Race has been the dominant political influence in Guyana, and since the split of the multi-racial PPP in 1955, political support has been based more on ethnicity than on ideology. From 1964 to 1992 the People's National Congress (PNC) dominated Guyana's politics. The PNC draws its support primarily from urban blacks and for many years declared itself a socialist party whose purpose was to make Guyana a nonaligned socialist state, in which the party, as in Communist countries, was paramount above all other institutions. Following independence, with the help of substantial foreign aid, social benefits were provided to a broader section of the population, specifically in health (e.g., establishment of rural clinics), education, housing, road and bridge building, agriculture, and rural development. However, during Burnham's last years, the government's emphasis on building a socialist society, diminishing civil liberties, massive emigration of skilled workers, and other factors, led to a significant decline in the overall quality of life in Guyana. After Burnham's death, in 1985, President Hoyte took steps aimed at stemming the economic decline, including appointing a number of competent technocrats to his government, strengthening financial controls over the parastatals, and supporting the private sector.

In August 1987, at a PNC Congress, President Hoyte announced that the PNC rejected orthodox communism and the one-party state. In his 1992 election platform, he said he had decided "there should be a complete turnaround of the policies and practices we had pursued until August 1985. I asked my cabinet to formulate, with international assistance, what has become...the Economic Recovery Program (ERP)....A Hoyte Government...objective (is) an economic system in which free enterprise flourishes." As the 1992 elections approached, Hoyte, under increasing pressure from inside and outside Guyana, also gradually opened the political system. After a visit to Guyana by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1990, at Hoyte's invitation, Hoyte made changes in the electoral rules and appointed a new chairman of the Elections Commission from a list submitted by the opppsition parties. The 1992 elections were witnessed by a hundred international observers, including a group headed by Mr. Carter and another from the Commonwealth of Nations. Both groups issued reports saying the elections had been free and fair, despite violent attacks on the Elections Commission building on election day.

The overwhelming majority of East Indian Guyanese traditionally have backed the People's Progressive Party (PPP), headed by Dr. Cheddi Jagan, who served as Premier (1957-64) and then Minority Leader in Parliament until 1992. Rice farmers and sugar workers in the rural areas form the bulk of the PPP's support, but Indo-Guyanese who dominate the country's urban business community have also provided important support. Dr. Jagan said in 1956 that "our party is unique...in that from the very inception it was under left-wing Marxist-inspired leadership uncompromisingly championing the cause of the working class. The right-wing, representing the middle and professional class and native capitalists, was in the distinct minority." Thirty-five years later, in a 1991 report to a PPP party congress, he said, "our embrace of Marxism-Leninism lies in our commitment to build a society free from exploitation and governed by those who produce the wealth. But," noting "the enormity and rapidity of changes in the USSR and Eastern Europe...it is necessary to make a very studious re-examination of the...propositions on which the...theory and practice of socialism has been based."

The PPP's 1992 campaign platform made no mention of soicialism or Marxism, but pledged itself to "build a mixed, tri-sectoral economy based on state, private and co-operative forms of ownership....it is not a question of state or market; each has a large and irreplacable role....Under the PPP/Civic Government there will be no further nationalization of either locally or foreign owned business."

Today, the PNC and the PPP, who together represent 96 percent of the electorate, can both be considered pro-democracy and human rights, friendly to the United States and other Western democracies, and supportive of an expanded private sector.

The Working People's Alliance (WPA), a small, multiethnic, political party with support from intellectuals and professional people, boycotted the 1980 elections on the grounds that it expected them to be rigged. In the 1985 elections, the WPA won a single seat in Parliament and in 1992, it won two.