Explaining Party Issue Realignment
THE PREVIOUS two chapters discussed the realignment of the Democratic and Republican parties' relative positions on women's rights from 1952 to 1992. This transformation has characterized the parties in their various elite institutional forms—as formal organizations, presidents and presidential candidates, and Congressional delegations. How can we explain the positions adopted by the parties? Why have the parties' relative positions changed across the period? In this chapter, I develop a general explanation of party issue adoption and change and briefly relate that model to the case of women's rights. The application of the model to women's rights from the early 1950s to the early 1990s is detailed in chapters 5 and 6.
The role of parties in the representation of policy interests is crucial to the legitimacy of a democratic system. If elections are the central mechanism for transferring the people's preferences to public policy in a representative democracy and if parties structure the choices available to citizens in those elections, then the policy positions espoused by the parties reveal a great deal about the functioning of our republic as a truly representative political system (Burns 1997). As a result, various lines of inquiry have been concerned, directly and indirectly, with the connection between political parties and public policies. In particular, I draw from previous work on spatial models, critical realignment, issue evolution, Congressional behavior, and agenda setting. The insights and findings of these works provide the foundation for the model I develop to explain why parties adopt issue positions and under what circumstances parties might shift those positions, particularly in opposition to each other.
Why do parties establish certain policy positions? Perhaps more importantly, why do parties develop positions in opposition to each other? An important tradition in democratic theory suggests that the answer to the