Class and Party in American Politics

By Jeffrey M. Stonecash | Go to book overview

2
The Puzzling Survival of
Democrats

It is widely argued that, beginning in the late 1960s, the Democratic Party began a series of missteps. Party leaders focused on issues that alienated their core electoral base, working-class whites. Support for civil rights, in particular, hurt the party. The political transition in the South is perhaps the most frequently cited evidence of the problems faced by Democrats. Within the South Republicans have steadily improved their political fortunes at all levels of government ( Black and Black 1987). The erosion of support for Democrats in the South since 1946 in congressional and state legislative seats is shown in Figure 2.1. The percentage of seats held by Democrats has steadily declined since 1946 ( Rohde 1991; Stonecash and Agathangelou 1997). The studies assessing this shift are numerous and consistent in their documentation of party decline in this region ( Bullock and Rozell 1998: 3-21). The evidence is clear that southern conservative whites are steadily moving to the Republican Party ( Black and Black 1987:248-253).

Although the shift in partisan support in the South is impressive, significant problems arise from citing the party's decline in this region and concluding that the national Democratic Party is in decline. First, although Democrats have less support now in the South than they did fifty years ago, they still win a considerable proportion of seats in the region. The party's percentage of House and Senate seats as of 1998 is only slightly below the level of Democrats in the rest of the nation. Democrats still win many seats in the South ( Glaser 1996: 12-13); focusing on their decline neglects people Democrats have retained as supporters in this region.


Long-Term Trends

The more interesting and important question has to do with the national situation of the Democratic Party. Although Democratic Party fortunes were steadily declining in the South, somehow the party was able to

-9-

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Class and Party in American Politics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Transforming American Politics ii
  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xiii
  • 1 - Inequality and Political Debate: the Failed Role of Democrats 1
  • 2 - The Puzzling Survival of Democrats 9
  • Notes 16
  • 3 - Social Change and Anticipating Party Fortunes 17
  • Notes 41
  • 4 - Evolving Party Constituencies and Concerns 43
  • Notes 84
  • 5 - Electoral Response and Realignment 87
  • Notes 118
  • 6 - Reconsidering Party and Issues in American Politics 123
  • Notes 140
  • Appendix - The Analysis of Class Divisions in American Politics 141
  • Notes 157
  • References 159
  • Index 183
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