The Collapse of the Democratic Presidential Majority: Realignment, Dealignment, and Electoral Change from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton

By David G. Lawrence | Go to book overview

8
Conclusion: Realignment, Dealignment, and Electoral Change from Roosevelt to Clinton

Realignment attracted considerable attention in the late 1960s and early 1970s by providing a powerful dynamic theory of periodic, large-scale, far-reaching political change. Realignment predicted regular substantial change in mass voting behavior, party control of government, and the nature of policy outputs; it provided a rich framework for reinterpreting the whole of American electoral history. Realignment made sense of the widely perceived disruptive changes in the American party system occurring at the time: emergence of new cross-cutting issues like race, foreign policy, and social order; the decline in strength of mass party loyalties; ideological tensions and conflict within parties, culminating in insurgencies like Goldwater's or McGovern's or Wallace's.

Realignment theory made clear that the fifth party system, with its roots in the Depression and New Deal forty years before, was coming to an end, but it did not itself point to any one inevitable result of the process of change. The period around 1970 did not lack plausible scenarios. Phillips ( 1970) described a "black socio-economic revolution" that would drive the Democrats to the left and leave the Republicans with a centrist/ conservative majority; Scammon and Wattenberg ( 1971) identified a Social Issue of perceived social disintegration and threatening cultural change on which their perceived permissiveness made the Democrats vulnerable and which would provide (given reduced concern with the traditionally Democratic issue of economics) the basis of a new era of Republican domination; Sundquist ( 1983) saw a continuation of the class-based New Deal system, with the Democrats' dominant position nationally undermined somewhat by extension of class cleavage into the previously monolithically Democratic south; Newfield and Greenfield ( 1972) write of an economically-based populist resurgence that a Democratic Party recommitted to its class base could make the cornerstone of a revitalized national majority; Miller and Levitin ( 1976) described a New Liberalism in which suspicion of the agents of social control and concern with self-expression would offer the Democrats the chance to construct a new majority not dependent on economics.

Subsequent elections offered hints that one or more of these scenarios might be on the verge of coming true, but the realignment package as a whole clearly never

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