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Understanding the 1994 Election: Still No Realignment

Listed author(s):
  • Oren M. Levin-Waldman

    (The Jerome Levy Economics Institute)

Registered author(s):

    The change in the composition of Congress resulting from the 1994 election was viewed by some Republicans as a "triumph of conservatism over the perceived abuses of liberalism." In this working paper, Resident Scholar Oren M. Levin-Waldman examines polling data to explore whether the rejection of Congressional incumbents was a function of their perceived corruption or a desire to elect representatives whose ideology better reflected those of the electorate. Levin-Waldman analyzes polling results in the context of two models that might explain the results of the 1994 election: a traditional model in which incumbents are rejected for failing to deliver on their campaign promises, and a realignment model that explains the rejection as an episode in a more general pattern of political realignment. Realignment, as defined originally in the political science literature, is marked by a "critical" election in which voter turnout is high, results represent a sharp change in the previous composition between parties, a restructuring occurs along party lines at all levels of government, and the results persist over a long period of time. Realignments, then, represent systemic changes in American politics. Subsequent modifications of the model have created some ambiguity in appraising whether realignment might be occurring. Such modifications allow realignments to occur over time (instead of in a sudden shift) as a gradual decline in long-term party loyalty. A problem arises in distinguishing between a "critical" election, that is, a change in party identification, and a one-time rejection of a party's candidates. Realignments occur when an issue or issues polarizes the voters significantly enough to motivate them to change party affiliation. The magnitude of realignment depends on the scope of the grievance, the extent to which the proposed remedy is resisted, the motivation and capacity of the party's leadership, the degree of the division between the parties, and the degree to which voters are attached to their current party.

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    Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Macroeconomics with number 9809014.

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    Length: 43 pages
    Date of creation: 29 Sep 1998
    Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpma:9809014
    Note: Type of Document - Acrobat PDF; prepared on IBM PC; to print on PostScript; pages: 43; figures: included
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