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Critical Elections in Historical Perspective

Lichtman, Allan J. (1982) Critical Elections in Historical Perspective. Social Science Working Paper, 420. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

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For a generation, the theory of critical elections has been a guiding research program for the study of American political history. As fashioned by such distinguished scholars as V. O. Key, Jr., Angus Campbell, Walter Dean Burnham, and Paul Allen Beck, critical election theory posits that American democracy follows an episodic pattern of change and stability. According to the prevailing wisdom, one or more critical elections periodically reorganize coalitions of voters, create new balances of party power, and introduce policy initiatives that respond to unmet needs. Realignments, in this view, are not historical accidents, but processes built into the dynamics of party identification and governmental structure in the United States. Through a quantitative analysis of presidential election returns and party registration statistics (both measured for counties), this paper will challenge the application of critical election theory to the realignments of the 1890s and the 1930s. The results of analysis show that in neither case did shifts in the electorate follow the pattern predicted by realignment theory. It also reveals significant differences in each of the two periods that question the application of a single theory to historical distinct episodes of political change. The paper also presents a situational logic to account for the capacity of incumbent parties to sustain their power over extended periods of time.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:420
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20171003-145745016
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:82008
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:04 Oct 2017 19:08
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 18:49

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