The party and its antecedents played an important role in the early years of Venezuelan democracy. The Agrupación Revolucionaria de Izquierda (ARDI) was founded in 1931 in Colombia by Rómulo Betancourt and other exile Venezuelans. In 1936 this became the Movimiento de Organización Venezolana (ORVE), which was then dissolved into the Partido Democrático Nacional (PDN). Finally, in 1941, after Isaías Medina Angarita legalized all political parties, Acción Democrática was founded by Betancourt and others. These included Rómulo Gallegos, Andrés Eloy Blanco, Luis Beltrán Prieto, Juan Oropeza,
Enrique H. Marín,
Rafael Padrón, Fernando Peñalver,
Luis Augusto Dubuc, César Hernández,
José V. Hernández and
Ricardo Montilla. Gallegos was a highly prestigious writer, the author of the iconic novel, Doña Bárbara (1929), among several others, while Andrés Eloy Blanco was a celebrated Venezuelan poet and a witty humoristic writer.
After the October 1945 revolution, Betancourt was President for a time, until Rómulo Gallegos won the Venezuelan presidential election, 1947 (generally believed to be the first free and fair elections in Venezuela). Gallegos governed until overthrown by Marcos Pérez Jiménez in the 1948 Venezuelan coup d'état. The 1945–48 period is known as the trienio. Many of its founders and early members went into exile during the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez, and returned for the restoration of democracy in 1958.
After the restoration of democracy, Betancourt won the 1958 elections comfortably, and AD joined the 1958 Punto Fijo Pact. The 1963 elections saw a solid victory for Raúl Leoni, and AD also won in 1973 (Carlos Andrés Pérez), 1983 (Jaime Lusinchi), and 1988 (Carlos Andrés Pérez again). From 1958 to 1999 only three presidential elections were lost (to COPEI, in 1968 and 1978) and one of those was only lost due to a major split in AD.
The 1968 presidential election was shaped by the split of Democratic Action, with a substantial leftist faction breaking away to form the Movimiento Electoral del Pueblo (MEP). The split happened after Luis Beltrán Prieto Figueroa won the 1967 AD primary election, only to see his nomination overturned by the reformist-social democrat Rómulo Betancourt faction, in favour of Gonzalo Barrios, considering Prieto too far left. Prieto Figueroa, at the time President of the Venezuelan Senate as well as President of AD, split from AD over the affair along with a substantial number of his supporters. The result was that the 1968 election was the first time AD lost power through an election, when COPEI's Rafael Caldera won with less than 30% of the vote, just ahead of AD's Barrios. Prieto Figueroa attained nearly 20%, attaining fourth place behind the Unión Republicana Democrática's Miguel Ángel Burelli Rivas.
An earlier split, in 1960, saw the Revolutionary Left Movement break away from AD. Its engagement in armed struggle against the AD government meant the split posed rather less of an electoral problem than the later MEP split.
The Punto Fijo Pact collapsed in the early 1990s in the face of a severe economic and political crisis, culminating in the impeachment of the AD president Carlos Andrés Pérez for corruption, and the election in 1993 of former COPEI leader Rafael Caldera on a National Convergence electoral coalition platform. Caldera's failure to resolve the economic crisis created the political environment for the 1998 election of Hugo Chávez.
AD posters during a rally in support of RCTV
At the 2000 elections for the new National Assembly of Venezuela, AD won 29 out of 165 seats; four additional seats were won by an AD-Copei alliance. At the 2005 legislative elections Democratic Action staged an electoral boycott and consequently did not win any seats.
For the 2010 and 2015 elections, AD was part of the Democratic Unity Roundtable. In the 2015 elections where the Roundtable took the National Assembly, AD won 25 seats, which it contributed to the Roundtable's 109 seat majority. The Roundtable parties boycotted the 2017 elections to the Constituent Assembly and participated in an unofficial referendum against its formation.
In July 2018, AD left the Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition, citing "operative problems inside the organisation" and the difficulties to elect the new secretary general of the coalition.
The trade union confederation CTV is closely linked to AD. AD is a member of the Socialist International, and a member of COPPPAL.
Acción Democrática's current Secretary General is Henry Ramos.