Class and Party in American Politics

By Jeffrey M. Stonecash | Go to book overview

4
Evolving Party
Constituencies and Concerns

"Stripped of all its rich variation, realignment theory comes down to the notion that something happens and the public responds" ( Carmines, Renten, and Stimson 1984: 545). That simple premise is the basis of the following analysis. In this case, the something may be complex and dynamic, involving protracted shifts of party constituencies and policy concerns, but the presumption is that differences between parties eventually register with the public and the electorate changes its political alignment.

Much of the analysis of changes in electoral realignments in American politics has focused on relatively abrupt changes ( Key 1955; Shafer 1991). My concern, however, is with gradual, secular changes ( Key 1959: 198-199). The argument is that over time Republicans and Democrats have experienced shifts in their electoral bases that have changed the policy concerns and positions of each party. 1 These changing party policy positions have altered electoral perceptions of which party is seen as more conservative or more liberal. Specifically, Republicans have come to be seen as relatively more conservative and Democrats as relatively more liberal. The parties have adopted increasingly divergent positions on class-related issues, with the result that the less and more affluent differ in which party they support.

The dynamics of party differentiation, public perception, and electoral reaction should not be presumed to be precise. The "processes operate inexorably, and almost imperceptibly, election after election to form new party alignments and to build new party groupings" ( Key 1959: 198-199). The media often do not treat party differences as meaningful and they are not inclined to convey information about substantive differences between the parties ( Patterson 1994). Campaign coverage is often focused more on shortterm controversies than debates about evolving policy issues and party differences. Party candidates recognize that and often focus more on some issue that will provide short-term advantages. Further, much of the public does not follow politics closely ( Flanigan and Zingale 1998: 143-163). Party

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Class and Party in American Politics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Transforming American Politics ii
  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xiii
  • 1 - Inequality and Political Debate: the Failed Role of Democrats 1
  • 2 - The Puzzling Survival of Democrats 9
  • Notes 16
  • 3 - Social Change and Anticipating Party Fortunes 17
  • Notes 41
  • 4 - Evolving Party Constituencies and Concerns 43
  • Notes 84
  • 5 - Electoral Response and Realignment 87
  • Notes 118
  • 6 - Reconsidering Party and Issues in American Politics 123
  • Notes 140
  • Appendix - The Analysis of Class Divisions in American Politics 141
  • Notes 157
  • References 159
  • Index 183
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