SINCE the founding of the Republic, except for a few brief intervals, the American political system has been based on competition between two major parties. But while the country's politics have been cast almost continuously in a two-party mold, the composition of the two parties, and sometimes even their identity, has from time to time undergone a kind of fundamental change or realignment.
In the mid- 1960s, the party system entered a period of turmoil that led many politicians, political observers, and scholars to suggest that another major realignment might be under way. Democratic and Republican parties that had taken their modern form in the historic conflict over domestic economic policy during the Great Depression and New Deal era were confronted in the 1960s and 1970s with a host of new issues that split the electorate on different and unfamiliar lines--the Vietnam War, campus uprisings, the civil rights revolution, rising crime, urban race riots, feminist demands, and changing mores among the young. Those aroused by the new issues found the existing major parties to be indecisive and unresponsive on these matters, even to a large extent irrelevant. Public opinion polls showed that more and more voters were rejecting both parties, calling themselves independents. Split-ticket voting increased, and single-issue groups rose and flourished as the parties declined.
In the original edition of Dynamics of the Party System, published by Brookings in 1973, James L. Sundquist set out to put these political events in historical and theoretical perspective through an analysis of the processes by which the American two-party system is at intervals reshaped. From an examination of three major transformations of the two-party system--the realignments of the 1850s, the 1890s, and the 1930s--as well as several minor realignments, he constructed a theory of the realignment process, which he then applied in analyzing recent trends in the party system.
The favorable response to that book led Brookings to sponsor, and the author to undertake, this new edition. The theoretical sections are refined, the historical chapters are revised in the light of more recent scholarship, and the concluding chapters dealing with the postwar period are almost