Stresses and Strains
“Plus Ça Change” in the Parties and Voting
JOHN R. PETROCIK
This chapter presents a narrative about the diversity of the American party coalitions: how diversity influences the issue agendas of the parties, how it has changed in recent years, and how coalitional diversity regulates the relationship between issue preferences and voting choices in the contemporary period. The replacement of the New Deal coalitions in the 1980s was a “Reagan Realignment” that significantly transformed the mass base of the Democratic and Republican parties. But the way in which the diversity of the coalitions influences campaigns and voting has changed very little. Both parties are internally fractured by many issues, and American elections continue to require candidates and officeholders to function as brokers who can manage each party’s centrifugal diversity and thereby win elections. Election losses attributed to tensions within the diverse coalitions create periodic “crises.”
There is a recursive relationship between the policies a party promotes and the social characteristics of its supporters. Distinctive regional, ethnic, religious, language, economic (manufacturing, agricultural, or technical sectors of the economy), or class groups support a party because of the policies it promotes, and the party proposes particular policies because the supporters, activists, and candidates from these groups use the party to pursue the group’s interests. The specificity of the party’s position on any issue will reflect the diversity of the party’s constituency. A party with a support base that is specific to a small number of groups is, ceteris paribus, likely to adopt specific and detailed positions on issues because its voters expect it and there are very few who share a party loyalty but have contrary issue positions.
The size of a group among the party’s core supporters is important to this issue homogeneity. In some theories of political influence, great importance is attributed