Kendra Pic

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

The fourth alignment of the American party system lasted from 1896-1932, with the election of 1896 considered the critical election. Republican William McKinley’s win, Stonecash and Silina note, “presumably produced a pronounced, abrupt, and enduring shift to the Republican Party… because the Republican win created a political alignment that largely stifled the consideration of certain policy issues for the next 40 years,” (7). Ultimately, realignments usually occur during times of national crisis or conflict, as the electorate is seeking new ways to address issues, especially ones that have yet to be confronted. This search for change was the case, or at least a significant contributing factor, for the fourth realignment in the response to the Panic of 1893. However, the alignment was also inconsistent with other realignment trends, since there were multiple transitions between the political parties during this era.  Each of these elements reflects in contemporary party politics.

With industrialization underway, a significant issue surrounding the 1896 election was that of how the country would navigate this change, with Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan’s platform resting on improved environments for workers.  This approach resulted in the isolation of urban areas, creating an electoral shift towards the Republicans. Political scientist Robert Saldin, suggests the realignment towards the Republican-driven era, was also heavily influenced by the economic disruption in the late 1800s due to the failure of banking and other economic sectors.

Scholar Marjorie Hershey notes that the panic also contributed to internal conflicts within the Democratic Party, namely the low-income white constituents with the less progressive party leaders, looking for further support from their party, which continued to divide the constituents or reduce their vigor for their party identification (152). Prior to 1896, the discussion around the economy persisted around how to regulate industry, workers’ rights, and the class divide. Scholar James Sundquist captures the failed attempts by Democrats to marshal supporters in Dynamics of the Party System (Ch. 7).  While they were not successful in forming their coalition, class struggles were a regular issue with the rise in labor strikes and the creation of the Greenback Party and Populist Party.

This realignment took place at the end of the Reconstruction era (1876-1896), whereby at this stage in history, as noted by Aldrich et al., the two parties had a secure platform and influence within American politics. They were both fairly balanced in terms of support, and every election showed gains, “first for one party and then for the other, with divided control common,” (345). This sentiment is similar to that of contemporary election history, with each party making small advancements in some elections and experiencing setbacks in others. However, during the Realignment of 1896, the Republicans managed to sustain their majority in the different branches of governments throughout this period, an indication of a realignment.

Similar to the Fourth Alignment beginning with national crisis needing to be addressed and voters more willing to be rallied by a different party, it ended also amidst the new national crisis of the Great Depression. While social issues like Prohibition were at the forefront before, economic concerns were the only main concerns at the beginning of the Great Depression, and therefore the election of 1932, gave the Democratic Party their best opening for victory, While there were many that questioned FDR’s campaign and nomination,  Historian William Leuchtenburg recounts that “[h]is opponent, President Herbert Hoover, was so unpopular that FDR’s main strategy was not to commit any gaffes that might take the public’s attention away from Hoover’s inadequacies,” (“The Campaign and Election of 1932”). Under FDR’s leadership and his plans for the New Deal to surmount the national, economic crisis, he reassured Americans that his plan would alleviate the current conditions. While it may not have been as certain at the time, since realignment studies need a long-lasting change, FDR’s election ended the Fourth Alignment and paved the way for a new Democratically-driven era.

Not all scholars have been convinced of the value of realignment theory.  David Mayhew, an elections scholar, lays out an argument to debunk the value of realignment as a failed model in Electoral Realignments: A Critique of an American Genre.   Among the lack of evidence for a solid realignment? Woodrow Wilson served two terms for the Democratic Party from 1913-1921. The 1920 election resulting in the defeat of Democratic rule and restoring Republican dominance is not usually considered as “critical” as the election of 1896, although it essentially brought about the same results.

The question remains if nowadays, the United States is experiencing a period of realignment. Aldrich et al. share that, especially in recent years, “the House, the Senate, and the presidency have shifted partisan control several times, and each election opens with at least one, if not two or even three, of the elected branches of government under close competition for partisan control,” (343). Some believed that after Obama’s election wins in 2008 and 2012, that the United States was again foreseeing a new realignment era with a Democratic majority. With President Trump’s election in 2016, some argued this marked a shift towards a Republican realignment or at least make way for easier likelihood in the future. Regardless, the biggest issue with studying realignments is they must occur over a long period of time, remain durable, and electorate shift is necessary. Multiple elections will need to take place before one can decisively conclude that the electorate has made a considerable change either in partisanship or with their values within their parties.

Kendra graduated this May with a major in politics and international relations, as well as a minor in journalism.

Samantha Rockhill

Samantha Rockhill

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

For the two decades prior to the 1890s, neither the Democrats or Republicans maintained a stable majority; that status would change with the 1896 election of Republican William McKinley.  As historian Marc Horger notes in “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” the election culminated in concerns over the 1893 depression and debates over monetary standards.  The Fourth Party System also called the Progressive Era, spanned from 1896 to 1932. This system is a particularly interesting party system to evaluate in the context of today’s political climate because it began and ended with gradual secular realignments caused by demographic changes and economic concerns.

As a post-reconstruction era, issues of race and ethnicity were highly influential in determining voting coalitions, with Jewish and black voters supporting the Republican party of Lincoln for most of the period. In Politics, Parties and Elections in America, political scientist John Bibby notes that evolving events would shift these coalitions (Chapter 2).  Towards the end of the 1920s these minority voters switched to the Democratic Party, as these marginalized groups had been hit particularly hard by the Depression and supported Roosevelt’s job creation programs – and later, his international fight against the Nazis. The high rate of immigration in the early 20th century was also influential for the fourth party system, and interestingly, newly arrived immigrants tended to vote for the Democratic Party, providing them their largest support outside of the segregated South. Their success was in large part due to the role of party machines in providing jobs and benefits for working-class people in exchange for votes

Anyone who pays attention to the news would note that immigration, racial divisions, and a rapidly changing voting demographics continue to be important in determining the power balance of the parties even today.  Pew Research Center offers a data portrait of current trends in comparison with historical ones.  Instead of the arrival of European immigrants in the early 1900s, we are now seeing an influx of Southern and Central American immigrants, with about half of the current immigrant population arriving from Latin American and the Caribbean.  The result: an increasing number of ethnic and racial minorities compared to white America.  After the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, some believed that these demographic changes were leading to a party system realignment in favor of the Democrats.  However, Aldrich et al describe the 2016 election of Donald Trump as a “realignment of American politics” that “pitt[ed] college-educated whites, minorities, and millennials against blue-collar and evangelical whites” (343).  Whether that outcome represents a trend or not remains to be seen.

Economic depressions were also a major catalyst of both the realignment that led to the Fourth Party Party System and the realignment that ended it. Horger notes that when F.D.R was elected the high unemployment rate (25%) and banking system collapse caused Americans to turn away from the incumbent Republican party, which they viewed as failing them.  The election of President Barack Obama also came at a time of great economic distress, however, unlike the depressions of the Fourth Party System, the Great Recession does not seem to have brought about a realignment, but rather a period of overall political turmoil and change.  Political scientist Morris Fiorina affirms that the political system has been anything but stable over the last few decades. If we are in the midst of a realignment period, it is likely a secular realignment, rather than one which stems from a critical election.

Such a secular realignment would also reflect similarities to the Fourth Party System.  As Bibby notes, that system began after a period in which neither of the two parties had a substantial majority and ended with support for the Democratic party gradually increasing from 28.8  percent in 1924 to 40.8 percent in 1928 (83). However, recent data shows that most people do not yet find the parties representing their views well (17).  Such gradual turnovers of political power from one party to another over issues of economics and demographics echoes some of the concerns and factors we see in the United States right now as neither party has held a majority or consolidated power in my lifetime.  Scholars continue to argue that each new election is initiating a realignment; however, it is not likely until parties can build more stable coalitions.

Sam graduated this May with a major in politics and international relations, as well as a minor in gender studies.


Board Games

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

For the last several years, my husband and I have spent Christmas Day with my cousins, joining in several traditions.  We begin our gathering with the “white elephant” gift exchange – which is really a misnomer as everyone has such creative ideas hidden in deceptive packaging, all of which recipients can gladly use.  Dinner involves an amazing spread, including delicious meats cooked perfectly by my cousin J.  As the evening shifts into an open house, it regularly features games of fun including – among others – Cards Against Humanity, leading us into laughter and deeper connection.

This human ability to connect can help to form enduring bonds with others; its absence can lead us into a more contentious social scenario.  In his TEDx Talk, Arkansas State University political scientist, Hans Hacker examines how the latter situation may be one of the indicators at base of the shortage of toilet paper during the current pandemic.  Hacker asserts that, rather than serving as another indicator of incivility, this lack of essential resources results from a growing disconnect with others.  Building on Tocqueville’s assessment of the relationship between individualism and collective efforts, Hacker offers important insights as to how we, as members of society, can more helpfully conceive of our own actions in promoting or discouraging our ties with others.

Hacker’s talk enlivens his discussion of the difference between incivility (rudeness) and disconnection (self-interestedness) with visually connective historical and contemporary examples.  Incivility has long plagued our political system – and others.  However, after clashing on important issues, people were often able to gather together – for recreation, as well as other shared activities focused on a larger good (1:56).  However, trends of social isolation resulting from more individualized forms of recreation, as well as sorting in the current party system have decreased such opportunities for collaboration and a sense of a shared larger good.

In order to think more constructively about the contemporary social environment, we can consider how something as elemental as a game makes an impact on our outlook.  Hacker looks at three types of games: collective games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, in which those playing “convince others not to exploit common resources and take advantage of others by acting badly or selfishly”; dissociated games, such as Monopoly, which decouple our interests into a purely competitive forum; and in-between games, such as Cards Against Humanity, which engage us somewhere in the balance of self and other in the goal of having fun (8:46-10:39).  Even more importantly, those who have become isolated simply fail to play, remaining disengaged.  In this idea, Hacker connects us in a symbolic way to Tocqueville’s discussion of “civic virtue”.

Among Tocqueville’s numerous observations in Democracy in America, he focuses on the experiences that pull us out from our individual concerns to that of the larger whole, also known as civic virtue.  Through simple examples, he reveals the opportunities that allow citizens to consider something beyond their own interests:

It is difficult to draw a man out of his own circle to interest him in the destiny of the State, because he does not clearly understand what influence the destiny of the State can have upon his own lot. But if it be proposed to make a road cross the end of his estate, he will see at a glance that there is a connection between this small public affair and his greatest private affairs; and he will discover, without its being shown to him, the close tie which unites private to general interest. Thus, far more may be done by intrusting to the citizens the administration of minor affairs than by surrendering to them the control of important ones, towards interesting them in the public welfare, and convincing them that they constantly stand in need one of the other in order to provide for it (Book 2, Section 2, Chapter IV, para 6).

Citizenship, in a general sense, allows people to have a share in their future by providing them the opportunity to participate in it.  In fact, though often pushed out in favor of attention to higher levels of government, local affairs are most accessible and relevant to us.  Not only does our individual influence extend further in a smaller sphere, with opportunities to serve on township or other local level citizen committees, but the local level of government attends to important issues that affect our daily lives (police protection, roads, education, etc.).

Repeated opportunities for people to see their own interests tied up in the good of the larger whole allows this focus to become a habit:

They every instant impress upon his mind the notion that it is the duty, as well as the interest of men, to make themselves useful to their fellow-creatures; and as he sees no particular ground of animosity to them, since he is never either their master or their slave, his heart readily leans to the side of kindness. [Individuals] attend to the interests of the public, first by necessity, afterwards by choice: what was intentional becomes an instinct; and by dint of working for the good of one’s fellow citizens, the habit and the taste for serving them is at length acquired. (Book 2, Section 2, Chapter IV, para 10).

What we do repeatedly shapes our future actions and ourselves. However, the disconnection that Hacker and other researchers have identified brings us to the important issue of with whom we connect: our tendency to cluster with those who think like us (6:25).  Clearly, it is easier to see the larger good of our family or a group of individuals who share similar ideas, but the larger challenge is how to facilitate opportunities that bring us together with those who have different beliefs and life experiences than we do.

Of course, the current crisis is complicated on the many fronts by which it impacts our lives; tending to one area (health) may be perceived as at odds with another (economy).  But each of these elements is complex in itself.  Even the toilet paper shortage may not be as simple as selfish stockpiling; rather supply-issues also exist, resulting from the challenge to ramp up production and even alter it from more commercial-sized packaging.  In short, the complexity means that large-scale solutions are neither simple to identify nor feasible to put quickly into place.

Our current times call us to read our contexts more closely, to be willing to be as reflective on our own actions and words as we are of others, recognizing that others are also part of our society.  To be sure, a society focused on collective ends still has much to discuss and debate.  Finding ways to effectively engage with others, especially those who have different life experiences, allows us a better opportunity to see their value as human beings and co-members of society, as well as to benefit from their perspectives in problem-solving. Organizations such as The People’s Supper, which brings together people from varied backgrounds, can create such “brave spaces”.  However, refocusing our frame can also start in seemingly small ways within more comfortable settings.  Thinking about the games that are stored on your shelves, as well as how they allow you to interact with others, can give you practice at building collaborative skills.  (Need some suggestions?  Check out this helpful review site.)

magnifying glass


“Dewey beats Truman!”

This headline, from the 1948 election, has become a historical lesson on the potential dangers of polls.  In this case, due to the lack of a representative sample and the ability to determine whose vote was decided and would be cast, the results did not accurately reflect the intentions of the larger voting public.  Flash forward to the 2016 presidential election, when some polls leading up to Election Day did not quite square with the results of who won in some states.  Just as with any other means of gathering data to further knowledge, knowing what to look for when reading polling results can help you determine how much stock to put into the findings.  But what is a poll, and in what ways does it differ from a survey?

Both formats of questions allow us to gather information from individuals, known as respondents, in order to analyze patterns in the public.  Surveys provide a means for professionals to ask people directly – in a variety of formats – about their opinions, behaviors, experiences and personal characteristics, whereas polls focus on one or a few narrow questions. (Think about a field survey or survey course, which can offer a view of the larger landscape.) Surveys typically take much longer to craft and administer; polls can be run quickly and frequently.  Each, then, serves a different purpose even though their methods may be very similar.  However, in order to benefit from the availability of any results, we need to be aware of several key factors that shape whether we should put credence in them, as well as the inherent limits of this type of data.

Although surveying as a means of gathering data other than opinions can be used more extensively to capture all members of a group –  like the US Census –  our focus here is on the use of smaller subsets of individual, known as samples, in order to draw conclusions about a larger group of people, known as a population. Except for rarer – and expensive – types of data collection from the public, such as the census, almost all poll data comes from subsets of the population. The form and size of the sample help us know how reliable the findings may be.

Both surveys and polls come in many forms, only some of which provide valid information that you can generalize to the larger environment.  In general, Scientific polls provide the most useful results, because the people responding are picked by the use of a random sample, in which each person has an equal likelihood of being chosen.  Such an approach is most likely to result in a sample that is representative of the larger whole. Therefore, to have the most reliable information possible, you want to see that the poll was conducted with this method.

Non-scientific polls, which rely on convenience or other means to capture responses (i.e. clicking from a website), may have some useful information for limited purposes, but cannot be evaluated as representative of a larger whole.  One of the least reliable types of non-scientific polls is a push poll, in which people contact respondents for other purposes and use the opportunity to press (push) ideas upon them using leading language.  (Individual questions in a poll or larger survey can also be misleading, but push polls are designed to sway opinion as a whole, rather than measure it. For that reason, research often considers them faux polls.)  However, the means of selecting the people to respond to the questions is just one element to consider; the number of individuals responding also matters to the reliability of results.

Sample size also helps us understand how seriously to take results.  In essence, the larger the sample, the more reliable the results.  In fact, it generally takes about 1,500 responses in a random sample to get helpful results.  More is better, of course, but gathering more takes more time and money.  Thus, researchers and other pollsters are always trying to balance accuracy with cost. However, they provide information that allows you to assess how accurate the results may be based on the number of respondents.

Poll results for specific questions should include a margin of error that indicates the range of confidence in the results.  The smaller the margin of error, the more reliable the results.  The closer the results – for example between two candidates – the greater chance that an outcome, such as an election win, could be unpredictable.  If you have a 2-3% point difference between candidates and a 3% margin of error, then the leading candidate could be ahead further or could actually be behind the other candidate; that shifting is why some races are considered “too close to call”.  The same could be said for differences of opinion on issues or events, all of which presume that we have well-formed questions.

Even with a reliable sample form and size, survey/ polling results can still be impacted by the wording of the questions asked.  Individuals who use polls for research purposes spend a good deal of time refining the wording of a question, both to ensure that everyday respondents can understand it and to ensure that the question itself does not push a respondent towards a particular response (a leading question).  A brief discussion of the factors that researchers take into consideration when drafting questions may be found here. In addition, other question-wording issues should be noted as well.  Some research on surveys has even looked at the order of options presented in question and responses, finding that it can impact on the ways that people answer questions.

Ultimate, as with any data collection for any topic, we are best served by looking at the collective results of multiple polls or studies that use reliable methods to gather and process the data.  For this reason, we often see some sources report moving averages of results across multiple polls collecting the same data over the same period of time.  In addition, looking at results of larger-scale research projects, not simply those focused on electoral horserace or other sensational items, will yield more helpful information.  For example, the American National Election Study and the General Social Survey are have been collected on a regular basis for decades – though the researchers gathering these data sets do not focus on prediction measures like news outlets do, their findings do allow users to make deeper meaning of results and their likely causes.

We can become more critical evaluators of data, using more than our own existing opinions to evaluate it by becoming better informed about these elements.  Herbert Asher’s Polling and the Public: What Every Citizen Should Know provides a concise overview of the key elements discussed in this post and more.  In addition, the American Association for Public Opinion Researchers (AAPOR) provides ethical guidelines, including disclosure expectations, and best practices for professionals who conduct polling; published results should always include these basic pieces of information.  In addition, this recent episode of WITF’s Smart Talk (an NPR affiliate) offers some great insights on polling from Berwood Yost, currently the Director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin and Marshall College, and a former colleague of mine when I taught at Millersville.

We also need to keep in mind that there are limits to survey data and the conclusions that we can draw from it.  Unless data is captured over time – usually referred to as a panel – the results are simply a snapshot, even though we need to consider the context in which these responses are gathered.   In addition, unless data is gathered on other opinions, behaviors and respondent characteristics, we cannot draw larger conclusions as to the cause and effect of a specific opinion.

Polling and survey data, like other methods of gathering information, are not perfect.  However, they do provide a much more reliable source of evidence than our own impressions based on people around us, who might not represent the larger whole, or on assumptions that our opinions reflect those of a larger portion of the public (known as false consensus). Ultimately, we should push ourselves to ask for data beyond electoral horseraces and simplistic issue stances.  By harnessing effective data drawn from reputable sources, we can not only better understand the public mood, but we can better craft solutions to societal issues.



Elise Robinson

Elise Robinson

New to From the Field? Read the welcome post for the series!

Spanning from 1860- 1896, the 3rd Party System initiated the still-enduring reign of the two-party system consisting of the Democratic and Republican parties. Although the platforms of these parties have substantially shifted since this time frame, the longevity of the parties themselves is a sign of successful shifts to represent the evolving concerns of the public. While the 3rd Party System encompassed the Civil War Era, Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, and the initial years of the Progressive Era, the dominant parties were initially defined by the single cleavage of abolition. Maintaining this sole division allowed the parties to endure the Civil War and Reconstruction Eras, however, once the expansion of slavery ceased to be the most prominent issue amongst voters during the 2nd Industrial Revolution, the parties had to adapt to reflect the public’s shifting economic and social concerns.

The contemporary Republican and Democratic parties have fallen into a similar disconnect from the American public. Parties serve as vehicles for the public interest to be represented in government. Therefore, as the parties responded to the voters’ shift away from the polarizing issue of slavery in the 3rd Party System, contemporary parties must similarly realign to match the sentiments of the growing centrist and moderate voters.

Civil War pressures established the initial platforms of the two major parties, with the Republicans advocating and the Democrats opposing abolition. Therefore, as Richard McCormick notes in The Party Period and Public Policy: American Politics from the Age of Jackson to the Progressive Era, individuals who supported the abolition movement, largely Northerners and western farmers, joined the voting coalition of the Republican Party whereas those opposed to abolition, mostly white Southerners, joined the Democratic Party. However, the 2nd Industrial Revolution sparked massive shifts toward industrialization and urbanization disturbing this regional divide and creating entirely new social groups for the parties to consider, namely the large industry owners and the urban immigrant working class. The Republican Party shifted to cater to business goliaths like the railway industry, and the Democratic Party, since it already held the support of immigrants who opposed the xenophobic (anti-foreigner) sentiment within the Republican platform, evolved to adopt the support of the urban working class.

The Republican Party faced internal fractures during this time period. McCormick points out that, with the addition of the monopoly owners to the Republican voting coalition, the economic desires of the northern and western farming communities that had supported the abolitionist platform during the Civil War were being overpowered by the big business’ interests. In 1873, Congress enacted legislation to shift from a silver-backed currency to a gold-backed currency on the justification that gold-backed money was “sound money” and better for international trade. The public was strongly divided over this issue, creating a new cleavage that pitted big business owners against the farming community. Business owners favored the transition to gold because of the promising international trade prospects; however, the farmers felt that this shift would be quite detrimental to their livelihoods since gold-backed currency would make it more costly to pay off the mortgages the farmers, specifically the newly established farmers in the West, had accumulated. The conflicting responses to this movement revealed that the starkly different economic needs between the small farmers and the big businesses could not be sustained by the same party.

As big business owners pressed for the gold-backed currency in pursuit of international trade, the Republican Party responded to this desire and adopted a clearly pro-gold stance. McCormick shares that, in establishing such a position, the Republican Party lost the support of small farming communities. However, as the Democratic Party remained divided over the bimetallism debate, the farmers were left without a party to voice their concerns. Lacking a party, the displeased farming community began to form advocacy groups like the Farmers’ Alliance to promote policies that would benefit the agrarian population, culminating in the formation of an influential third party, the Populists. Drawing support away from both the Democratic and Republican voter bases, the Populists and their “Free Silver Movement” substantially disrupted the 3rd Party System, previewing the impending realignment. [Consequentially, the Democratic Party attempted to utilize the Populist Party in 1896 by making the strategic maneuver to nominate Populist William Jennings Bryan as its presidential nominee.]

As the Populists continued to gain support and pull from the ranks of both the Democratic and Republican parties, McCormick’s research reveals that the public simultaneously developed a growing suspicion and lack of faith in the major parties. The Republican Party was widely suspected of federal corruption and the Democratic Party faced opposition on account of state and local level corruption. To escape an economic depression, the “Panic of 1893,” Republican President Cleveland reached an agreement with the affluent monopoly owners Morgan and Rothschild.  After the government was bailed out by these monopoly owners, infamously regarded as “Robber Barons,” accusations of collusion flew, and the Republican Party became further typified as a “big-business” party that did not care not only about the concerns of the farming community but the concerns of the average citizen as well.

While the Democratic Party did not have the reputation of secretly catering to the wealthy business elites, voters lost faith in the democratic legitimacy (responsiveness to citizens) of the party because of the practices of the local urban party machines. Using tactics such as political patronage and the spoils system, party machines like the infamous Tammany Hall commandeered elections to impose their own agendas rather than catering to the interests of voters. McCormick characterizes the individuals placed in office by these machines as “untrailed men who did the public’s business haphazardly and inefficiently,” acting merely as puppets under the party leader’s authority.

Eventually, the public became exasperated with both major parties’ lack of responsiveness to their needs and reform parties like the “Mugwumps” formed. McCormick states that the principle aim of these independents was to enact civil service reforms to end the corrupt, undemocratic practices of party machines and sever the suspicious bonds between the government and the wealthy. The growing discontent and movement for greater transparency and democracy was a precursor to the impending Progressive movement that would gain tremendous momentum in the following party system. (For further information concerning the Gilded Age, visit

So why does this history matter? Contemporary parties are suffering from a voter disconnect very similar to the estrangement from mainstream Americans that ended the 3rd Party System. According to political scientist Morris Fiorina, “A process of sorting during the past several decades has resulted in a Democratic Party that is clearly liberal and a Republican Party that is clearly conservative.” On the ideological spectrum, ranging from extreme liberalism to extreme conservatism, most Americans fall somewhere toward the middle. However, Fiorina’s work reveals that rather than shifting to represent the increasingly prevalent centrist dispositions of the public, both the Republican and Democratic parties are adopting extreme, polarized positions that cater to the hyper-partisan minorities.

In order to usher in the much-needed realignment and establish truly representative parties, contemporary citizens must follow the example of the Populists’ and Mugwumps’ activism and express their dissatisfaction. Reviving civic engagement across the nation will force the parties to either shift and amend the disconnect, attracting the diverse sentiments and recognizing the nuanced desires of voters, or cease to be a relevant political entity altogether.



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


Sacre Coeur overlooking Paris

Sacre Coeur overlooking Paris

The smaller town feel of Strasbourg, a view from the Grand Ile, which circles the heart of the historic city

The smaller town feel of Strasbourg, a view from the Grand Ile, which circles the heart of the historic city


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

In this edition of Tocqueville Capital, we return to the land of Alexis’s roots.  Last May, I traveled with my colleague – and friend – Heather, along with our students on a three-week cross-cultural course to Strasbourg and Paris, France.  Our college offers these courses as part of our general education curriculum, QuEST (Qualities Essential for Student Transformation), as a way of helping students become more effective in building and navigating relationships with those who have cultural values and experiences that differ from their own.  One of the most fundamental differences that students experienced in the course related to social interaction, which can impact the way in which bonds build between people.  Thankfully, Heather had incorporated a fabulous read for the course that helped students prepare; I was also thrilled to see that it connected to Tocqueville.

In The Bonjour Effect: The Secrets of French Conversation Revealed, Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau discuss many facets of conversation in French culture.  Barlow’s and Nadeau’s work is enriched both by their experience living in France for a period of time, as native québécois, as well as support from research and cultural analyses, putting the stories of their experience into a larger context.  Among the many themes covered by their book, they focus on French tendencies in conversation and discussion, which are essential to engage effectively with others.

Barlow and Nadeau illustrate the importance of conversation when the French interact with one another through such ranging examples as swimming pools and office culture.  Whether engaging in the popular activity of swimming in a crowded pool, where talk cannot occur underwater or being deprived of the opportunity to process a decision made by management, a spirited discussion ensues as people offer their perspectives (see these topics and more in Ch. 7).  Underlying these exchanges is a desire to express thoughts and chat without necessarily diving deeply into a topic. Barlow and Nadeau characterize these interactions as conversation, which “focuses on the relationship between interlocutors.  Discussions are different.  They are about examining a topic” (94).  Opportunities for expression allow people to share their voices on issues that affect their lives and chats allow relationships to develop.

Of course, the French are not above deeper discussions either.  French schools, unlike some others – including America’s – devote a significant portion of their curriculum to the study of philosophy, which allows students to deeply examine ideas with reason. Barlow and Nadeau share the scope of study that trains the French “not to think about things in simple binary terms (good and evil, black and white, good or bad” but with nuance (95). Students in all fields, even the sciences and technology, study between two to eight hours of the subject a week during the last three years of lycée (secondary school); the authors note that it is more than most college students in America get – save for majors or minors in the field, of course (95).  In a way, it makes the French bilingue (bilingual) within their own language.  We see both of these lingual approaches in the French political system.

For a couple of years, the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) have made their presence known, visibly and verbally. (We unexpectedly ended up observing a demonstration during our day in Nancy, so we can attest personally to their intensity!)  Expressing their concerns, initially for rising costs of fuel before later expanding into calls for larger economic reforms, the gilets jaunes have kept these issues in the public eye through these sustained demonstrations; unfortunately, some incidents have resulted in violence.

And yet, the French political system – a hybrid neither purely parliamentary nor purely presidential – reflects an intentional element of deliberation akin to their discussion modes.  Rather than selecting their president as the candidate who wins the most votes – most often a plurality when multiple people run – they ensure that the winner has a majority.  If in the first round, no candidate receives 51% of votes, they hold a run-off second round with the top two candidates.  This approach ensures that a sufficient portion of the public supports the winner, enhancing the support for the leaders.  Each of these elements contributes to the French culture.

Tocqueville picked up on these differences in verbal habits during his time in the states.  Barlow and Nadeau capture a key insight from Alexis’s traveling partner, Gustave de Beaumont, “They don’t chat in the United States the way they do in France.  The American always argues.  He has no knowledge of the art of lightly skimming the surface of topics in a large group, where each one puts in a remark, brilliant or dull, heavy or light, where one person finishes a phrase begun by someone else, and where everything is touched on but never in-depth” (93).  Tocqueville himself affirms this though in Volume I of Democracy in America:

To take part in the government of society and to talk about it, that is the greatest business and, so to speak, the only pleasure that an American knows.  This is seen even in the smallest habits of his life: women themselves often go to public meetings and divert themselves from the troubles of housework by listening to political speeches.  For them, the clubs to a certain extent take the place of theatrical entertainments.  An American does not know how to converse, but he debates; he does not talk, he speechifies. (Ch. 5, “Activity That Reigns…”, par. 6)

In short, the dedication to political passion may sometimes shortchange us on our ability to relate to others.

As one who is slightly on the introverted side of the spectrum and quiet in conversation with new people – unless in front of a classroom of students or colleagues – I think we can learn something from this distinction about the art of conversation.  Although not as deep in nature, conversation allows us to build connections with others, some of which may bloom into longer-term relationships that we might not anticipate.  Larry Alton offers some helpful tips on this art; I always find that thinking about the “why” behind suggestions for the “what we should do” can help us apply them more naturally. (See also Minister Faust’s TED Talk on “How to Engage in Better Small Talk”.)

The Bonjour Effect provides a great overview and introduction to French culture for many worthy reasons.  Its accessibility makes its ideas available to a broad audience.  As a scholar, I also particularly value the authors’ use of systematic and reliable research to give context to their personal experiences.  (In this strength, it reminds me of other cherished reads like The Year of Living Danishly  and Radical Sabbatical.)  In addition, it offers a comparative perspective without judging cultural merits that helps the reader relate it to their own experiences. Most importantly, of course, it extends the intellectual capital of Tocqueville!

This week, Heather and I are gearing up to interview students for our May 2021 course – hopefully our world will have cleared the pandemic and emerged in a new normal that allows for travel.  I look forward to this opportunity to introduce students to this beautiful country, especially Strasbourg with its rich cultural identity born from the many shifts in its political control between France and Germany for over a millennium.  The most important piece that students had affirmed for them, was the need to always begin any social interaction in France with a “Bonjour!”


ChloeChloe Dickson


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

Republicans and Democrats often argue that they are the party of Lincoln. However, Lincoln’s presidency came at a time when the Democratic party split and the Republicans were a new party. While Lincoln was a Republican, modern definitions do not fit the previous platform the Republican party of the 1860s held. The second party system, which begins in 1829 and ends in 1861, encompasses a time of political division, messy campaigns, and unpopular Presidents. Sound familiar?

Presidents directly affected their party and the oppositional as well because party definitions were not clear. From regional political thought to foundational beliefs regarding slavery, rights of the people, and the power of the president, the decisions each president made directly altered party identities. Their large influence came from the altogether weak profiles parties had during this transitional period. The richness of history under the second party system and the complexity of separationist thought, growth in party as organizations, and expansion of the presidential office, in general, led to an era of redefining many political standards that are still seen today.

The second party system begins as a reaction to the “corrupt bargain” of 1824 involving President John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, who became his Secretary of State. As noted by political scientist John S. Jackson, in his book The American Political Party System Continuity and Change Over Ten Presidential Elections, the controversy sparked negative attitudes in the public which resulted in Adams’ presidency to last one term. Andrew Jackson, a southern Democratic-Republican, who was beaten by Adams in 1824 ran again in 1828 and won by running as a candidate “for the people.”

Several factors contributed to realignment, the increase in influence the public had in elections being the main one. Jackson held Democratic-Republican values which favored a limited government and insisted power was best kept in the people’s hands. After losing the 1824 election to Adams due to the electoral college vote, Jackson argued and advocated for the “people’s vote,” also known as the popular vote. In his 1829 inaugural address, Jackson appealed to the people by stating that the “vital principle” of the government “is the right of the people to control its measures,” and that “the will of the people, … controls the service of the public functionaries.” By fueling the power of the people in elections, Jackson steered the United States into more of a democracy and launched a reliance on national campaigns that has only grown through each presidency.

In 1832 the first Democratic Party Convention met, Jackson notes, officially transitioning from Congress selecting presidential nominees to party organizations rallying for their own candidates(6). The creation of the Democratic Party Convention advanced the stronghold of the Democrats as the Whig party had yet to organize into a cohesive party. The Republican National Convention (RNC), and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) have met since the 19th century and support candidates through finances, publicity, and polling.

The national committees today still reflect strongly on the candidates, reflected in an increase in polling numbers for both majority candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, immediately following both the DNC and the RNC. By creating more interest in the nomination, there follows more interest in the nominees. While Van Buren (Democrat) may have benefitted in the election of 1836 by the Whigs not having a strong party organization, many more presidents have since benefitted from running against weak parties.  (For more details on historical and recent conventions, see Party Politics in America, as well as Change and Continuity in the 2016 and 2018 Elections.)

Researcher Donald Cole notes that the Democratic Party began to fracture over the economic panic of 1837 and the growing divide between north and south. In Martin van Buren and the American Political System, Cole argues that Van Buren was a great compromiser, a goal of his due to the challenge of uniting a newly formed party and a newly expanded nation (305). The struggles that Van Buren faced remained throughout the second party system and would worsen as slavery increased as an issue throughout the nation. Electing Jackson and Van Buren, two Democratic presidents, consecutively suggested positive feelings and confidence in the party. Alternating between Democrats and Whigs and other oppositional parties throughout the rest of the second party system indicated unhappiness regarding the political situation. These feelings remain solid indicators and subject of interest in the collection and study of electorate data.

Evidence from Aldrich et. al allows us to see the parallels between the second and current eras (Chapter 4).  During the election of 1828 the “vast majority of states” could select their presidential electors by popular vote for the first time. Walter Dean Burnham tracks eligible voter turnout from 1828-1916, beginning around 23% in 1828, and then spiking in 1840 around 32%.  This surge occurred in the election of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” which arguably was an election filled with retrospective voting following the economic panic of 1837. The election in 2012, which followed the recession of 2008 and had Barack Obama up for re-election saw a decrease in voter turnout by around 3%. This decrease can be explained by the increase in voter turnout that first occurred in 2008. Ultimately, it is important to recognize that voter motivations have not changed.

The growing factions within parties finally split and resulted in minor parties. As political scientist J. David Gillespie notes in Why Third Parties Matter in American Two-Party Politics, the 1860 election attracted 81 percent of eligible voters to the polls, which resulted in over 4.5 million votes being cast and spread throughout four candidates (79-82). Political factions at this point replicated the division that was taking over the country. Lincoln is known for being the president to hold the country together and end the Civil War, but he also marks a new political system. The second party system transitioned into the third party system by cementing factions that would later be grouped as Republicans and Democrats. The election of Andrew Jackson who was consistently emboldened in his actions and decisions inspired decades of men who held little regard towards political organizations and had little party loyalty.

The third party system begins with the belief that political parties and organizations are inevitable and best embraced to win favorable results. While politics appears to grow more hostile each day, ultimately it is not a new development. However, a civil war is not looming in the near future and the growth of political parties as organizations holds candidates accountable to standards. Parties are dynamic. As the people’s views and opinions change, the parties follow in response. While Republican and Democratic parties may appear strong, they ultimately are subject to the voters.

The current race to gain the Democratic nomination first appeared to be split between moderates (Biden) and progressives (Sanders), but as Biden pulls ahead one commentator calls it a divide of “practical versus ideological” (NPR). But as Biden repeatedly wins Democratic primaries, the realization that the Democratic party isn’t ready for this shift in political ideals is cemented. The 1829 election of Jackson was the result of doubling the voter turnout. While it may take just one person to dare to push against current standards to spark a re-evaluation of current politics, it only happens with a large number of votes supporting them.


Chloe Dickson is a senior studying history and politics.


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


1968. Civil unrest. The Vietnam War. That year made its mark in the history books, not only because of all of the issues roiling the political system along, sparking activity and reflecting distrust in the government but also because it culminated in a very bitter Democratic presidential nominating convention. The convention would ultimately produce Hubert Humphrey as a nominee. It would also lead to a change in the rules governing the ways in which delegates were selected. Fifty years later, we are saddled with a complicated system that does not necessarily result in candidates with whom the general public resonates.  Not only might our system be ripe for reform, but the possibility of a national primary might provide the right response.

Nominating processes have continued to evolve over the course of the country’s history.  Though the use of a convention as a means to open the process up from backroom politics first occurred in 1832, it became a more direct process in the early 1900s during the Progressive movement.   Following the 1968 convention, the reforms put into place for the 1972 election by the McGovern-Fraser Commission changed the presidential nomination system, in ways that increased the power of the national party (Democratic National Committee or DNC), but also made the process more competitive.

Under this system, the DNC removed the “winner take all” or unit rule process by which states previously awarded all convention delegates to a single candidate, shifting instead to a more proportional.  In this new system, candidates meeting a threshold (minimum %) received part of the overall number of delegates. As a result, many states shifted to primary elections as a means to select delegates. The number of delegates tends to reflect the relative population size.  In addition, the party created an additional grouping known as “super delegates” who came from party positions within the states.  This group was meant to balance the more popular basis of the delegates, though its ability to impact the decision was changed in 2018; currently, super delegates only can cast votes on a second or later ballot, if no agreement on a nominee occurred on the first.

Although the McGovern-Fraser Commission only applied to the Democratic party, the Republican party also shifted some of its rules.  This impact resulted primarily because of the impact of McGovern-Fraser on state laws resulting in the growth of primaries.  However, the Republican state parties still tended to use the “winner take all” method to allocate delegates. Beginning in 2012, in an order to discourage states from scheduling their races too early (frontloading), the party required states with earlier contests to apply some measure of proportional allocation.  For both parties, the nomination process today remains complicated.

The calendar shows a lengthy line of events that vary not only by state but also, in some cases, by party within each state.  Some state parties host caucuses, in which voters discuss candidates before visibly supporting a candidate – sometimes by ballot, in others by grouping with like-minded voters, raising their hands or another such method.  Although less common, these methods are seen as more deliberative.  More common is the use of primaries – elections within the party.  Compared to just a decade or so ago, the majority of state parties now use open primaries, in which voters do not have to be registered with a party in order to vote in it – though they can only vote in one primary.   A small portion of states still use closed primaries, which allow only those voters registered with a party to cast a vote; closed primaries were once viewed as a way to protect the parties, but are now seen as tending to emphasize the influence of less moderate voters.  (For further detail see the election calendar from Ballotpedia, a credible source run by the Lucy Burns Institute, a non-partisan and non-profit entity.)

Timing of presidential contests also adds a layer of complexity, as states hold their races from February through June.  By their state laws, Iowa and New Hampshire require theirs to be the first races, even though they are not very reflective of the larger population.  Turnout already tends to be lower, even in presidential nomination races, due to lower levels of engagement, as shown by the data provided by the United States Elections Project; surprisingly turnout has not been noticeably different among contests that fall later in the cycle. The timing of the presidential nomination contests may or may not align with the timing for other federal, state and local primary contests, which can impact turnout in the latter races and increase the cost of needing to hold two elections.

Over the last few decades, some states have opted to band together in their influence by holding their races on what has now come to be known as “Super-Tuesday”.  This event is so named because it is the closest thing we have to a national primary; this year over 1300 delegates will be selected in the Democratic contests, which make up about one-third of the total delegates and two-thirds of the number needed to secure the nomination.  Republican contests have been less consequential because they hold the presidency, despite some challengers to the president’s run for re-election.  However, a significant portion of delegates still remains in the contests following Super Tuesday.

Given the nature of the current process, perhaps it is time for more reforms.  Dr. Lisa Parshall provides a thorough analysis of the shortcomings with the current system in Reforming the Presidential Nominating Process: Front-Loading’s Consequences and the National Primary Solution.  Some of Parshall’s insights are captured here – front-loading, which impacts momentum and perceived viability of candidates, also results in some voters having a greater influence on the outcome.  She resurrects and strengthens a reform option long-suggested: shifting to a national primary process in which voters in all eligible areas cast their ballots on the same day.  In this constitutionally-based argument, the reform offers greater political equality – one person one vote.

Is it time for a change? According to an analysis by political scientist Morris Fiorina, weak partisans, independents who lean towards a party and pure independents do not find themselves well-represented by the parties.  The trend towards open primaries helps provide opportunities for these voters to participate and shape the direction of the parties, though turnout levels still leave much to be desired.  Other reforms, such as the shift to mail-in ballots – such as recently passed in Pennsylvania – can help those voters with work or transportation conflicts.  A nationally coordinated set of primaries would not only provide for political equality among voters but allow for a clearer and coordinated effort to engage citizens in this important process.


Hack: Capitalize when referring to a political party; small-case for democratic and republican indicates instead a type of government.

A view from the cathedral

A view from the cathedral, overlooking Colonial Quito   


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

Two years ago, I visited Quito, Ecuador to conduct a site visit at a potential semester-long program partner for the college, in which our students could participate.  However, even though I traveled in my then role of administrator, I could not subdue the Latin Americanist within me as we toured our partner and explored the city!  Among our many experiences, I most enjoyed our day in Colonial Quito, particularly touring this church, and also visiting a local artisan market.  My takeaways were of a vibrant busy city.

Despite the evident activity, the legacy of civic engagement in many Latin American countries has not always been accurately depicted, and thus, appreciated outside of the region.  Much of the literature of Latin American politics frames the public as either disconnected from democratic norms or outrightly chaotic when active, because of the challenges that many countries have faced in sustaining democratic governments over time. As a result, civil society and its surrounding culture was often blamed for its inability to promote a more participatory political system.  Carlos Forment’s ambitious Democracy in Latin America; Civic Selfhood and Public Life in Mexico and Peru (Volume 1), takes a page from Tocqueville’s book seeking to gain a picture of colonial and early post-colonial society, as well as its relevance for democratic development, and delivers a new perspective.

Forment’s current vantage point meant that, unlike Tocqueville, he had to unearth this history from news sources and other artifacts of the time period in order to uncover a more complex view of society at that time.  These sources provide an enlightening view of social life in the region.  Although minimal prior to independence, which occurred in the early 19th century in many countries of the region, the number of associations grew significantly by the middle of the century.

This civic engagement was framed by a “Civic Catholic” narrative.  Civic Catholicism served as a means to subdue the perceived ill-effects of the rampant passions of individualism; instead “[s]elf-interest properly understood had to be based on mutual reciprocity and limits on individual freedom” (233). Catholicism had become the dominant religion in much of the region, due to the conquest of this territory by Spain and Portugal, countries that were steeped in the Iberian-Latin tradition. Howard Wiarda sketches this tradition in The Soul of Latin America as framed with a unitary (monistic) rather than pluralistic view, the facets of which tend to promote a hierarchical political structure.

This structure continued to persist because of the influence of the Church, which Forment points out had a thorny relationship with the political system. “In order for religion to have a positive influence on democratic life, the Church had to remain separated from the state.  In Latin America, the Church was allied with both the old regime and the new authoritarian one…” (437). Thus its influence reinforced the political patterns, save for a minority of priests like Archbishop Oscar Romero, who challenged these structures.

As a result of repressive structures, the busy civil society did not result, as observed by Tocqueville in the United States, in economic and political engagement.  Rather, there was a disruption as people saw the lack of responsiveness of the harsh governments.  Moreover, as discussed in John Sherman’s Latin America in Crisis, as well as other historical accounts such as the findings of various countries’ Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, citizens faced consequences for political activity.  Those who did not fully support their governments often faced persecution and, in the case of some regimes, death.

“[D]emocratic life in Latin America arose from the fissures between daily practices and institutional structures…[D]uring the first half of the nineteenth century, and through much of the second, democratic-minded citizens migrated to civil society, claiming it as their ‘internal domain’…yielding political society to authoritarian groups because they considered it part of the ‘external domain’,” instead “invest[ing] their sense of sovereignty horizontally in each other rather than vertically in government institutions, which created a radical disjunction between the two” (430).

The lack of encouragement meant that the public often practiced a sort of “antipolitics” in which they were very involved in matters outside the political sphere.

Although Forment’s book parallels the larger arc of Tocqueville’s in its attempt to characterize the daily life of citizens in Mexico and Peru, his work offers a rebuff of it as well.  Critiquing the work of Tocqueville, as well as others following in his footsteps, Forment points out that the relationship between civic and political engagement is not universal.  Rather, in this case, the political structures of many Latin American nation-states failed to provide the opportunity for citizens to engage politically, even though they had ample social capital (enduring connections between people who share repeatedly in a common activity).

Moreover, Forment takes Tocqueville to task because he makes very impressionistic assumptions about Latin America within his survey of the United States.  Tocqueville characterized the people of the region as “lacking civic habits and stable institutions (439).  He did so without experiencing or studying the region as he did the United States.  Forment’s detailed research presents an extremely different picture.  In addition, Tocqueville’s observations came neglected external influences, some of which would emerge after his book was completed.

Civil society and political institutions also have not served as the only factors impacting the practice of democracy in the region.  As Peter Smith notes in Talons of the Eagle: Latin America, the United States, and the World, competing economic and national security interests also led the United States to support authoritarian regimes and destabilize democratic governments perceived as threatening.  Given the dominant position of the United States within the Western Hemisphere, its had a significant -and sometimes very negative – impact on the social, economic and political events of the region.

Forment’s findings imply some important cautions for researchers and policymakers.  First, strong patterns observed in one or more settings may not be universal to human behavior.  Presuming so may lead to a twisting of events that occur in culturally varied settings.  As a result, attempting to transplant expectations and structures from one culture to another may not only be unsuccessful, they may have negative effects.  Finally, visions of democracy must expand to recognize alternative models, including the presence of democratic mechanisms a more regional and municipal levels of government, as David Altman finds in his Direct Democracy Worldwide.

In a few weeks, I will return to Quito, along with students enrolled in my US-Latin American relations course this spring, bringing to reality a vision I developed two years ago.  While there we will explore the themes of dollarization, human rights, indigenous communities and regional governmental organizations. I also look forward to reconnecting with the welcoming people there, experiencing its civil society, and providing an opportunity for students to learn from the Latin American perspective.

Zoe picZoe Smith

“This nation had a two-party system” Hamilton


The Broadway musical Hamilton likely made the first party system the most well-known. While much of the musical occurs before the first party system, it paints the key issues that colored the divide between the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists. As the United States first began to organize and structure itself, these two parties were the reflection of differing opinions on foreign, federal, and economic policy. The resolution of these defining conflicts in the first party system led to a shift in political norms surrounding key issues that remain core to parties of the U.S. government.

Foreign policy is now defined by trade and immigration policy; at the time of the first party system, the French Revolution and ties with Britain were central to party divides, as Jeffrey Selinger notes in Embracing Dissent. The Federalists, led by largely by Hamilton, wanted to establish advantageous economic and diplomatic relations with Britain. The Democratic-Republicans, headed by Jefferson, wanted to support the tumultuous revolution that was taking France and distance themselves from Britain. This conflict divided the parties on foreign policy, however, the French Revolution lasted one year and with George Washington’s influence, the conflict was ended in favor of staying impartial to the French Revolution.

The issue of federal policy was heavily bound into the question of “what should our government be?” L. Steven Demaree delves into the institution as it was crafted by the early members of the American government, discussing the factors that led to new approaches to government by both parties.[1] Each was determined to step away from the monarchial system of the times and both parties wanted a clean break from the previous models of governing and political culture. Federalists, however, were far less cautious of a centralized government while the Democratic-Republicans advocated for more independent state power and freedom from federal restrictions. This tension between state authority is most infamously reflected through each parties’ views on economic policy but also demonstrates the generational political culture. Today, parties will still question how involved our federal government should be. But in modern policy, that question is not asked when considering voter discrimination, federal taxes, and basic judicial processes. The question remains, though the issues have changed over time.

Economic policy in America has seen great controversy at times, even over the national bank, which is more readily accepted now. Selinger’s research reveals that the Democratic-Republicans again wanted to take a more conservative government approach and limit federal power by leaving funds to the state. The Federalists saw a chance to alleviate state debt and raise America’s value through a consolidated effort. The Federalists won this disagreement as well, early in the party system. With each of these issues reaching their climax and conclusion early into the first party system, the conflict would not sustain for long. The Democratic-Republicans saw sweeping success after the Federalists slowly lost popularity after passing key legislation. Come 1828, the Democrats were the only truly viable party and every factor for the realignment was present.

The second party system began after a period of time known as the “Era of Good Feelings.” The Democrats had little opposition and the government had little to be divided upon. While the realignment slow and gradual, in the elections of 1824 we finally see it realized. Four Democratic-Republicans run for the presidential office; none receive the majority vote. This led to the party splitting, shifting stances on issues to cleanly break from one another and best encompass their supporters.

There are key factors, besides the resolution of the first party system issues that led to this realignment. One was the increased polarization, which was largely a regional divide caused by the divisive interest of states. It stemmed from civil rights issues, such as slavery, and the economic, moral, and democratic grounds for either side. As the Democratic-Republican Party split, the Whigs grew more into their abolitionist cause as they saw more ground support for it. The second party system Democrats were supported by Southern farmers, conservative members of society, and the like.

The electoral makeup, then, was integral to the results of the second party system. The Whigs kept a minority in office because they were supported by local constituents.  However, anyone who would support abolitionist movements or progressive policies would not find much support in voters nationally due to limited access to the vote; only property-owning men would find themselves empowered. Given this voter landscape, the Democrats held a clear advantage after the realignment. This advantage, the realignment itself, was maintained through mobilization, polarization, and strong partisan loyalty.

Andrew Jackson, president in the years of 1829-1837, was the leader of the Democrats and brought forth a new era of active partisanship. The elections of 1828 mobilized voters because of the engaging, and perhaps, new divisions after the “Era of Good Feelings.” Voter turnout jumped from 10.1% in 1820, 26.9% in 1824, and 57.3% in 1828. Furthermore, the realignment brought out sharp distinctions in the new parties which made clearer heuristics for voters. Party supporters knew what the parties stood for and could support them accordingly. Partisanship was further stimulated by a newly invigorated spoils system through the efforts of Andrew Jackson. While the undemocratic factors of party support were largely done away with, these policies and party powers characterized the second party system.

The elements of conflict in the first party system and the factors that brought about the nation’s first realignment have evolved with time, however, they are still present in contemporary politics. Economic and foreign policy are still entwined, now it is best reflected in our relations with China instead of France and Britain. The question of the extent of the Federal government is still brought into question, however, it is now on grounds of welfare and federal law.

Factors that led to the realignment are still being tapped to engage voters. While the spoils system has been done away with, mobilization through engaging campaigns, policy, and mobilization drives are still prioritized, as Marjorie Randon Hershey notes in Party Politics in America. In addition, the growth in political division as illustrated in Morris Fiorina’s Has the American Public Polarized? also foreshadows the potential of realignment due to the failure of the parties to overlap their goals with moderate constituents that make up the majority.

While the times have changed immensely since the first party system and its realignment to the second, we can still analyze and apply the common factors of focus and change in the American government. As our nation becomes more polarized, these factors may come to the forefront once more.

About the blogger: Zoe Smith is a junior Politics and International Relations major, also pursuing Chinese Studies.

[1] Demaree, L. Steven. “The Political Culture of the First Party System.” OAH Magazine of History 2, no. 2 (1986): 9-14.