Before we talk about the mascots of the political parties, let’s learn a little about political parties first.

A political party is a group of organized voters who support certain policies for their communities, states and nation.

The goal of a political party is to elect public officials, such as mayors, governors, senators and the president, who will support and carry out their goals. These goals may include policies on war, taxes and education.

When people in a democracy disagree about what the government should do, registered voters express their opinion by voting for the candidate who most closely reflects their political views and opinions. Political candidates are usually members of political parties.

This makes it easier for voters to know what the candidate believes in, his or her goals and what changes he or she will make if elected.

Political parties range in size, and large political parties have millions of members and supporters. Two of the largest political parties in the United States are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

In 1828, critics of Democratic President Andrew Jackson labeled him a “jackass.” President Jackson, however, made the most of this new label by focusing on the positive. He commented on the donkey’s admirable qualities such as stubbornness and strength.

In 1870, Thomas Nast, the best-known political cartoonist of his time, drew a donkey to represent the Democratic Party in an illustration for the publication Harper’s Weekly. Nast continued to use the donkey in other political cartoons. By 1880, it had become the unofficial mascot of the Democratic Party.

Much like the donkey, we can thank Thomas Nast for the Republican mascot — the elephant.

In a cartoon published in November 1874, Nast drew the Democratic donkey wearing a lion’s skin. In the cartoon, the donkey-lion is scaring all the other animals, including the elephant, which Nast used to represent the Republican vote.

Eventually Republicans began to view the elephant as a symbol of strength and intelligence, and it has since been adopted as the party’s symbol.


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    • Hey there, Olivia! We’re sorry to hear that this Wonder did not answer your question. We Wonder if you are learning about political symbols in class? Some symbols came from cartoonists who were using images to represent the politics of the time. What is your very own Wonder, Olivia? We can’t wait to help you answer it! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why does the United States have political parties?
  • How did the parties decide which mascot to adopt?
  • What issues would you support if you were president?

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Try It Out

Even though you may not be old enough to vote, it doesn’t mean you can’t play an important role in elections. The Democracy Project on the PBS Kids Go! website is a great place for parents and kids to explore how government affects each of us — even those who may not be quite old enough to vote.

Visit the site to read about why the 2008 election was so important, step inside a virtual voting booth, send voter e-cards and apply to be President For A Day.

After you’ve checked out the site, think about what political issues are important to you. What would YOU want to do if you were president?

Create a campaign poster listing the top three issues important to you as a potential presidential candidate. These may include education, healthcare, the environment, foreign relations or any other important topics you can think of. The choice is yours!

When you have selected your three topics, choose an animal that represents the qualities you hope to possess as president. Will it be the courage of a lion? The patience of a tortoise? Or perhaps the loyalty of a dog? Draw your new party symbol on the poster, too.

If you’re feeling extra inspired, present your political poster to your mom or dad and explain why you chose your three political issues. Why are these issues important to you? How do they affect you? What would you do to change them or make them better if you were president?

We want to see your political poster! Email your poster to or send it to:

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