The American Political Pattern
Stability and Change, 1932-2016
Byron E. Shafer
Politicians are polarized. Public opinion is volatile. Government is gridlocked. Or so journalists and pundits constantly report. But where are we, really, in modern American politics, and how did we get there? Those are the questions that Byron E. Shafer aims to answer in The American Political Pattern. Looking at the state of American politics at diverse points over the past eighty years, the book draws a picture, broad in scope yet precise in detail, of our political system in the modern era. It is a picture of stretches of political stability, but also, even more, of political change, one that goes a long way toward explaining how shifting factors alter the content of public policy and the character of American politicking.
Shafer divides the modern world into four distinct periods: the High New Deal (1932–1938), the Late New Deal (1939–1968), the Era of Divided Government (1969–1992), and the Era of Partisan Volatility (1993–2016). Each period is characterized by a different arrangement of the same key factors: party balance, ideological polarization, issue conflict, and the policy-making process that goes with them.
“Shafer’s enterprise is truly grand and will undoubtedly raise numerous debates in the years to come.”
—Perspectives on Politics
“This complex and illuminating study merits the attention of both historians and public policy analysts.”
—Journal of American HistorySee all reviews...
“Shafer aims to provide a means to understand the whole of American politics since the New Deal, and in this he succeeds. Highly recommended”
“We have here an original ordering of American political history since 1932 that makes good sense. Shafer brings together evidence on election results, roll call voting, and party organization to craft his case. There is wealth of historical information presented with a deft touch.”
—David R. Mayhew is Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University
“Understanding the broad historical sweep of changing political party bases and the connection to policy enactments in Congress is a very demanding task. Too often scholars focus on just one of these or get bogged down in detail and history gets lost. Byron Shafer has drawn on his remarkable breadth of knowledge and managed to produce an engaging analysis of shifting party concerns, evolving factional party fights, and how these affected voting on policy legislation. For those who want a wide-ranging and enlightening political history, this is an outstanding book. Books like this come along far too infrequently. I highly recommend it. ”
—Jeffrey M. Stonecash, author of Party Pursuits and the Presidential-House Election Connection,1900–2008
“This is a masterful analysis by a distinguished scholar of American politics. Focusing on the interplay between party balance, ideological polarization, and central issue domains across four eras of American politics since the Great Depression, Shafer presents a vivid account of dynamic political transformations. For the many political observers who bemoan today’s bitter partisan and policy conflicts, Shafer’s book is a bracing reminder that the current era, like its predecessors, will pass away.”
—Bruce Miroff, author of Presidents on Political Ground: Leaders in Action and What They Face
“I know of no other book on political partisanship that so deftly combines electoral analysis, institutional politics and substantive public policy debate.”
—Gareth Davies, author of See Government Grow: Education Politics from Johnson to ReaganSee fewer reviews...
The American Political Pattern shows how these factors are in turn shaped by permanent aspects of the US Constitution, most especially the separation of powers and federalism, while their alignment is simultaneously influenced by the external demands for governmental action that arise in each period, including those derived from economic currents, major wars, and social movements. Analyzing these periods, Shafer sets the terms for understanding the structure and dynamics of politics in our own turbulent time. Placing the current political world in its historical and evolutionary framework, while illuminating major influences on American politics over time, his book explains where this modern world came from, why it endures, and how it might change yet again.