendell Willkie’s race against Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

‘’In the Willkie campaign of 1940,’’ responded Harold Stassen, ‘’I emphasized that the party controlled in large measure at that time by Hague in New Jersey, Pendergast in Missouri and Kelly Nash in Chicago should not be called a ‘Democratic Party.’ It should be called the ‘Democrat party.’ . . .’’

The Language Log blog suggests the phrase goes back further. Herbert Hoover used it against Roosevelt in 1932, and it was used in 1923 by the Republican Speaker of the New York State Assembly to attack the other party.

Hendrik Hertberg, the eloquent New Yorker columnist, deconstructs the use of “Democrat Party” as a pejorative term in a 2006 column.

There’s no great mystery about the motives behind this deliberate misnaming. “Democrat Party” is a slur, or intended to be — a handy way to express contempt. Aesthetic judgments are subjective, of course, but “Democrat Party” is jarring verging on ugly. It fairly screams “rat.”

Interesting in all this is the New York connection. “Democrat Party” was used against FDR, used by the New York State Assembly Speaker, parodied by New York Representative Anthony Weiner, and written about in the New Yorker. And now we have two candidates with strong connections to New York running for president, and a third likely to be the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. Things are going to get a lot more icky.

— Written by Daniel Schuman