Sixth Party System
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Experts have debated whether national politics in the United States of America is currently[update] in the era of a Sixth Party System, or whether the Fifth Party System continues in some form to the present. Opinions also differ on when a Sixth Party System may have begun, with suggested dates ranging from the 1960s to the 1990s. Maisel and Brewer (2011) argue that the consensus among specialists is that the Sixth System is underway based on American electoral politics since the 1960s:
Although most in the field now believe we are in a sixth party system, there is a fair amount of disagreement about how exactly we arrived at this new system and about its particular contours. Scholars do, however, agree that there has been significant change in American electoral politics since the 1960s.
The perceived Sixth Party System is characterized by an electoral shift from the electoral coalitions of the Fifth Party System during the New Deal: the Republican Party became the dominant party in the South, rural areas, and suburbs; while the Democratic Party increasingly started to assemble a coalition of African-Americans, Hispanics and white urban Progressives. A critical factor was the major transformation of the political system in the Reagan Era or "Age of Reagan" of the 1980s and beyond, led by Ronald Reagan.[need quotation to verify]
However, no clear disciplinary consensus has emerged pinpointing an electoral event responsible for shifting presidential and congressional control since the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the Fifth Party System emerged. Much of the work published on the subject has come from political scientists explaining the events of their time either as the imminent breakup of the Fifth Party System, and the installation of a new one; or in terms of such transition taking place some time ago. Other current writing on the Fifth Party System expresses admiration of its longevity: the first four systems lasted about 30 to 40 years each, which would have implied that the early twenty-first century should see a Seventh Party System. It is also possible, as argued in Jensen (1981) and elsewhere, that the party system has given way, not to a new party system, but to a period of dealignment in politics. Previous party systems ended with the dominant party losing two consecutive House elections by large margins, and also losing a presidential election coinciding with or immediately following (in 1896) the second House election—decisive electoral evidence of political realignment. Such a shift took place in 2006–2008 in favor of the Democrats, but the Republicans won the elections of 2010 by their biggest landslide since 1946 and finished the 2014 elections with their greatest number of U.S. House seats since 1928.
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Opinions differ on when the Sixth Party System began, varying from elections of 1966–68 or the 1980s when both parties began to become more unified and partisan, to the 1990s over cultural divisions.
Craig argues for the 1972 elections, when Richard Nixon won a 49-state landslide. He notes that, "There seems to be consensus on the appropriate name for the sixth party system.... Changes that occurred during the 1960s were so great and so pervasive that they cry out to be called a critical-election period. The new system of candidate-centered parties is so distinct and so portentous that one can no longer deny its existence or its character."
The Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History dates the start in 1980, with the election of Reagan and a Republican Senate.
Possible Dealignment Period (1969–1981)
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One possible explanation for the lack of an agreed upon beginning of the Sixth Party System is that there was a brief period of dealignment immediately preceding it. 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.
A period of dealignment would certainly explain the voting patterns of the Southern states during this time period. In 1968, Richard Nixon barely eked out a popular vote victory in the former Confederacy with 35% of the vote. In comparison, George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey received 34% and 31%, respectively. In 1972, Republicans won the South in a landslide, only to see the region swing dramatically back into the Democratic column four years later when native son Jimmy Carter ran for president. It was not until the Reagan Revolution in 1980 that the South became a Republican stronghold on the presidential level.
Assuming the Sixth Party System spanned from 1981–2017, it would corroborate and explain a number of items. First, it would fit Walter Dean Burnham's argument for a 36-year "cycle" of realignments. In 1980, George H. W. Bush was first elected to serve as vice-president under Ronald Reagan. The Reagan-Bush ticket was re-elected in a landslide in 1984. Bush went on to win the presidency in his own right in 1988, as did his son, George W. Bush, in 2000 and 2004.
With support for the 1960s Civil Rights Movement growing, Richard Nixon devised the so-called "Southern Strategy" to win the 1968 elections for himself and other Republican candidates in the South, ending a century of Democratic dominance in the region. Nixon also won the 1972 re-elections in landslide.
Ronald Reagan produced a major realignment with his 1980 and 1984 landslide elections. The Democrats had control of Congress with two breaks since 1932. The Republican Party took control of the Senate in 1980 and both houses in 1994. It built a strong base in the white South, while losing the Northeastern base of the liberal and moderate Republicans.
Reagan's economic policies (dubbed "Reaganomics") and the implementation of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 called for sharply reduced federal budgets, sharply reduced federal regulation of businesses, and sharp cuts in the federal income tax rates, the latter two of which were partially achieved. The top marginal income tax rate on high incomes was lowered from 70% to 28% over the course of seven years, with regulations on cable communication, shipping, and savings and loan associations being reduced.
The federal fuel tax and Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax were both increased, and the Tax Reform Act of 1986, while reducing income taxes on upper-income individuals, increased taxes on lower-income individuals, capital gains, and corporate income. Regulation of firearms was increased and a federal standard for regulations on Indian gaming was created. Annual federal spending increased from about $1.6 trillion in 1981 to about $2.1 trillion in 1988. Increased federal spending, coupled with major taxation legislation that reduced tax revenue, caused the federal government's public debt to increase from 31.9% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1981 to 49.8% of GDP in 1988, with a tripling of the federal government's nominal debt during that time period. Following the early 1980s recession, economic growth and inflation maintained an average of about 4% per annum for the remainder of the decade, and the unemployment rate gradually decreased to nearly 5% by the end of the decade.
Some of the characteristics which this era displays are:
- Increased role of technology by television and later the internet
- Increased role of the financing of electioneering communications in the electoral process (the issue of 'money in politics')
- Increased unity of control as each party and partisans eliminate moderates or differing opinions within their party
- Increased partisanship, with heated rhetoric and confrontations, and congressional gridlock
- Democratic Party emphasis on identity and not economics or labor as compared to the New Deal or Progressive Era
- Greater Republican Party emphasis on values than in the previous system
Harris and Tichenor argue:
- At the level of issues, the sixth party system was characterized by clashes over what rights to extend to various groups in society. The initial manifestations of these clashes were race-based school desegregation and affirmative action, but women's issues, especially abortion rights, soon gained equal billing....To these were added in the 1980s environmental defense and in the 1990s gay rights."
New voter coalitions included the emergence of the "religious right"—a combination of Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants united on opposition to abortion and gay marriage. Southern white voters started voting for Republican presidential candidates in the 1960s, and Republican state and local candidates in the 1990s.
Rules of the game
New rule changes involved campaign financing, as very large sums were raised and candidates spent much of their energy focused on raising money behind the scenes. New campaign technologies involved the Internet, but television advertising continued to grow in importance, overshadowing the Internet as a campaign tool. Howard Dean in 2004 demonstrated that the Internet could be used to organize and finance a campaign, and this model was followed by most of the candidates for the 2008 election, with Barack Obama the most successful.
- Demographic change from roughly 90% white in 1960 to roughly 60% white in 2016, and a shift of the white vote to reliably Republican and non-white vote to predominantly Democratic.
- The taboo on open racism in politics since late 1960s.
- The political and cultural upheavals of the Vietnam War.
- The dramatic loss of power by the Democratic Party across the South between mid-1960s to 2000
- The decline of conservative Democrats, such as the Blue Dog Coalition.
- The shift of Northeastern states, Illinois and Pacific states (especially metro areas) from moderate Republicanism to strong Democratic presidential voting patterns from 1992 onward.
- The rise of the centrist New Democrats during the Reagan administration.
- The strengthening of Conservatism in the United States.
- The weakening of modern liberalism in the United States.
- The revitalization of the Republican Party’s conservative wing.
- The rise of the religious right as a political power allied with the GOP.
- A new emphasis on social issues regarding abortion and homosexuality.
- The “Age of Reagan” shifting the terms of political debate after 1980.
- The promulgation of neoliberal economic models by Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
- The first Gulf War and the end of the Cold War.
- Deep involvement in complex Middle East conflicts; War in Afghanistan (2001–present) and Iraq War (2003–2011), plus Libya and Syria; intense support for Israel.
- The end of the Fairness Doctrine, and the rise of conservative talk radio led by Rush Limbaugh.
- Newt Gingrich nationalized Congressional elections with the “Republican Revolution” in 1994.
- The massive financial crisis and worldwide economic recession of 2008.
- Federal bailouts of major banks, financial institutions and auto companies, 2008–09
- The election and re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president, 2008 and 2012.
- The GOP landslides of 2010, and 2014.
- The election of Donald Trump, the only individual to be elected president without any government experience. Political scientists[who?] at the blog Daily Kos are speculating that this event may spark the end of the Sixth Party System and the beginning of the Seventh Party System.
- Fifth Party System
- History of the Republican Party (United States)
- History of the Democratic Party (United States)
- Politics of the Southern United States
- Political party strength in U.S. states
- L. Sandy Maisel; Mark D. Brewer (2011). Parties and Elections in America: The Electoral Process (6th ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. p. 42. ISBN 9781442207707.
- Sean Wilentz, The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974–2008 (2008)
- For example, Paulson (2006) argues that a decisive realignment took place in the late 1960s.
- Aldrich (1999).
- Sean Sullivan. "McSally win gives GOP historic majority in House". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-12-27.
- "What is the sixth party system".
- "The Sixth Party System in American Politics (1976–2012)".
- Alex Copulsky (July 24, 2013). "Perpetual Crisis and the Sixth Party System".
- Stephen C. Craig, Broken Contract? Changing Relationships between Americans and Their Government (1996) p. 105
- Michael Kazin, et al. eds, The Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History (2009) Vol. 2, pg. 288
- Nicol C. Rae, The Decline and Fall of the Liberal Republicans: From 1952 to the Present (1989)
- "Effective Federal Tax Rates: 1979–2001". Bureau of Economic Analysis. July 10, 2007.
- Richard A. Harris; Daniel J. Tichenor (2009). A History of the U.S. Political System: Ideas, Interests, and Institutions. ABC-CLIO. p. 98. ISBN 9781851097180.
- J. David Woodard, The New Southern Politics (2006)
- For a graph of the movement of Southern white voters see Brian F. Schaffner (2010). Politics, Parties, and Elections in America (7th ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 31. ISBN 9780495899167.
- Anthony Corrado and Molly Corbett, “Rewriting the Playbook on Presidential Campaign Financing,” in Campaigning for President, 2008, edited by Dennis W. Johnson (Routledge, 2009) pp. 126–46
- H.W. Brands, The Strange Death of American Liberalism (2003)
- William Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (1996)
- John Ehrman, The Eighties: America in the Age of Reagan (2008)
- Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, '
- "The Seventh Party System: Trump Could Be the Catalyst". Daily Kos. Retrieved 2016-11-10.
- Aberbach, Joel D., and Gillian Peele, eds. Crisis of Conservatism?: The Republican Party, the Conservative Movement, and American Politics After Bush (2011) excerpt and text search
- Aldrich, John H. "Political Parties in a Critical Era," American Politics Research, vol 27#1 (1999); speculates on emergence of Seventh Party System
- Alterman, Eric, and Kevin Mattson. The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama (2012) biographical approach by liberal experts; excerpt and text search
- Bibby, John F. "Party Organizations, 1946–1996," in Byron E. Shafer, ed. Partisan Approaches to Postwar American Politics (1998)
- Brands, H.W. The Strange Death of American Liberalism (2003); a liberal view
- Collins, Robert M. Transforming America: Politics and Culture During the Reagan Years, (2007).
- Critchlow, Donald T. The Conservative Ascendancy: How the Republican Right Rose to Power in Modern America (2nd ed. 2011); a conservative view
- Ehrman, John. The Eighties: America in the Age of Reagan (2008); a conservative view
- Hayward, Steven F. The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order: 1964–1980 (2009), a conservative interpretation
- Hayward, Steven F. The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution 1980–1989 (2009) excerpt and text search
- Jensen, Richard. "The Last Party System: Decay of Consensus, 1932–1980," in The Evolution of American Electoral Systems (Paul Kleppner et al. eds.) (1981) pp. 219–25,
- Kabaservice, Geoffrey. Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (2012) scholarly history favorable to moderates excerpt and text search
- Martin, William. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, (1996)
- Paulson, Arthur. Electoral Realignment and the Outlook for American Democracy (2006)
- Shafer, Byron E. "Where Are We in History? Political Orders and Political Eras in the Postwar U.S.," The Forum (2007) Vol. 5#3, Article 4. online edition
- Wilentz, Sean. The Age of Reagan: A History 1974–2008 (2008), by a leading liberal.
- Zernike, Kate. Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America (2010), by a New York Times reporter