The Politics of Women's Rights: Parties, Positions, and Change

By Christina Wolbrecht | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER SIX
Shifting Coalitions and Changing Elites

CHAPTER 5 reviewed the evidence of substantial disruption of the women's rights issue equilibrium and the redefinition of women's rights. Both contributed to the realignment of the parties' relative positions on women's rights. In this chapter, I examine two additional factors proposed as possible contributors to the transformation and polarization of the parties' positions on women's rights: changes in each party's coalition of interests and in the composition of the elites themselves. Much of what I consider here is related to, or meaningful because of, the issue-specific developments described in chapter 5. Other aspects are independent of those developments, but with complementary effects on the direction of party positioning.

This chapter is divided into two major sections. First, I consider changes in the composition of the parties' coalitions relevant to the parties' positions on women's rights. Second, I examine the role of party elite membership change, membership turnover generally and specifically the increasing numbers of women, in accounting for the observed partisan transformation on women's rights. For the most part, I focus on Congress in an effort to track both effects. Doing so allows me to most systematically relate coalition and elite changes to the parties' positions on women's rights. I note comparative expectations and examine other types of evidence when appropriate.


COALITIONS: THE CHANGING COMPOSITION
OF THE PARTIES' BASES

The interest coalitions of both the Democratic and Republican parties have experienced changes relevant to women's rights during this time period. In this section, I focus on two important and related shifts in the composition of the parties' coalitions. First, I examine the interrelated devolution of the Democratic Solid South and rise of social conservatism within the GOP and their impact on party alignment over women's rights. Second, I investigate the effects of the increasing ideological polarization of the parties at a time in which support for women's rights became ideologically structured.

Broadly, the hypothesized effect of party coalition change is as follows:

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