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The U.S. Census as a Source in Political History

  • Kenneth Winkle

Extract

Political historians have long depended on aggregate records of political behavior—“election returns”—as a crucial resource in the historical study of American politics. During the past 30 years, however, the “new” political historians have increasingly turned to the U.S. census to reveal relationships between political and social behavior in the American past. The veritable revolution in American political history in recent decades, in fact, has largely depended on the political analysis of census records. Political historians now routinely mine the U.S. census for social, demographic, and economic information about voters and officeholders, states and regions, specific decades, and even “political eras.” Census data are most crucial to the political history of the nineteenth century and have benefited, in particular, the debate over levels of voter turnout, the study of political leadership through collective biography, and the ethnocultural model of political behavior.

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The U.S. Census as a Source in Political History

  • Kenneth Winkle

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