The 1994 Electoral Aftershock: Dealignment or Realignment in the South
Waiting for the next realignment to occur in American politics has been likened to "waiting for Godot" ( Ladd 1991). Despite a rather dramatic shift in national political discourse over domestic spending, regulation, welfare, and race, analysts remain hesitant to label the post-New Deal electoral transformations an actual "realignment." This reluctance stems primarily from two nonevents: the lack of sustained Republican majorities in Congress and the relative lack of national voters identifying with the Republican party. Instead, analysts interpret these nonevents as products of a widespread "dealignment," stemming from a decline in the influence of party organizations and involving significant portions of the voting- aged population who have either detached themselves from partisan politics ( Wattenberg 1990) or opted to drop out of the electoral process altogether ( Burnham 1987).
At first glance, the Republican victories of 1994 do not appear to be indicative of the long-awaited realignment. No dramatically divisive issue like the Civil War or the Great Depression emerged during the campaign, nor did early exit polls detect a notable shift in voter partisan identification. Instead, voters have once again chosen to divide the government between the two major parties, an act which has been perhaps the most defining characteristic of the dealignment era. Since many voters have been ambivalent towards the policies and ideologies of both parties, they are thought to be deliberately splitting their tickets in order to provide some kind of balance and moderation ( Alesina and Rosenthal 1989, Fiorina 1992b, Jacobson 1990a). Given this "cognitive Madisonian" assessment (as termed by Ladd 1995b: 18) of the modern-day electorate, it is less than surprising that the Republicans' ultimate takeover of Congress would more or less coincide with the Democrats' takeover of the presidency.
Explanations of the 1994 election results seen through the lens of dealignment theory, however, become problematic when the focus centers on possession of 60 House seats that turned over from Democratic to Republican representatives. 2 For instance, balancing theories assume that moderate, independent, and ambivalent voters are most responsible for dividing the government. Yet, in 1994 the districts that switched to Republican House candidates consisted of quite conservative voters. According to national election data (see Table 6.1), the voters from these