Race and the Social Bases of Voter Alignments
In the postwar literature on social cleavages and political behavior, few ideas have been more central than the notion that in democratic polities no single cleavage is ever likely to become dominant. The underlying assumption is that individual voters have multiple, overlapping group memberships, producing 'cross-cutting' cleavages in the polity as whole. As a result, individuals are divided from one another not just by class, or race, or religion, or ethnicity, or gender; they are divided by all of these, and others as well. This is what makes the possibility of successful class-based revolutions appear virtually inconU+00A ceivable in contemporary capitalist democracies, at least under normal conditions. It is also what prevents any one group from overpowering all others: the members of any powerful group are themselves divided along various lines. 1
The continuing strength of these cross-cutting axes of division, however, is potentially undermined if a single cleavage becomes so powerful as to erode other cleavages. In the history of American political development race has unquestionably been the most important of the major social cleavages, influencing virtually all political processes in one way or another. The significance of the race cleavage in structuring electoral behavior has been so large since the early 1960s that many analysts have argued that it is displacing other cleavages, especially the class cleavage.
In this chapter we examine the consequences of the emergence of the race cleavage for other cleavages in presidential elections. The analyses we present have two objectives. First, we systematically compare the magnitude of each of the major social cleavages in American politics. Surprisingly, such a comparison has rarely been attempted in recent years. Moreover, the few existing comparisons suffer from some significant limitations, including problems with conceptualizations of the religion and class cleavages. Our analyses show, as expected, that the race cleavage is substantially larger than other social cleavages, but they