In the aftermath of the 1980 national elections, discussions within the media and among academic political scientists and historians concentrated on the immediate or future prospects of a new era in American politics. "The New Deal is dead. The country is now and for the foreseeable future probably will be governed by a conservative majority on economic and social issues." This only slightly oversimplified statement summarizes the tenor of the prognosticators' conclusions about the polity of late twentieth-century America. This book was stimulated partly by the events of 1980 and was written as the first aftershocks of that election rumbled through the halls of Congress and throughout the nation at large. But there is a broader scope and a longer history to the Reagan counter- revolution that can be properly understood only by a detailed study of the half-century since the first stirrings of a traditionalist reaction against the specters of social equality, government activism, and economic leveling that were at least suggested to those of contrary persuasions by the New Deal and its progeny: the Fair Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society.
This book presents the story of congressional conservatism since the early 1930s from an empirical perspective, balancing verbal narrative with what I think is a judicious use of applied statistical methods. The intended audience includes students of political science and history, particularly those interested in political parties, ideology, Congress, and the presidency, as well as those in the journalistic profession, and, of course, those who practice the art of politics or hope to do so in the future. I believe this book will have appeal, too, to practitioners of the art of applied statistics, especially those who have some grounding in time-series techniques. Indeed, the proper blending of statistical methods and political realities is the chief motivation for the existence of this volume, which to my knowledge is one of the first large-scale efforts in the political science literature to apply selected methods of time-series analysis to appropriate historical data. No sophisticated knowledge of statistical methodology is requisite to follow the basic story that is told here, but glimpses of other, more detailed and perhaps more revealing perspectives on these realities should be available to anyone with minimal background in the relevant statistical applications.
For those of us fortunate enough to gain our perspectives from standing on the shoulders of giants, acknowledging the contributions of others is the least that can be done to repay debts of intellectual or data-gathering and analytical assistance. I would like to thank two intellectual mentors in particular—Barbara Hinckley at the University of Wisconsin, who made the study of congressional coalitions an exciting field of research, and Richard Li, who introduced me to the mechanics of time-series methods and their applicability to the social sciences. I am grateful as well to Jack Dennis, Leon Epstein, and Virginia Sapiro of the Department of Political Science and Dean Wichern of the School of Business of . . .