A party realignment is what happens when the balance of power between a country's political parties changes greatly. Their electoral coalitions (the groups of people who vote for them) change dramatically. Sometimes, this happens when political parties die out or are created. Party realignments can be the result of major historical events. They can also be the result of changes in demographics. Party realignments can happen in many countries, but the term is usually used in the United States.
Major Party Realignments in the United States [change]
In the early 1800s, America had the "First Party System" of Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. By the election of James Monroe, the Federalists had died out. There was one party rule by the Democratic-Republicans. In the election of 1824, four different people ran as Democratic-Republicans. John Quincy Adams was elected. After the election, Andrew Jackson formed a new party called the Democrats. Jackson's party was strongest in the South and West, and in some cities (at this time, only a few Americans lived in cities). Soon after Jackson's election, another party formed around supporters of Adams and Henry Clay. It was first called the National Republican Party, and later the Whig Party. The Whigs were strong in the North, and among the middle class and businessmen. The clash between Democrats and Whigs was called the "Second Party System".
After the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the "Second Party System" ended and the following things happened:
- The Whig Party broke up
- Whigs and Democrats who opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, as well as Free-Soilers, formed a new party called the Republicans. The Republicans main thing was stopping slavery, but also liked many of the things the Whigs did.
- The rest of the Whigs formed a party called the American Party or Know-Nothings for the 1856 election. In the 1860 election, Know-Nothings and Southern Democrats who supported the Union formed the Constitutional Union Party. During and after the Civil War, the Know-Nothings and Unionists became part of the Republican Party
- In 1860, what was left of the Democratic Party broke into Northern and Southern wings
- By 1868, the Democratic Party came back together and there was the "Third Party System" of Democrats and Republicans.
America went from being mostly Republican in the 1920s to mostly Democratic in the 1930s. This was due to America becoming much more urban, and also due to the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt formed a coalition that would mostly last until 1964 called the "New Deal coalition". How things changed:
- Urban areas became very Democratic. They voted very heavily for people like Al Smith and Roosevelt. The had been growing rapidly, due in part to immigrants who were part of democratic political machines
- Blacks had been moving from the South into large Northern cities. Before the 1930s, they had either not voted or voted Republican. Under Roosevelt, they mostly voted Democratic
- Roosevelt also made gains in every part of the country, due to his mass appeal and the desire to end the depression
- For the first time in its history, the Democrats were a statist party instead of a libertarian one
- After the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white, conservative Southern Democrats became Republicans. The South had been mostly Democratic before 1964, it was mostly Republican after
- Many "values voters" became Republicans. These were people like Jerry Falwell who were opposed to abortion, gay marriage, and the excesses of the 1960s and 70s
- Republicans also made some gains among blue-collar Catholics, who are conservative on social issues
- Democrats were able to make gains among Progressive Republicans, as well as Latino voters.
Major Party Realignments elsewhere [change]
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