Realignment and Party Revival: Understanding American Electoral Politics at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

By Arthur Paulson | Go to book overview
Jesse Jackson in 1988 or Pat Buchanan and Jerry Brown in 1992. 17 But that candidate has no chance at the nomination. The conflict over the platform, between party leaders, now focused on winning the election, and activists, still focused on issues, is a family conflict among liberals in the Democratic Party and conservatives in the Republican Party. Although the front-runner can help or hurt his or her chances in the coming election by how he or she handles the conflict, the nomination is not in jeopardy.

Finally, although the distinction between issue activists and party leaders is still a useful one, increasingly party leaders have gained their position with the support of issue activists rather than party professionals; and increasingly, issue activists are party leaders. Presidents are not only nominated by issue activists, they take issue activists to the White House. The Republican Congress elected in 1994 and the elevation of Newt Gingrich to the House Speakership are examples of issue activists becoming party leaders. Certainly that process creates some role conflict, both between politicians with conflicting agendas and within individuals torn by competing priorities. But this new style of leadership, and the role conflict it brings with it, is testimony to the emerging, ideologically homogenized political party.


CONCLUSION

The new, more nationalized and ideologically homogenized political parties, aggregating internally more harmonious interests than the nineteenth-century parties, are more unified than the nineteenth-century parties, a fact that has been apparent in changing patterns of Presidential nominations since the ideological polarization between the parties of the 1960s.

The evidence presented here suggests that factional realignment within parties is as important to the study of the party system as is electoral realignment between the parties. The "realignment at the top" in Presidential elections was as much an intraparty realignment as it was an interparty realignment. But neither realignment was recognized as it happened because it took so long to spread to the "bottom." The secular spread of realignment from the top to the bottom and its relationship to split-ticket voting and divided government is the subject of Chapter 7.

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