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23 Maps That Explain How Democrats Went From the Party of Racism to the Party of Obama

The longest-running party in America has seen significant shifts in its ideological and geographic makeup.
The election of 1828 map.
U.S. National Atlas, 1970.

The Democratic Party is the longest-existing political party in the US, and arguably the world. But in its over 180 year existence, it’s completed a remarkable ideological and geographic transformation. Originally a staunch defender of Southern slavery, the party now wins the support of most nonwhite voters. Once an advocate of rural interests against coastal elites, the party now draws much of its strength from cities and coastal areas. These maps tell the tale of the Democratic Party’s origins, its various metamorphoses, and the sources of its strength — and weaknesses — today.


1) Democrats: The party of Andrew Jackson

For 28 years after Thomas Jefferson was elected president in 1800, his party, deemed Democratic-Republicans by today’s political scientists but commonly referred to as Republicans then, controlled the presidency and dominated US politics. But by the mid-1820s, that party had begun to fracture. Factions formed around politicians from different regions with competing ambitions — one of whom was Andrew Jackson, who had gained national fame as a general during the War of 1812. In his 1824 presidential bid, Jackson won pluralities of both the popular vote and electoral college. But since no candidate won an outright majority, the election went to the House of Representatives, which chose John Quincy Adams as president. Jackson quickly became the leading opposition figure to Adams’ presidency, and in their 1828 rematch, the results of which are shown here, he won broad support everywhere outside the Northeast, and swept into office. At the time, his supporters didn’t have an official name, and were usually called “Jackson men.” But because they argued that they had the popular will, they distinguished themselves from their rivals by calling themselves “Democratic” Republicans — and eventually, just “Democrats.”

2) Democrats: The party of Indian removal

One major issue animated Jackson’s presidency from his very first year: the forced removal of Indians living east of the Mississippi River, to clear the way for more white settlement. This map shows the removal of the “Five Civilized Tribes” — Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole — that ensued after Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830. Indians were rounded up from their homes, and sent to concentration camps and on forced marches. About 46,000 people were expelled during Jackson’s presidency. The issue was one of the most important in defining the new Democratic Party — according to historian Daniel Walker Howe, an analysis of Congressional votes at the time found that “voting on Indian affairs proved to be the most consistent predictor of partisan affiliation.”