Broken Contract? Changing Relationships between Americans and Their Government

By Stephen C. Craig | Go to book overview

The 104th Congress may therefore be the first of a new era (perhaps like the Republicans emerging and becoming the leading party in Congress in 1855 but failing to become the new majority party nationwide until 1960). Or it might turn out to be the last Congress fighting the politics of the sixth party system, with the shape of the seventh party system not well formulated for another several election cycles. Alternatively, current party institutions may prove to be incapable of establishing and maintaining a stable era that would constitute a new party system like those we have known in the past. Or minimally, it is possible that the United States is entering into a seventh party system unlike anything in our previous experience as a nation. The only certainty about the future when seen from the vantage point of an old and aging alignment is that the future is entirely uncertain-and that conflict in the emerging critical era remains, for the moment, a fiercely contested effort to define the politics of the next generation.


NOTES
This chapter was begun while the authors were fellows at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. We are grateful for financial support provided by the National Science Foundation (grant no. BNS87-00864). Most of the data are drawn from the University of Michigan's American National Election Study series, made available by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. We would like to thank David Brady, James Stimson, and Martin Wattenberg for providing us with information or updates about their work, and Morris Fiorina, Franco Mattei, and Harold Stanley for their comments on an earlier draft.
1.
The first party system began with the creation of the earliest U.S. political parties -- Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans -- in the 1790s; it was in disarray by the 1820s. The second party system emerged with the rise to power of Jacksonian democracy and the mass-based parties of the 1820s and 1830s, and it lasted into the 1850s. The third party system was fully in place by 1860 with the election of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln; it was characterized by close competition between Republicans and Democrats. The fourth party system was formed in 1894-1896 as the GOP achieved a level of dominance that remained largely unbroken until the Great Depression. The fifth party system was forged in the 1930s as Democrats became the dominant party. For additional details, see Sundquist ( 1983), Clubb, Flanigan, and Zingale ( 1980), Brady ( 1988), Reichley ( 1992), Aldrich ( 1995).
2.
The election(s) that usher in a new party system may constitute a "realignment," in which the minority party at the time becomes a majority (winning most of the votes cast and capturing most elective offices at all levels); this happened most clearly in the 1930s. But changes in party systems also may be realized as fundamental shifts in partisan institutional arrangements, e.g., when an altogether new party comes onto the scene (like the Republicans in the nineteenth century). For this reason, we prefer the more general term "critical election" or "critical era." See Aldrich ( 1995) for a more thorough discussion of the earlier party systems and the critical eras between them.
3.
Our analysis does not exhaust all possible measures, but we believe that it does tap each of the major components proposed by "realignment" theorists as they apply to the mass electorate. Moreover, we have not selected only the best-fitting measures; indeed, a

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