Autumn Kritzer is currently a junior Politics and International Relations major.


(What is From the Field?  Read the introduction to the current segment to find out more!)

Drug production and trafficking polluted Colombia’s national security for nearly fifty years. The issue had to be addressed in order to restore tranquility and peace within the nation. Upon President Pastrana’s election in 1998, his main goal was to eliminate the issue of drug production and trafficking, since the drug market fueled internal violence within Colombia. The policy that was created to minimize the drug market within Colombia is known as Plan Colombia. Plan Colombia has had partial success but had failed in certain areas. Internal conflict has been reduced within Colombia, but the process of drug interdiction and eradication had negative effects on the neighboring nations, and the local population’s health.

Colombia was plagued with internal conflict for half of a century. The nation of Colombia did not have full sovereignty, in being that it did not have control of all of the lands within the country. Guerilla groups played a role in drug production and trafficking, which gave the groups a substantial amount of power. Guerilla groups were controlling land that the Colombian government struggled to re-gain. Many murders and kidnappings were committed by the guerilla groups. Due to the violence being acted out against citizens, funding went towards self-defense organizations. The Colombian government did not have control over the nation’s land and also, did not have the ability to protect its citizens, so their sovereignty came into question (For further background before the implementation of Plan Colombia, click here).

The root of internal conflict was drug production and trafficking, giving President Pastrana the desire to eliminate it, which was hoped to be reached through Plan Colombia of 1999. Plan Colombia was a $7 billion plan and was open to funding from the international community. The United States contributed $1.3 billion towards this plan, between fiscal years 2000-2001. The US assisted in areas such as human rights and judicial reform, the expansion of counter-narcotics efforts, alternative economic development, increased interdiction, and the national police of Colombia. Many illicit drugs used in the United States originated from Colombia. The US had an interest in reducing the supply of drugs in Colombia, so that drug use within the US would decrease as well (to view more about US funding, click here).

The objectives of Plan Colombia were to decrease drug production and trafficking by 50% within a six-year span and to restore national security by re-gaining lands back from illegally armed groups that were controlling them. The tools that were used to reach the objectives include drug eradication through the process of aerial spraying, drug interdiction, and alternative economic development. Aerial spraying was completed through the use of helicopters, which sprayed herbicides upon coca crops that were otherwise unreachable. If the number of coca crops was reduced, the Colombian government hoped that the overall production rate of drugs would significantly decrease. Drug interdiction is when national police seize illegal drugs that are being produced and trafficked. The intentions of this tool were to reduce the production and trafficking of drugs as well. The tool of alternative economic development gave farmers incentives to not cultivate illicit crops such as coca. Rather, the government provided farmers with marketing resources so they had the capability to cultivate and sell legal crops. If illegal crops were not being cultivated by farmers, the overall production of drugs would decrease (For further reading on strategic reasoning for Plan Colombia, click here). Reducing the scope of power of the drug market also would reduce the profits of Guerilla groups. If guerilla groups were losing money and power, there would not be a need for self-defense organizations, restoring lands to Colombia along with their sovereignty (which is where a country has unrivaled control of their territory).

The tools used to reach the objectives have had both positive and negative impacts. Drug eradication through the use of aerial spraying was very costly. Aerial spraying costs nearly $240,000 to eliminate just one kilogram of cocaine. For perspective, nearly 128,000 hectares are sprayed annually. Aerial spraying is expensive and not that effective. Local farmers have been able to find loopholes around this system, by simply moving their crops to areas that were unreachable by helicopters, which sprayed the herbicides. Aerial spraying had a negative impact on the citizens’ health, 403 citizens felt ill within four weeks of the fields being sprayed by herbicides according to a survey which was conducted.  Drug interdiction has increased between 2000-2012 from 80,000 to 190,000 drug seizures. The process of interdiction has decreased the trafficking of drugs, which shows that it was successful for Colombia’s interest. Even though interdiction decreased drug trafficking in Colombia, this caused drug trafficking to be displaced in Mexico and Central America. The displacement of drugs from one country to the next shows a flaw within the process of drug supply reduction. Alternative economic development has not been completely successful. The programs used to achieve development had implementation issues, the resources that were given to farmers that intended to widen their production and sales were not self-sustainable. The tools used to reach the objectives have caused a decrease in internal conflict, which is measured through crime rates. For recent statistics, between 2013-2014 the crime rate has decreased by 14.28% (for further reading on key findings of Plan Colombia, click here and here). Overall, the tools have had both positive and negative impacts.

Plan Colombia of 1999 had the objectives of reducing drug production and trafficking, along with eliminating internal conflict. The United States provided Colombia aid to reach these objectives. The tools used to reach the objectives included drug eradication by aerial spraying, drug interdiction, and alternative economic development. The tools have achieved a decrease in internal conflict, and drug production and trafficking. Certain processes had negative effects on the local population’s health, such as aerial spraying. Also, the increase in drug interdiction has caused drug production and trafficking to be displaced in other regions, such as Mexico and Central America. Plan Colombia has proven to be effective in the reduction of internal conflict, but not at completely eradicating drug production and trafficking. The failure of Plan Colombia has shown flaws in the process of drug supply reduction.

(What is Tocqueville Capital?  Read the welcome post to learn more!)

“At a time of deep partisan and demographic divides related to the 2020 election, more than two-thirds of Americans surprisingly agree that they ‘have more in common with each other than many people think,’ including 74% of Democrats, 78% of Republicans and 66% of Independents”  (Carr Center, “Key Takeaways: 1”).

This conclusion, one of many from a national survey by Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy revealing common ground among Americans, flies in the face of the vitriolic political rhetoric often found on social media and in many of the 2020 general election campaign ads.  Although we have seen much coverage and public evidence of political polarization over the last few decades, as indicated in this post in our partner series From the Field, the term does not accurately describe the bulk of the American public.  The larger findings of this study are not out of sync with other research on the mood of the American public over time. However, regardless of the outcome, the results of the November 3rd election will not end the rancor that seems to pervade the public sphere.

Writing almost a decade ago in Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, Parker Palmer recognized that the key to transforming our current politics begins with us, the very individuals who compose our society. At the root of his analysis is the role of citizenship “a way of being in the world rooted in the knowledge that I am a member of a vast community of human and nonhuman beings that I depend on for essentials that I could never provide for myself” (31).  This large social system includes millions of individuals, each situated with rights in the political sphere, as well as different experiences and perspectives.  In making his claims, Palmer calls on fundamental ideas from Tocqueville, affirming the values of our habits and their impact on our culture as a means to restore our community.

Central to Palmer’s argument is the fundamental paradox that democracy puts individuals in tension with those whose life experiences and views differ from our own.  Rather than respecting the political equality to which each member of our political community is entitled, we sometimes focus on our own voice to the exclusion of others.  Add to this often-competitive system the great challenges we may encounter, which often results in heartbreak.  Palmer notes that, as we encounter these heartbreaks, we may tend towards one of two responses – the shattered heart becomes “withdrawn and bitter” or the broken-open heart becomes more compassionate (60).  In the former case, people develop the “fight or flight” response that leads them to perceive threats from others, especially those not like them.  In the latter case, people are able to overcome great loss and disappointment and use it to constructively respond to the future, with compassion towards others in their struggles.

From his analysis, Palmer suggests that we can promote more compassionate and respectful political engagement by developing what he calls the “habits of the heart” (43-46). These habits provide a foundational set of principles that shape how we engage each other in the public sphere.  Accepting our interdependence with others who come from different perspectives, and valuing tension as an opportunity for growth in which we, along with others, exercise our voice and agency, ultimately allows us to leverage our collective power to address communal problems.  This transformation will not happen innately but rather relies on our efforts in our educational, religious and political systems (Chapters 6-7).  Despite this seemingly steep learning curve, Palmer also shows that there is precedent for fostering communal habits, captured by Tocqueville himself.

Palmer recalls for his readers Tocqueville’s insistence that “democracy’s future would depend heavily on generations of American citizens cultivating the habits of the heart that support political wholeness” (35). These habits could counter the growing individualism, resulting from relative equality of condition that could shatter the public sphere. Instead, human habits could strengthen the system:

I here used the word manners with the meaning which the ancients attached to the word mores, for I apply it not only to manners in their proper sense of what constitutes the character of social intercourse, but I extend it to the various notions and opinions current among men, and to the mass of those ideas which constitute their character of mind. I comprise, therefore, under this term the whole moral and intellectual condition of a people (Tocqueville 1835, Volume I, Book I, Chapter XVII, par. 9).

The ability to see beyond one’s own immediacy and to recognize and respect the political equality of voice for those with whom we might not regularly interact in our private lives.  In this conception, parallels exist with Jewish theologian Martin Buber’s conceptions of I and Thou, in which individuals see the moral value of both themselves and others, recognizing the need to respect the rights and needs of both.  Recognizing the Thou in each other, especially in those folks who come from different vantage points in society, can inherently shape how we engage each other in the public square.

The limits of individual power also prompt us to connect with others who share our goals. Palmer notes the deep awe that Tocqueville displayed for the vibrant civic life existing on American soil (42).  The collective efforts of those with shared goals allowed both members of the majority and minority to advocate for their causes.

The members of these associations respond to a watchword, like soldiers on duty; they profess the doctrine of passive obedience; say rather, that in uniting together they at once abjure the exercise of their own judgment and free will; and the tyrannical control which these societies exercise is often far more insupportable than the authority possessed over society by the Government which they attack. Their moral force is much diminished by these excesses, and they lose the powerful interest which is always excited by a struggle between oppressors and the oppressed. The man who in given cases consents to obey his fellows with servility, and who submits his activity and even his opinions to their control, can have no claim to rank as a free citizen (Tocqueville 1835, Volume I, Book I, Chapter XII, par. 29).

In these collaborative exercises, we may also find common ground in goals despite disagreement as to the method of achieving them.

These compelling ideas may sound encouraging, especially to those who recognize common values and goals, but the challenge rests in identifying the practical steps that may lead us toward a more constructive and inclusive system.  First, we must recognize that difference of experience and opinion makes us stronger, as illustrated in research on diversity and outcomes. Second, we should take steps to enter what Lennon Flowers and Jennifer Bailey call “brave spaces” – as illustrated in their People’s Supper initiative, which brings together people from different perspectives into meaningful contact with each other.  More thoroughly, we can take advantage of opportunities, such as those offered by Palmer’s Center for Courage and Renewal, to develop spiritual and professional growth.  But first we must be willing to set aside our shattered heart armor and be willing to see the humanity of all people in the public square.

We hold the power within ourselves to step out of the current cycle, not in apathy, but to begin again.  Doing so need not be intimidating, as common ground exists.   The Carr Center (“Key Takeaways: 4 & 5”)results confirm that our values are not polar opposites, with majorities – even supermajorities – supporting the following political ideals and rights: Voting (93%), Equal protection (95%), Free speech (94%), Equal opportunity (93%), Equal opportunity (93%), Privacy (94%), Racial equality (92%), Religious liberty (90%), Right to bear arms (73%), LGBTQ rights (71%).  Add to those findings the consistent strength of relative centrists/ moderates as the largest political group within our political system, the prospect need not seem so daunting.   Rather, it takes conscious effort to set new habits that allow us to harness the strength of our system to address our collective needs.

(What is From the Field?  Read the introduction to the current segment to find out more!)


Elise is a senior Politics major, who also studies English.


President Bears ‘Ultimate Responsibility’ For Wrongdoing” was just one of the many headlines circulating the United States in the 1980s. After news of the Iran-Contra Affair broke, there was an endless stream of similar refrains, all echoing the question of what exactly the Reagan administration did in Nicaragua. While the specifics of the US action in Nicaragua is still opaque, valuable information within the history of US interventionism and the Cold War reveals that the executive branch failed to uphold democratic norms in both domestic and foreign affairs during this time.

In the height of Cold War tensions, the United States’ foreign policy took an interventionist approach. The US used interventionism (direct intrusion into another country’s affairs) as early as the 1830s. Beginning in 1832 with the Monroe Doctrine, the US adopted an interventionist foreign policy to achieve a status of power in the international community. The US continued meddling in the domestic affairs of other nations, asserting its political dominance for about a century. However, there was a break from this approach during the 1930s with the Roosevelt Administration.

Rather than engaging with other nations as opponents, President Roosevelt introduced the “Good Neighbor Policy” in 1933, which focused on inter-governmental partnership and mutual respect. The former notion of hemispheric hegemony (or “top- dog” status within the Western hemisphere) of the Monroe Doctrine was replaced with this concept of collaboration. Roosevelt’s approach particularly benefitted developing countries within Latin America. Like a “good neighbor,” the US would respect the internal matters of these countries, supporting them in non-intrusive means and respecting their sovereignty. But with the rise of the Soviet Union and the Cold War in 1945, this hiatus from interventionism was short-lived and it swiftly returned as the main instrument of US foreign policy.

The Cold War was an ideological battle, pitting democracy against communism, and while no direct confrontations occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union, these nations fought by spreading their ideologies around the globe.  As former allies in WWII, what caused these nations to turn into opponents? At the conclusion of WWII, there was a power vacuum in Europe and the Soviet Union strove to fill that newly vacant position of supremacy. Therefore, unlike the US, which removed practically all of its military forces, Soviet troops continued to occupy the lands the USSR had stripped from Hitler. Author and social theorist Michael Warren analyzes the ideology of the Cold War in his book The Rise and Fall of Intelligence: An International Security History. He reports that by 1946, “organs of Soviet state security set about remaking the countries that Stalin had promised his allies at Yalta would be granted self-determination.” Rather than the end of WWII liberating Eastern European countries, it resulted in the replacement of one authoritative leader for another: such countries merely becoming agents of Stalin rather than Hitler.

In order to prevent the spread of Soviet power, the US pledged to economically and militarily support nations threatened by Soviet domination. Tensions continued to increase and by 1949, the US had established a coalition of anti-communist nations, NATO, and the Soviet Union had created the pro-communist alliance, the Warsaw Pact. The US, acting as the champion of democracy and the Western Superpower, entered into a decades-long battle for ideological supremacy against the Soviet Union and thus the Cold War had begun. Interventionism resurged vigorously under the justification of the “Domino Theory.” This theory claimed that if one nation “fell” to communism, surrounding countries were soon to follow. Therefore, the US intervened in even potentially communist leaning countries with extreme measures such as using military force to replace the existing government with pro-US, pro-democracy, regimes.

US interventionism in Nicaragua began when the Sandinista rebel group overthrew the Somoza regime in 1979, replacing the formerly conservative Somoza regime with the left-leaning Sandinistas. The revolution alarmed US officials in the Reagan administration because of the Sandinista’s anti-US sentiment. Johannes Wilm’s article “On Sandinista Ideas of past Connections to the Soviet Union and Nicaraguan Exceptionalism,” explains the Sandinista’s unfavorable view of the US as a response to the immense poverty in Nicaragua. According to Wilm, the Sandinista movement blamed Nicaraguan poverty on the “exploitative, unequal relationship with the United States,” maintained throughout the former Somoza dynasty. The Sandinista government strove to sever the strong ties the nation had with the US, so the new government embarked on an economic policy that forged relations with a variety of nations, including the Soviet Union. By 1982, 20% of Nicaragua’s credit was coming from communist nations.  The US viewed such developments as an open invitation for communism in Central America. In order to prevent Nicaragua from being a Soviet foothold in the Western hemisphere, US forces took action to topple the Sandinistas.

From the inception of the Sandinista’s authority, resistance groups opposed the new left-leaning policies of the regime. These rebels, the “Contras,” strove to return to the conservative principles of the Somoza regime, motivated by such as loyalty to the Somoza family or unhappiness with the economic reform of the Sandinistas. In the opinion of President Reagan, the anti-leftist platform of the Contra movement granted these counterrevolutionaries the status of “the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers.” Consequently, the president led the US effort to support the Contra resistance movement and oust the Sandinistas.

Prior to the Reagan administration, the American public zealously supported the fight against communism. However, by the time of President Reagan’s inauguration in 1981, the public was no longer so supportive of the anti-communism effort. The US had already fought in taxing proxy wars like the Vietnam War and the public fear of communism was waning. However, the Reagan administration steadfastly continued to use interventionist tactics to fight the spread of communism and Soviet power. Although the executive branch’s actions were not aligning with the public’s wishes, Congress was much more responsive and created policies to lessen US involvement in Nicaragua.

In response to the growing anti-interventionist sentiment of the public, Congress made an initial legislative attempt to curb President Reagan’s anti-communist crusade with the first Boland Amendment in 1982. As Edwin Timbers’ piece, “Legal and Institutional Aspects of the Iran-Contra Affair” reports, the amendment prohibited, “the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency from spending funds to overthrow the government of Nicaragua or to provoke conflict between Nicaragua and Honduras.” However, the policy did not have the intended effect as executive agencies continued to support the Contras with loophole methods such as procuring funding from third parties. Congress, undermined by the Executive strategic use of loopholes within the legislation, continued to construct increasingly specified policies and by 1985 there had been five versions of the Boland Amendment. Among the eventual clearly stated prohibitions were funds — including solicited third party and private funds, handled by any U.S. government personnel (For more information on the conflict between the president and Congress, explore Sobel’s 1995 article “Contra Aid Fundamentals: Exploring the Intricacies and the Issues” featured in Political Science Quarterly).

Human rights advocates and journalists continuously opposed the pro-Contra messages of the US government; however, it was not until the infamous Iran-Contra Affair that executive interventionist action was finally halted. After congressional investigatory committees exposed operation “Enterprise”, the “secret operation to supply military equipment and monetary assistance to the Contras,” it was clear that none of the legislation restricting US interventionism was stopping the Executive Branch (For more information concerning the Iran-Contra Affair, read Rubenberg’s article “US policy toward Nicaragua and Iran and the Iran-Contra Affair” in Third World Quarterly).

Following US intervention, both the US and Nicaragua had suffered substantial damages. The US reputation was disgraced in the international community and American citizens’ sense of trust in their government fell tremendously. Additionally, as seen by the 14,000% inflation rate in Nicaragua in 1988, the meddling of the US government created massive economic and social instability. While it would be an overstatement to claim that Nicaragua experienced instability solely due to US interventionism, perhaps the severity and longevity of its economic and social hardships would have been lessened if the nation had fewer external pressures to combat.

As the immense recovery required within both the US and Nicaragua after the Iran-Contra Affair demonstrates, US intervention in Nicaragua during the Cold War was ultimately a harmful ordeal. Interventionism failed to promote democracy both within the US and abroad or support the development of Nicaragua. The threat of communism under the Sandinista regime was insufficient justification for the interventionist policies and actions taken by the Reagan administration, and the procedures in which the executive branch skirted congressional oversight displayed a blatant disregard for crucial democratic values such as transparency and accountability. Refusing to obey the American public’s desire to abstain from meddling in Nicaraguan affairs disgraced the US reputation and perpetuated the instability within Nicaragua.




(What is From the Field?  Read our welcome and prior posts.)

This post kicks off our second segment of From the Field, a student blog series that shares the work and experiences of students in Messiah University’s Department of Politics and International Relations.  Last spring, students participating in the US-Latin American Relations delved into the history of relations between these regions, as well as contemporary issues. Although the course originally was intended to run as the university’s first embedded travel course – in which students have intensive travel-based learning for a section of the course – the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global health pandemic just three days before our departure to Quito, Ecuador limited our options.  We were able to capture some of the intended in-country learning with a 4 part global lecture series focused on applied issues of dollarization, human rights, indigenous populations, and intra-regional organizations.

This segment of From the Field will feature posts based on policy evaluation research conducted by the students. Our goal is to introduce you to some important policies, their history and effects, as well as their relevance for our contemporary times. As with the prior segment, the student posts are supported by some of the academic sources that they used for information by which to evaluate the policies, as well as some general access sites that give context to the issue.  All sources are credible and reflect knowledge within the field.  We hope you find these posts to be helpful in building or extending your perspective of American foreign policy.



About the From the Field blog editor (Dr. Robin Lauermann):  I currently serve as a Professor of Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations, which hosts this blog site. I have specific expertise in two sub-fields.  Within American politics, I teach and research on topics related to political institutions, public policy, and political behavior, with special consideration as to how they impact the functioning of our political system.  Within Comparative Politics, I look at many of the same themes, but within the regional areas of Latin America and Europe.  Above all, my passion and work focus on empowering people – students, colleagues, and citizens – to be able to better understand our political system in order to navigate it and evaluate it constructively.  With this series, I hope to provide such a forum, which can serve as a resource for citizens in evaluating policy, candidates and our system.

Before diving into the topic of this month’s edition, I wanted to share two important items.

1. If you are eligible and have not yet done so, register to vote.  Ballotpedia, a respected non-partisan resource, offers helpful information about how to register in your state.

2. Consult reputable resources to learn more about candidates and issues. Check out the options on the Issues and Elections tab of Messiah University’s Murray Library Civics Resources Guide.


(What is Civic Mind?  Read our welcome post for the series!)

In 2016, the United States again faced a situation where the overall national popular vote for president produced an outcome that was different from the electoral vote total.  As in 2000, 1888 and 1876, questions over the legitimacy of the outcome arose.  In addition, several states had very close votes (i.e. Wisconsin and Michigan), which involved the impact of minor party candidates who received more votes than the difference between the two main contenders.  Individuals may look at the votes for other candidates in several ways.  Those who see it as a spoiled vote think that only possible winners should receive a vote.  On the other hand, voters may not cast a sincere ballot for a preferred candidate for fear of having a “wasted vote”.  Regardless, 2016 again prompted debate calling for changes to the Electoral College – although a wholesale change may be highly unlikely, significant chance can, and has, occurred. (For overview of the mechanics of the Electoral College, see this official resource by  Maine offers one more example of such revisions, a number of which have occurred at the state level.

Clearly, individuals wishing to cast out the Electoral College face an uphill battle due to the intentional design of the constitutional amendment process.  Since the ratification of the Constitution in the late 18th century, thousands of potential amendments have entered the public square, only a fraction have been adopted.  However, under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, to even be considered an officially proposed amendment, the measure must secure 2/3 support of both houses of Congress or of a national convention (the latter method has yet to be used. Only 33 have made it that far.  In order to be ratified – officially adopted as part of the Constitution – ¾ of state legislatures (or state conventions) must approve.  27 have cleared that hurdle.  The founders intended that changes occurred only when the country had overwhelming support for them – even before our current level of political discord, that level of support was extremely rare.  (Though our current time is not the only one in which political conflict has existed.) That said, the Electoral College can and has changed in a number of ways.

The Constitution seats the power to manage elections with the states in Article I Section 4, which allows experimentation with approaches for everything from promoting voter turnout to mechanisms for counting votes.  In earlier years, the state legislatures surrendered their power to determine the electoral vote choices for their states, as part of democratic trends.  States have determined methods of voter registration and ballot casting methods (see more information in this prior Civic Mind post). In more recent years, some states have made further reforms for the tallying of their electoral votes that have been designed to break the “winner take all” outcome in state elections; Maine and Nebraska adopted models that left the two votes based on the number of senators determined on the state-wide outcome but divided the others (based on the number of representatives) by congressional district.  Known as the “district system”, it became possible for multiple candidates to win votes based on the geographic concentration of supporters for candidates within different areas of these states.  Maine has now taken its innovative history further by adopting the ranked-choice ballot.

In an initiative that came from citizens rather than the legislature, Maine voters approved the use of a different system than used in other states during the 2016 election.  Initially adopted for state-level contests, 2020 will mark its first use of ranked-choice voting in a U.S. presidential election.  Most states (except Louisiana and now Maine) use what we call single-member plurality (SMP) systems – the candidate with the most votes wins, even if they only receive 35%. Unlike the SMP system, where voters have to discern not only their favored candidate but also how to vote if their preferred candidate has no likely chance of winning, ranked-choice voting allows for a more nuanced choice.

As indicated by the name, voters indicate their preference order of candidates on their ballot.  In each round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the vote summed again based on the next preference of voters who supported the candidate no longer in contention. The votes are reallocated based on established voter preferences until one candidate has a majority. (For more details on the logic of this system and its history in the US, see this helpful summary by Ballotpedia.  As with the change from “winner take all” allocation of electoral votes, this reform has the potential to shape electoral outcomes, especially as it interacts with the previous reform that breaks up the winner-take-all system. We can’t know how it might have changed past elections because we do not know what people’s preferences were aside from their votes – we do not know who else they might have supported if they had been able to cast alternate votes.  But the adoption at the state level provides concrete experience for other states to evaluate.

Although ranked-choice voting at the federal level is new in the United States, a handful of other countries have used this approach, such as Australia and Northern Ireland.  However, the lessons are only partially transferable, at least when it comes to presidential elections; those countries that do use the process at the national level have a parliamentary system in which the executive is determined based on which party gains the most seats.  In addition, a small number of states and localities have adopted its use for more localized elections, though not all that have done so have yet implemented it.

In principle, ranked-choice voting appears to be primarily a good option for voters, but it is not without its challenges.  Certainly, ranked-choice voting allows individuals to cast their first vote for their first preference (sincere voting), as opposed to trying to calculate which of the candidates are most competitive in order to avoid that wasted vote (strategic voting).  However, one of the primary concerns with ranked-choice voting is the issue of ballot exhaustion.  Because voters must not only select their first choice but multiple alternatives, individuals may not complete their ranking across available candidates; moreover, less educated voters may not understand the process of ranking, even as voter education advocates launch information campaigns.

Regardless of the valid critiques of the electoral college, even in these contested outcomes, it has functioned correctly; that is, it has been mathematically accurate because equal representation in the Senate means that electoral votes are not distributed proportionally among the states.  Unless there is pervasive and sustained opposition that can propel a constitutional change, reform-minded citizens should look closer to home based on the nature of our federalist system.  Currently, the changes both breaking apart electoral votes at the state level and allowing for ranking of sincere candidate preferences have a modest impact; Maine has only four electoral votes and Nebraska six. However, both cases illustrate the power that voters have to promote change at the state level.  In addition, some states have joined a compact to allocate their electoral votes based on the popular vote winner, which would not require a change to the electoral system implemented in each state. If you are interested in having your state evaluate these options, use these suggested tips in this prior Civic Mind post about contacting your elected officials.



(What is Tocqueville Capital?  Read the welcome post for the series!)

In September 2015, I learned that a former student, who had been diagnosed with cancer, was in ICU.  A little over a month later, I traveled to Maryland for his memorial service.  Although the loss of someone was not new to me, this particular one had me thinking.  A man in his early 20s, midway through law school, who had the reputation of amazing friendship and all the promise of a bright future, gone.  To say that we should make the most of our lives, not knowing how long they will last is certainly clichéd, but is so because of its perennial truth.  This loss helped me grasp the truth of the uncertainty of time and has left me fascinated with analysis of how we use the time that we have, as we are often unaware of how our choices shape our time commitments and overall well-being.  Over several decades, John Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey conducted extensive social research through time analysis which offers interesting and sometimes surprising findings, primarily in the American context, but also with some cross-national comparisons.

With their careful methods and detailed data, Robinson and Godbey challenge longstanding conventional wisdom about American “busyness” in Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time. In particular, their analysis of people’s perceptions of time use, as well as potential causes, offers a hard but necessary push for us to think honestly about our own lives.  Perhaps, as a consequence of the activity, Tocqueville noticed even in the early years of the republic, our freedom is a double-edged sword, one that must be wielded intentionally and responsibly, not only for the benefit of society as a whole but also for our own well-being.

Despite the focus on a relatively specific question – how do we use our time – Robinson and Godbey provide not only cross-national comparisons but also provide a look at the use of time in society, specifically the balance of work and leisure, in a longer-term context (Chapter 3). In fact, they note, that time is a cultural creation. Judeo-Christian practices launched a more linear use of time.  Industrialization – both in its processes and products – and the rise of a shared global use of time, which offered societal advancements, but also created a sense of scarcity.   The result, shown in several examples, is a life of rush, which in turn creates a greater push of stress as we complete more numerous, but also more shallow, activities.  The authors unpack the likely suspects in the creation of this “time famine” – greater efficiency and speed of some activities, the pace of change, the chunking of free time, and inequalities in resources that affect the amount of time and use by different individuals.

Using a multi-method approach to gather information, the researchers used a feasible but more detailed approach of time diaries to reveal some important findings on the use of our time and its change over the last few decades. Organizing diary entries into several categories, which they explain thoroughly in the second part of the book, the authors distinguish between paid time, family care, personal time and free time.  With the approximately 40% of our time available for leisure activities (118), an amount that grew over several decades, why might we feel like the balance has been moving in the opposite direction?

Part 3 shares some insight into the ways in which we choose to use our leisure time impacts our experience of it, specifically what makes us feel pressed for time.  One factor relates to how free time is organized – primarily compressed into the weekend or other similar blocks of time off the clock.  Another relates to how we use our leisure time; an increasing trend in individualized activities, some of which are termed “escapist” and a decreasing trend in activities that build social capital, which provide not only bonds but the opportunity for collaboration and a larger sense of purpose. (For more on social capital, see this prior series post on the work of Robert Putnam, who authored the foreword for this book.)  In addition, as discussed in Part 4, not everyone has the same biological and cultural opportunities that afford as much free time in the first place.  The idea of free time itself also brings us awareness of a more foundational facet of our society that shapes the structures of our lives and our perceptions of them.

Seeing Americans as busy folk is not a new phenomenon; Robinson and Godbey carry forward Tocqueville’s observations on the mixed blessings of a free society.  In a democratic society, individuals have relatively more freedom than in other systems.  Freedom, though simple in theory, can vary in our thinking from the absolute absence of constraints on our actions to one that is constrained by intentionality – and even by culture and law – out of respect for others and for own good.  Thus, our view of this value and our use of it plays a role in our collective and individual use of time. The relative equality of political rights in society, at least in a formal sense, opens the idea of choice in the pursuit of happiness.

Even in the early 1800s, Tocqueville pondered the frenetic pace that the free society produced:

“In the United States a man builds a house to spend his latter years in it, and he sells it before the roof is on: he plants a garden, and lets it just as the trees are coming into bearing: he brings a field into tillage, and leaves other men to gather the crops: he embraces a profession, and gives it up: he settles in a place, which he soon afterwards leaves, to carry his changeable longings elsewhere. If his private affairs leave him any leisure, he instantly plunges into the vortex of politics; and if at the end of a year of unremitting labor he finds he has a few days’ vacation, his eager curiosity whirls him over the vast extent of the United States, and he will travel fifteen hundred miles in a few days, to shake off his happiness. Death at length overtakes him, but it is before he is weary of his bootless chase of that complete felicity which is forever on the wing. At first sight there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy men, restless in the midst of abundance…” (Volume II, Book 2, Section 2, Chapter XIII, pars. 2-3).

Moreover, the value of equality of condition – imperfect though it is even still today – produced a strong drive for ever-increasing achievement.  Tocqueville also finds much to admire about the impact that individual drive also had on public affairs.  But the fact that the findings of this research and the constellation of related studies (over 3,000 have built on their work up until present time) provide a more detailed picture of essentially a similar outcome of driven people should perhaps give us pause.  So how might we harness this knowledge?  I had to chuckle when Googling to grab the publisher link to include in this post – Google had incorrectly categorized it as a self-help book.  The book is informative, but it is also academic, even if also accessible.

The awareness of our context that comes from this research can be supplemented with some practical resources.  Most importantly, as individuals we have to come to terms with the idea of competing goods – we have to be discerning in the voluntary commitments we make, even in terms of setting our own personal and professional goals.  Doing so means we have to decide not to do perfectly reasonable, interesting and/or helpful things. Greg Mckeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less offers not only concrete suggestions but helpful ways to conceive of why we should become better at making choices with our time in the first place.  (This summary is a helpful one.) In addition, Celeste Headlee’s Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing and Underliving, offers great insight and the importance of leisure for our personal well-being.  (Give a listen to the overview in this quick segment.) Finally, Happify – a science-based site for general audiences offers great resources, such as this infographic about how to live without regret.  Giving ourselves space allows us to restore but also increases our capacity to innovate.

Sitting here writing, these several years after the loss of a former student, not only do I currently face a significant loss, I am struck by the scope of loss of lives and livelihood in the midst of the pandemic.  I am also thankful that I was pushed to examine my life more critically in a way I had not done before, allowing me to lean into the change of lifestyle that has also accompanied the public health crisis.  Time for Life adds important context to understanding part of what makes our society, and us within it, tick. Robinson and Godbey include a chapter on comparison data from other countries, which shows that what we face is not an inevitable outcome of contemporary conditions.  In short, if we place more value on our time by intentional use, we risk not less but more in our own sanity and health, our relationships and our collective work.

(What is From the Field?  Read our welcome and prior posts.)

As we await the launch of the next segment of the From the Field series, which will focus on policies related to US-Latin American Relations this fall, we look back to a post from an earlier student blog series that ran a few years ago. This post features students who minored in Politics and are now out using their skills in the world.  
  • Rachel Bauman (’15), an English major and Politics minor, is currently Policy Advisor at U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
  • Jonathan Barry Wolf (’16), an Ethnic and Area Studies/ English double major and Politics minor who cares passionately about democratic public life, is currently Project Associate, Project Unicorn at InnovateED.

Read in their own words how they see Politics as a helpful complement to their primary fields of study in Minors Matter: Politics Edition!

(What is Civic Mind?  Read our welcome post for the series!)

This past spring, the coronavirus pandemic added a layer of difficulty for voters wishing to cast their ballots.  Already voters in Texas and other states have faced long lines in recent years, due to a decrease in the number of polling places. In April, Wisconsin voters waited for hours due to the hitches from safety guidelines after the state supreme court rejected the governor’s request for an extension.  However, voters in some states did not have the same experience.  Some states, like Pennsylvania, had adopted no-excuse absentee voting prior to the pandemic or made this change after its onset.  This shift, along with pushing back the date of primaries, allowed voters the opportunity – though it did not require them – to vote by mail.

Although the current context has put the idea of voting by mail front and center in the public conversation, it is by no means a new way to cast ballots.  Rather, states have adopted various reforms to increase voter access to the polls.  The power to establish election practices has been primarily left to the states, based on the provisions of Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 of the US Constitution.  The benefits of the federalist system are that states are able to experiment and also learn from successful practices elsewhere.  Based on the data from states that have used mail-only voting systems, as well as the number of states that have moved to no-excuse absentee ballots, this method of voting is not only established, the results are encouraging, even though it is important to recognize that the way that such a system is put into place impacts its results.

Oregon has nearly 40 years of experience with an effective vote-by-mail system.   Some counties have used the option since the early 1980s and the state as a whole experimented with it in a special congressional election in 1995.  The response was so strong that they modified the entire system a few years later, with resounding support in a state-wide referendum.  Not only did this policy change extend the practice across elections, but also made it the only method of voting.  Officials note minimal issues of fraud/security and champion the increase in turnout.  More broadly, alternate means of voting have served an increasing percentage of individuals across the country.

Ultimately, the vote-by-mail method is part of a larger topic of voting accessibility, which has long been a concern for those studying democratic systems.  The United States has had fairly low levels of turnout in comparison to other developed democracies, only rising in the last few general elections. Part of the difference relates to the need for US voters to actively register, as opposed to automatic registration that occurs in other countries.  (And of course, Australia stands out in its rates due to compulsory voting, a characteristic for which there are valid philosophical disagreements.) In addition, compared to parliamentary and/or unitary systems, the United States has many more elections across its levels of government.

Over the years, there have been numerous reforms designed to help promote voter turnout, especially among lower-income individuals who may have challenges in transportation or taking time from hourly jobs to vote.  Early on, the idea of Election Day as a holiday drew attention, but the reality is that it would not help those individuals whose jobs continued day to day in retail and other necessity positions.  As a result, states have explored several other options.  Early in-person voting has existed in some states for several decades, allowing voters multiple days over which to cast their ballots.  Mail-in ballot systems, as noted more recently, have grown to include five states that operate solely by mail (in addition to Oregon – Washington, Colorado, Hawaii and Utah).  However, more recently we have seen a rise in another method that seems to offer more promise for prompter reform – no-excuse absentee voting.

Although the practice of no-excuse absentee voting has been around for quite a while, with California first launching the practice in the early 1980s, it has spread as an option in subsequent years. With absentee voting already present in states, allowing individuals to cast their vote by mail – even if they will be in their area of residence on Election Day – builds on existing systems in the states for managing, distributing and counting ballots.  There is certainly something to be said for casting a ballot in person – this system allows both.  In addition, the hybrid approach allows for states – and voters – to have more time to consider the impact of a longer-term shift to vote-by-mail as the primary option.  Currently, 30 states have opened their absentee ballot process to allow no-excuse option, in addition to the five states that conduct voting by mail only.

Although some challenges exist with this option, they can be effectively addressed.  The timing of such a transition, depending on how existing systems work, can make or break the process, as the responsible offices/bureaus will need to have sufficient staff and resources. In addition, voters will need to adapt to the new process, especially if they have never cast an absentee ballot. Some states mail the ballots automatically, others require the voter to request the ballot; the voter must then return the ballot by the deadline.  Thus, states that allow for both may allow people to shift more gradually. (More information related to common concerns is offered by the Bipartisan Policy Center.)

This past week, I received an email notification of eligibility to vote by mail in Pennsylvania.  (Due to my registration category, I was not eligible to vote in the primaries in June, so I had not previously been set up in the system for this process).  It was pretty simple.  PA tracks confirmation with emails notifying sending/ receipt and processing.  It also allows you to select automatic mailing of future ballots, making it a one and done step if you continue to vote in future elections unless you move.  For more information on the processes available in your state, please check this information from Ballotpedia, an initiative of the non-partisan Lucy Burns Institute.  You can also have a deeper look into election information on your state, and even access the link to its online voter registration.

In case you are interested, Lucy Burns was one of the suffragettes who teamed up with Alice Paul and others to launch the National Woman’s Party and lead the final push to secure support for the passage of the 19th Amendment. They and others have sacrificed much to secure and protect the right to vote; we not only honor their efforts but increase the responsibility of our system when we cast a vote — especially an informed one.


(What is Tocqueville Capital?  Read the welcome post for the series!)

Over half of my career as a political scientist has included serving in organizational or institutional positions of leadership – treasurer, chair, director, dean.  I have found that my discipline has had much to offer in those experiences – the value of understanding how institutional/organizational structure, culture and purpose interact with each other and shape decisions.  Moreover, as a researcher in political psychology, I have found that applying knowledge of what “makes people tick” helps to promote constructive collective solutions, whether addressing a smaller scale need or a larger initiative. Thus, it came as little surprise when I came across a reference to Tocqueville in a recent work by organizational psychologist, Dr. Adam Grant.

In Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, Grant takes the stereotype that “nice folks don’t get ahead” and turns it on its side.  Rather, in addition to traditional ideas about the value of “motivation, ability, and opportunity [for success]…[it] depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people” (3). Distinguishing between takers (who focus more on what they gain from situations and relationships), matchers (who look for even reciprocity in their work with others), and givers (who focus on how others benefit from our interactions), he finds that givers actually are more successful in the longer term.  (He characterizes success as a life of meaning and effective work).  In this finding, his argument and evidence harken back to Tocqueville’s assertion of the value of stepping outside of ourselves and our own circumstances, which improves not only the collective good but our own as well.

We may be very aware of our relationships, but yet relatively unaware of how our pattern of interactions with others shapes our lives.  Although sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and others have led to a more tangible visibility of networks, their existence has long preceded the internet and social media.  Observations on the social nature of humans stretch back at least as far as Aristotle (Politics) and are grounded in the sacred texts of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – especially in their shared use of Genesis.  Unsurprisingly, we tend to leverage the strong ties- those people whom we know better and with whom we have enduring bonds.  But, Grant notes, two other sorts of ties can also be meaningful: weak and dormant. Weak ties involve individuals who are less likely to have the same central network and thus offer new ideas and opportunities; dormant ties, which while currently inactive, have a history of trust that allows for ease of contact (47-50).

Within the context of networks, givers enrich the good of others, and by extension, the larger whole.  Grant discusses the model of the “five-minute favor” that entrepreneur Adam Rifkin encourages in his network,  106 Miles; members seek to proactively offer assistance, building ties, and securing connections for the future (54-60).  This example, and other psychological research on the presence of giving members of a group, show that the actions can have ripple effects to give first and ask later.  (It also makes asking later easier!)  Moreover, the role of collaboration shows benefits in entertainment, education, medical, financial and other fields (Chapter 3).  The evidence is fairly compelling that giving matters to individuals and society.

Grant is quick to point out that being a giver does not involve being a martyr or putting yourself at the risk of burnout.  Rather, attending to others’ interests can involve “giving help, providing mentoring, sharing credit, or making connections for others” (5).  He is quick to point out the importance of supporting potential in others, first introduced as “growth mindset” by Carol Dweck (100). In addition, we must recognize that success involves repeated work at a goal, as supported by Angela Duckworth’s conception of “grit” (105).  Ultimately, recognizing these values in ourselves can help us burnish them in others.

Grant found some givers among the least successful individuals because they were so focused on tending to the needs of others that they did not accomplish their own tasks (5).  He asserts that attention to self and other are two distinct dimensions – it is possible to be low, high, or somewhere in between on both.  The givers who were not successful exhibit behaviors classified as “selfless givers” – who rate high on others’ interest and low on their own – are classified as “pathological altruism” – or, in other words, have unhealthy behaviors just as much as someone overly focused on oneself – even to the point of narcissism – might (157). Thus, successful givers are “otherish” – concerned about the well-being of self AND other.  In some ways, Grant’s assertions here are not new; Jewish theologian Martin Buber articulated his I-Thou framework, showing that the healthy person is one that values self AND other as worthy of concern.

Certainly givers can burn out, if they attend only to one dimension selflessly.  However, givers also may burnout because they are unable to help effectively; the perception of impact serves as buffer of stress in busier times (166).  (For more discussion on this relationship, see additional research on animals and humans in Chapter 18 of Robert Sapolsky’s Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.)  Moreover, how we give – whether professionally or through volunteer opportunities makes a difference in its effect.  Those who were “chunkers” – putting all their acts in a specified period – had better psychological and physical gains than sprinklers” who did the same level of giving across a longer period of time (170-173).  In fact, 100 hours per year of volunteering in a way that one finds energizing, building on our talents and purpose, seems to be the sweet spot between too much and too little (173-177).  In addition, we also need to see our own negotiations as self-advocacy (208).

By this point, especially for those familiar with Tocqueville’s work and followers of this blog series, you might anticipate the connecting point, but it is perhaps different than one might think!  Although Tocqueville critiques the dangers of individualism, as discussed in this previous post, he had a much more nuanced view of the motivations of the American people:

It is as often to be met with on the lips of the poor man as of the rich. In Europe the principle of interest is much grosser than it is in America, but at the same time it is less common, and especially it is less avowed; amongst us, men still constantly feign great abnegation which they no longer feel. The Americans, on the contrary, are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of interest rightly understood; they show with complacency how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist each other, and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the State. In this respect I think they frequently fail to do themselves justice; for in the United States, as well as elsewhere, people are sometimes seen to give way to those disinterested and spontaneous impulses which are natural to man; but the Americans seldom allow that they yield to emotions of this kind; they are more anxious to do honor to their philosophy than to themselves. (Book 2, Section 2, Chapter VII, par. 3).

In other words, back then, Americans asserted self-interested motives at times when they actually were seeking to help others!

Research from more recent times shows that Americans still may be hiding their lights under a bushel.  People are likely to identify themselves as givers, and the larger society as self-interested. Thus, perceived social norms shape how people view themselves within society and how they present to others.  It has led to a tendency to convey self-interested motives for their efforts to avoid being seen as weak (240-243).  These findings offer more reasons to be generous in how we interpret the motives of others, especially absent strong evidence otherwise.

Give and Take offers compelling research – both in-depth examples and statistical findings – that is practical in its use (one of the facets I treasure about Adam Grant’s work in general).  Through it we learn more about the value of effective personal interaction that values others, allowing us to live more meaningful and impactful lives.  Grant’s work also complements well Daniel Coyle’s work in Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, which offers action steps to build belonging and effectiveness for those working with others for a larger goal.  I would also be remiss if I did not recommend Grant’s podcast series WorkLife, which addresses issues at individual and organizational levels.  Although I have stepped back from administration – at least for now – to refocus on the energy-giving experiences of teaching and writing, my experiences have indelibly impacted my work because of the way that I recognize the inherent relation between the individual and common good – whether in my institution, social groups or society at large.


Colleen Quinn

(What is From the Field? Read our welcome to find out!)

How are the characteristics of the Republican and Democratic parties from nearly a century ago relevant to political parties today? In more ways than one might think at first glance. As the coronavirus sweeps across the country, statistics show that unemployment rates are reaching a high point only seen previously during the Great Depression. Although our current parties have no clear dominance in the government as the Democratic Party previously did, the fifth party system has ultimately shaped the current party system into what it is today, highly divided with clear separations between the two major parties.

On October 29, 1929, the American stock market crashed, leaving the American people in an economic crisis. An event beyond the control of the parties became the primary concern of American voters, thus, electing the candidate who would provide a solution became the focus of the election. The Democratic Party strategized by focusing on a progressive reform and relief platform, and the electorate responded by overwhelmingly supporting the Democratic Party and their candidate, Franklin Roosevelt, in his run for president in the 1932 election.

The realigning election of 1932 marked the commencement of the fifth party system. This system endured from 1933 to 1968 and is marked by a period of the previously inactive Democratic Party coming to power due to a progressive approach to the economic crisis. Never before had the U.S. government intervened so much in its people’s lives. New voter coalitions were formed as a result of the change in the party platform, bringing the Democrats to power and changing the precedents of executive powers and acceptable interaction with American private life and business.

As noted, the principal cause of the realignment to the fifth party system was the voters’ reaction to the stock market crash of 1929 and the economic crisis, better known as the Great Depression. Herbert Hoover, president at the time of the stock market crash, believed it was best for the American economy and electorate if the government took a laissez-faire approach instead of intervening. He thought that the people should ride out the wave of economic crisis and poverty and that the issue would resolve itself over the course of a few months. However, nearly two years passed and the Great Depression was unresolved. During this time, Hoover vetoed numerous bills that would provide relief. Instead, he focused on shaping a conservative reconstructive plan that would focus on financial reform.

After Hoover’s limited intervention showed little sign of improving the crisis, the Democratic Party, previously inactive on the issue, began to take an activist stance on reform and relief in the crisis. The party pandered to the most affected voters by emphasizing their plan of action, as well as promising relief to remedy the economy. Democratic senators and representatives began proposing bills to fund relief programs, all of which were not passed by the Republican majority.

Two-and-a-half years after the Great Depression began, the Democratic National Convention nominated Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt enticed skeptical voters with his New Deal program, which combined social reform and economic recovery, which attracted the attention of the majority of voters from both parties and allowed him to win the presidency.

Support for a change in the status quo drove voters to shift their alignment to the Democratic Party, with the 1932 election at the center of the New Deal Realignment. New coalitions based on class, region, religious affiliation, and race became prevalent during the fifth party system. This system also saw a shift in support for large voter coalitions such as African Americans, who previously voted nearly exclusively Republican, to the Democratic Party. These and other voter coalitions, as well as labor unions, aligned themselves with the growing and changing Democratic Party as its platform began to take shape and become the party of minorities, social rights, urban living, and liberalism.

In addition to voters from the opposing party shifting their political alignment, political scientists theorize that formerly inactive voter coalitions were a greater cause for higher Democratic voting numbers. These non-voters were newly able to vote and sought to encourage the new trend of progressivism in government and expand relief programs. For example, in Chicago, first and second-generation American immigrant families were highly mobilized in the 1936 election, contributing to the growing number of Democratic supporters in the New Deal Realignment Era.

Conversely, conservative voters, particularly coalitions in rural regions and with Protestant ties who previously supported the Democratic Party began to solidly align with the now conservative Republican Party, which opposed the progressive Democratic platform, instead advocating for a laissez-faire approach. These new divisions — or cleavages — dividing the electorate were solidified in the elections after 1932, creating a lasting change in voter support to the two parties, characterizing a period of Democratic favor that would last until 1968.

The shift of dissatisfied conservative Democrats to the Republican Party began an era of polarization and homogenous parties. Conservatives became exclusively Republican, while liberals became exclusively Democrat. As Roosevelt’s progressive Democratic ideals were proposed as bills, conservative voters pushed back against what they believed to be excessive spending as well as the federal government overreach into the private lives of citizens. This push-back revealed itself in the form of the 1938 midterm election, where the Republican Party gained seven seats in the Senate and nearly doubled their numbers in the House of Representatives. These Republican victories were likely a blend of the reaction of independents to the progressive policies of the Roosevelt administration, as well as the delayed response from conservative Democrats shifting party affiliation as they began to feel alienated from the new Democratic Party.

The relevance of the realigning factors of the fifth party system to the modern party system is that they have influenced the way that cleavages divide the current party system. Divisions such as racial, religious, and socioeconomic status are cleavages voters are influenced by in the sixth party system, and these were initially developed in the fifth party system.

According to Pew Research Center, in 2008, voters elected the first African American president, Barack Obama. The electorate in 2008’s presidential election was the most diverse in U.S. history, with nearly one-in-four votes cast by non-whites. As the electorate becomes more racially diverse, parties must acknowledge these new cleavages and react in order to appeal to the electorate and win elections. Although these divisions seem to threaten political stability, cleavages among the electorate do not mean that the democratic system is failing. However, as the electorate enters a time when political parties seem more divided than ever, the division of the electorate is not some new, unprecedented threat. Polarization has existed since the foundation of political parties, and although divisions can cause polarization, those divisions have the capacity to change as voters react to external influences and allow the parties to evolve.

As new issues and divisions arose towards the end of the fifth party system, the cleavages of the fifth party system began to lose prevalence among the electorate and parties. The class-based voter coalitions of the New Deal realignment became somewhat obsolete, and religious groups became divided as moral issues arose in politics during the late 1970s and 1980s. The 1960s brought along a wave of detachment from parties, and during this time, voters were more inclined to vote in elections as individuals than to identify with a party.

Those who did remain attached to their party did not seek out as much voting guidance from the party as in elections past. The 1968 election that heralded the transition from the fifth to sixth party system was characterized by cleavages highlighting geographic location and weak party identification. This shift emphasized a change in Republican mindset towards traditional views, solidified by Regan’s presidency in the 1980s. Meanwhile, the Democrats continued to build their platform of social rights and liberal progressivism. As the parties shifted their platforms gradually over the course of the subsequent elections, voters have reacted to these changes by either switching parties, remaining staunchly loyal, or becoming increasingly independent.

Characterized by cleavages dividing voters by religious affiliation, geographic location, and race, the fifth party system was dominated by the Democratic Party. During this system, the two parties became less diverse, a characteristic that has bled over into the current party system. The 1932 election that marked the realignment to the fifth party system was caused by the voter’s reaction to the Great Depression, and a desire for relief. In the upcoming months leading up to the 2020 presidential election, it will be interesting to see how the government responds to the current widespread unemployment.


Colleen is a rising sophomore in the Politics and International Relations major.