The Donkey and The Elephant: American political symbols

  • : Democratic Donkey
  • : Republican Elephant
  • : Barack Obama
  • : Mitt Romney
  • : US Election 2012

The Donkey and The Elephant: American political symbols

The donkey and the elephant have become well recognised symbols for Republicans and Democrats. Photo credit:

By Abdul Aziz Al Subhi

When it comes to politics, Brits have always associated the colour red with the Labour Party and blue with the Conservatives. In America, however, it has not always been that clear-cut. The two main US parties (the Democrats and Republicans) have swapped between red and blue over the years. They finally settled on the reverse of what British voters are familiar with only in 2000.

While the Democrats and the Republicans might have flip-flopped over their colours, they have been much more decisive over their party symbols: the donkey and the elephant.

Many people symbolise a donkey as an example of compassion, toil and sarcasm, but the situation is completely different in the USA where it is the official emblem of the Democratic Party.The story of the democratic donkey started in 1828 when the Democrat Andrew Jackson chose the slogan “let the people rule”. His opponent scoffed at the idea, which was regarded as a cliché. Jackson responded by selecting a grey donkey as the main symbol for his campaign posters. Moreover, he roamed in neighbouring cities and villages in order to marshal support using this very symbol against his opponent who was representing the lite.  However, the donkey did not become a political emblem for the Democratic Party until 1870 when the cartoonist Thomas Nast published it as a cartoon in the Harper’s Weekly.

The Republican Party elephant was first used by President Abraham Lincoln during his presidential campaign in 1860. However it was not used officially until 1874, when Nast portrayed an elephant in Harper’s Weekly, intimidating other animals in a zoo, as a kind of criticism of the Republican party’s policies. He later admitted that he had chosen a huge elephant as an interpretation of the wealth and power of the Republicans.

Today the donkey carries the burden of Democratic views in every US election, while the elephant lifts the weight of Republican ideologies.