The Party Battle in America
Throughout American party history, there have been
periodic electoral realignments:
 The occurrence of significant changes within the
- a minority party becomes the majority party
- dominance by one party through an infusion of strength
- significant changes in the partisan loyalties of voters
 Realignments tend to occur when major crises
intrude on the society and economy
Party Realignment in American History
The five attributes of Realignment:
1. The regional support for the parties changes
2. The social groups supporting the parties change
3. New groups of citizens are mobilized and become part of the
4. Voter change not just which party they vote for, but also the
party that they identify with
5. Realignments are typically caused by new issues that divide
Five realignments have occurred in the United States
(1828, 1860, 1896, 1932, and 1968)
These are used to divide American political history into
six party systems
The First Party System, 1788 - 1824
Competing parties:
Federalists vs. Democratic-Republicans
Parties emerged in the 1790s in the policy conflict
between Hamilton and Jefferson:
- Hamilton and the Federalists promoted business
interests and sided with the British
- Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans promoted
agricultural interests and sided with the French
Extension of party organization to the local level
Nomination of presidential candidates by party
caucuses in Congress
The First Party System, 1788 - 1824
In the 1800 election, Jefferson defeated Adams
After this, the Federalists suffered a sharp decline
- Federalist failure to respond to the popular and
democratic style of politics
that was developing
By 1816 the Federalists disappeared as a national
political party capable of contesting for the presidency
After 1820 the Democratic-Republican Party was
characterized by factionalism
Since Congress lacked an opposition party, the
caucus system for presidential nominations
The Second Party System, 1828 - 1854
Competing parties:
Democrats vs. Whigs
The 1828 and 1832 elections, both won by Andrew
Jackson, were fought in an era of bifactional politics
within the dominant Democratic-Republican Party
In the 1832 election, Jackson ran under the new
label “Democratic Party”
By 1834, the groups opposed to Jackson’s politics
had coalesced sufficiently to form an opposition
party – the Whigs
The Second Party System, 1828 - 1854
The two decades following Jackson’s reelection in
1932 were characterized by balanced two-party
A significant expansion of the electorate through
democratization and increased participation
intensified this struggle
Both the Democrats and the Whigs were truly
national parties with organizations both at the
regional and the state levels
The Third Party System, 1856 - 1896
Competing parties:
Republicans vs. Democrats
Resulting from a national divide on the issue of
slavery, the existing parties split into Northern and
Southern factions
Unable to solve this internal conflict the Whig party
dissolved after the election in 1854
At the same time, the anti-slavery Republican Party
was founded in the North
The Third Party System, 1856 - 1896
From 1862 to 1874 the Republican Party
dominated, by forging an alliance between farmers
and business interests
After 1874 the southern-based Democrats gained
enough support in the North to enable balanced
two-party competition
Party machines, or patronage-based party
organizations, using the exchange of services for
votes, grew strong during this period
Party machines were weakened through the
introduction of Australian (secret) ballots
The Fourth Party System, 1896 - 1928
Competing parties:
Republicans vs. Democrats
The economic and social changes following the
industrialization of America posed new problems for
the political system
In 1896 the Democrats reacted to new economic
challenges by adopting the People’s Party (Populist)
platform, initiating economic reforms
At the same time, Republicans received an infusion
of support, especially in growing urban areas
The Fourth Party System, 1896 - 1928
Following the 1996 election the Republican Party
dominated throughout this era, with one exception:
An intraparty Republican schism, leading to two
Republican candidates running for the presidency,
thus splitting the Republican vote, enabled the
election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1912
After World War I, the Republicans asserted their
dominance with victories in 1920, 1924, and 1928
The legal environment of parties changed during
this era, with the introduction of direct primaries,
state laws on primaries and campaign finance
Sectionalism in American Politics during the Post-Civil
War Era and Early 20th Century
James Garfield (Republican) –
214 Electoral Votes
Winfield Hancock (Democrat) –
155 Electoral Votes
Theodore Roosevelt (Republican) –
336 Electoral Votes
Alton B. Parker (Democrat) –
140 Electoral Votes
The Fifth Party System, 1932 - 1968
Competing parties:
Republicans vs. Democrats
Following the Great Depression and the 1932
election, a new period of Democratic dominance
The New Deal coalition that supported Franklin D.
Roosevelt was formed, including a variety of groups
The New Deal social welfare policies further
weakened patronage-based urban party machine,
depriving these of their traditional service functions
The Fifth Party System, 1932 - 1968
In the 1950s the Coalition began to fray, resulting
from a North/South split over welfare policies and
civil rights issues
After the Republicans won back both the presidency
and Congress in 1952, an era of divided party
control of the government began
The New Republican administration and Congress
accepted the New Deal policies with minor changes,
thus eliminating these as a divisive force
The Sixth Party System, 1968 
Competing parties:
Republicans vs. Democrats
The traditional state of electoral partisanship
underwent significant changes in the late 1960s:
- increased participation and Democratic affiliation among
black voters, as Democrats endorsed Civil Rights laws
- declined partisanship as more voters identified
themselves as independent
- white Southerners, once a mainstay of the Democrat
electoral coalition, became Republican
- support for the Democrats declined among their other
traditional supporters, such as Catholics and
The Sixth Party System, 1968 
These forces, together with television as the new
dominant campaign medium, helped creating a
candidate-centered party system
Other indicators of the weakening of party ties
among voters is the emergence of strong thirdparty candidates and increased split-ticket voting
The most significant change during this period took
place in the South, which underwent a substantial
realignment that would fundamentally alter the
landscape of party politics in America, enabling the
Republicans to take control of Congress in 1994
Percent Affiliating with the Republican Party in
the South and Non-South, 1956-2004
Source: National Election Studies
Minor Parties in American Politics
Renewed interest in minor parties was sparked in the
1990s, through the candidacies of Ross Perot in 1992
and 1996, and Ralph Nader in 2000
The rise of third parties reflects the inability of the
major parties to meet the expectations of the public
Third parties and independent candidates have
helped to bring certain issues onto the public agenda
Several minor parties have existed independently at
the state level on the basis of local bases of support
Several states have elected third-party or
independent Governors
The Two-Party System: Some Explanations
Throughout the party history of the United States, the
following characteristics can be observed:
Normally, just two major parties compete for power
Parties rely on broad-based coalitions of citizens
The Democratic and Republican parties are quite
durable features in American political life
Several potential explanations for the prevalence of
this pattern of two-party competition exist
The Two-Party System: Some Explanations
The institutional explanation:
French political scientist Maurice Duverger proposed
that the basis for the two-party system is the singlemember district electoral system:
- since only one party can win in any given district, only two
parties have a reasonable chance of victory
Two-party competition is also encouraged by the
College system for choosing presidents
- the requirement of winning an absolute majority of the
electoral votes makes a third-party candidate victory unlikely
The direct primary and presidential primary systems,
and the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA)
additional barriers for third-parties
The Two-Party System: Some Explanations
The historical explanation:
The parties managed to renew themselves within
different dualist conflicts and cleavage patterns
throughout the history of American party systems
The cultural explanation:
American society has not been characterized by as
strong ideological and class divisions as European
Instead, it has become possible for one party to be
slightly left of the center (liberal) and the other to be
slightly right of the center (conservative), and still
gain widespread electoral support
Parties as Coalitions
Throughout their history, American parties have
been broadly based coalitions:
- both majority and minority party have attracted significant
support from virtually every element of society
Party coalitions change over time, in response to
new crises and issues
An important consequence of the coalition nature of
parties is that intraparty conflicts can be crucial in
shaping the direction of governmental policy and the
nature of party competition
Three types of party competition has existed since
1800: Balanced two-party competition, one-party
dominance, and transitional pluralism
The Stability of the Republican-Democratic
Conflict since 1860
Since 1860, the Republicans and Democrats have
confronted each other as the major combatants in the
electoral arena, both sustaining dramatic swings in
support. How could this conflict be so durable?
The parties are capable of absorbing protest
emerging from third-party movements
The parties are ideologically eclectic, enabling the
coexistence of a wide variety of viewpoints
The parties have exhibited coalitional flexibility,
enabling the attraction of votes from all elements of
Republican and Democratic Percentages of the
Popular Vote for President, 1892-2004
Other candidates