Party realignment in the United States

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A party realignment in the United States is 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.

1820s[change | change source]

In the early 1800s, America had the "First Party System" of the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party. By the election of James Monroe, the Federalists had died out. There was an "Era of Good Feelings" of one party rule by the Democratic-Republicans. In the United States presidential election, 1824, four different men 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".

1850s-60s[change | change source]

After the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the "Second Party System" ended and the following things happened:

  • The Whig Party broke up. Some Whigs joined the Know-Nothing Party or other small parties for the 1856 election. More joined the Republicans or Democrats.
  • Whigs and Democrats who opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, as well as Free-Soilers, formed a new party called the Republicans. The Republicans main goal was stopping slavery, but they also liked many of the things the Whigs did.
  • 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.

1930s[change | change source]

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 the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt formed a coalition that would mostly last until 1964 called the "New Deal coalition".

  • Urban areas became very Democratic. They voted very heavily for people like Al Smith and Roosevelt. They 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, in large part due to racial segregation. 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

1960s-80s[change | change source]

In the 1960s and 70s, the New Deal coalition fell apart. This was due to the Civil Rights Movement, Roe v. Wade, Vietnam War and the suburbanization of America. What changed:

  • 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 changes to society happening in the 1960s and 70s
  • Republicans also made some gains among blue-collar Catholics, who are conservative on social issues. They were also called neocons.
  • Democrats were able to make gains among Progressive Republicans, as well as Latino voters.
  • Blue collar democrats voted for Republicans in the 1980 election to become Reagan Democrats who from then on voted Republican