When you register to vote, it's okay to join the Republican Party, Democratic Party, or the Fight For Your Right To Party without agreeing with everything its leaders yap about on tv. Here's some stuff to know.
Relative to Democrats, Republicans generally believe in lower taxes, less government (they want citizens to make more of their own decisions), and social conservative issues (oppose abortion). They're also known as the GOP, or Grand Old Party and are represented by the color red (on political maps) and by their elephant logo.
Relative to Republicans, Democrats generally believe in progressive taxes (higher taxes for higher earners), more of a government role in citizens' lives (stricter gun control), and liberal social issues (protecting the environment). They're represented by the color blue (on political maps) and by their donkey logo.
They favor few restrictions on businesses and strong civil liberties (freedom of speech, religion, etc.) They are not to be confused with the Librarian Party, which favors order and silence.
They advocate environmentalism and nonviolence.
They don't affiliate with any political party and may often hold a "centrist viewpoint" on many issues. They also get a lot of attention at election time.
Think of each political party as a "team" first and a set of beliefs second. Although parties have some basic ideologies, the tangled web of issues and policies can vary significantly with candidates and elections over time.
Keep in mind that most people do not identify with everything in a specific party's platform; they choose a team that best matches their beliefs.
Use Vote411.org to register to become an official voter. It's usually as simple as filling out a one-page form, but the process varies a little from state to state. The site will also help you find your polling place.
If you choose not to register with a party (as an independent), many states may not allow you to vote in primaries (elections within a party), making you feel sad and alone.
Read. Many politicians court the stupid vote. Don't be part of this prized demographic. Newspapers and candidates' websites are a wealth of good voting information.
Vote. On election day, the "I Voted" sticker becomes the must-have fashion accessory. Everyone has one. The red and blue goes with almost any outfit and it makes people think you, like, care about stuff.
Bert loved parties. So when his friend suggested he join a political party, he was pumped.
He attended a "party gathering" in his Abraham Lincoln costume, but after listening to a ten minute discussion about taxes and health care, he stood on a chair, took off his stovepipe hat and announced, "Honestly? This party is LAAAAME."