Social Cleavages and Political Change: Voter Alignments and U.S. Party Coalitions

By Jeff Manza; Clem Brooks | Go to book overview
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category and the gender cleavage attest to the growing presence of women in both the labor force and in the electorate.


This chapter has examined changes in the impact of major social groups on U.S. party coalitions between the 1960s and the 1990s. Some of our key findings have been anticipated by other scholars: for example, the growing importance of African-Americans and the declining contribution of working-class voters to the Democratic coalition. The current analyses provide a useful corroboration, however, given our use of multivariate models that take into account group-specific turnout rates and adjusted group size. They also underscore a critical dynamic of the contemporary racial bases of the two parties: elections in which Democratic presidential candidates do well reduce the overrepresentation of black voters in the party's coalition.

Another finding that confirms and extends the conventional wisdom concerns the shrinking impact of liberal Protestants on both parties. Declining numbers of liberal Protestants in the electorate has meant that both parties receive fewer votes from this group than before. The impact is magnified within the Republican coalition, however, due to the erosion of liberal Protestants' once strong alignment with that party. Indeed, it may not be an exaggeration to say that the increased prominence of the Christian Right in the Republican Party is due not so much to a rapid increase in votes from conservative Protestants, but instead from the loss of the moderating influence of liberal (and moderate) Protestant voters.

Our analyses also deliver some new, counterintuitive findings about the social group basis of major party coalitions. For the Democrats, the most significant development is the striking growth of professional voters in their electoral coalition. Professionals were twice as numerous among all Democratic voters in 1992 as they were in 1960. Nonskilled workers--who were three times as large a presence as professionals in the 1960 coalition--provided only a handful more votes than professionals by 1992. The ratio of working class to professional/managerial votes in the party has gone from 2.8:1 in 1960 to an astounding 1.1:1 by 1992. The claim that the social bases of the 'new' Democratic Party have made that party increasingly receptive to the demands of more affluent voters--a point widely asserted on the political left--is clearly borne out by these figures.


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Social Cleavages and Political Change: Voter Alignments and U.S. Party Coalitions


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