Democrat and Liberal are two political words that can have different meanings depending on era of American history and the ideologies and positions of specific political parties. Generally speaking, Democrats are typically associated with liberalism (a belief in progress) and Republicans are typically linked to conservatism (a belief in tradition).
Historically, Democratic policies have been centered around social welfare programs such as Medicaid and food stamps. They have also often favored civil rights for ethnic and religious minorities, environmental protection programs, less-strict immigration laws, and progressive taxation systems (e.g., higher taxes for those who earn more money). In terms of foreign policy, they tend to favor increases in military spending and are generally considered more hawkish than their Republican counterparts.
In addition to modern liberal principles, there are many Democratic voters who consider themselves moderates rather than conservative or liberal. As a result, the ideological make-up of the party has changed significantly over the past three decades. In 1994, 26% of Democrats thought of themselves as liberal, and by 2022 that share had grown to 54%. In contrast, the proportion of self-identified conservative Democrats dropped from 33% to 17%.
As for the GOP, the percentage of its voters who consider themselves moderates has remained more stable over time. But the overall share who identify as either conservative or liberal has fallen from 33% to just 10%, a significant change. This suggests that there is a growing gap between the views of the two major parties, with independents leaning more towards the Democratic side than the Republican.