Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States

By James L. Sundquist | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Party Realignment: What? When? How?

"IT IS PLAINLY the end of an era," proclaimed Theodore H. White, chronicler of the making of presidents, over the National Broadcasting Company's television network as the returns poured in on election night 1980. Next day, David S. Broder, respected political columnist of the Washington Post, used the same phrase in his analysis of the landslide victory of Ronald Reagan and the equally spectacular--and far more unexpected--Republican capture of the Senate: "It certainly had all the appearances of an era ending--and a new one beginning." "A Sharp Right Turn: Republicans and Democrats Alike See New Era in '80 Returns" was the headline on his story.1"The 1980 election marks the end of a transitional period in American politics," said Peter D. Hart, the pollster, a few months later.2

Political scientists might be less ready to commit themselves, but they at least entertained the possibility. The editors of an early volume on the 1980 election, summarizing the views of their contributors, found "some evidence" that a political "realignment" had occurred, but in the end they hedged. "Time will tell," they concluded; the new era would depend on how well the Republicans succeeded in quelling the voters' discontent.3 But looking back over a somewhat longer period and writing before the 1980 election had occurred, Bruce A. Campbell expressed a wide consensus of political scientists in saying, "Those observing the American electorate over the past couple of decades just know that something important is going on." The New Deal coalition dominant in the 1930s and 1940s had lost vitality, Republicans had occupied the White House most of the time since 1952, and the public opinion polls showed fewer and fewer people

____________________
1
Washington Post, November 6, 1980.
2
Washington Post, May 18, 1981.
3
Ellis Sandoz and Cecil V. Crabb Jr., eds., A Tide of Discontent: The 1980 Elections and Their Meaning ( Congressional Quarterly Press, 1981), pp. 194, 209.

-1-

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