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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

3 - Coalition Group Incorporation


If a man does not make new acquaintance as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair.

Dr. Johnson, quoted in Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

Although much of politicians' energies are devoted to retaining support from their traditional backers, this is not all they do. Attempts to win over new allies are also important, if less frequent endeavors. One of the major causes of party position change is the attempt by party elites to bring a new group into their coalition. This process differs in some important respects from the dynamics of coalition maintenance discussed in Chapter 2. Two well-known instances I explore in this chapter are the cases of abortion and gun control.

Since the 1970s the abortion issue has become very prominent in national politics. The debate has become increasingly partisan, with Republicans tending ever more toward the “pro-life” side and Democrats to the “pro-choice” one. Many scholars (Abramowitz 1994; Adams 1997; Cook, Jelen, and Wilcox 1998; Layman 2001) have examined the relationship between attitudes on abortion and partisanship and voting behavior. Yet most research is focused on mass responses to cues from political elites such as members of Congress, among whom positions on abortion have increasingly become a function of party affiliation. It remains to be shown how this elite polarization developed.