Political Parties in the USA - Realignment

Term Paper, 2004
12 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Realignment definitions

3. Historical Realignments and the five Party Systems

4. Realignment in favour of the Republican Party?

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The following term paper deals with the phenomena of realignment in the political party system of the United States. Although America’s party system is the oldest in the modern world it is marked by a deep distrust in parties leading back to the founding fathers who said that parties would only bring riots and chaos to the state. Political parties have existed on national level since the 18th century. And the two-party system which had been crystallised during this time, is still working in present days. The political parties in the United States became the mean for purpose; parties were to elect, to mobilise voters, not to govern There have already been amazingly modern party structures in the 1840s, a whole generation before such structures came up in Great Britain. In 1848 the first National Committee was built by the Democratic Party. And until the 20th century direct premises have been introduced. However, nothing much changed in the party’s organising structures since that time, and until today financial support is mainly made by a small group of giant donations. But one of the biggest differences to European parties is that American parties do not have mass memberships. The voters are ideological linked to their party, but they are not fixed to it. This link could be a basis for such a phenomenon as the realignment is. Realignments are essential for the American two-party system, and during history there have been four such realignments. In the following I will discuss the historical background of realignments and the Party Systems and I will try to find arguments whether there is a present realignment in favour to the Republican Party.

2. Realignment definitions

The American voters are ideological bound to a certain party, but they are not fixed to it. If there are new issues coming up due to a crisis or certain circumstances which cause a change in the society’s mind, the voters will become dissatisfied and will change their voting patterns and party identification towards the party they think will deal best with the new issues. This phenomenon is then called realignment. Scientists have been very much interested in realignments and the resulting question how the voters sympathize with a certain party and how strong and durative this so called party identification is. In 19955 the political scientist V. O. Key jr. developed a theory for realignments and said it would be an “after-effect of critical elections in which new and durable groupings are formed.” (quoted in: Moore: Elections A to Z: 360). A more recent definition was made by Lawrence G. McMichael and Richard J. Trilling who defined realignment as “a significant and durable change in the distribution of party support over relevant groups within the electorate.” (quoted in: Moore: Elections A to Z: 360). Walter Dean Burnham – also a political scientist – wrote several essays about the political process in the United States in one of his essays he wrote to the realignment issue, that the

“voting public has made important contributions to American political development approximately once in a generation. Studies of American elections, especially in the past decade, have uncovered a remarkably stable pattern involving two broad types of elections which differ from on another not in agree but in kind.” (Party System and the Political Process 1967, III: 100)

Most of American elections are normal ones without any kind of pressure. Those elections are a mixture of identification votes and candidate votes. During such votes politics remain relatively stable. But there is, according to Burnham, every 30 or 38 years another cycle “a realignment cycle which precipitates massive changes in voting behaviour and results in a new coalition pattern for each of the parties” and each of those realignments is linked with a “major turning point” (Burnham: The Current Crisis in American Politics: 100). He, furthermore, found that there is a certain pattern the realignment is following:

After a certain time of steady politics people get more and more dissatisfied with the current system, and at a certain point in time when a certain turning event is happening there could be a founding of a new party or one of the existing parties is voted to overcome the status quo. Such history turning events have been of drastic economic nature, like the depressions of 1893 and 1929, or political, like the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1954, but mostly it is a mixture of both. Elections after such events are marked by a huge voter’s realignment causing a stable majority for a certain party until the next realignment phase. Realignments are part of American political life and are vital for the two-party system. Burnham is more drastic when he says that a “critical realignment may well be regarded as America’s surrogate for revolution. One of these experiences led directly to the outbreak of civil war.” (The Current Crisis in American Politics: 101)


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Political Parties in the USA - Realignment
Technical University of Chemnitz
PS - Understanding the USA
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
382 KB
Political, Parties, Realignment, Understanding
Quote paper
Sarah Alberti (Author), 2004, Political Parties in the USA - Realignment, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/45563


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