Critical Elections and the

Cycles of American Politics

For historians and political scientists chief model of American political history has been critical election theory:

A.Portrays American politics as mainly characterized by periods of very little change: stability from one year to the next.    
1.The issues and voter alignments from one election to the next change but very little.

2.Eras of stability are regularly interrupted by about every 30 years (once a generation) by political contests that excite much more passion, more volatility than past contests.

3.Permanent reshuffling of the allegiances of electorate: people may switch parties in this election and will continue to vote that way until interrupted by next realignment.

Critical election theory provides a framework to:

            1. Organize political eras into "party systems"

            B.         In classification schemes for American elections, and in way historians and political scientists tend to identify or compartmentalize historical time frames, tend to speak of party systems.

1.                  Time frames lasting roughly 30 years most easily identified as one during which one or another of major parties said to be politically dominant: a majority party and a minority party.

                        2.         In course of American history have been 5 or perhaps party systems, sought to mark out on time line on handout:

                                    a.         1st Am. Party system 1792 - 1828.

            (1)        Conflict between Federalists and Dem. Reps.

                                    b.         2nd Am. Party System, 1828 - 1860.

                                                (1)        Jacksonian Democracy -- two major parties are Whigs and Democrats

                                    c.         3rd Am Party System. 1860 - 1892

            (1)        Newly formed Rep. Party vs. Democrats

                                    d.         4th (1896-1932)

                                    (1)        Dem. Party taken over by western and southern Democrats associated with W. J. Bryan and Free Silver campaign of 1896

                                    e.         5th New Deal alignment (1932 - 1968)

                        (1)        Franklin Roosevelt

f.          Finally may be today in midst of 6th party system

            2. Understand the development of Public Policy


2.                  To model the behavior of the electorate

We can also come to an understanding of how the common citizen voter relates to politics.

·        Most of the time, the citizenry largely maintain firm partisan affiliations that determine how they relate to politics. They are socialized into a party affiliation, and it takes something rather dramatic – a critical election – to induce them to change their mind.

The partisan pattern to American electoral behavior
One striking feature of American politics -- characteristic of party systems -- is general stability of party vote from one election to next.

                        1.         People or voting districts that tend to vote Rep in one election will tend to vote Rep. in the next.

                        2.         In the same election, they historically have tended to vote for the candidates for the same party.

            Straight Ticket Voting
The practice of voting strictly on the basis of party – voting for all the Democratic candidates for office from president down to state legislature – is termed "straight ticket voting," and is the way most people vote today and even more so in past.

We can see straight ticket voting at work by considering the election returns for Democratic candidates for office in Salem County N.J. (a few miles Sought of Philadephia) in 1880

The Spreadsheet demonstrates that in precinct after precinct, the total number of votes cast for the Democratic candidate for president about matched the number cast for the democratic candidates for governor, congress or state assembly.

                        Coat-tails Effect
This is sometimes called the coat tails effect – candidates for lower offices are elected by riding on the coat-tails of a popular candidate at the head of the ticket.

But in 19th C. Coat tail effect is less in evidence than people simply casting a party vote, not necessarily cause they like one candidate more than others.

                        Party Control of Government
The consequence of people voting a straight party vote has been for parties to be victorious across the board – if a majority of voters in a county voted for the Republican candidate for president, chances are the Rep. candidate for congress and state legislature won by similar margins.

    1. So even if the margins were thin between the parties, the party with a small lead would carry the bulk of the offices.

            B.         We can see this when we look at party control of the presidency and both houses of congress over time. Victory in presidential elections usually accompanied by control of congress: Until the last third of 20th C., the general pattern at the national level – as well as at the states – was that whichever party won control of the White House also controlled both branches of Congress.

                        1          Though 6th is something of an anomaly (one of many reasons why some dispute there is a distinct party system in this era)

                                    a.         While Reps. so far have clearcut edge in Presidential elections, they only took control of the House of Reps. in 1994, and have controlled the Senate off and on.

6.                  Commonly speak of a dominant and a minority party having been created in aftermath of election, and that party will continue to dominate elections that follow.

                                    a.         Will win most of the elections, will control most of the government for series of years.

            6.         Research indicates a shift also occurs at state and local level: governorships, state legislatures fall same way, as do local offices.

1.      Until more recent times, since 1968 control of the presidency and congress has been divided in most years.

            Stable party vote between elections
Another characteristic of American politics is that People or voting districts that tend to vote Rep in one election will tend to vote Rep. in the next.


  1. We can see this in Salem County again if one compares the percentage of the vote cast in the 1880 presidential election with that of 4 years later. Again, from precinct to precinct, the percentages are nearly identical, leading one to suppose that however people voted in 1880 they did so again in 1884.
  2. This is true of most elections, where one can discern clear patterns of partisan support emerging again and again. People not only vote for the same party within an election – they keep that up between elections.

Pearson Correlation: A measure of association
b.   Historians and political scientists can summarize these trends statistically with use of correlation analysis:

(1)               Taking 2 sets of numbers, tries to see if there is a similarity or dissimilarity between them:

(a)        Is there a consistency in general level of support state generates to one party between elections.
i)          When a P.C. approaches 1.0 means 2 sets of elections very much alike in alignment of states.

ii)         One election is a replay of the other in terms of where parties do well and where do poorly

(b)        Suggests to us that people are either voting Dem. in both elections or Rep. in both elections


Abrupt disruptions to pattern
It does very occasionally happen that these stable party voting patterns are disrupted.

  1. We can see that in Salem County, the closely contested elections between Dems. and Reps. are abruptly ended in 1896 – and thereafter the Reps. maintain a consistent edge.
  2. This happened because the old voting coalitions broke up in the face of issues associated with the election of 1896 (the Depression of 1893 and the appeal of "Free Silver")
  3. Correlations that had been high now drop briefly – reflecting the fact that the electorate is not voting 1896 the same way they had in 1892.
  4. This is what we call a critical election – and is followed by a new period of stability.

            The Cycle of American Politics
Critical elections are distinct phenomenon in American electoral history, and occur as part of a larger cycle that lasts about a full generation.

We can model how this cycle works as follows.

The cycles are begun with the appearance of a major political crisis -- (Great Depression of 1930s and 1890s, sectional crisis of Civil War). The crisis comes to dominate the political landscape

New Issues
Introduce a new set of issues to political debate (free silver, free soil, civil rights).

            a.         These issues play an important role in campaign -- people more likely voting on issues than on personalities of candidates or even their longstanding partisan affiliation

New Coalitions
Has the effect of reshuffling and reinforcing partisan identity.

            a.         New issues force parties to take new positions, that impel voters often to switch their allegiances

Critical Election
New issues -- often be denounced as radical, unamerican -- surrounded by enormous controversy, much passion on all sides, draws out unusually large number of persons to get involved.

a.         Elections become highly polarized, widespread sentiment that very important is at stake.

b.         Used to politicians telling us next election will be of enormous consequence to American future, only by electing them can we avert catastrophe and ensure prosperity, security for us and our progeny.

(1)        Most of us take these statements with grain of salt.

c.         In critical election, however, voters more inclined to believe that something very fundamental is at stake.

(1)        Reps. (like Lincoln) suggest this is a referendum on whether nation is to be one where slavery exists nationally or freedom exists nationally

(2)        In 1890s Bryan would be described as most rabid anarchist by Reps

But government does change its polity, and when it does so it does it very quickly in relatively brief time frames:

a.         New initiatives gain sudden support and are rapidly pushed through the political system:

            (1)        Slavery: For first 75 years of government's existence largely accepted as a perhaps a deplorable institution, but not one public can do much about.

                        (a)        In 1860 Rep. Party elected that claims only wants to keep it out of territories.

                        (b)        Mid 1860s move to abolish institution.

                        (c)        Late 1860s working to establish rights of citizenship

            (2)        New Deal another period of accelerated change:

                        (a)        Labor legislation (collective bargaining, minimum wage); social security act; agricultural subsidies; securities exchange commission; Tenn. Valley Authority; Massive public relief work:

                        b)         Little of this envisioned in 1920s, most of it never mentioned by FDR in 1932

Outcome of critical election is generally repeated in each of succeeding ones:

(1)        Persons tend to affiliate with one or another of major parties in this election, and remain with that party for rest of lifetime or until next major realignment.

(2)        Can see this in public opinion polls today

(3)        Prior to 1930s (when have few of these polls to work with) can see it from the election returns.

            (a)        States, counties, cities that vote overwhelmingly for Reps in one election, will do so by very nearly same percentage in next and next and next.

            (b)        Today we think of that as saying some states are safely Dem. or Rep. -- people there have demonstrated a pronounced tendency to vote for one party or other.

                        i)          1988 expect Mass., Minn., Mich., Wash. DC, RI to go Dem.

                        ii)         Expect S. Car., Kansas, Vermont to go Rep.

5.         Critical election presents a series of symbols and issues that will remain very much alive for years that follow:

a.         In aftermath of Civil War Reps in North often referred to their opponents as "Copperheads:" name attached to Dems. thought to be disloyal during the Civil War -- or at least unenthusiastic about way Reps. were prosecuting war.

            (1)        Even though war is well behind nation, Reps. try to keep its memory alive at election time.

                        (2)        Bloody Shirt: harangues on confederate atrocities during Civil War and linking Democrats to the secessionists

            b.         In wake of New Deal, memory of Depression and Herbert Hoover and actions of Roosevelt will be resurrected in each election.

                        (1)        Would be said of Dem. Presidential candidates that they sought to                                                         make each election a replay of 1932, by reminding voters of Hoover,                                                    as if their opponent was Hoover

Issues Decay
All critical elections are subject to decay, giving way eventually to new critical realignment

1.         Utility of this tactic weakens over time, as years pass the issues that were important in last critical election are less relevant or perhaps less truly controversial, no longer a clear dividing point between the parties.

a.         First few elections after critical election previous issue is very much alive, very real to electorate, but its appeal weakens.

b.         Very often, minority party also embraces the issues they initially opposed, so that issue differences between the parties shrinks.

                        (1)        After denouncing "Black Reps." as abolitionists during the 1850s and early 1860s, Democrats (in South as well as North) eventually endorse 13th Amendment and show no evidence of trying to restore institution.

                        (2)        Likewise, Reps. who echoed Hoover in denouncing actions of New Deal eventually (1940s and 1950s) accept Social Security, Keynesian economics

c.         In this context, it makes no sense for dominant party to portray its opponent as reactionaries, old issues have been settled.

d.         What increasingly begins to shake the political system are a new constellation of issues that become increasingly salient.

                        (1)        During late 1880s and early 1890s Reps. continued to wave bloody shirt, but now voters are worked up over issues relating to nation's currency system, prohibition, civil service reform, and trusts.

.           Another important development is maturation of a new generation of voters, for whom previous critical election is history.

a.         Very likely take on same party identity of their parents (fathers in particular) but not hold to it as firmly,

b.         Partisanship has not been forged in the highly politicized atmosphere surrounding critical elections.

c.         Likely to have been children or not even born at time of Civil War or Depression.

d.         Efforts of parties to revive a deep rooted attachment less efficacious

            (1)        More likely concerned about issues that bear on them today -- could be more easily swayed by Third parties or induced to desert their party.

D.        Eventually, once every 30 years (or every generation) a new critical election comes along and system is revived.

1.         Timing of critical elections reflects confluence of 3 factors:

            a.         Increasing irrelevance of issues formed in last critical election

            b.         Aging of population, bringing into electorate people who were not around in previous critical period and removal of persons who were

            c.         A new major crisis that helps reorder nation's priorities, bring new issues to the fore, often ones people had been agitated by third parties in years previous.           

            b.         Once done, those allegiances will remain strong for elections that follow. previous realignment, are most heavily influenced by present one.


            Third Parties
Third parties may emerge to help put these issues on the political agenda:

(1)        Populists, Prohibition, Greenback

(2)        Questions wholly ignored in 1860s

(3)        Third parties play a very influential role in this process, even if always lose elections, they

            (a)        They help force new issues on to the political agenda.

            (b)        Often serve as a halfway house for voters in the new realignment:

                        i)          Whigs or Dems. are reluctant to switch to opposition all at once, might do so gradually by first deserting their party of birth and going for a third party.

Third parties put things in place for the next crisis to intervene and disrupt the pattern – taking us to the next critical election and the next party system.


First American Party System: (1796-1824)

Federalists vs. Democratic Republicans

            a.         1st, Dem. Reps. won 7 presidential elections to 2 for Federalists, who no longer offer much competition in presidential elections after 1812.

Sectional: Commercial North vs. rural South

Federalist party strength was strongest in New England, and to a lesser degree New York and New Jersey. Thus there was a clear sectional division to the party vote in the 1st party system. Federalists also did better in commercial areas – such as seaports.

The Democratic Republicans were strongest in the South and in rural areas.

Strict vs. loose interpretation of Constitution

The issues that divided the Federalists and Democratic Republicans, that emerged in Washington’s Cabinet generally came back to whether the Constitution was to be interpreted loosely – giving the national government power to establish a national bank or encourage manufactures – or very strictly to limit its powers. Federalists – like Hamilton or Marshall -- looked for a loose interpretation, a view the Democratic Republicans largely embraced themselves, but only after they controlled the national government.

Francophobes vs. Anglophobes

    1. Both parties were also convinced that the other was conniving with either Great Britain or France to import their political system to this country.       Jefferson believed the Federalists aimed to reintroduce a system of aristocracy and the crown, while Federalists feared that the Democratic Republicans wished to see the ideals of the French Revolution adopted here.

            Anti-Party Era

            It is worth remembering – as Silbey points out – that neither major party had accepted the idea of a loyal opposition. Neither Federalists nor Democratic Republicans felt political parties had anything but a baneful effect on the body politic.


2nd American party system (1828-1852)
The election of Andrew Jackson in 1828 inaugurates the 2nd American party system.

            Democrats vs. Whigs

Jackson’s supporters would eventually call themselves the Democrats, and his opponents the Whigs.

a.         Dems. were the dominant party of the era, on average have an edge, winning 50.3% of vote in these 8 elections.

b.         Dem. party generally victorious (winning 6 of 8)

            Non-Sectional, ethno-religious base

An important feature of this party system was that it was highly competitive in the north and the south. This way the parties aimed to suppress any tendencies for sectional issues – slavery – to emerge. Both parties generally avoided the issue, which was trumpeted instead by the Liberty and (in 1848) free soil parties.

As Silbey notes, it was often ethnic and religious affiliations that separated Dems. from Whigs. The Whigs were the WASPparty (White, Anglo Saxon, Protestants (especially Congregationalists, Methodists, and Baptists) while the Dems. were increasingly affiliated with immigrants and the less evangelical religious groups – like Catholics, Lutherans and a smattering of protestants (like Episcopalians). Evangelical religious groups aligned with the Republicans shared a common commitment to stamping out sin and pushed the party to embrace laws outlawing liquor and slavery,

            Banks and the American System

The issues that came up in election after election during this era revolved around the formation of a national bank and an ambitions program of internal improvements (building roads, canals) and a protective tariff. Each of these were components of Henry Clay’s "American System" and reflected the Whig Party’s desire to promote a diversified economy. Democrats – officially at least – opposed such government activism, feeling that such actions went largely to aid the rich while oppressing the middling and poorer citizens.

3rd American Party System (1856-1892)
The death of the Whig Party in 1854, as the Kansas Nebraska Act brought the issue of slavery (or at least the extension of slavery into the territories) front and center, brings an end to the 2md Am party system

            Democrats vs. Reps.

The Republican party eventually emerges in the 1850s as the major competitor to the Dems.

            Sectionalism from "Bloody Shirt"

Although the Civil War decisively settled the issues that had brought the Rep. party into being – the ultimate extermination of slavery – the elections that followed dredged up the war again and again.

People voted the way they shot during the 3rd Am. party system: White Southerners enlisted in the Dem. Party and northerners and Afro Americans signed up with the Republicans.

Again and again parties sought to mobilize their base by claiming that the opposition party was aligned with the enemy during the Civil War. A popular term was for Northern Republicans speakers to remind their audiences of the terrible sacrifices of the War (the bloody shirt) while accusing the Dems. of being less than fervent in defending the flag – if not conspiring with the rebels.

            Highly Competitive

c.         3rd: Extremely competitive, only a 1.4% difference in percentage of vote carried by two parties

.           3rd and 4th the Reps most likely winners (each case carrying 7 of 9)

(1)        In fact, in 2 of presidential elections that Reps. carried during period (1876 and 1888) Dems. had a plurality of vote.

            (2)        So based simply on popular vote, Dems. won 4 elections and Reps. won 5

            (3)        A very closely competitive era

4th American Party System (1896 - 1928)
The Depression of 1893 and the crusade to reintroduce silver as form of money (to inject inflation in the economy) brings the 4th party system into being.

            South & West (Dems.) versus Midwest & Northeast (Reps.)

The movement of most states west of the Mississippi out of the Republican column and into the Democratic one offered clear evidence that a new party system had taken hold. For the next forty years the Democrats would rely on the West and South for electoral support, while states in the Northeast and Midwest swung securely into the Republican column.

            Free Silver, tariff and "full dinner pail."

In an effort to draw support from the Populist party, Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan had embraced the monetization of silver (free silver) as the way to lift hard times lingering from the Depression. Republicans countered that a protective tariff was what was needed. After they won the election, imposed a tariff and the economy bounded back, Republicans took credit for the "full dinner pail." In each election that followed, Reps. defended the protective tariff and insisted that they were the party of prosperity while Dems. were associated with the dubious policy of free silver,


            d.         Get to 4th, and Rep dominance is more pronounced -- 12.5% differential

(1)        All 7 elections Reps won they took with resounding pluralities

(2)        2 Dem victories (Wilson) one due to splintering of Rep. vote (1912) and other

(1916) won with fair narrow margin.

            Decline in participation and partisanship

The most important political development of the 4th party system was the sharp decline in voter participation (hitting nadir in 1924) and a loosening of partisan ties among the electorate, evidenced in increased split ticket voting. The decline in competition may have been a factor in leading to the decline in participation and partisanship.

5th American Party System (1932 - 1964)
Onset of Great Depression in 1920 brings Rep. dominance to a close

            Dominant Urban & Southern Dems.: middle and lower class

Dem. party’s emergence as dominant party of the mid 20th C. owed to its mobilizing support of working class Americans – especially northern blacks – to add to its Southern base. Unions formed during the 1930s and 1940s – with the aid of New Deal legis – played a major role here.

            5th Party system more competitive, Dem edge amounts to 6.7% points.

            Minority: Rural, Midwestern Reps.: middle and upper class

The Republican party, more than ever, became the party of rural America – especially in the Midwest -- and the well-to-do.

New Deal Issues

The federal programs enacted by the New Deal remained the enduring issues of the 5th party system. Although the G.O.P. eventually embraced these initiatives in principle, Democrats would insist that the party was not to be trusted with protecting social security, the minimum wage or with the proactive economic policies prescribed by Keynesian economics.

            Revival of participation and partisanship

One of the important accomplishments of the New Deal was to reverse the trend to lower voter turnout of the 4th party system, and to reinvigorate partisanship by attracting support from the urban masses.

6th American Party System (1968- 20??)

We can date the end of the New Deal system with either the election of 1964 (Goldwater vs. Johnson) or 1968 (Nixon vs. Humphrey). The important development in each case was the shift of white southerners from Democratic to Republican ranks as the Civil Rights issue became paramount.

            Reps.: Southern & Western, male, middle & upperclass

            Dems.: Northeastern, females, middle and lower class

The recurring division of the Party – evident in The New York Times exit polls since 1976 – is the impressive division of the electorate along sex lines starting in the 1980s: women go to the Dems. and men gravitate to the Reps.. This is the first evidence of a gender gap in the electoral arena. Family income is another key divider – as it had been in the previous party system – with lower income voters going to the Democrats. Regional differences are also evident as southern and western whites have gone Rep. while the Northeastern states go in the other direction.

            Civil Rights and Government Retrenchment

The most salient issue that broke up the 5th party system was the Democratic Party’s endorsement of civil rights legislation in the 1960s while Reps. followed a "Southern Strategy" that played the race card in various guises (crime, welfare, "Willie Horton"). During the 1980s efforts to make major cutbacks in domestic government programs was another enduring issue.

            Legislative and Presidential control mixed 

Unlike past party eras, the 6th party system was marked by a divided party government. Between 1968 and 1972, The party that controlled the White House did not control both houses of congress for 26 years versus 6 years where Democrats held on to all three.

            Decline of participation and partisanship

Voter turnout resumed its downward slide during the 6th party system, and the proportion of citizens choosing to remain unaligned has increased since the 1950s.

            Last Party System?

The substantial portion of the electorate that calls itself independent, and the willingness of Rep. and especially Dem. voters to vote for candidates of the opposition party, indicates that party ties are no longer as powerful. This, combined with the divided control of the executive and legislative branches, makes it dubious whether the party system model has any meaning in the current day.

1. American Party Systems
We can summarize critical election theory as follows:

            32-36 Year Time Spans -- Once a Generation

            1.         occur with remarkable consistency every 32 or 36 years:

a.         Each party systems lasts 8 or 9 presidential elections before it is replaced by another

2.         If we are in 6th party system, might expect Rep. dominance to last until election of 2000 or 2004, at which time will ring in 7th Party system

            Begin and End with Crisis & "Critical Elections"

The onset of a party system appears when a major political crisis comes along after the political crisis associated with the old party system is long past and no longer relevant.

            Stable voter coalitions and Issues

The aftermath of a critical election produces an enduring set of issues and voter alignments that reappear in election and election (as evidence by the Pearson Corrections.

            Majority and Minority Parties

One party usually enjoys an edge in electoral support, and controls all the branches of the national government most years. The same thing happens at the state level.

            Third Parties as Harbingers of Change

It is left to third parties to campaign on issues that are ignored by the major parties (the Liberty Party and slavery; the Populists and Free Silver; George Wallace’s attack on Civil Rights). Eventually, in the midst of a crisis, one of the two major parties picks up the issue and realignment follows.

II Implications for American Electorate
Theory underlying critical realignment theory tends to see voters acting within certain historical context that very much determines the election outcome as opposed to seeing elections as discrete events where voters are reacting to personalities and issues at hand.

            1.         Latter is way mass media portrays elections, and way much of political history was written until around 1860s.

a.         Contests between two parties (or just two candidates)

b.         Outcome is determined by strategies of these candidates (what issues do I press, where do I campaign, how much money do I raise and where and how do I spend it: on my advertising, my staff) and how these interact with developments during the campaign (hostage crisis of 1980, good or bad economic trends or conditions).

c.         When election is over outcome is ascribed to canny tactics of victor and bloopers and mistakes of loser.

(1)        Historians have a number of these critical mistakes made by one side in accounting for defeat

(a)        James G. Blaine (1884) crippled by statement he did not readily disavow the anti-Catholic sentiments expressed by some of his supporters.

(b)                                       Charles Evans Hughes loss of Presidential election of 1916 associated with loss of state of Calif., and loss there attributed to failure to meet with some of progressive Reps. in that state

(c)        More recently been suggested that but for Iranian crisis Jimmy Carter might well have been re-elected in 1980

d.         Suggests that elections are determined by very short term factors that apply to present election but not the next.

            Stable partisan identification

Critical election theory says these idiosyncratic events are usually of little consequence in determining the outcome:

            a.         Bulk of voters decisions as to how will vote have been made well before these events.

b.         At most, looking for a reason to justify taking the partisan stance they do.

c.         Voter loyalty, reinforced by party symbols and actions, are very hard to shake.

            Role of Socialization and Crisis

Critical election theory posits that voters acquire a partisan identity not by responding to the day to day issues of the day, but are socialized to become a Democrat or Republican, usually by following the lead of their parents. Only a severe political crisis is enough to induce voters to re-examine their inherited partisan label in light of changed conditions.

                        Elections elicit partisan response

The role of political campaigns is less to convince people as it is to stimulate their latent partisan leanings.

                        Salient hot button issues

Political parties seek to mobilize their supporters by bringing up issues to remind the voters why they are a Dem. or Rep. – using "the Bloody shirt" or charging that the Republican candidate is another "Hoover". Campaigns struggle to identify the issues that matter to their supporters.


A further inference we can make about the American electorate, by virtue of the way they generally follow the cues put forward by their party, is that they often are not following the political scene very closely. Only a critical election, coming along probably once or twice in a voter’s lifetime, shakes them up sufficiently to get greatly excited about the contest and carefully consider the alternatives.

III Implications for Governance
Critical election theory also helps explain how government works.

            Cycles of Policy Making

The general pattern to the enactment of public policy in the U.S. notes a cyclical pattern that can be linked to critical election theory.

                        Long Periods of deadlock

            (3)        In U.S. deadlock and inertia characterize our government at most times.

1.         Stability, remember that Founders were very suspicious of government, inclined to believe that when it acts it is most likely to do so in an oppressive manner.

a.         Sought to hamstring the National Government as much as possible -- making it difficult to respond.

            (1)        Divided power between national and state levels.

            (2)        Divided national power between 3 branches, each having ability to check one another.

(a)        Have 2 (not one) legislatures -- and one of whose members are elected only every 6 years on a piecemeal basis:

(b)                                       So in any election 2/3rds of upper house is secure against having to appeal to public.

(c)                                        President and Supreme Court that each have power to nullify acts of congress:

i)          Presidents vetoes overridden with 2/3rds vote in both houses

ii)         Supreme Court can be overruled only by amending the constitution: Need approval of 3/4ths of states.

b.         If you have something want government to do, something innovative that requires legislation, it is more difficult to get national government to act, so many checks and balances in the system.

                        (1)        Not like Great Britain, where might take it to Parliament -- get it through that body and have accomplished your purpose.

(2)        Even if fail, when next parliamentary election rolls around, seek to win majority of sympathetic members to that one body and have accomplished your purpose.

                        Brief spurts of policy activism

A critical election usually brings an abrupt end to the deadlock by bringing a new coalition and a new majority into being to put a new set of issues on the agenda and on to the statute books. This is most clearly the case with the New Deal and the Civil War.

Critical elections in lieu of revolutions

A.        U. S, has seen very little in way of revolutions, coups, uprisings that mark other nation's histories over last 2 centuries:

1.         U.S. functions with the oldest operating constitution in world.

a.         Thought of substituting this for another plan of government is sacrilegious

b.         While designed as a flexible document, remarkable how few amendments have been required over time.

2.         Democratic party, if trace back to Thomas Jefferson, is oldest existing political party in world.

a.         Republic party, coming long half century later is still quite old compared to others in world.

            3.         For most of our nation's political history political conflict has taken place within context of Democratic and Republican parties.

a.         Almost seems ordained by nature that there should be but 2 parties in American politics:

            (1)        From election to election either the Dems. or Reps are expected to win





Walter Dean Burnham, Jerome M. Clubb and William H. Flanigan, "Partisan Realignment: A Systematic Perspective," in The History of American Electoral Behavior eds. Joel H. Silbey, Allan G. Bogue and William H. Flanigan (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1978)

Walter Dean Burnham, Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics (New York: Norton, 1970)

Jerome M. Clubb, William H. Flanigan and Nancy H. Zingale, Partisan Realignment, Voters, Parties, and Government in American History (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1980)

Paul Kleppner, "Critical Realignments and Electoral Systems," in The Evolution of American Electoral Systems, eds. Paul Kleppner, et. al., (Westport Ct, Greenwood, 1981)

James L. Sundquist, Dynamics of the Party System, Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1973).