What predicts (causes?) party realignments?

by on March 13, 2016 at 12:29 pm in Books, Current Affairs, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

Richard L. McCormick discusses this question in his The Party Period and Public Policy (the quoted chapter is reproduced in jstor):

After coding and analyzing the contents of party platforms and federal statutes, Benjamin Ginsberg conclude that realigning eras were marked by high degrees of ideological difference between the parties and by significant transitions in national policy.  David W. Brady and several coworkers marshaled evidence of heightened party voting in Congress and of the adoption of “clusters of policy changes” following the realignments of the 1890s and the New Deal era.

The simple-minded amongst us might be tempted to conclude we are likely in a realignment period right now, as argued very recently by David Frum.  It should be noted that McCormick criticizes these theories for their simplicity in some regards, and their rather casual aggregation of different time periods.

Here is the Ginsberg piece from jstor.  Here is one of the cited Brady pieces, again jstor.

1 Ray Lopez March 13, 2016 at 12:54 pm

Time for the Republican party to die out? To be replaced by something else, like the Know-Nothing party?

OT – have red mites on my private parts. But it’s NOT contagious and it’s NOT scabies.

2 Ray Lopez March 13, 2016 at 9:54 pm

Like a good joke that went inexplicably flat, nobody understood TC’s post, except perhaps R Richard Schweitzer downstream, who at least understood the post but disagreed with it. This post by TC was about the Republican party being replaced by something else, not about coalition building, switching party allegiance, or gerrymandering.

OT–it’s caused by chickens, and spraying with Malathion, a relatively harmless organophosphate pesticide, gets rid of the unsightly red bumps (on the chickens).

3 Sam the Sham March 13, 2016 at 10:17 pm

Don’t ever change, Ray.

4 8 March 13, 2016 at 2:14 pm

At this point its not so much a realignment as debate along a new axis of political ideology. If you say left-right in describing political parties, most people think in terms of economics, capitalism vs socialism. The new axis is identity/community. The right is nationalist/local and the left is transnational/global. National socialists (Bernie Sanders) and national capitalists (Trump) are on the same side. Global socialists (Clinton) and global capitalists (Bush) are on the same side. Are Sanders and Trump supports going to merge? Probably not. A more likely outcome is that, like 1945-2015, the nationalism/globalism question is effectively settled and voters split along familiar left-right issues. For now, the question of nationalism/globalism is an open one.

5 Art Deco March 13, 2016 at 3:07 pm

The question cannot be effectively settled without an elite consensus. Trump is disrupting the elite consensus. The question at hand is whether his disruption will prove more durable than the efforts of Nixon and Reagan.

6 Nathan W March 13, 2016 at 9:38 pm

Globalism and free trade make an awful lot of sense for an economy that is at the cutting edge of most technologies and which wants a combination of unfettered yet highly protected access. Clearly not everyone approves of the status quo though.

7 Peter Schaeffer March 14, 2016 at 12:13 am


The stability of the 1945-2015 period was driven by several things. First, the Soviet/Maoist/Communist threat was real The magnitude of the external threat dampened the internal conflicts in the U.S. / Europe quite a bit. Second, the 1945-1980 period (but not after) was characterized by low and stable inequality combined with fast real growth (hence rising real wages). Since 1980, growth has declined (markedly) and inequality has risen (dramatically).

The combination of the Berlin Wall, and the rising real incomes of the 1945-1980 period is gone. The new combination is one of destabilizing inequality and (relative) international tranquility.

The left/right paradigm has not (yet) been replaced by a nationalism/globalism political dynamic. However, if you extrapolate current trends it will be. Big if of course.

8 Art Deco March 14, 2016 at 11:10 am

The rapid growth extended from about 1949 to about 1973, not after. It would be a mistake to regard that period as a baseline. It was odd in comparison to preceding periods. Complaints about ‘inequality’ were already staples of NPR type journalism by 1984, making use of the situation ca. 1973 as a reference point.

9 Art Deco March 14, 2016 at 11:11 am

With one addendum. Growth rates in per capita income during the 1982-90 business cycle would have been familiar a generation earlier.

10 Art Deco March 13, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Prior to 1968, political competition could be described in terms of periods which varied in length but averaged about 20 years in duration. We’ve had only two periods since 1932, one of Democratic dominance from 1932 to 1968 and one of roughly even competition at the federal level with a secular loss of Democratic advantages at the state level while an impregnable one-party arrangement was enhanced in core cities. The electorate has been sorely pillarized the last 20 years and there’s no particular reason for Frum to believe there will be a ‘severe defeat’ for Republicans except that hypochondria is fashionable among Republican pundits few people really listen to and that sort of sentiment sells to The Atlantic‘s readership.

11 Brian March 13, 2016 at 3:06 pm

Le Carre describes the awe in seeing the Berlin Wall be constructed:

the Wall was perfect theatre as well as a perfect symbol of the monstrosity of ideology gone mad

I would say that passage remains shockingly relevant today.

12 Millian March 13, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Realignments don’t happen often at all and certainly not in one election. Normally the process is really slow. To wit, the most significant realignment in recent years was the change in the South from Democrats to Republicans as the main party of white people; but Republicans started having local successes in the South in the 1950s and the region was still split between the parties right up to 2000. Even there, states like Virginia have gone firmly in the opposite direction. (Other regions have aligned differently, but in a less complete or a partial way. E.g., Vermont is now heavily Democratic instead of heavily Republican but Rhode Island and Massachusetts already had been.)

Thus I would say elections are a bad basis for a theory of political realignments. Realignments cause election results in a pretty boring and predictable way, rather than vice versa. Trump (say) is still going to win Tennessee, Utah and Kansas. Clinton (say) is still going to win California.

13 Art Deco March 13, 2016 at 6:49 pm

The process was not slow historically. Retrospectively, you can see that the last re-alignment emerged quite quickly, but it was not so evident because the equilibrium state which succeeded Democratic dominance was so fuzzy. The Depression-era re-alignment was accomplished in about 6 years. The Republican hegemony which preceded it emerged that quickly as well. The thing is, you’re not seeing as we speak any economic, political, or social cataclysms which preceded most of the previous re-alignments. What we’ve seen is secular decay.

As for Virginia, about 25% of the population now lives in greater Washington. In 1950, the suburban tract development there might have amounted to 8% of Virginia’s population. Neither the governor nor the senators representing Virginia are Virginia natives, and Messrs. Warner and McAuliffe live in NoVa when they’re not on official duties.

14 R Richard Schweitzer March 13, 2016 at 6:08 pm

Realignment ? ? ?

Maybe “reformation” (a real change in organization and function)

Were electoral parties created as facilities to meet or serve a societal need?

Have they (at times) become institutions serving the objectives of the internal operatives, rather than meeting the needs which led to their creation?

Have the original societal needs for their creation changed; or are they changing?

The coalitions structure of one party has led to continuous “realignments;” limiting the availability of objectives for the internal operatives. The other party is not made up of cohesive coalitions.

15 Dmitri Helios March 13, 2016 at 8:30 pm

Did you just call David Frum “simple-minded”?

16 Patwater March 14, 2016 at 12:02 am

That would indeed appear to be the case. Kinda lame and throw-away-ey

17 Andre March 13, 2016 at 8:56 pm

I could easily see a party realignment, the ball is in the Republican’s court. If Bernie, and Bernie’s tax rates, are the future of the Democratic youth movement the Republican’s won’t have to pander so much to the donor class and can re evaluate it’s base. If the tea party and part of the evangelical base are recognized as a bunch of racist nuts then they can toss them overboard and make inroads with minorities and independents, they just have to decide to do it. Keep Obama derangement from turning into Hillary derangement and work on some compromises with her and the path would be wide open. The votes for corporate tax reform and immigration reform are there with huge majorities, just not a majorities of the majority. Paul Ryan could get a lot done and get himself the presidency in 2020.

18 Patwater March 14, 2016 at 12:08 am

Shouldn’t we perhaps be a bit skeptical about inferring too much from the historical record of party realignments when N = ~2?

19 Art Deco March 14, 2016 at 9:04 am

N=6, not 2.

20 DevOps Dad March 14, 2016 at 12:41 am

What predicts (cause?) party realignments? Mass societal change in behavior and lifestyle or the anticipation of mass societal change?

Americamagazine.org, February 22nd article ‘Life Without Work’ informs us there already exists a 1.8 billion shortfall in formal jobs across the globe for those available to work. And according to Frey and Osborne of Oxford University, 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at high risk of being eliminated over the next two decades through smart-machine design that will enable the automation of many current jobs requiring non routine cognitive tasks.

Why would parents anticipating a near future of many current jobs disappearing want *any* immigration whatsoever?
More immigration would increase the competition, stress and havoc for their children, as well as, diminish other scarce resources.

Perhaps, only allowing immigrates who create well paying jobs or immigrate employees who make $120,000 or more a year, nothing else would make economic sense.

21 Art Deco March 14, 2016 at 9:02 am

What predicts (cause?) party realignments? Mass societal change in behavior and lifestyle or the anticipation of mass societal change?

No, crises, at least after 1834. Incipient civil war (1854-1862); low grade economic depression (1873-80), acute economic depression in the context of chronic agrarian distress (1892-96), catastrophic economic depression (1929-34), and a crisis of confidence in the military, the police, and the higher education apparat (1964-68).

22 Hazel Meade March 14, 2016 at 12:34 pm

low grade economic depression

That would qualify for this year, wouldn’t it?
Leaving the numbers aside, I know that many people still feel that the economy has never quite recovered from the 2008 crisis. We’re still talking about it. It’s still the touchstone economic issue.

I think a lot of people are very frustrated that it’s been 8 years and they still aren’t back to where they were in terms of net worth.
Nevermind that their net worth was over-estimated by an inflated stock market and real-estate market.

23 Art Deco March 14, 2016 at 8:21 pm

That would qualify for this year, wouldn’t it?

The economy has been growing since the Spring of 2009 and the unemployment rate is not that elevated. Employment-to-population ratios have declined some.

Some estimates of the period by economic historians have it that the economy was slowly imploding for a period of seven years after a financial crisis in 1873. Nothing similar has happened of late. You had about eight or nine months of stagnation or small declines from December 2007 to September 2008 and then a sharp 5% drop in the rate at which goods and services were being produced, experienced over a period of 8 or 9 months.

24 anon March 14, 2016 at 11:15 am

Let’s remember that smart people did their introspection on failure and opportunity at the end of the disastrous GWB administration. 2009.

Less smart people said no, we don’t need that, and carried the ball for 7 more years of Reublican dysfunction. “Repealing” Obamacare 30 or 40 times is dysfunction. Especially given that the current Trump plan is to “repeal” it by giving it a new name, to “repeal” the mandate by giving it a new name as well.

So why should I believe that good ideas about realignment will be listened to now?

Every time, smart is thrown out of the Party.

25 Art Deco March 14, 2016 at 8:22 pm

The beauty of talking to your navel is it never talks back.

26 Hazel Meade March 14, 2016 at 12:24 pm

I think the current political atmosphere is much more shaped by social media than earlier posters. Left and right have long had their own echo chambers via different media platforms, but this year each side seems to be especially dedicated to living inside their own bubbles. A key indicator is the extent to which completely false or absurdly hyperbolic memes continue to get shared. I really only see the lefty side of this, but I can only presume that the same thing is responsible on the right for much of Trump’s support. To me, it looks like they have created two almost entirely closed social media spheres, so that neither side is ever faced with the information that the other side is reading, which makes each camp look utterly insane and mystifying to the other. Importantly, fact checking in social media is grossly lacking, because nobody wants to volunteer to be the asshole who shits on everyone’s circle jerk. As a result the people who are locked inside these social media exclusion zones are generally rather badly informed, and it is difficult to change their minds or get them to see electoral politics objectively.

In a normal election year, most primary voters want to pick someone who can win, and so try to back a relative moderate that can appeal to the other side. This year, apparently many R’s seriously think that there are all these secret Trump voters who are going to come out of the woodwork, and many D’s think there are secret socialists who are going to emerge to vote for Sanders. That sort of thing only happens when people live in closed social spheres and become convinced that “everyone” thinks like them. They literally have lost any sense of how other people think politically and what might appeal to them and thus are just going full retard toward their base instincts.

27 anon March 14, 2016 at 12:44 pm

One could argue that Bernie inoculates Hilary for the general election. You can’t call Hillary a socialist anymore because they just say “oh no that was Bernie and he lost.”

A far left fake campaign that blew up bigger than any expected.

28 Nathan W March 14, 2016 at 2:31 pm

I think a lot of Bernie supporters recognize that most of his policies would never make it through Congress, but find him a very credible candidate for tackling some of the more corrosive influences of money in politics. What concerns me about him is his apparent complete disregard for foreign policy. Like, I’m not a warmonger by the remotest stretch of the imagination, but dropping a couple hints like “oh yeah, and I’m DEFINITELY willing to nuke people, but only if it’s an insanely good/necessary idea” or otherwise demonstrating some willingness for rapid deployment of military assets in the face of a real threat (not a bunch of nutjobs cruising around the Iraqi desert in jeeps and AK47s), I think this would be less concerning.

I think the hope for broadening Trump’s appeal rests on a similar proposition to the anti-corruption bent of Sanders, but Trump has not indicated any interest in actually doing anything about that, instead resting on the principle that since he’s so rich he cannot bought. But what good is that if they can just “buy” (influence) the next guy or the whole rest of government that can overrule or even impeach him?

29 Art Deco March 14, 2016 at 8:27 pm

Dunno. If our Democratic friends and our Republican friends are any guide, the propensity of partisan Democrats to mouth off on Facebook exceeds that of partisan Republicans by about 10-to-1. The militant paulbot in our family posts pictures of his daughters. I’ve found its the same in work situations. The opinionated blatherers in the staff lounge were people who think Michael Moore actually produces documentaries.

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