The Decline of New Deal Economic Cleavage: Social Class and Issue Salience
The two mini-realignments that transformed a solid Democratic presidential majority in the 1940s into a solid Republican presidential majority in the 1980s were very different in character. Investigation of the first of them is limited by the fact that the golden age of academic survey research begins only after the 1946-1950 period when change occurred. But it is nonetheless possible to use more fragmentary pre-1946 materials to establish the broad outlines of the early post-war era and to then chart the continuation of trends and their consequences into the 1950s and early 1960s.
Class and the economics of class had been the single greatest building blocks for Democratic dominance of presidential elections since the Depression. The Democrats profited from such concerns in two distinct ways: first, as the party believed best able to produce prosperity in general; second, as the defender of the particular economic interests of the disadvantaged majority. Increasing prosperity in the immediate post-war years clearly threatened both appeals: rising affluence and the simple passage of time since 1929-1932 diluted the relevance of Republican economic failure in the Hoover years at the same time as it reduced the ranks of those who constituted the Democratic blue-collar base. Increasing affluence combined with increasing distance to the Depression to gradually but inexorably deprive the Democrats of the social basis of the Roosevelt coalition.
OF THE NEW DEAL COALITION
The realignment of 1896 is usually seen as introducing an era in which Democratic and Republican voters were little differentiated by social class. The Depression of 1893 occurred under a Democratic president: the result was catastrophic for the Democrats in general and for the conservative, eastern, hard-money faction of the party which Cleveland represented in particular. The nomination in 1896 of William Jennings Bryan, prairie radical and advocate of free silver, and the