Electoral Realignments: A Critique of an American Genre / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Buy Used
Buy Used from BN.com
(Save 35%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $1.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 90%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (19) from $1.99   
  • New (5) from $6.27   
  • Used (14) from $1.99   


One of our most influential political scientists shows why realignment theory does not hold up under scrutiny and calls for new ways of thinking about election issues.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

Read an Excerpt

Electoral Realignments

By David R. Mayhew

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2002 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-300-09336-5

Chapter One

THE STUDY OF AMERICAN ELECTORAL realignments, which enjoyed its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, has been one of the most creative, engaging, and influential intellectual enterprises ever undertaken by American political scientists. During the 1960s and 1970s, it rivaled the Michigan election studies. Then and since, it has offered certifiable science, in the sense of a conceptual scheme, a theory, and quantitative analysis; breadth, in its tackling of large questions concerning the what, when, and why of American history; and even a secular eschatology, in the sense that it has encouraged generations of students and others, primed to seek "signs" along a presumed highway to an extraordinary historical destination, to keep asking: Is an electoral realignment about to happen? Are we witnessing an electoral realignment this year? In the now familiar mode, a New York Times op-ed piece toyed with the idea during the 2000 election season, and a Nation article of that season bore the title "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On: A Political Realignment Is on the Way."

Basic to the appeal and influence of the realignments enterprise have been the talents of four major political scientists during its creative early days: the late V. O. Key, Jr., and E. E. Schattschneider, both of whom contributed important groundwork; and James L. Sundquist and Walter Dean Burnham, who provided the principal statements in the genre. All four of these writers exhibited a prodigious, sure-footed command of the factual particulars of American political history as well as the rare ability to generalize through detecting patterns. All four offered a kind of ideological excitement, as many academics of my generation will attest. It is small wonder that the genre made such a mark during its classical phase.

Inventive additions were made to the realignments interpretation in the 1970s and 1980s by, among others, the political scientists Paul Allen Beck, David W. Brady, and, writing as a threesome, Jerome M. Clubb, William H. Flanigan, and Nancy H. Zingale. In general, however, as is customary with academic schools, the creativity of the realignments genre tailed off after an initial phase. Trenchant critiques appeared. The historians Richard L. McCormick and Joel H. Silbey, reflecting the sensibilities of their own discipline, offered periodizations of American political history that jarred against that of the realignments canon. In the canon proper, there was little creativity in the 1990s.

Yet the realignments perspective lives on, at least in political science. In undergraduate courses on parties and elections, nothing has replaced it as a device for organizing American political history. In conferences on American political development, it is conventional wisdom. In academic journals, authors keep reaching for it as an authoritative framework. In the minds of many political scientists, notwithstanding the qualms of historians, the two-century-long timetable associated with the realignments canon has come to have an unquestioned fixedness approaching that of, I would imagine, the periodic table for chemists. Also, "Whole Lotta Shakin'"-type statements in the popular media have become a trademark of election seasons.

It is the continuing prominence of the realignments genre that stirred me to write this work, which takes the form of an empirical critique. It asks the question: How good is the realignments genre as a guide to the last two centuries of American electoral, party, and policy history? My answer: not very good at all-either in its classical version or since. Worse yet, I believe that the genre has evolved from a source of vibrant ideas into an impediment to understanding. In its current "normal science" form, it seems to be blinkering graduate students and exacting opportunity costs. For the political science discipline, in my view, it is time to move on. In this work, I do not try to advance any ambitious theory or conceptual scheme of my own-the work is a critique-but, in the large subject area commanded by the realignments genre, to open up lines of inquiry thought to be closed off is possibly by itself a kind of advance.

Chapter 2 is a nonjudgmental presentation of the essential claims, as I see them, of the realignments perspective. I begin by briefly taking up certain works by the four classical authors but then shift gears and present what might be considered a fully fleshed-out, maximally ambitious version of the realignments perspective-an ideal type about a scholarship already featuring ideal types. To do this is to lean heavily on Burnham, whose theoretical or empirical claims have been particularly ambitious; on Schattschneider, whose claims were equally ambitious if less completely worked out; somewhat less on Sundquist, who has been more cautious; and least of all on Key, whose claims were close to the vest. Also accommodated are the other political scientists noted above who made influential analytic moves during the 1970s and 1980s. There is a point in operating in this fashion: what I am calling the fully fleshed-out version of the realignments perspective has proven, I believe, to be particularly engaging and influential.

As an analytic technique, I resolve the large realignments perspective into fifteen distinct empirical claims. In Chapters 3 through 6, drawing on relevant primary and secondary sources where appropriate, I evaluate these fifteen claims for their empirical validity and illuminative power. In Chapter 7, I close with some conclusions and a few points of more general interpretive criticism. In that chapter, as well as earlier, I point up what I am not doing in this work. I am not trying to argue that all American elections are equal. Unquestionably, some of them have been more engaging, momentous, or consequential in various ways than others. It is and should be a continuing scholarly task to illuminate such differences. Yet it is not helpful to get trapped forever in a failed model of illumination.


Excerpted from Electoral Realignments by David R. Mayhew Copyright © 2002 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Introduction 1
Ch. 2 The Realignments Perspective 7
Ch. 3 Framing the Critique 34
Ch. 4 The Cyclical Dynamic 43
Ch. 5 Processes and Issues 70
Ch. 6 Policies and Democracy 103
Ch. 7 Conclusion 141
Index 167
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 1 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)