Modern Political Parties

Red States vs. Blue States

The terms “red state” (Republican-voting) and “blue state” (Democratic-voting) were standardized during the 2000 US presidential election.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast red states with blue states

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Since 2000, red states are states that vote predominately Republican during an election while blue states are states that vote predominately Democratic during an election.
  • Prior to the 2000 presidential election, different media outlet employed divergent color schemes to display states’ party preferences.
  • The confusion surrounding the outcome of the 2000 presidential election created conformity around the current understanding of red and blue states even though there was no coordinated media effort to standardize the colors and neither party’s national committee has formally endorsed either color.
  • The red state-blue state designation has been criticized for not accurately predicting the outcomes of all elections, for ignoring closely divided states, and for not representing the outcomes of state and local elections accurately.

Key Terms

  • blue state: A state of the United States voting Democratic in a given election, or tending to vote Democratic in general.
  • red state: A state of the United States voting Republican in a given election, or tending to vote Republican in general.
  • electoral college: A body of electors empowered to elect someone to a particular office

During the 2000 US presidential election, the term “red states” was coined to mean those states whose residents primarily vote for the Republican Party and “blue states” as those states whose residents primarily vote for the Democratic Party. The terms have been expanded since 2000 to differentiate between conservative-leaning states, depicted in red, and liberal-leaning states, depicted in blue.

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Red States and Blue States: News media frequently display maps in blue, red, and purple to indicate primarily Democratic-voting states, Republican-voting states, and middle ground states.

The association of states with colors to indicate their party voting preferences was not a new phenomenon prior to the 2000 presidential election. In fact, the advent of color television encouraged many television news reporters to depict state voting preferences through color-coded electoral maps. The 2000 presidential election, however, was the first time that red became the standardized color for the Republican Party and blue became the standardized color for the Democratic Party. Previously, color schemes differed across networks. For instance, in the 1980 presidential election NBC used blue for predominately Democratic-voting states and red for predominately Republican-voting states while ABC employed the opposite color scheme. Other networks alternated red and blue between the Democratic and Republican Parties every four years.

The 2000 presidential election proved significant in standardizing red and blue states with the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively, because of the confusion surrounding the results of the election. Major media outlets started conforming to the same color scheme because the electoral map was continually in view and conformity created easy viewer comprehension. The association of blue with Democrats and red with Republicans is now part of the lexicon of American journalism and has informally been used by each party. Interestingly, though, there was no coordinated media effort to designate Democratic states blue and Republican states red on the 2000 election night and neither party’s national committee has officially accepted the red and blue color designations.

Despite the nearly nationwide acceptance of Republican red states and Democratic blue states, the paradigm has come under criticism. Some argue that assigning partisanship to states is only useful in understanding voting preferences in the Electoral College. The Republican and Democratic Parties within a given state may have platforms that depart from national party platforms. Such a situation can lead a state to favor one party in state and local elections and another party in presidential elections. The designation of states as either being red or blue also ignores those states that are closely divided between Democratic and Republican candidates. Another criticism of the red state-blue state paradigm is that it has not been entirely predictive of how states will vote. For example, in the 2008 presidential election Democratic candidate Barack Obama captured the majority vote in many red states that had not voted Democratic in many years, such as North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia.

Party Realignments, Dealignments, and Tipping

Realignment refers to national elections in which there are sharp changes in issues that produce new structures that lasts for decades.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast realignment, dealignment and tipping point

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Realignment means the coming to power for several decades of a new coalition, replacing an old dominant coalition of the other party.
  • Political realignments can be sudden (1–4 years) or can take place more gradually (5–20 years).
  • The central holding of realignment theory, first developed in the political scientist V. O. Key, Jr.’s 1955 article, “A Theory of Critical Elections,” is that American elections, parties and policymaking routinely shift in swift, dramatic sweeps.
  • Dealignment is a trend or process whereby a large portion of the electorate abandons its previous partisan affiliation, without developing a new one to replace it.
  • Many scholars argue that the trends in elections in the United States over the last several decades are best characterized as dealignment.
  • A tipping point is a point in time when a group —or a large number of group members— rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice.

Key Terms

  • Realignment: Realignment means the coming to power for several decades of a new coalition, replacing an old dominant coalition of the other party.
  • Dealignment: Dealignment is a trend or process whereby a large portion of the electorate abandons its previous partisan affiliation, without developing a new one to replace it.
  • Tipping point: A tipping point is a point in time when a group —or a large number of group members— rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice.

Introduction

Realigning election are terms from political science and political history describing a dramatic change in the political system. Scholars frequently apply the term to American elections and occasionally to other countries. Usually it means the coming to power for several decades of a new coalition, replacing an old dominant coalition of the other party as in 1896 when the GOP became dominant, or 1932 when the Democrats became dominant. More specifically, it refers to American national elections in which there are sharp changes in issues, party leaders, the regional and demographic bases of power of the two parties, and structure or rules of the political system (such as voter eligibility or financing), resulting in a new political power structure that lasts for decades.

Political realignments can be sudden (1–4 years) or can take place more gradually (5–20 years). Political scientists and historians often disagree about which elections are realignments and what defines a realignment, and even whether realignments occur. The terms themselves are somewhat arbitrary, however, and usage among political scientists and historians does vary.

Realignment

The central holding of realignment theory, first developed in the political scientist V. O. Key, Jr.’s 1955 article, “A Theory of Critical Elections,” is that American elections, parties and policymaking routinely shift in swift, dramatic sweeps. V. O. Key Jr. concluded that systematic patterns are identifiable in American national elections such that cycles occur on a regular schedule: once every 36-years or so. This period of roughly 30 years fits with the notion that these cycles are closely linked to generational change. For social scientists, this point is important, since it helps to provide an objective sociological basis for the theory. Tipping refers to the end of an era and the crystallization of another.

A great example of realignment came at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency. In the 2008 elections, the Democrats expanded their majorities in the Congress, and won the Presidency decisively. This was due to the momentum carried over from the Democrats’ 2006 successes, as well as the continued unpopularity of President George W. Bush, whose administration was now faced with a financial crisis and economic recession. Some people believe that 2008 is possibly a realigning election with a long-lasting impact, just as the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt was in 1932 and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 were. President Obama was reelected in the 2012 election as well, becoming only the third Democrat to win a majority of the popular vote more than once while losing only two states that he had won in 2008.

Dealignment

A central component of realignment is the change in behavior of voting groups. Realignment means the switching of voter preference from one party to another, in contrast to dealignment ­ where a voter group abandons a party to become independent or nonvoting. Dealignment, in short, is a trend or process whereby a large portion of the electorate abandons its previous partisan affiliation, without developing a new one to replace it.

Furthermore, dealignment refers to a decline by voters to their political party; that is a decrease in party loyalty and voters be less attached to their party. This dealignment shows that short term factors might play a larger role than usual in whether a candidate receives a vote from someone of his party. Several factors can be attributed to partisan dealignment, such as a greater political awareness and socialisation, intensive mass media coverage and decline of deference; disillusionment both with parties and politicians, and most importantly, the poor performance of government. Many scholars argue that the trends in elections in the United States over the last several decades are best characterized as dealignment.

Tipping

Tipping refers to the end of an era and the crystallization of another. More specifically, tipping point is a point in time when a group —or a large number of group members— rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice. The phrase was first used in sociology by Morton Grodzins when he adopted the phrase from physics where it referred to the adding a small amount of weight to a balanced object until the additional weight caused the object to suddenly and completely topple, or tip. Grodzins studied integrating American neighborhoods in the early 1960s. He discovered that most of the white families remained in the neighborhood as long as the comparative number of black families remained very small. But, at a certain point, when “one too many” black families arrived, the remaining white families would move out en masse in a process known as white flight. He called that moment the “tipping point”.

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Obama Campaign 2008: Some people believe that 2008 is possibly a realigning election with a long-lasting impact, just as the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt was in 1932 and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 were. President Obama was reelected in the 2012 election as well, becoming only the third Democrat to win a majority of the popular vote more than once while losing only two states that he had won in 2008.

The Rise of Independents

In politics, an Independent or nonpartisan politician is an individual not affiliated to any political party.

Learning Objectives

Describe independent voters in U.S. politics and the history of independents elected to national, regional and local offices

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • An Independent or nonpartisan politician is an individual not affiliated to any political party. Independents may hold a centrist viewpoint between those of major political parties.
  • Historically, George Washington was the only president elected as an Independent, as he was not formally affiliated with any party during his two terms.
  • There have been several Independents elected to the United States Senate throughout history. Examples include David Davis of Illinois (a former Republican ) in the nineteenth century, and Harry F. Byrd, Jr. of Virginia (who had been elected to his first term as a Democrat) in the 20th century.
  • In August 2008, there were 12 people who held offices as Independents in state legislatures. There were four state senators, one from Kentucky, one from Oregon, one from Tennessee, and one from New Mexico.

Key Terms

  • independent: A candidate or voter not affiliated with any political party, a free thinker, free of a party platform.
  • Whig Party: It is a party that was prevalent in the Jacksonian era of democracy.

Background

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George Washington: First President of the United States

In politics, an independent or nonpartisan politician is an individual not affiliated to any political party. Independents may hold a centrist viewpoint between those of major political parties. Sometimes, they hold a viewpoint more extreme than any major party, or they may have a viewpoint based on issues that they do not feel that any major party addresses. Other Independent politicians may be associated with a political party, were former members of it, or have views that align with it but choose not to stand under its label.

Historically, George Washington was the only president elected as an Independent, as he was not formally affiliated with any party during his two terms. John Tyler was expelled from the Whig Party in September 1841 and remained effectively an Independent for the remainder of his presidency, later returning to the Democrats. He briefly sought re- election in 1844 as a National Democrat, but he withdrew, as he feared to split the Democratic vote. Recent prominent Independent candidates for president of the United States include John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992, and Ralph Nader in the 2004 and 2008 elections. In 2008, Independent Presidential candidate, Ralph Nader formed Independent parties in New Mexico, Delaware, and elsewhere to gain ballot access in several states. This strategy has been pursued by several Independent candidates for Federal races, including Joe Lieberman (Connecticut for Lieberman), since in some states it is easier to gain ballot access by creating a new political party than to gather signatures for a nominating petition.

Independents in Congress

There have been several Independents elected to the United States Senate throughout history. Notable examples include David Davis of Illinois (a former Republican) in the nineteenth century, and Harry F. Byrd, Jr. of Virginia (who had been elected to his first term as a Democrat) in the twentieth century. Some officials have been elected as members of a party but became an Independent while in office (without being elected as such), such as Wayne Morse of Oregon or Virgil Goode of Virginia. Nebraska senator George W. Norris was elected for four terms as a Republican before changing to an Independent after the Republicans lost their majority in Congress in 1930. Norris won re-election as an Independent in 1936, but later lost his final re-election attempt to Republican Kenneth S. Wherry in 1942. Vermont senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party to become an Independent in 2001.

Independents in State and Local Offices

In August 2008, there were 12 people who held offices as Independents in state legislatures. There were four state senators, one from Kentucky, one from Oregon, one from Tennessee, and one from New Mexico. The representatives came from the states of Louisiana (two), Maine (two), Vermont (two), and Virginia (two). In the 2008 general elections, Wisconsin State Assemblyman Jeffrey Wood left the Republican Party and won reelection as an Independent. After the 2008 primary election, New Mexico State Senator Joseph Carraro left the Republican Party and registered as an Independent. He did not run for reelection.

In November 2005, Manny Diaz was elected Mayor of Miami, Florida as an Independent. On June 19, 2007, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg switched his party affiliation from Republican to Independent. Oscar Goodman, Mayor of Las Vegas, Nevada switched his affiliation to Independent from Democrat in December 2009.