The Realignment Process: A Preliminary Statement
IN THE SIMPLIFIED SETTING of the hypothetical community, the process through which a major party realignment takes place can be seen in its essentials.
A party system that divides people into two contending political groups on the basis of their attitudes and beliefs about one set of public issues is disturbed by a new issue (or cluster of related issues). The new issue cleaves the electorate on a different line and hence divides each of the parties internally. The new issue can be of any kind, arising from any of the wide variety of dissatisfactions and grievances that can be felt by groups of citizens on matters they conceive to be the proper concern of government. Either at the outset or as it gathers momentum, the new issue comes to be of such paramount political concern to some proportion of the voters that if it encounters resistance from the parties with which they are affiliated, it overrides all the considerations that form the basis of their attachment to those parties. In the intensity of their desire to use the machinery of politics and government to resolve the new issue, these voters arouse an equally passionate opposition dedicated to maintaining the status quo. Thus within each party two hostile blocs take form, located on opposite sides of the line of cleavage created by the new issue and at the extreme of intensity of feeling on each side--at the poles. In modern parlance, they are single-issue groups, wholly dedicated to their cause. In between are the voters who have not been polarized, who may be called centrists; some may feel strongly about the new issue but all have in common a desire to see that the party that has served well as the instrument for united action in dealing with old issues not be torn apart by controversy over the new one.
If the centrists are able to resolve the new issue before the polar groups have achieved significant growth, both major parties will survive and the realignment will be minor. The scale of the realignment in that event will depend on the size of the polar forces at the time the issue is resolved