Critical Election Realignment

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The American political system has undergone a variety of changes since its inception. Political scientists use the idea of critical election realignment to describe how these changes have taken place in the American political system . A political realignment marks a drastic change in the political system, when a new political party rises to power for decades to come, such as the New Deal realignment in 1932 that gave the Democrats control of the political system. This study of American political realignments first gained recognition in the 1960s and 1970s, and its validity has been debated since (Mayhew 449). The study of realignments reveals that the American political system has gone through many drastic changes, taking place at crucial…show more content…
Supporters of the theory of critical election realignments believe that there is a short time period in which radical changes occur in the political system; Key's 1955 claim states that a single critical election marks a realignment. The opposing idea is that that there are gradual, or secular, realignments which changes take place over slow, steady shifts in the political system (Carmines and Stimson 108). For example, a group that once sided with the Democrats or Republicans could,over time, change their allegiances due to issue cleavages such as abortion and woman's rights (Kaufman 290). An example of a secular realignment would be the change in voting patterns of the solid south, over the time period from the 1870s to the 1960s, the south slowly changed from voting heavily democratic to republican. The primary difference between the ideas of critical realignment and secular realignment is that the critical realignment theory asserts that there is a sudden, drastic shift in political alignment. The critical realignment theory also believes that these realignments occur on a cycle, approximately every 30 years (Mayhew 452). On the contrary, secular realignment refers to the long-term changes that take place…show more content…
Third parties have been a party of last resort for voters, when they feel they have no confidence in the two major parties. In essence, “a third party vote is a vote against the major parties.” (Rosenstone et al., 126) Third parties typically form as a result of dissatisfaction with how the two major parties are handling an issue, and as a result, they emerge during a time of realignment. For instance, the topic of slavery and abolition in the 19th century was ignored by the major parties at the time, which contributed to the rise of the Greenback and Populist towards the end of the century (Rosenstone et al., 133). Consequently, third parties are typically beneficiaries of a political realignment, as the discontented voters may begin to support third

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