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

By Jeff Manza; Clem Brooks | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

The analyses of third party candidates developed in this chapter provide a useful perspective on the development and ongoing evolution of social cleavages in U.S. politics. If our analyses had found evidence for consistently large effects of cleavages on third party vote choice, this might lend support to the contention that the political relevance of social cleavages is increasingly to be found outside the electoral space defined by the major parties. However, we find no evidence for this scenario.

Instead, social cleavages, where they are relevant to third party candidacies, appear to reflect an underlying opposition to Republican candidates among key groups (in the case of the race cleavage) or an emerging but not fully mature cleavage (in the case of gender in 1968). The significant effect of gender in 1992 is of an altogether different character than the gender gap among major party voters (and the emerging alignment of working women with Democratic presidential candidates). All women, not just working women, were less likely to vote for Perot. Not only do the religion and class cleavages have virtually no impact on third party candidates in 1968, 1992, and 1996, the combined effects of social cleavages outside the arena of major parties is considerably smaller than the corresponding effects on Democratic versus Republican vote choice discussed in Chapter 6. Taken together, these considerations imply that even a large increase in overall levels of support for such candidates in the future will likely have little impact (and will not by themselves displace) social cleavages among major party voters.

The limited relevance of social cleavages to third party candidates also illustrates an important difficulty faced by political actors who operate outside of the organizational framework provided by the Democratic and Republican parties. As shown in Chapter 6, the major parties have enjoyed distinctive sociodemographic profiles during the past four decades, relying on the political mobilization and long- standing alignments of key social groups. These bases of support provide major party candidates with a 'starting point' from which to begin their drive for office. However, even the most successful independent presidential campaigns in recent decades have been unable to mobilize longstanding religion and class cleavages.

In comparison to the two major parties, then, third party candidates face greater obstacles in securing the durable constituencies necessary to create lasting political organizations and remain competitive in

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