Broken Contract? Changing Relationships between Americans and Their Government

By Stephen C. Craig | Go to book overview
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Economic Change and the Middle-Class
Revolt Against the Democratic Party


In the previous seven presidential elections, the Democratic Party -- the party of activist government in the United States since the 1930s -- has averaged only about 43 percent of the popular vote, doing especially poorly among the middle class. 1 Why have so many middle-class voters lost confidence in the ability of elected leaders to deal effectively with important societal problems? The following chapter offers a provisional analysis of this question, organized into four sections. It begins by identifying what seems to be the root cause for middle-class hostility toward government in general, and toward the Democratic Party in particular, and then follows with a discussion of how the party has tried to respond to this growing hostility. In the next section I evaluate, in light of the 1992 election and its aftermath, the success of the Democrats' response. The chapter concludes with a consideration of whether and how further steps might be taken to restore middle-class faith in activist government.


Several explanations have been advanced to account for middle-class antipathy toward activist government. One argument sees it as a deep-seated, ideological rejection of government that has intensified over time. Supposedly, middle-class Americans now tend to have a fundamentally conservative view of taxes and of government -- a view that leads them to reject the Democratic Party and most new taxation and spending proposals. There is, however, very little evidence to suggest that the middle class's ideological orientations (as opposed to its operational assessments of government) are any more conservative today than they were in the early 1960s ( Bennett and Bennett 1990). Consequently, changing ideology among the middle class cannot tell us much about the origins of current hostility toward activist government and the Democratic Party.


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Broken Contract? Changing Relationships between Americans and Their Government
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