Why is the Donkey a Symbol of the Democrat Party?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Before getting into the answer to this question, we should first address an terminology issue — the difference between the "Democrat Party" and the "Democratic Party." The proper name of the left of center political party in the United States is the Democratic Party. Some people, however, call the party the Democrat Party out of simple confusion. Others call it the Democrat Party for rhetorical reasons.

The donkey was first associated with the Democratic Party during the 1828 presidential election when opponents of Democratic candidate Andrew Jackson referred to him as a "jackass."
The donkey was first associated with the Democratic Party during the 1828 presidential election when opponents of Democratic candidate Andrew Jackson referred to him as a "jackass."

The mascot or symbol of the Democrat Party, or more accurately the Democratic Party, in the US is the donkey. The symbol was not initially meant to be flattering. Though many credit political cartoonist Thomas Nast with its creation in the 1870s, actually, the Democratic Party had used the donkey before. During the 1828 presidential election, the opponents of Andrew Jackson had insultingly called him a jackass, and Jackson decided to take up the mantle of this insult and use it to his gain. Jackson used the symbol is his campaign materials, agreeing at least in part with his opponents that he was “stubborn.”

The Republicans continued to use the symbol as a quasi-insult for several decades, perhaps influencing Thomas Nast’s famous cartoon of 1870, which was published in the American magazine Harper’s Weekly. The popularity of the symbol stuck, and later, Nast used depictions of both the elephant and the donkey together, to represent various arguments between the Democratic and Republican parties. The Republican Party have adopted the elephant as their official mascot, but the Democrats, though they use the donkey on a lot of material, have never made the donkey the official symbol of the Democratic Party.

There are several ways in which the mascot or symbol of the Democratic Party can be interpreted. Donkeys seem to lack the strength, intelligence and reserve of the elephant. Yet as the Democrats became a more populist-oriented party, the simplicity of the donkey, and its workhorse origins make some sense. Its humble nature contrasts with how it was often interpreted by Republicans — as loud, stubborn, foolish and unintelligent. On the other hand, the wise and strong elephant, is often viewed by Democrats as too large, potentially foolish, and bloated.

You’ll see plenty of representations of donkeys and elephants as symbols of their respective parties. These mascots are still used widely by cartoonists, to depict many different conflicts between the parties. The rendering of the donkey as depicted by the Democratic Party is very simple, with the colors of red, white and blue, and three stars across the donkey’s body. It is slightly more detailed than the classic rendering of the Republican elephant.

Often noted as an interesting point, is the notion that both parties chose mascots that weren’t flattering. Of additional interest is that the popularity of the symbol of the Democratic Party, as well as that of the Republican Party, can be directly tied to the political drawings of Thomas Nast. While his work criticized the parties, both parties were able to use that negative criticism in a positive way — a valuable skill in politics, to be sure.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Donkey world over is the representation of foolishness and dumbness and it represents the Dirty Democrat Party accurately. The more shameless and senseless you are, the better your chances in the Democrat Party. They choose their symbol appropriately.


If Mr. T (Trump) wins the nomination, I think the logo should be adopted by the Republican Party,


Democrats, the party of jackasses. Enough said.


This is a politically correct explanation, but I do feel whoever the author was could've been a little more detailed.


Democrats in recent years have been neither wise nor patient. The donkey represents that party fine. If animals could be envious, that animal would be the best for them because the envy of the Democratic party is only surpassed by its arrogance.


Right now it is just a matter of whether to kill babies or not. The Dems think it is fine to kill the unborn and the republicans think it is wrong to kill the unborn.


Want to know why the democrats' symbol is a donkey, and the republicans' is an elephant? Because a donkey is a hard working animal around the farm, pulling plows and stuff. An elephant is a thinker. So, while the democrat is doing all the hard work, the republican is thinking of ways to tear it down.


Look. A Republican is in the Republican Party. A Democrat is in the Democrat Party. The word Democratic is an adverb. Republicans don't say "Republic Party". So don't even try it. I will refer to the Dems as jackasses in a jackass party from now on. Obama, the leader of the jackass party, LOL. If you're a jackass, raise your hand, yes. Why is the Jackass a symbol of the Democrat Party? The snake would have been too obvious.


If Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the intellectual standard bearers for the party, "jackass" is appropriate indeed...


Democratic Party...not the right wing, propagandistic "Democrat" Party.



I consider Obama as particularly wise. The man ran an outstanding campaign that showed very good judgment throughout. Understand, I respect Senator McCain, but after aligning himself against smear politics, he and his VP choice went to it with a vengeance. It's interesting that when Ayers finally did get to speak on November 4, he discussed how very little he knew Obama and how inflated the charges of this association were.

I have great hopes for President Obama, though either candidate would have faced an extremely difficult presidency.

I would have to disagree with you on the issue of wisdom. I think the Democrats chose very wisely, but as you said, time will tell.


The donkey has been a servant of man for a long time. They are patient and hard working. The hybrid offspring of the ass-the mule-has done a lot of work for us humans.

The donkey has been considered wise and patient. I do not perceive the Democrat Party as having wise members in view of the candidate that they have chosen for the upcoming election. But time will tell whether they have been wise or not.

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