Party switching in the United States

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In the United States politics, party switching is any change in party affiliation of a partisan public figure, usually one who is currently holding elected office. Use of the term "party switch" can also connote a transfer of held power in an elected governmental body from one party to another.

Motivations[edit]

There are a number of reasons that an elected official, or someone seeking office, might choose to switch parties. One reason is ethical obligation: the person has views are no longer aligned with those of the current party.

A second reason is to gain powers and influences. The incumbent may be a member of the minority party in a legislature and would like to gain the advantages of being in the majority party, such as the potential to chair a committee. A disaffected incumbent who might not hold a leadership position or feels ignored or mistreated by the majority party might join the minority party with the expectation of holding a leadership position in the minority party and if currently elected, having the complete support of the minority party for re-election, who would certainly want to have more elected officials in their ranks.

Another reason is simply to get elected. This may be the primary reason when the opposing party's base in a constituency is reaching a size that threatens the safe reelection of the incumbent or the elected official fears being primaried.

History[edit]

The 19th century[edit]

The shifting of allegiance between political parties was much more common during the 19th century than it is today. It took several years for political parties as we know them today to coalesce after the founding of the United States, and many parties formed and fell apart rapidly.

A massive party switch occurred in the 19th century and 1810s when many members of the United States Federalist Party joined the United States Democratic-Republican Party. When this party fell apart in the 1820s, its members all switched to various political parties, including the United States Whig Party, as well as the Democratic, National Republican, Anti-Jackson and Anti-Mason Parties. The Republican Party was also formed by a massive party switch in 1854 when northern members of the Whig, American and Free Soil parties, along with a few northern Democrats, formed the Republican Party, and many Southern Whigs became Democrats.

Following the United States Civil War, the Republican Party faced several massive party switches. As Reconstruction ended, many Southern Republicans became Democrats. In 1872, Republicans dissatisfied with President Ulysses S. Grant formed the Liberal Republican Party and had a joint presidential campaign with the Democrats. Most Liberal Republicans soon returned to the main Republican Party, however. A similar situation occurred in 1884 when the mugwumps left the Republican Party and supported the Democratic presidential candidate, later rejoining the Republican party.

The next major conflict in the Republican Party occurred in 1896 when Republican supporters of free silver left the party to form the Silver Republicans, though again most of these politicians later rejoined the Republican Party. By the late 19th century, as the Democratic and Republican parties became more established, however, party switching became less frequent.

The 20th century[edit]

The shifts in American voter demographics beginning in the second half of the 20th century – the southern states from Democratic to Republican, and New England and the West Coast states from Republican to Democratic – have prompted several incumbent federal legislators and many state legislators to switch parties. In addition, as changes in state laws made it harder and harder for members of third parties to be elected or re-elected, many former members of these parties became members of the two dominant parties.[1]

Notable party switchers[edit]

Notable party switchers of the modern era include:

Democratic to Republican[edit]

1800s[edit]

1900–1949[edit]

1950s[edit]

1960s[edit]

1970s[edit]

1980s[edit]

1990s[edit]

2000s[edit]

2010s[edit]

Democratic to third party/independent or third party to Democratic[edit]

Republican to Democratic[edit]

Before 1960[edit]

1960s[edit]

1970s[edit]

1980s[edit]

1990s[edit]

2000s[edit]

2010s[edit]

Republican to third party/independent or third party to Republican[edit]

Democratic to Republican to Democratic[edit]

Other[edit]

There have been several instances of politicians continuing to be a member of a political party while running other campaigns as an independent. The most prominent examples include southern Democratic segregationists Strom Thurmond in 1948 and George Wallace in 1968, who remained in the Democratic Party for statewide campaigns but mounted national presidential campaigns as independents. Wallace later ran in the 1972 Democratic primaries. Earlier, liberal Republican Robert La Follette, Sr. ran for President as the candidate of the Progressive Party in 1924, while still remaining a Republican in the Senate. Another example is Senator Joseph Lieberman, who in 2006 ran for Senate in Connecticut under the party Connecticut for Lieberman, although still identifying as a Democrat

Former U.S. Representative Jim Leach, a Republican, speaks during the first night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Other political figures, such as Ed Koch, Jim Leach, Zell Miller, Colin Powell, did not formally leave their parties, but supported a candidate from another party. Miller and Koch, though Democrats, supported Republican George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, while Powell and Leach supported Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. This received much media attention in 2004, when Democrats for Bush and Republicans for Kerry groups were formed. In New Hampshire, former Republican Governor Walter Peterson has expressly supported Democrat John Lynch in his bids for governor. In Virginia, the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, Linwood Holton, has since 2001 frequently supported Democrats in statewide races – his son-in-law, Tim Kaine, has been elected to the governorship and the U.S. Senate in that time, and served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee – and endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. Similarly, in 1860, former Democratic President Martin Van Buren ended up supporting Abraham Lincoln due to Van Buren's disagreements with Democratic policies on secession. Other examples include former Republican Senator from Minnesota David Durenberger supporting John Kerry in 2004 and former Democratic Attorney General Griffin Bell supporting George W. Bush in 2004.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]