Hostname: page-component-5db6c4db9b-bhjbq Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-24T20:44:59.313Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

The Modern Republican Party: Resurgence or Decline?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 January 2009

Nicol C. Rae
Nicol C. Rae is Lecturer in American Politics atthe University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9QN, and Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, OX1 1NF, England.


In the study of contemporary American politics the phenomenon referred to as the “decline of party” has aroused considerable debate. Many writing on this subject maintain that American parties have been in a longterm and irreversible process of secular decline. Others hold that American parties have merely changed their role in the political system and although increasingly eliminated from presidential politics have developed considerably as national political organisations. This latter thesis has particular reference to the Republican party. The GOP has won four of the last five presidential elections, and has developed its national party organisation to a level of efficacy and sophistication unprecedented in American history.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1988

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 See especially Burnham, Walter Dean, Critical Elections and The Mainsprings of American Politics (New York: Norton, 1970)Google Scholar, and The Current Crisis in American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), esp. 25–53Google Scholar; and Ladd, Everett Carll with Hadley, Charles D., Transformations of the American Party System (New York: Norton, 1978), 302–74.Google Scholar

2 For the most recent expositions of this view see Reichley, A. James, “The Rise of National Parties” in Chubb, John E. and Peterson, Paul E., eds., The New Direction in American Politics (Washington, DC: Brookings, 1985), 175200Google Scholar; Kayden, Xandra and Mahe, Eddie Jr., The Party Goes On: The Persistence of the Two-Party System in the United States (New York: Basic Books, 1985)Google Scholar; and Cotter, Cornelius P., Gibson, James L., Bibby, John F. and Huckshorn, Robert J., Party Organisations in American Politics (New York: Praeger, 1984)Google Scholar. For the most accurate analysis of organisational change within US political parties see Epstein, Leon D., Political Parties in the American Mold (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986).Google Scholar

3 Cotter et al.; Reichley; Jacobson, Gary C., “The Republican Advantage in Campaign Finance” in Chubb and Peterson, 143–73Google Scholar, and Bibby, John F., “Party Renewal in the Republican Party” in Pomper, Gerald M., ed. Party Renewal in America (New York: Praeger, 1982), 102–14.Google Scholar

4 Burns, James Macgregor, The Power to Lead: The Crisis of the American Presidency (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), 235.Google Scholar

5 According to “realignment theory” American electoral history is best understood as a series of party systems characterised by stable voter-alignments. These systems change at certain “critical elections” (or series of elections) due to a particularly salient issue (slavery) or event (depressions in the 1890s and 1930s) which engenders drastic changes in patterns of electoral support (1860, 1896, 1932). Since the early 1960s many observers have been awaiting the end of the New Deal party system and the advent of a new electoral alignment where the Republican party will be dominant. See Key, V. O. Jr., “A Theory of Critical Elections,” Journal of Politics, 17 (1955), 318CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Burnham, Critical Elections; and Sundquist, James L., Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States, 2d edn. (Washington, DC: Brookings, 1983), 118, 3549.Google Scholar

6 Nie, Norman H., Verba, Sidney and Petrocik, John R., The Changing American Voter, enlarged edn., (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979) esp. 210–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar; also Petrocik, John R., “Realignment: New Party Coalitions and the Nationalisation of the South,” Journal of Politics, 49 (1987), 347–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7 Phillips, Kevin P., The Emering Republican Majority (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1970).Google Scholar

8 Nie et al. 47–73, and Ladd and Hadley, 182–276.

9 For a recent discussion of split-ticket voting and incumbency in House elections see John A. Ferejohn and Morris P. Fiorina, “Incumbency and Realignment in Congressional Elections,” in Chubb and Peterson, eds., 33–67.

10 Nie et al. 53–4, 57–9, 96–173; also Wattenberg, Martin P., The Decline of American Political Parties 1952–80 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984).Google Scholar

11 Ladd, Everett Carll, “On Mandates, Realignments and the 1984 Presidential Election,” Political Science Quarterly, 100 (1985), 22–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12 On the increasingly “problematic” nature of the separation of powers and America's “ungovernability” see Burns, The Power To Lead, and Sundquist, James L., Constitutional Reform and Effective Government (Washington, DC: Brookings, 1986).Google Scholar

13 For a comparison of “presidential management” under Carter and Reagan see Jones, Charles O., “Renominating Ronald Reagan: The Compleat Politician at Work” in Austin, Ranney, ed., The American Elections of 1984 Washington DC: AEI/Duke University Press, 1985), 6699.Google Scholar

14 Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, 12 September 1981, 1743.Google Scholar

15 National Journal, 10 September 1983, 1827.Google Scholar

16 National Journal, 31 October 1981, 1948.Google Scholar

17 On the Conservative Opportunity Society, see the National Journal, 21 January 1984, 413.Google Scholar

18 Interview with Congressman Cheyney, 2 May 1984.

19 Interview with Congressman Jeffords, 2 May 1984.

20 On Reagan's difficulties with Congress see National Journal, 18 January 1986, 126–30.Google Scholar

21 On House Republican frustration over tax reform see National Journal, 21 December 1985, 2898–901.Google Scholar

22 On Reagan's partisanship see Broder, David S., “Reagan: the Life of the Party,” Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 4 11 1985, 4Google Scholar, and National Journal, 12 October 1985, 2322–23.Google Scholar

23 Bibby in Pomper, , ed., Party Renewal 113–14.Google Scholar

24 Cotter, Cornelius P. and Hennessey, Bernard C., Politics Without Power: The National Party Committees (New York: Atherton Press, 1964).Google Scholar

25 Bibby in Pomper, ed., 103–04.

26 See tables in Shafer's, Byron E. forthcoming, Bifurcated Politics: Evolution and Reform in the National Party Convention (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

27 Shafer, Byron E., Quiet Revolution: The Democratic Party and The Struggle of Post-Reform Politics (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1983), 269–94, 320–66, 492522.Google Scholar

28 Jacobson, Gary C., “Party Organisation and Distribution of Campaign Resources: Republicans and Democrats in 1982,” Political Science Quarterly, 100 (19851986), 603–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

29 Broder, David S., Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 4 11 1985.Google Scholar

30 Jacobson, , PSQ, 100, 613–22.Google Scholar

31 Edsall, Thomas B., “Reagan's Legacy To His Party: Lots of Names,” Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 22 07 1985.Google Scholar

32 Jacob, Charles E., “The Congressional Elections,” in Gerald M. Pomper et al., The Election of 1984: Reports and Interpretations (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1985), 118–19.Google Scholar

33 Bibby in Pomper, , ed., Party Renewal, 114.Google Scholar

34 On the Republican national committees' attitude to pre-primary endorsements see Arterton, F. Christopher, “Political Money and Party Strength,” in Fleischman, Joel L., ed., The Future of American Political Parties: The Challenge of Governance (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall 1982), 130.Google Scholar

35 See Jacobson, Gary C., “The Marginals Never Vanished: Incumbency and Competition in Elections to the US House of Representatives, 1951–82,” American Journal of Political Science, 31 (1987), 126–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

36 In Fleischman, 131.