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

By Arthur Paulson | Go to book overview

7
Ideological Polarization and the Two-Tier Party System: Split-Ticket Voting, Divided Government, and Realignment in American Politics

Although the nonideological and decentralized character of American political parties has historically combined with the separation of powers to make a responsible party system highly unlikely in the United States, unified control of the Presidency and Congress has been the rule more often than not. Divided government has, however, been the rule for about the last four decades and is often cited as evidence of party decay. But, ironically, the last previous period of frequently divided government came in the heyday of the nineteenth-century political parties, just before the realignment of 1896.

The argument presented in this chapter is that the split-ticket voting and divided government of the last four decades is a function of the realignment of the 1960s, and may even be more a sign of party revival than party decay. The two-tier party system of the late twentieth century has featured "realignment at the top and dealignment at the bottom," in the words of James Q. Wilson. 1 As discussed in the previous chapters, realignment at the top is associated with ideological polarization between the major parties. Dealignment at the bottom is associated

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