Political Science Critical Elections, Partisan Realignment, and Long-Term Electoral Change in American Politics
by
Edward G. Carmines, Eric R. Schmidt
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0246

Introduction

Research on electoral change in American politics has taken many forms. Some of the earliest research in this tradition was concerned with “critical elections”—that is, the possibility that some individual presidential elections represent an abrupt shift in politics-as-usual. This shift might manifest as changes to policymaking, new patterns of mass partisan identification, or both. However, the “critical elections” perspective was soon challenged by a different paradigm: concern with longer-term political change not accomplished through one presidential election. Under the “secular realignment” paradigm, the restructuring of partisan conflict along new issue lines takes many elections to accomplish. Moreover, determining how realignments happen is as important as identifying particular realignments themselves. Rational choice perspectives emphasize the incentives of party elites and activists to exploit particular issue cleavages. More behavioralist approaches ask about the nature of mass partisan identification, and the meaning (or lack thereof) of aggregate-level changes in partisanship. Other research explores the conditions under which elites and activists convince the public to accede to a new issue agenda for party politics. Indeed, the “secular realignment” paradigm helped spawn a host of literatures concerned with other phenomena with similarly long-term implications for American politics. We address three additional literatures, because they expand (or update) the realignment paradigm to include related inquiries. Put differently, it is simply not the case that “realignment” has declining importance to American politics. Rather, the potential for realignment is a latent concern in most research on partisan change. First, where scholars address emerging demographic gaps in partisan voting patterns, they echo the central measurement strategy of the earliest “critical elections” research. Second, where literature explains changes in voter turnout, this applies a key insight missing from some earlier realignment work: that individual decisions not to vote are as important as voting itself. Finally, work on increasing partisan polarization has clear implications for whether another electoral realignment is on the horizon. There is clear continuity between (1) political scientists’ initial focus on critical elections, (2) the transition to partisan realignment theory, and (3) the eventual expansion of inquiry to encompass most long-term electoral change.

General Overviews

The following overview references are helpful introductions to the topic of realignment, as well as to general accounts of the changes represented by various election cycles. Rosenof 2003 attests to the impact that realignment theory has had on political science. Aldrich, et al. 2018 is one recent edition of a book series that—for more than thirty-five years—has documented the “change and continuity” associated with US elections.

  • Aldrich, John H., Jamie L. Carson, Brad T. Gomez, and David W. Rohde. Change and Continuity in the 2016 Elections. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2018.

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    The Change and Continuity series has been published on a biennial or quadrennial basis since the first edition appeared in 1982. It represents the gold standard for contemporary reflections on what presidential and midterm elections represent for national politics.

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  • Rosenof, Theodore. Realignment: The Theory That Changed the Way We Think about American Politics. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.

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    From a historical perspective, Rosenof documents the impact that realignment theory had on the discipline of political science. Particular attention is given to the individual scholars involved in the development of realignment theory, and to methodological disagreements wrought by the advent of survey research.

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Journals

Researchers working in this subfield will usually find something of interest in the flagship journals published by the major political science associations. However, some journals may be especially helpful for directing attention to the appropriate literatures.

Critical Elections

Initially, it was commonplace to think about partisan change in terms of whether or not particular presidential elections were especially important. While contemporary research is more cautious, the following works have argued (or assumed) that individual elections can be sufficient catalysts for long-term partisan change. Key 1955 is the canonical citation establishing the paradigm that individual presidential elections can be sufficient for major changes in partisan voting. Campbell 1960 is one early argument that survey research can help adjudicate “noisy” elections from those that truly produce long-term partisan change. Many subsequent works were concerned with the periodicity of critical realignments—that is, with establishing that realignment occurs at regular intervals. Burnham 1970 suggests that critical elections occur at rough chronological increments, and Beck 1979 offers a typology for thinking about realignment and dealignment in terms of the regularities of generational turnover. Equally interesting are attempts to “rescue” critical realignment theory with creative arguments about why particular expectations are not borne out. Brady 1988 explains the non-periodicity of critical elections as an artifact of increasingly gerrymandered districts, while Nardulli 1995 shows durable region-specific shifts in voting behavior even when national-level trends are less pronounced. Finally, we must note two especially articulate (if dated) attempts to place “critical elections” theory in more deliberate conversation with broad historical trends. Both Clubb, et al. 1980 and Kleppner 1987 express discomfort with the standard identification of “critical elections” on the basis of partisan voting patterns alone.

  • Beck, Paul Allen. “The Electoral Cycle and Patterns of American Politics.” British Journal of Political Science 9.2 (1979): 129–156.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0007123400001691Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Beck suggests that realignments are elite responses to mass public demands for responsive policymaking, while generational turnover eventually weakens popular support for the status quo enacted by the initial realignment.

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  • Brady, David W. Critical Elections and Congressional Policymaking. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988.

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    Noting that critical elections do not appear to be as frequent as theory would suggest, Brady suggests that gerrymandered House districts prevent the mass public from electing their preferred party government. Thus, gerrymandering artificially prevents what would otherwise be durable cycles of realignment and dealignment.

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  • Burnham, Walter Dean. Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics. New York: W.W. Norton, 1970.

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    Proposing that critical elections occur (roughly) every thirty years, this was an early attempt to suggest that realignments have a non-random, chronological component.

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  • Campbell, Angus. “Surge and Decline: A Study of Electoral Change.” Public Opinion Quarterly 24.3 (1960): 397–418.

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    Notes that survey research is uniquely poised to adjudicate the nature of partisan changes observed in particular elections. Most elections that appear “critical” might simply indicate short-term fluctuations in partisan voting patterns that do not manifest in subsequent elections—as the public loses interest in the idiosyncratic factors from the previous election.

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  • Clubb, Jerome M., William H. Flanagan, and Nancy H. Zingale. Partisan Realignment: Voters, Parties, and Government in American History. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE Library of Social Research, 1980.

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    Places “critical elections” in historical context, arguing that scholarship should pay attention not just to trends in partisan voting—but also to the consequences of critical elections for partisan governance. For example, Clubb and colleagues suggest that it is difficult to exclude 1932 (FDR’s landslide victory) from consideration as a critical election.

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  • Key, V. O., Jr. “A Theory of Critical Elections.” Journal of Politics 17.1 (1955): 3–18.

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    Key suggests that some elections are associated with enduring changes to partisan voting patterns, while others are not. He identifies two “critical elections”: 1896, where Republicans made large gains across income strata; and 1928, where Democrats gained in urban areas and suffered losses in rural areas. Notably, Key does not see FDR’s 1932 election as “critical”—because it represented (for him) a transient response to the Great Depression.

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  • Kleppner, Paul. Continuity and Change in Electoral Politics, 1893–1928. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987.

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    Advocates for “critical elections” theory by suggesting that large-n survey researchers should be more concerned with national, aggregate-level partisan changes than the nature of individual-level partisan attachments.

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  • Nardulli, Peter. “The Concept of a Critical Realignment, Electoral Behavior, and Political Change.” American Political Science Review 89 (1995): 10–22.

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    Defends “critical realignment” as an important scholarly paradigm, showing that particular elections are associated with abrupt and durable regional (not necessarily national) shifts in voting patterns.

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Secular Realignments: Perspectives on Longer-Term Change

The “critical elections” perspective was overtaken by a “secular realignment” perspective in which political change takes multiple election cycles to accomplish. Just four years after proposing “critical elections,” Key 1959 argued that the trajectory of realignment in the United States might be far slower, anticipating the argument of Lipset and Rokkan 1969 that party systems are determined by macro-level social cleavages. Sundquist 1983 develops the concept further by establishing necessary conditions for realignment. Carmines and Stimson 1980 suggests that any realigning issue must be symbolically valenced, and thus “easy” for voters to understand. In a pivotal work, Carmines and Stimson 1989 introduces “issue evolution” theory, emphasizing the randomness with which new issue cleavages take hold of American party politics after being introduced by party elites and activists. Shafer 1991 is an edited volume of scholarly debates, documenting concerns about the conceptual fuzziness of realignment theory. In this spirit, Mayhew 2002 perhaps deals the fatal blow to “critical elections” theory by failing to identify any set of necessary conditions for such elections. Of course, secular realignment has its critics as well. Fiorina 1981 is skeptical that long-term political change is the proper locus of analysis—suggesting that voter evaluations of the incumbent party are far too idiosyncratic. One prominent attempt to reconcile realignment theory with revisionist perspectives is Meffert, et al. 2001.

  • Carmines, Edward G., and James A. Stimson. “The Two Faces of Issue Voting.” American Political Science Review 74.1 (1980): 78–91.

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    Suggests that unsophisticated voters will make political judgments on the basis of “easy” rather than “hard” issues. Easy issues are simple-to-understand because of their crucial symbolic component. Carmines and Stimson 1989 would go on to argue that the evolution of partisan conflict is more likely to involve similarly “easy” issues exploited by strategic party elites and activists.

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  • Carmines, Edward G., and James A. Stimson. Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

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    Argues that the structure of partisan conflict changes slowly, because partisan elites routinely introduce potential new issue conflicts that do not necessarily succeed as viable sources of competition. In rare circumstances, an issue cleavage is introduced that succeeds in reorganizing—on a longer time-horizon—the issue attitudes of elected partisans, partisan activists, and mass partisan identifiers.

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  • Fiorina, Morris P. Retrospective Voting in American National Elections. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981.

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    An early statement against the premise of long-term political change grounded in critical elections or secular realignments. Posits that voters’ decisions are “running tallies” based on recent political and economic appraisals (e.g., performance of the incumbent party).

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  • Key, V. O., Jr. “Secular Realignment and the Party System.” Journal of Politics 21.2 (1959): 198–210.

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    Key’s addendum to critical realignment theory, suggesting that realignment could also proceed more gradually than a single-shot election. The pivotal expectation is that the patterns indicating realignment will manifest as enduring changes to the partisan voting tendencies of specific population subgroups.

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  • Lipset, Seymour Martin, and Stein Rokkan. “Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments: An Introduction.” In Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives. By Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan, 1–63. New York: Free Press, 1969.

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    Influential argument that the structure (and stability) of contemporary party systems—inside and outside the United States—is heavily influenced by the emergence of specific, dominant social cleavages. The authors offer a detailed nomenclature of these cleavages, but they can be traced either to (1) major national debates launched by political revolution or (2) class-based interests created by economic development.

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  • Mayhew, David R. Electoral Realignments: A Critique of an American Genre. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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    Comprehensive argument that realignment theory is generally unhelpful for understanding long-term political change, because scholars cannot agree about the necessary or sufficient conditions for what constitutes a realigning election.

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  • Meffert, Michael P., Helmut Norpoth, and Anirudh V. S. Ruhil. “Realignment and Macropartisanship.” American Political Science Review 95.4 (2001): 953–962.

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    Uses time-series data to argue that short-term changes in voters’ partisanship are more compatible with realignment theory than immediately appears to be the case. The authors argue realigning events can still take place even if shorter-term factors are also at work.

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  • Shafer, Byron, ed. The End of Realignment? Interpreting American Electoral Eras. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.

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    The debates in this volume—between skeptics of realignment theory and its defenders—all reveal the need for definitional clarity on realignment. The volume was released just as political science was embarking on a large-scale exploration of the non-deterministic issue evolutions that constitute American party politics.

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  • Sundquist, James L. Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States. 2d ed. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1983.

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    Sundquist outlines a series of potentially necessary conditions for realignments to occur—not least, the emergence of a highly salient issue on which the parties are not yet clearly distinguished. At a time when more voters were choosing not to identify with either party, Sundquist noted that the right set of circumstances could reverse this trend.

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The “New Deal” Realignment

The first major realignment of the 20th century took place during the Great Depression, in which the Democratic Party emerged as the champion of large-scale government intervention to stabilize the economy and create jobs. The Republican Party, meanwhile, became associated with the laissez-faire economic policies of former president Herbert Hoover. Sinclair 1977 documents the voting patterns in Congress that confirm this realignment; Ellis and Stimson 2012 notes that the American public (ever since) has been consistently left-of-center in its preference for government social spending. Thus the New Deal had a short-term impact on the dimensionality of elite-level policymaking, and a long-term impact on mass attitudes. However, to many observers, the New Deal did not go as far as it could have gone. There are numerous authoritative historical accounts, but one persistent area of interest involves the incompleteness of this realignment. Compared to European countries also facing economic collapse, the United States did not enact a comparably broad-reaching social safety net. Weir and Skocpol 1985 links this paradox to the unique state structure and policy legacies of the United States; similarly, Orloff 1988 suggests that our decentralized political system made it unlikely that an efficient and thorough welfare state would emerge. Katznelson 2013 argues that a coalition of congressional Republicans and southern Democrats prevented northern Democrats from pursuing even more aggressive “New Deal” policies.

  • Ellis, Christopher, and James A. Stimson. Ideology in America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

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    Documents that despite their heterogeneous ideological self-identifications, the American public maintains a strong preference for left-of-center economic policies—including government spending on social welfare. This “operational liberalism” can be traced back to the New Deal era.

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  • Katznelson, Ira. Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013.

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    Katznelson argues that Southern Democrats were uniquely positioned to limit the scope of New Deal reforms, because they were alarmed by the possibility that proposed reforms (e.g., expanded rights for trade unions) would compromise the South’s system of racial segregation.

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  • Orloff, Ann Shola. “The Political Origins of America’s Belated Welfare State.” In The Politics of Social Policy in the United States. Edited by Margaret Weir, Ann Shola Orloff, and Theda Skocpol, 37–80. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.

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    Represents an institutional explanation for why the policies enacted by the “New Deal” were not as thorough as other countries’ responses to economic collapse. Compared to European democracies, the decentralized “federalism” of the United States offered a de facto guarantee that welfare state economics would not progress as efficiently.

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  • Sinclair, Barbara. “Party Realignment and the Transformation of the Political Agenda.” American Political Science Review 71 (1977): 940–953.

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    Uses congressional roll-call voting during the Depression era to show that the “New Deal” realignment considerably restructured elite-level partisan-ideological conflict. Although regional differences emerged as the economy recovered, the Democrats became decisively associated with economic interventionism.

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  • Weir, Margaret, and Theda Skocpol. “State Structures and the Possibilities for ‘Keynesian’ Responses to the Great Depression in Sweden, Britain, and the United States.” In Bringing the State Back In. Edited by Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol, 107–163. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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    This comparative analysis deals (in part) with the failure of the United States to embrace the full-throated Keynesian interventionism that Sweden did in response to the Great Depression. The authors note the absence of a class-based political party; the dearth of economic experts informing official state policy; and a “policy legacy” through which deficit spending was seen as (only) a temporary solution.

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Racial Realignment

The second great realignment of the 20th century involves the restructuring of partisan conflict along racial lines during the African American civil rights movement of the 1960s. Post-realignment, the Republicans became the party of racial conservatism, emphasizing state autonomy on racial issues; the Democrats became the party of racial liberalism, with President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and ending the South’s institutionalized “Jim Crow” segregation. Several works are authoritative treatments of different aspects of this realignment era. Carmines and Stimson 1989 uses racial realignment as their canonical example of an issue evolution, while Rohde 1991 outlines the institutional changes in the US House required to terminate the lingering influence of the “Dixiecrat” caucus. Mickey 2015 analyzes how different Southern states responded to federal pressure to desegregate, highlighting how the pre-realignment South was an authoritarian system in all but name. Recently, Schickler 2016 suggests that racial realignment began much earlier than previously thought. Chronological debates notwithstanding, there is general agreement with Black and Black 2003 that realignment produced a nationalized two-party system.

  • Black, Earl, and Merle Black. The Rise of Southern Republicans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

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    Documents that racial realignment fostered genuine two-party competition throughout the South. This nationalization of party politics is an important part of the story, not least because it incentivized non-Southern Republicans to care about Southern economic development.

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  • Carmines, Edward G., and James A. Stimson. Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

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    Uses racial realignment as the major example of “issue evolution” theory. Analogously to evolution by natural selection, the racial divide was not predestined to restructure partisan conflict. Rather, it was one of many issue cleavages that could plausibly have been introduced by a Republican Party looking to regain its electoral footing. That it “worked” is a testament to successful elite-mass communication and other propitious circumstances.

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  • Mickey, Robert. Paths Out of Dixie: The Democratization of Authoritarian Enclaves in America’s Deep South, 1944–1972. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400838783Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Case-study analysis that describes “racial realignment” in terms of the (uneven) democratization of authoritarian Jim Crow culture. Mickey finds that Southern states differed in their organizational capacities to avoid federal government pressures to democratize.

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  • Rohde, David W. Parties and Leaders in the Post-Reform House. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

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    Documents the procedural reforms (in the late 1960s and early 1970s) that helped institutionalize the new dimension of partisan conflict—by making it difficult for southern Democrats to exert disproportionate influence in the House.

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  • Schickler, Eric. Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932–1965. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400880973Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides historical evidence that the racial realignment of partisan conflict occurred much earlier than the 1960s, as party activists (beginning in the New Deal era) mobilized around racial issues at the state and local levels.

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How Racial Was the Racial Realignment?

Although racial issues provided the basis for the second great realignment of the 20th century, scholars disagree about the extent to which race and racial issues provided the dominant context for post-realignment Southern politics. Put differently, scholars have debated the motivations of white Southerners interacting with an emerging, nationalized two-party system in which “Southern Democrats” were a thing of the past. Cowden 2001, Lublin 2004, and Shafer and Johnston 2006 criticize exclusively racial interpretations—pointing to non-racial issues as important factors in the voting calculus of white Southerners. However, Hood, et al. 2012 links the nationalization of the two-party system to white Southerners’ preference for the racially homogeneous Republican Party. This claim about white Southerners’ social identities is reinforced by Valentino and Sears 2005 and Green, et al. 2002. Moreover, Mendelberg 2001 suggests that a nationalized two-party system forced the racially conservative Republicans to craft implicit racial appeals that do not offend widely held norms against old-fashioned racism. Indeed, the mass party coalitions may still be deeply divided by race. Tesler 2016 suggests that due to a backlash against Barack Obama’s presidency, right-wing voters now consider many public policies through the lens of negative racial attitudes.

  • Cowden, Jonathan A. “Southernization of the Nation and Nationalization of the South: Racial Conservatism, Social Welfare, and White Partisans in the United States, 1956–1992.” British Journal of Political Science 31 (2001): 277–301.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0007123401000114Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a fine-grained analysis of the myriad changes that racial realignment wrought for Southern and national politics. Cowden argues that the Southern realignment did not eliminate the relevance of economic, “New Deal” issues—largely because the effect of racial realignment was to nationalize party politics.

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  • Green, Donald P., Bradley Palmquist, and Eric Schickler. Partisan Hearts and Minds: Political Parties and the Social Identities of Voters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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    Noting that party identification reflects individuals’ social group attachments, the authors argue that the Southern realignment was motivated by whites’ strong sense of social identity—and the emergence of the Republican Party as their natural home. Southern whites proactively identified with the Republican Party because it had become synonymous with white voters as a social group.

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  • Hood, M. V., III, Quentin Kidd, and Irwin L. Morris. The Rational Southerner: Black Mobilization, Republican Growth, and the Partisan Transformation of the American South. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199873821.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Posits an explicitly racial explanation for racial realignment, during which white Southerners relocated to the Republican Party. The post–civil rights mobilization of black Southerners meant that conservative whites had fewer opportunities to dominate Democratic Party leadership. Thus they gravitated toward a more racially homogeneous party.

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  • Lublin, David. The Republican South: Democratization and Partisan Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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    Argues that the Republican Party rose to prominence in the South principally on the strength of its support for limited government—not its conservative racial attitudes. One major piece of evidence for this conclusion is that after the breakup of the Dixiecrat coalition, the Southern contingents of the two major parties had few initial disagreements on racial issues.

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  • Mendelberg, Tali. The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400889181Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that racial realignment changed the ways in which the parties talked openly about race. Norms of common decency mean that Republican candidates will be less successful if they make explicitly racial appeals in service of racially conservative attitudes—or if their implicit appeals are “unmasked” by Democratic candidates.

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  • Shafer, Byron E., and Richard C. Johnston. The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674043466Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the Southern realignment in terms of consequences for a nationally competitive two-party system—one that cannot simply be reduced to racial divisions. In particular, the authors examine the interaction between growing economic development and the emergence of a nationalized two-party politics.

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  • Tesler, Michael. Post-Racial or Most-Racial? Race and Politics in the Obama Era. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226353159.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that contemporary politics is more contaminated by symbolic racism than more optimistic accounts indicate. In particular, the presidency of Barack Obama may have produced a backlash among right-leaning white voters, whose attitudes on non-racial issues are now strongly linked with negative racial attitudes.

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  • Valentino, Nicholas A., and David O. Sears. “Old Times There Are Not Forgotten: Race and Partisan Realignment in the Contemporary South.” American Journal of Political Science 49.3 (2005): 672–688.

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    Suggests that following realignment, Southern whites have retrenched in their racially conservative attitudes—still constituting a distinctly racially motivated voting bloc. The nationalization of partisan politics might not necessarily mean that Southern and non-Southern whites’ racial attitudes have become identical.

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Realignment around Moral or Cultural Issues

The third major partisan realignment of the 20th century involves moral issues (abortion, gay rights, and the role of religion in public life). Interestingly, scholars of American politics might have anticipated that culture would become a dominant issue cleavage—but not in the manner it actually did. After all, Inglehart 1971 emphasized how “post-material” values could reshape political cleavages in post-industrial societies. However, Inglehart’s mechanism is not what happened in the American context—where right-wing conservatives (not young bourgeois liberals) introduced the new cleavage. The rise in an apparent “culture war” dates to Ronald Reagan’s successful appeals to evangelicals—after which the Republicans were the logical home for moral traditionalists, and the Democrats the logical home for people amenable to changing moral standards. Adams 1997 and Stimson 1998 attest to the increased relevance of “culture war” issues; Claggett and Shafer 2010 echoes this claim in a longitudinal analysis of public opinion. Layman and Carmines 1997 explicitly links this trend not to post-material values, but to voters’ differences on moral traditionalism. Layman 2001 and Leege, et al. 2002 are two definitive accounts of how moral issues restructured the dimensions of partisan conflict; consistent with issue evolution theory, the Republican Party used cultural issues to regain electoral competitiveness. Indeed, a parallel debate involves the degree to which the Republican Party uses “culture war” appeals to convince lower-income whites to vote against their economic interests. Frank 2005 provides a journalistic account making this claim, but is countered by Bartels 2009—who acknowledges the increased role of moral issues, but notes that both parties continue to make consequential appeals to material self-interest. Putnam and Campbell 2010 attests to the persistence of moral issue debates, while suggesting that these partisan debates take place against a backdrop of general intra-denominational tolerance. Most recently, Goren and Chapp 2017 argues that “culture war” political attitudes in some cases precipitate variation in religious behavior.

  • Adams, Greg D. “Abortion: Evidence of an Issue Evolution.” American Journal of Political Science 41.3 (1997): 718–737.

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    Argues that abortion—perhaps the most thoroughly contested of the “culture war” issues—is a good example of the issue evolution paradigm of Carmines and Stimson 1989 (cited under Secular Realignments: Perspectives on Longer-Term Change). Following the ascent of the Religious Right and the sorting of the partisan coalitions on the issue, the number of pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans has significantly decreased.

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  • Bartels, Larry M. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2009.

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    Counters the claim made in Frank 2005 that the social dimension has usurped the economic dimension in the minds of low-income whites. Rather, the Republican Party is now more skilled at convincing individuals that supply-side economic policies are in the best interests of the economically disadvantaged.

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  • Claggett, William J. M., and Byron E. Shafer. The American Public Mind: The Issues Structures of Modern American Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511816420Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses cumulative American National Election Studies (ANES) data to suggest (at least) four major issue domains of mass partisan conflict. Central to the authors’ narrative is the dramatic explosion in the importance of cultural issues—which now compete (for many) with the importance of the traditional social welfare dimension.

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  • Frank, Thomas. What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. New York: Henry Holt, 2005.

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    Much-cited polemic on Republican Party politics. Frank alleges that the Republican Party’s emphasis on cultural issues was intended to displace economic issues as the central concern of low-income whites. Frank’s work prompted a renewed dialogue about the continued relevance of the economic dimension.

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  • Goren, Paul, and Christopher Chapp. “Moral Power: How Public Opinion on Culture War Issues Shapes Partisan Predispositions and Religious Orientations.” American Political Science Review 111.1 (2017): 110–128.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0003055416000435Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a radical re-reading of the “culture war” narrative. The authors argue not only that partisan conflict has been reshaped by moral issues, but that individuals’ political attitudes on culture war issues have an independent effect on their religious beliefs and behavior.

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  • Inglehart, Ronald. “The Silent Revolution in Europe: Intergenerational Change in Post-Industrial Societies.” American Political Science Review 65.4 (1971): 991–1017.

    DOI: 10.2307/1953494Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Laid the groundwork for research on “post-material values” and their potential as realigning forces. Inglehart contends that being socialized into relative affluence dampens concern for material self-interest as one’s primary political goal. Older generations worked their way into the middle class, and may be interested in consolidating their gains through amenable economic policies. By contrast, younger generations should favor more expressive and cultural concerns.

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  • Layman, Geoffrey C. The Great Divide: Religious and Cultural Conflict in American Party Politics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

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    Demonstrates that partisan conflict has been fundamentally reshaped by cultural attitudes, grounded in different levels of religious adherence and perspectives on moral behavior. Layman shows that religious influences on mass attitudes reflect differences in moral traditionalism or modernism.

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  • Layman, Geoffrey C., and Edward G. Carmines. “Cultural Conflict in American Politics: Religious Traditionalism, Postmaterialism, and U.S. Political Behavior.” Journal of Politics 59 (1997): 751–777.

    DOI: 10.2307/2998636Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Tests the “post-material values” framework (Inglehart 1971) in the American case and finds that it does not hold. Rather, Americans’ cultural attitudes are more governed by individual differences in religious traditionalism. Results indicate that the “culture wars” divisions in the United States are based on factors unique to the religious context of American politics.

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  • Leege, David C., Kenneth D. Wald, Brian S. Krueger, and Paul D. Mueller. The Politics of Cultural Differences: Social Change and Voter Mobilization in the Post–New Deal Period. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

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    Like Layman 2001, documents the dramatic degree to which cultural issues have emerged as unique sources of partisan conflict. Republican elites have exploited cultural issue cleavages to encourage ambivalence among voters that traditionally support the Democrats. The authors argue that Republican elites use cultural issues not just to gain adherents, but to convince cross-pressured citizens to abstain from voting.

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  • Putnam, Robert D., and David E. Campbell. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. New York: Bantam Books, 2010.

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    Sweeping look at religious expression and belief in the United States, with considerable attention to political ramifications. Documents the well-entrenched partisan split between less religious Democrats and more religious Republicans—but notes that this is accompanied by more tolerance of other faiths or denominations than an outside observer would necessarily expect.

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  • Stimson, James A. Public Opinion in America: Moods, Cycles, and Swings. 2d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

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    Notes through exhaustive analysis of survey data that the Republican Party has become the natural home for opponents of abortion and those that believe in traditional sex roles. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has become the home for supporters of abortion and proponents of women’s increased role in public life. (This is but one finding in a broad analysis of public opinion trends.)

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How Mass Attitudes Change: The “Conflict Extension” Paradigm

In the first decade of the 21st century, scholars confronted one problem with the “realignment” perspective: the apparent ability of the issue agenda to accommodate new, realigning issues without compromising the structure of partisan conflict on other issue dimensions. Zaller 1992 loomed as the standard citation on the basic mechanism of elite-mass communication: that is, that partisan identifiers that pay attention to politics come to express their party’s positions as their own. In a consistent fashion, Layman and Carsey 2002 suggests that for most partisans, a new issue cleavage will simply represent one more set of issues on which partisan identifiers are expected to toe the party line. Yet this does not mean that realigning issues cannot have significant effects on mass partisanship; as Carsey and Layman 2006 notes, some partisans will switch parties over an issue conflict they consider to be personally salient. When we incorporate the findings of Layman, et al. 2010 that party activists will also modify their attitudes to reflect other activists’ attitudes, “conflict extension” helps explain why realignment need not displace preexisting structures of partisan issue conflict; why realignment is compatible with a generally disengaged and passive electorate; how realignment has profound changes for the structure of partisan conflict even when aggregate-level effects on political behavior are not apparent; and why realignment does not threaten to displace the two-party system. “Conflict extension” was the theoretical breakthrough required to marry secular realignment theory with the on-the-ground realities of mass political behavior.

  • Carsey, Thomas M., and Geoffrey C. Layman. “Changing Sides or Changing Minds? Party Identification and Policy Preferences in the American Electorate.” American Journal of Political Science 50.2 (2006): 464–477.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2006.00196.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Adds an important addendum to the conflict extension paradigm. Partisans may indeed switch parties in response to a potentially realigning issue if they are sufficiently mobilized by the issue—that is, if they disagree with their party’s position and find it personally salient.

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  • Layman, Geoffrey C., and Thomas M. Carsey. “Party Polarization and ‘Conflict Extension’ in the Mass Electorate.” American Journal of Political Science 46.4 (2002): 786–802.

    DOI: 10.2307/3088434Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a parsimonious explanation for how elections can have realigning consequences even when it does not appear that many voters are switching their party identifications in the wake of a new issue conflict. If partisans are not personally interested in the issue conflict, but aware that their parties have taken new positions, they may simply adopt these positions as their own without much contemplation.

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  • Layman, Geoffrey C., Thomas M. Carsey, John C. Green, Richard Herrera, and Rosalyn Cooperman. “Activists and Conflict Extension in American Party Politics.” American Political Science Review 104.2 (2010): 324–346.

    DOI: 10.1017/S000305541000016XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Clarifies the role of activists in processes of elite-mass communication. Elites may themselves be responsive to party activists, such as convention delegates. These delegates, in turn, interface with other party activists and elected officials—who implicitly encourage them to form more consistent attitudes. The constrained policy preferences that result from interaction between activists and elites should eventually redound to the mass public.

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  • Zaller, John R. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511818691Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The pivotal statement about elite-mass communication. Politically informed partisan identifiers will consistently adopt the political attitudes of elected officials from their own parties—not least because they are disproportionately receptive to political information that same-party elected officials provide.

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Elite Incentives: How Will Parties and Activists Behave?

Rational choice theory assumes that partisan elites and activists make strategic decisions about political behavior, on the basis of incentive structures and expected payoffs. While the realignment literature has not been everywhere dominated by deductive inference, scholars often have specific expectations for how political elites should act given the structure of mass attitudes. This is a departure from the earlier work on “critical elections” precisely because it does not depend upon the mass public having any independent agency in its political goals. An elite or activist-driven perspective is remarkably far from the premise that electoral realignments are attributable to the deliberate expression of public sentiment; rather, this work views mass preferences as a tool to be exploited by office-seeking elites. Aldrich 1995 offers the clearest statement of why political parties can exist (and thrive) without being immaculately responsive to mass policy demands. Indeed, the paradigm of efficient office-seekers finds expression in most literature on elite strategies and partisan realignment. Downs 1957 is the pivotal work of rational choice theory in the American politics tradition—suggesting that candidates for elective office have incentive to move as far to the “middle” as they can. Yet a unidimensional issue space hardly offers parties the raw material to secure new majority coalitions. Riker 1982 and Carmines 1991 suggest that minority parties will look for cross-cutting issue cleavages that enable them to regain power; Miller and Schofield 2003 make a similar argument about candidates’ need to balance the interests (across multiple issue dimensions) of party activists and voters. Partisan elites may also seek to exploit the cross-pressures that particular voters face, by emphasizing particular issues at the expense of others. Hillygus and Shields 2008 notes that many voters are cross-pressured between their partisanship and issue attitudes; Shafer and Claggett 1995 makes a similar claim about voters’ economic and conservative cultural attitudes. Moreover, if Sniderman and Stiglitz 2012 are correct that the parties have durable ideological reputations, strategic but polarized parties have more leeway to field ideologically inconsistent candidates.

  • Aldrich, John H. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226012773.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Panoramic account of why political parties form: they help ambitious politicians achieve their political goals by tethering their ambition to (one of two) widely recognized party labels. Thus, partisan elites are embedded in organizations that are efficient at winning elections, not necessarily in enacting good or representative public policy.

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  • Carmines, Edward G. “The Logic of Party Alignments.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 3 (1991): 65–80.

    DOI: 10.1177/0951692891003001005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Tight summation of the “issue evolution” perspective, in terms of the rational calculus of elected officials from the minority party. Under this formulation, the minority party exploits previously cross-cutting issue cleavages because these are some of the only tools at their disposal for regaining majority status.

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  • Downs, Anthony. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper and Row, 1957.

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    Downs suggests that the parties have an incentive to appeal to as broad an electoral coalition as possible—so their candidates will move to the policy center. The basic Downsian model is not necessarily a recipe for realignment, since it implies similar party strategies.

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  • Hillygus, D. Sunshine, and Todd Shields. The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400831593Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Notes that many voters are cross-pressured between their issue positions and their party identifications. Presidential campaigns are successful when they emphasize issues that exploit this cross-pressure and “persuade” voters to forsake their partisan allegiances.

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  • Miller, Gary, and Norman Schofield. “Activists and Partisan Realignment in the United States.” American Political Science Review 97.2 (2003): 245–260.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0003055403000650Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Links realignment to the two-dimensional structure of mass issue preferences, and the strategies candidates employ to win votes from non-traditional supporters. If party activists (at any given time) are primarily mobilized by either economic or social issues, candidates for elected office may make strategic appeals to non-activist voters more mobilized by the non-dominant dimension. If this “flanking” strategy is successful, partisan realignment can result.

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  • Riker, William H. Liberalism against Populism: A Confrontation between the Theory of Democracy and the Theory of Social Choice. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1982.

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    Early statement applying the rational choice perspective to the evolution of long-term partisan change. Riker suggests that minority parties rebuild their popular support by finding new issue cleavages that cross-cut existing partisan lines; these wrest away voters from the majority party.

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  • Shafer, Byron E., and William J. M. Claggett. The Two Majorities: The Issue Context of Modern American Politics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

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    The title refers to how the results of partisan elections should involve which of the two major issue dimensions receives the most attention. Public opinion is oriented such that the Democrats are advantaged on economic issues, while the Republicans are advantaged on cultural issues. As a result, each party has an incentive to make particular elections about the issue dimension on which they have a competitive advantage.

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  • Sniderman, Paul M., and Edward Stiglitz. The Reputational Premium: A Theory of Party Identification and Policy Reasoning. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

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    Finds that voters associate the two parties with specific “policy reputations.” This means that individual candidates can deviate from the party line without incurring dramatic electoral misfortune. By extension, strategic party organizations have more degrees of freedom in their fielded candidates than naive spatial models would assume.

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Party Identification: Different Perspectives

Discussions of electoral change in the US context inevitably confront the question of mass party identification. Indeed, debates over the nature of party identification are implicitly debates over how “long-term” the political changes we witness actually are. Campbell, et al. 1960 provides the canonical opening salvo on party identification, suggesting that it is a durable psychological attachment; this is a perspective largely confirmed by Lewis-Beck, et al. 2008. Green, et al. 2002 agrees, but adds that party identification is both sociological and psychological. But other work is more skeptical about whether the average voter has truly made a long-term partisan commitment. The “macropartisanship” argument of MacKuen, et al. 1989 and Erikson, et al. 2002 suggests that party attachments are transitory responses to short-term political events; Green, et al. 1998 offer a methodological and substantive critique of this literature. Much earlier, Franklin 1984 offers a possible compromise: even if adults experience their partisanship as issue-based, this might still lead individuals to have stable partisanship as they become more entrenched in their issue attitudes. Yet whether party identification is ingrained or transitory, a growing body of literature notes that contemporary politics gives new meaning to mass partisanship. Bartels 2000 and Hetherington 2001 (cited under Polarization) note that levels of mass partisanship have increased precipitously since a period of apparent party decline. Bafumi and Shapiro 2009 suggests that partisan voters now embody serious commitments to particular ideological platforms. However, Smidt 2017 links the stability of partisan voting patterns not to partisanship per se—but to the increasingly clear choices voters have.

Participation

Another major strand of the “electoral change” literature emphasizes the decline in voter turnout in the decades following the tumultuous 1960s, and the fluctuating participation rates in presidential elections that define the contemporary era. From this perspective, it is just as important to ask why so many Americans are opting out of the political process as it is to document how the issue dimensions of that process have changed. Martinez 2010 offers a thorough review of explanations. Of these, one particularly compelling explanation involves the changing incentives of political parties, and their expanding resources for efficiently targeting potential voters. Both Rosenstone and Hansen 1993 and Holbrook and McClurg 2005 link declining participation to the parties’ increased ability (and incentive) to strategically target only their “base” of voters. Yet other explanations link declining participation to more fundamental features of modern social life. Miller and Shanks 1996 suggests that generational turnover has produced a more passive electorate, as fewer voters came of political age during extreme economic crisis. If Verba, et al. 1995 is correct that less privileged individuals rely on strong social networks to develop the civic skills for political participation, then the erosion of American community that Putnam 2000 documents may be to blame. Prior 2007 instead puts blame on expanding options for media consumption, which makes it possible for individuals to avoid political news altogether—and thus eliminates many of these people as potential voters. Just as pessimistically, several major works ask whether political socialization is (as of now) such a negative experience that key democratic participants are disincentivized from turning out. Lawless and Fox 2015 worry that young people are turned off from politics through negative socialization experiences, while Mutz 2006 suggests that being exposed to different sides of controversial issues renders people more ambivalent about participation.

  • Holbrook, Thomas M., and Scott D. McClurg. “The Mobilization of Core Supporters: Campaigns, Turnout, and Electoral Composition in United States Presidential Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 49.4 (2005): 689–703.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2005.00149.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Consistent with Rosenstone and Hansen 1993, suggests that the political parties are now much more concerned with mobilizing their core base of supporters rather than making blanket appeals to earn support from new voters.

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  • Lawless, Jennifer L., and Richard L. Fox. Running from Office: Why Young Americans Are Turned Off to Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

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    Documents, using original survey data of teenagers and young adults, that people in these age groups are likely to have either non-existent or negative political socialization experiences. In effect, portends that low participation rates may endure indefinitely—especially given the increased negativity of contemporary politics.

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  • Martinez, Michael D. “Why Is American Turnout So Low, and Why Should We Care?” In The Oxford Handbook of American Elections and Political Behavior. Edited by Jan E. Leighley, 107–123. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    Offers a concise review of the myriad potential explanations for a general drop-off in turnout. Reviews (among other things) potential institutional barriers to simple voter registration; the demobilizing structure of the contemporary political parties; and persistent rational choice arguments that voting may not be worth the effort.

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  • Miller, Warren E., and J. Merrill Shanks. The New American Voter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

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    Suggests that generational turnover promotes lower participation rates because older generations had a clearer connection between their material self-interest and their electoral participation. Younger voters that did not grow up during the New Deal era are abstaining from voting at greater rates, perhaps because they do not feel as personally invested in politics.

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  • Mutz, Diana C. Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative versus Participatory Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511617201Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provocative work of political psychology. Mutz offers a series of experiments suggesting that people are less inclined to participate when they have considered all sides of an issue. In our polarized political climate, this suggests that declining participation rates might be found disproportionately among those best-equipped to reason soberly and carefully about their political choices.

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  • Prior, Markus. Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139878425Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Links declining participation with changes in mass exposure to political news. The expansion of cable television allowed those with minimal political interest to simply “opt out” of news programming altogether. As a consequence, we see declining participation rates by less politically extreme voters that might have been nudged toward voting simply by having frequent and inadvertent access to broadcast news.

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  • Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.

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    Attributes declining participation to the simultaneous decline of civic culture, and in particular the rise of anti-social entertainment opportunities such as television.

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  • Rosenstone, Steven J., and John Mark Hansen. Mobilization, Participation, and Democracy in America. New York: Macmillan, 1993.

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    Argues that Republican and Democratic campaigns are increasingly targeting their “bases” of voters through strategic mobilization. These mobilization techniques avoid wasting resources through blanket canvassing—but one unintended consequence is that the parties are increasingly failing to mobilize new voters, and voter turnout is falling as a result.

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  • Verba, Sidney, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Henry E. Brady. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

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    Links political participation not just to socioeconomic status, but also to the degree that individuals’ social lives provide them resources for civic engagement. Central to the authors’ “resource model” are different opportunities to acquire the civic skills that make it easier to participate in time-intensive political acts.

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Partisanship and Demographics

Political scientists have long been interested in which voters belong to which political parties. (Note that Key 1955, cited under Critical Elections, and Key 1959, cited under Secular Realignments: Perspectives on Longer-Term Change, launched the “realignment” conversation by expecting that the main evidence for realignments would be changes to the voting patterns of particular subgroups.) We sample here several more provocative arguments about various demographic “partisan gaps” that have emerged in the modern era. Some of these partisan gaps are racial or ethnic in nature. Dawson 1994 and Frymer 1999 offer different explanations for why African Americans vote overwhelmingly (almost homogenously) Democratic. Ramirez 2013 suggests that conditions of external threat might tilt Latino voters decisively toward the Democratic column. Other partisan gaps involve gender, socioeconomic status, and religion. Box-Steffensmeier, et al. 2004 explains female voters’ preference for the Democratic Party in terms of Democrats’ advantage on “female” issues. Claassen 2015 notes that religious voters’ preference for Republican candidates is grounded in similarly well-entrenched issue and values-based differences. Perhaps most contentious is the research on an apparent “income” gap in partisan voting, with more socioeconomically advantaged voters favoring the Republicans and less advantaged voters favoring the Democrats. McCarty, et al. 2006 links the explosion in this partisan income gap to rising polarization, while Gelman 2008 cautions that the voting behavior of high-income voters is conditioned by state political culture.

  • Box-Steffensmeier, Janet M., Suzanna De Boef, and Tse-Min Lin. “The Dynamics of the Partisan Gender Gap.” American Political Science Review 98.3 (2004): 515–528.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0003055404001315Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Notes that the partisan “gender gap”—in which women vote disproportionately Democratic—persists because women perceive the Democratic Party to be more competent on “feminine” issues such as social welfare.

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  • Claassen, Ryan L. Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans? Party Activists, Party Capture, and the “God Gap.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781316104873Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Makes a strong argument that the restructuring of partisan conflict along religious lines accurately reflects the religious or non-religious sentiments of the party bases. There is a pronounced “God gap” in partisan voting—with more religious Americans supporting the Republicans and less religious Americans supporting the Democrats.

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  • Dawson, Michael C. Behind the Mule: Race and Class in African-American Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

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    Explains the homogenously Democratic partisanship of African American voters in terms of “linked fate” between African Americans from different socioeconomic strata. Even high-income African Americans feel solidarity with less advantaged African Americans, and they may further anticipate that their common group identity will become relevant in the future.

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  • Frymer, Paul R. Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

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    Explains Democratic partisanship among African Americans in terms of “partisan capture”—the process by which one party retains widespread support from a particular subgroup even if it fails to take further action on the group’s behalf. For example, in the aftermath of the civil rights movement, the Democratic Party may have realized that blacks would remain Democrats even if the official party slowed down on civil rights.

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  • Gelman, Andrew. Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

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    Suggests that the concept of a “partisan income gap”—in which high-income people vote Republican and lower-income people vote Democratic—is only one part of the story. Just as important is an emerging partisan gap between high-income voters in Democratic states and high-income voters in Republican states. This suggests that if non-economic or social issues are producing a partisan gap, the gap is emerging between high-income people in different regions.

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  • McCarty, Nolan, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. Polarized America: The Dance of Inequality and Unequal Riches. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.

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    Links the rise of partisan polarization with an increasing association between income and partisanship. Republican voters are increasingly drawn from higher-income brackets; Democrats, from lower-income brackets.

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  • Ramirez, Ricardo. Mobilizing Opportunities: The Evolving Latino Electorate and the Future of American Politics. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013.

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    Offers a nuanced perspective on the political mobilization and partisanship of Latino voters, suggesting that state-level electoral contexts should condition these factors. In states where Latinos have experienced political threat, we should see higher levels of Latino participation and a stronger Latino bias toward Democratic candidates.

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Polarization

Political scientists have become increasingly concerned with expanding ideological differences between the parties in government, party activists, and (increasingly) voters themselves. An important part of electoral change is the extent to which we see scarce overlap between Republicans and Democrats. The following works are among the strongest contributions to the burgeoning polarization literature. As Poole and Rosenthal 2017 documents, the parties in Congress now show virtually no ideological overlap; Grossman and Hopkins 2016 suggests that Republican elites have been disproportionately responsible for this polarization. But while partisan elites have polarized, there is debate about whether the mass public has done the same. From Hetherington 2001; Fiorina, et al. 2005; and Levendusky 2009, we know that liberal and conservative voters have at least “sorted” into the political parties that best represent their policy attitudes. Yet Abramowitz 2010 argues that at least some of the mass public is itself polarized, and that this more engaged and polarized public has disproportionate influence over elections. Indeed, Campbell 2016 suggests that a polarized public likely fueled elite polarization (rather than just vice versa). Moreover, several recent arguments paint a rich portrait of possible mechanisms that sustain elite and mass polarization. Lee 2016 and Koger and Lebo 2017 describe how partisan antipathies and close party competition have given both the majority and minority parties in Congress no incentive for bipartisan lawmaking. Considered together with the argument of Mason 2018 that mass partisanship is a dominant social identity defined by hatred toward the opposing party, it is difficult to imagine a peaceful reversal to partisan polarization.

  • Abramowitz, Alan I. The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.

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    Counters Fiorina, et al. 2005 by contending that a sizable subsection of the mass electorate is indeed polarized. These voters are especially relevant, because they are more engaged and informed than moderate voters. Thus, a polarized mass electorate could conceivably be causing elected officials to become more polarized, simply because polarized voters have greater electoral influence.

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  • Campbell, James E. Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400883448Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests not only that the mass public has become ideologically polarized in its own right—but that mass polarization promotes elite polarization instead of vice versa. Moreover, the structure of mass preferences means that the parties have scarce incentive to compete for a “median voter” that is unlikely to vote in the first place.

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  • Fiorina, Morris, Samuel J. Abrams, and Jeremy C. Pope. Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America. New York: Pearson Education, 2005.

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    Argues that even if elites have polarized, the mass public has not followed suit. At best, voters have sorted themselves into the party that best reflects their (conservative or liberal) ideological predispositions.

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  • Grossman, Matt, and David A. Hopkins. Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190626594.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Republican elites have moved considerably further to the political right than Democratic elites have moved to the political left. Implies that any discussion of elite polarization must take into account the unequal culpability of the party coalitions.

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  • Hetherington, Marc J. “Resurgent Mass Partisanship: The Role of Elite Polarization.” American Political Science Review 95.3 (2001): 619–631.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0003055401003045Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that since elected Democrats and Republicans have polarized, the mass public now sees a clearer choice between the two parties—leading to partisan sorting, where liberals and conservatives relocate themselves within the party that clearly represents their issue preferences.

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  • Koger, Gregory, and Matthew J. Lebo. Strategic Party Government: Why Winning Trumps Ideology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

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    Like Lee 2016, explains elite polarization as resulting from the increase in inter-party competition in Congress. Because of increased competition, majority-party members increasingly defer authority to party leadership. Were the parties less competitive, we might expect these same members to stick up for their diverse positions and avoid the appearance of partisan overkill.

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  • Lee, Frances E. Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226409184.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Links elite polarization (and the communication of polarizing messages to the mass public) to the increase in party competition in Congress. Now that the minority party usually has a chance to regain control of Congress, their focus has shifted from bipartisan lawmaking to a “perpetual campaign” mentality. The minority’s goal, then, is not legislative victories—but rather the successful depiction of the majority party as unfit.

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  • Levendusky, Matthew S. The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226473673.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that partisan “sorting” is conceptually distinct from mass polarization. The public has responded to elite polarization by synchronizing their partisanship with their ideological self-identifications and issue preferences. This is because in an age of homogenous parties, the correct partisan-ideological combination can be easily ascertained.

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  • Mason, Lilliana. Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226524689.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Comprehensive argument that elite and mass polarization are sustained by increased “affective polarization”—partisan hatred of the opposition. Mason argues that the partisan divide has absorbed and reinforced more traditional group cleavages (e.g., religion and race).

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  • Poole, Keith T., and Howard Rosenthal. Ideology and Congress: A Political Economic History of Roll Call Voting. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2017.

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    Uses a well-known scaling procedure (DW-NOMINATE) to establish that congressional elites have become increasingly polarized along a single liberal-conservative dimension. Whereas in previous eras a secondary dimension accounted for variance on regional or racial issues, this single dimension now accounts for most variance in roll-call voting behavior.

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