Platforms and Partners: The Civil Rights Realignment Reconsidered
Studies in American Political Development, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 1-31, Spring 2008
31 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2011 Last revised: 4 Oct 2014
Date Written: 2008
Few transformations have been more significant in American politics in recent decades than the Democratic Party’s embrace of racial liberalism and Republicans’ adoption of a more conservative stance towards civil rights related policies. We hypothesize that pressure to embrace a liberal position on civil rights was much stronger among northern Democrats and their coalitional partners than among northern Republicans and their affiliated groups by the mid-1940s, as the Democrats became firmly identified as the party of economic liberalism and labor unions. To test this hypothesis and develop a more fine-grained understanding of the dynamics of party positioning on civil rights, we collect and analyze a new data source: state political party platforms published between 1920 and 1968. These unique data suggest that Democrats had generally become the more liberal party on civil rights by the mid-to-late 1940s across a wide range of states. Our findings - which contradict Carmines and Stimson’s prevailing issue evolution model of partisan change - suggest that there were strong coalitional and ideological pressures that led the Democrats to embrace racial liberalism. This finding not only leads to a revised perspective on the civil rights revolution, but also to new insights into the dynamics of partisan realignment more generally.
Keywords: realignment, partisan realignment, civil rights, parties, political parties, platforms, issue evolution
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