Equilibrium Disruption and Issue Redefinition
CHAPTERS 2 and 3 detailed the evolution of the parties' relative positions on women's rights from the early 1950s to the early 1990s. While there is some variation in the behavior of each party in their various elite-level incarnations—organizations, presidents, House and Senate delegations— the predominant pattern is remarkably consistent. In the 1950s and early 1960s, few elites or citizens recognized women's rights as a legitimate public policy issue, but on the small agenda with which activists and interested elites were concerned, Republicans were slightly more supportive of women's rights compared to their Democratic counterparts. Differences between the parties narrowed across the 1960s. Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, women's rights emerged as a major political issue. Both parties' platforms devoted unprecedented levels of attention to women's rights, and conventions were characterized by extensive debate and controversy over the issue. While the platforms were not greatly differentiated in the early 1970s, differences grew across the decade, culminating in significant divergence at decade's end. After 1980, polarization between the two parties on women's rights, with Democrats relatively more supportive, was the norm. In Congress, the House experienced a dramatic reversal during the 92nd Congress (1971–1972) as Democrats became more supportive of women's rights than Republicans, with polarization generally increasing thereafter. In the Senate, the change was more gradual; beginning with the 92nd Congress, Democrats were more likely to cosponsor pro–women's rights legislation, but differences were not statistically significant until the late-1980s.
This and the following chapter evaluate the empirical evidence in support of the explanation for the evolution of the parties' relative positions outlined in chapter 4. This theoretically grounded explanation identifies those circumstances expected to contribute to a shift in one or both of the parties' positions and in what direction we might expect that shift to occur. Furthermore, the explanation is cross-institutional in that it seeks to explain the relative positions taken by the parties in their various elite forms: organizations, executives, and Congressional delegations. As a result, the analysis calls for a wide-ranging sweep of available evidence.
The model I developed in chapter 4 focused on three variables—the issue, party coalitions, and party elites—and the process of issue equilib-