The Two Majorities and the Puzzle of Modern American Politics
Byron E. Shafer
Where did the Era of Divided Government come from? What sustains split partisan control of the institutions of American national government year after year? Why can it shift so easily from Democratic or Republican presidencies, coupled with Republican or Democratic Congresses? How can the vast array of issues and personalities that have surfaced in American politics over the last forty years fit so neatly within-indeed, reinforce-the sustaining political pattern of our time?
These big questions constitute the puzzle of modern American politics. The old answer—a majority and a minority party, plus dominant and recessive public issues—will not work in the Era of Divided Government. Byron Shafer, a political scientist who is regarded as one of the most comprehensive and original thinkers on American politics, provides a convincing new answer that has three major elements. These elements in combination, not "divided government" as a catch phrase, are the real story of politics in our time.
“The essays in this book are rich and rewarding for those who seek to understand the longer-term trends in American and comparative politics.”
—The Review of Politics
“Skilfully links together the evolving interaction of various aspects of U.S. politics—voter groups and social coalitions; party organizations and party activists; short-term issues and election outcomes; ideological divisions; and public policy. . . . Shafer’s information and assessments are crucial for understanding the key issues of American electoral politics over the past generation. . . . Provides crucial theoretical and historical contexts for evaluating the current situation.”
—Political Studies ReviewSee all reviews...
“Perhaps the definitive work of American party politics, drawing on history, sociology, policy studies, political theory, and economics. . . . Shafer’s contributions to political science rank with those of Robert K. Merton, Nelson W. Polsby, David B.Truman, and Aaron B. Wildavsky. In this work, he answers the question posed by divided government, that is, what sustains the split partisan control over American national government. . . . This is a compelling and groundbreaking work.”
—Perspectives on Political Science
“A major synthesis of American political history over the past half century. . . . The breadth and sophistication of the essays make this book essential for every academic library.”
—History: Reviews of New Books
“Could be the definitive work on American party politics of our generation.”
—Michael Barone, Senior Writer, U.S. News & World Report
“These thoughtful, coherently related, and wide-ranging essays—by one of America’s most accomplished political scientists—reflect astutely on underlying sociocultural trends in recent American history, thereby offering readers a wealth of insights.”
—James T. Patterson, author of Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974
“Shafer is not timid about drawing big picture implications from what we know about important political questions. His book provides an extraordinary glimpse into the mind of one of the most creative scholars of American politics.”
—Charles O. Jones, author of Separate but Equal Branches: Congress and the PresidencySee fewer reviews...
The first element is comprised of two great sets of public preferences that manifest themselves at the ballot box as two majorities. The old cluster of economic and welfare issues has not so much been displaced as simply joined by a second cluster of cultural and national concerns. The second element can be seen in the behavior of political parties and party activists, whose own preferences don't match those of the general public. That public remains reliably left of the active Republican Party on economic and welfare issues and reliably right of the active Democratic Party on cultural and national concerns. The third crucial element is found in an institutional arrangement—the distinctively American matrix of governmental institutions, which converts those first two elements into a framework for policymaking, year in and year out.
In the first half of the book, Shafer examines how dominant features of the Reagan, first Bush, Clinton, and second Bush administrations reflect the interplay of these three elements. Recent policy conflicts and institutional combatants, in Shafer's analysis, illuminate this new pattern of American politics. In the second half, he ranges across time and nations to put these modern elements and their composite pattern into a much larger historical and institutional framework. In this light, modern American politics appears not so much as new and different, but as a distinctive recombination of familiar elements of a political style, a political process, and a political conflict that has been running for a much, much longer time.