Realigning election

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A realigning election (often called a critical election or political realignment) is a term from political science and political history describing a dramatic change in the political system. Scholars frequently apply the term to American elections and occasionally to other countries. Usually it means the coming to power for several decades of a new coalition, replacing an old dominant coalition of the other party as in 1896 when the Republican Party (GOP) became dominant, or 1932 when the Democratic Party became dominant. More specifically, it refers to American national elections in which there are sharp changes in issues, party leaders, the regional and demographic bases of power of the two parties, and structure or rules of the political system (such as voter eligibility or financing), resulting in a new political power structure that lasts for decades.

Realigning elections typically separate Party Systems—with 1828, for example, separating the First Party System and the Second Party System in the U.S.

Political realignments can be sudden (1–4 years) or can take place more gradually (5–20 years). Most often, however, particularly in V. O. Key, Jr.'s (1955) original hypothesis, it is a single "critical election" that marks a realignment. By contrast a gradual process is called a "secular realignment." An American example was the change in the voting patterns among white Southerners, who from the 1870s to 1962 had overwhelmingly voted at the national and state levels for Democrats (what was called the "Solid South"). A critical election came in 1964 with a shift at the presidential level to the Republican (GOP) presidential candidates. However, there was a gradual shift toward the GOP at the state and local levels, as Aldrich (2000) and others have found. Democratic voting remained strong into the 1970s and only slowly shifted towards the GOP as state Republican organizations systematically broadened their base in the 1980s and 1990s.[1]

Political scientists and historians often disagree about which elections are realignments and what defines a realignment, and even whether realignments occur. The terms themselves are somewhat arbitrary, however, and usage among political scientists and historians does vary.

In the U.S. Walter Dean Burnham argued for a 30–36 year "cycle" of realignments. Many of the elections often included in the Burnham 36-year cycle are considered "realigning" for different reasons. Some political scientists, such as Mayhew (2004), are skeptical of the realignment theory altogether, saying there are no long-term patterns: "Electoral politics," he writes, "is to an important degree just one thing after another.... Elections and their underlying causes are not usefully sortable into generation-long spans.... It is a Rip Van Winkle view of democracy that voters come awake only once in a generation.... It is too slippery, too binary, too apocalyptic, and it has come to be too much of a dead end."

Realignment theory

The central holding of realignment theory, first developed in the political scientist V. O. Key, Jr.'s 1955 article, "A Theory of Critical Elections," is that American elections, parties and policymaking routinely shift in swift, dramatic sweeps.

V.O. Key Jr., E.E. Schattschneider, James L. Sundquist, Walter Dean Burnham and Paul Kleppner are generally credited with developing and refining the theory of realignment.[2] Though they differed on some of the details, scholars have generally concluded that systematic patterns are identifiable in American national elections such that cycles occur on a regular schedule: once every 36-years or so. This period of roughly 30 years fits with the notion that these cycles are closely linked to generational change. For social scientists, this point is important, since it helps to provide an objective sociological basis for the theory. Some, such as Schafer and Reichley, argue that the patterns are longer, closer to 50 to 60 years in duration, noting the Democratic dominance from 1800 to 1860, and Republican rule from 1860 to 1932. Reichley argues that the only true realigning elections occurred in 1800, 1860, and 1932.[3]

The alignment of 1860, with Republicans winning a series of close presidential elections, yielded abruptly in 1896 to an era of more decisive GOP control, in which most presidential elections were blowouts, and Democratic Congresses were infrequent and brief. Thirty-six years later, that system was displaced by a cycle of Democratic dominance, lasting throughout the Great Depression and beyond.[4]

Voter realignment

A central component of realignment is the change in behavior of voting groups. Realignment means the switching of voter preference from one party to another, in contrast to dealignment (where a voter group abandons a party to become independent or nonvoting). In the U.S. and Australia, as the ideologies of the parties define many of the aspects of voters' lives and the decisions that they make, a realignment by a voter tends to have a longer-lasting effect. In Britain and Canada, on the other hand, voters have a tendency to switch parties on a whim, perhaps only for one election, as there is far less loyalty towards a particular party.

United States

Realigning elections in United States history

Here is presented a list of elections most often cited as "realigning," with disagreements noted:

  • 1800 presidential electionThomas Jefferson
    • This election completed the turnover of power in the First Party System from the Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, to Jefferson and his Republican Party. The center of power shifted from New England to the South and Jeffersonian democracy became the dominant ideology.
    • Republicans gained 19.7% of House seats in 1800, 9.4% in 1802 and 9.7% in 1804, for a total gain of 38.8% in 3 elections.
    • As late as 1812, the Federalists came within one state of winning. A larger shift in electoral politics arguably came in the 1812–1816 period, as the Federalists became discredited after opposing the War of 1812.
  • 1828 presidential electionAndrew Jackson
  • 1860 presidential electionAbraham Lincoln
    • After the Whigs collapsed after 1852, party alignments were in turmoil, with several third parties, such as the Know Nothings and the Opposition Party. The system stabilized in 1858 and the presidential election marked the ascendence of the Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln beat out three other contenders — but even if they had somehow united he still had the majority of the electoral vote. The Republican party was pledged to the long-term ending of slavery, which was proximate cause of secession. Republicans rallied around nationalism in 1861 and fought the American Civil War to end secession. During the war the Republicans, under Lincoln's leadership, switched to a goal of short-term ending of slavery.[5] By 1864, the Republicans had a coalition built around followers of the "free labor" ideology, as well as soldiers and veterans of the Union Army (Since then, the military establishment has been solidly Republican).
      • The Republican Party went from 18.3% of the House in 1854, to 38.0% in 1856, 48.7% in 1858, and 59.0% in 1860, for a total gain of 40.7% in 4 elections.[6]
  • 1896 presidential electionWilliam McKinley
    • The status of this election is hotly disputed; some political scientists, such as Jerome Clubb, do not consider it a realigning election. Other political scientists and historians, such as Kleppner and Burnham consider this the ultimate realignment and emphasize that the rules of the game had changed, the leaders were new, voting alignments had changed, and a whole new set of issues came to dominance as the old Civil-War-Era issues faded away. Funding from office holders was replaced by outside fund raising from business in 1896 — a major shift in political history. Furthermore, McKinley's tactics in beating William Jennings Bryan (as developed by Mark Hanna) marked a sea change in the evolution of the modern campaigning. McKinley raised a huge amount of money from business interests, outspending Bryan by 10 to 1. Bryan meanwhile invented the modern technique of campaigning heavily in closely contested states, the first candidate to do so.[7] Bryan's message of populism and class conflict marked a new direction for the Democrats. McKinley's victory in 1896 and repeat in 1900 was a triumph for pluralism, as all sectors and groups shared in the new prosperity brought about by his policy of rapid industrial growth.[8][9]
    • While Republicans lost House seats in 1896, this followed a massive two-election gain: from 25.9% in 1890 to 34.8% in 1892 and 71.1% in 1894, for a total 45.2% gain. Republicans lost 13.4% in 1896, but still held 57.7% of House seats.
    • In terms of correlations among counties, the election of 1896 is a realignment flop, but this is only a problem if realignment is considered to occur in single elections. Rather, if realignment is thought of as a generational or long-term political movement, then change will occur over several elections, even if there is one "critical" election defining the new alignment. So, as pointed out above, the 1896 realignment really began around 1892, and the 130 seat GOP gain (after all, this is the all-time record) in 1894 meant there were almost no seats left to pick up in 1896. However, the presidential election in 1896 is usually considered the start of the new alignment since the national election allowed the nation to make a more conscious decision about the future of industrial policy by selecting McKinley over Bryan, making this the defining election in the realignment.[10] The election of 1876 passes the numbers test much better compared to 1896 alone, and Mayhew (2004) argues it resulted in far more drastic changes in United States politics: Reconstruction came to a sudden halt, African-Americans in the South would soon be completely disenfranchised, and politicians began to focus on new issues (such as tariffs and civil service reform).
  • 1932 presidential electionFranklin D. Roosevelt
    • Of all the realigning elections, this one musters the most agreement from political scientists and historians; it is the archetypal realigning election.[10] FDR's admirers such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. have argued that New Deal policies, developed in response to the crash of 1929 and the miseries of the Great Depression under Herbert Hoover, represented an entirely new phenomenon in American politics. More critical historians such as Carl Degler and David Kennedy see a great deal of continuity with Hoover's energetic but unsuccessful economic policies. There is no doubt Democrats vehemently attacked Hoover for 50 years. In many ways, Roosevelt's legacy still defines the Democratic Party; he forged an enduring New Deal Coalition of big city machines, the White South, intellectuals, labor unions, Catholics, Jews, and Westerners. In 1936, African-Americans were added to the coalition (African-Americans had previously been denied the vote or voted Republican). For instance, Pittsburgh, which was a Republican stronghold from the Civil War up to this point, suddenly became a Democratic stronghold, and has elected a Democratic mayor to office in every election since this time.
    • The Democrats went from controlling 37.7% of House seats in 1928 to 49.6% in 1930 and 71.9% in 1932, for a total gain of 34.2% in two elections.
    • In the Senate, the Democrats went from controlling 40.6% of seats in 1928 to 49% in 1930 and 61.5% in 1932, for a total gain of 20.9% in two elections.

Possible modern realigning elections in the United States

Some debate exists today as to what elections (if any) could be considered realigning elections after 1932.[11] Although several candidates have been proposed, there is no widespread agreement:

  • 1964 and 1968 presidential electionsLyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon
    • The 1968 election is often cited due to the innovative campaign strategy of Nixon.[12] In running against Hubert Humphrey, he used what became known as the Southern strategy. He appealed to white voters in the South with a call for "states' rights," which they interpreted as meaning that the federal government would no longer demand the forced busing of school children as ordered by federal courts. Democrats protested that Nixon exploited racial fears in winning the support of white southerners and northern white ethnics.[13] Roosevelt's New Deal coalition had lasted over 30 years but after the urban riots and Vietnam crisis of the mid 1960s one by one the coalition partners peeled away until only a hollow core remained, setting the stage for a GOP revival. Nixon's downfall postponed the realignment which came about under Reagan, as even the term "liberalism" fell into disrepute.
    • Including this as a realignment preserves the roughly 30-year cyclical pattern: 1896 to 1932, 1932 to 1964, and 1964 to 1994.
    • For political scientists, 1964 was primarily an issue-based realignment. The classic study of the 1964 election, by Carmines and Stimson (1989), shows how the polarization of activists and elites on race-related issues sent clear signals to the general public about the historic change in each party's position on Civil Rights.[citation needed] Notably, while only 50% of African-Americans self-identified as Democrats in the 1960 National Election Study, 82% did in 1964, and the numbers are higher in the 21st century. The clearest indicator of the importance of this election, was that Deep Southern states, such as Mississippi, voted Republican in 1964. In contrast, much of the traditional Republican strongholds of the Northeast and Upper Midwest voted Democratic. Vermont and Maine, which stood alone voting against FDR in 1936, voted for LBJ in 1964.
    • Many analysts do not consider 1968 a realigning election because control of Congress did not change; the Democrats would control the Senate until 1980 (and again from 1986 to 1994) and the House until 1994.[10] Also missing was a marked change in the partisan orientation of the electorate. Importantly, these two elections are consistent with the theory in that the old New Deal issues were replaced by Civil Rights issues as the major factor explaining why citizens identified with each party. Other scholars[14] contend that this is the beginning of a thirty-year dealignment, in which citizens generally moved towards political independence, which ended with the 1994 election.
  • 1980 presidential electionRonald Reagan
  • 1992 presidential electionBill Clinton
    • Clinton carried several states that had previously been Republican or swing states in both the Northeast and on the West Coast. Most notably, the largest state California switched from being a reliably Republican state to being consistently Democratic: it has been carried by Democratic candidates ever since. Other states that switched and have remained with the Democrats since include Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. In contrast, despite the fact Clinton came from the South, he only carried four of the former Confederate states: Arkansas (his home state), Louisiana, Tennessee (his vice president's home state) and Georgia, confirming it as a Republican base of support.
    • Since 1992, the Democratic candidate has won the national popular vote in every presidential election except 2004, suggesting some manner of national realignment away from the Republican domination of the 1970s and 1980s. This national tendency toward Democratic presidential candidates did not necessarily translate to Democratic victories in congressional elections. However Republicans remained competitive nationally, making historic gains in the 1994 and 2010 midterms, although the composition of the electorate in presidential versus midterm elections vary significantly.[19]
  • 1994 House of Representatives and Senate elections[20]
    • This election is now generally seen as a realigning election by political scientists.[20] Republicans won majorities in both the House and the Senate, taking control of both chambers for the first time since 1954. In addition, control of the House continued until 2007. Newt Gingrich, who promoted a "Contract with America", successfully nationalized the campaign by coordinating races around the country. The overwhelming nature of the Republicans' victory points to a realignment; the party gained 54 seats (in a chamber of only 435), while neither party would gain more than a handful of seats in any election until 2006.
    • The GOP gained seats in 43 of 46 state houses. These gains continued into the next decade, so that by 2002 the GOP held the majority of state legislative seats for the first time in fifty years.[20]
    • Notably, the period of party decline and mass dealignment appears to have ended in the 1990s. Strength of partisanship, as measured by the National Election Study, increased in the 1990s, as does the percentage of the mass public who perceive important differences between each party.[20]
    • This election also indicates the rise of religious issues as one of the most important cleavage in American politics.[citation needed] While Reagan's election hinted at the importance of the religious right, it was the formation of the Christian Coalition (the successor to the Moral Majority) in the early 1990s that gave Republicans organizational and financial muscle, particularly at the state level.[21] By 2004 the media portrayed the political nation as divided into "red" (Republican) and "blue" (Democratic) states, with reputed differences in cultural attitudes and politics between the two blocs.
    • The Republicans made historic inroads in the Solid South where they picked up total of 19 House seats. Going into the election, House Democrats outnumbered House Republicans. Afterwards, the Republicans outnumbered Democrats for the first time since Reconstruction.[22]
  • 2008 presidential electionBarack Obama
    • In the 2008 elections, the Democrats expanded their majorities in the Congress, and won the Presidency decisively. This was due to the momentum carried over from the Democrats' 2006 successes, as well as the continued unpopularity of President George W. Bush, whose administration was now faced with a financial crisis and economic recession. Some people believe that 2008 is possibly a realigning election with a long-lasting impact, just as the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt was in 1932 and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 were.[23][24] President Obama was reelected in the 2012 election as well, becoming only the third Democrat to win an absolute majority of the popular vote more than once[25] while losing only two entire states that he had won in 2008.[26]
    • On the other hand, the Republican Party experienced major gains two years later in 2010, retaking the house with a gain of 63 seats, the largest Republican gain in 80 years. Additionally, the Republican Party gained 6 seats in the Senate, slimming the Democratic majority. Despite Obama's reelection in 2012, the Republicans had another strong performance in the 2014 midterms; they not only increased their majority in the House and recaptured the Senate, but also made gains in the gubernatorial races and other statewide and local races, resulting in 31 Republican governorships and 68 state legislative houses under Republican control, thus increasing their influence to the largest Republican majority in the entire country in nearly a century.[27][28][29]


The history of the critical realigning elections in Canada, both nationally and in the provinces, is covered by Argyle (2011).[30]

Behiels (2010) suggests that experts in Canadian politics[31] are now reporting that a watershed political realignment is underway, the kind of shift that occurs but once a century. In light of the 2004, 2006, and 2008 minority government elections and the success of Stephen Harper, many journalists, political advisors, and politicians argue that a new political paradigm is emerging, and it is based on Harper's drive for a right-wing political party capable of reconfiguring the role of the state – federal and provincial – in twenty-first-century.[32] Bloomfield and Nossal (2007) suggest that the new political alignment has reshaped Canadian foreign policy, especially in improving relations with the U.S., taking a harder line on the Middle East conflicts, and backing away from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.[33]


Party systems model

According to recent scholarship there have been four party systems in Canada at the federal level since Confederation, each with its own distinctive pattern of social support, patronage relationships, leadership styles, and electoral strategies.[34] Steve Patten identifies four party systems in Canada's political history[35]

  • The first party system emerged from pre-Confederation colonial politics, had its "heyday" from 1896 to 1911 and lasted until the Conscription Crisis of 1917, and was characterized by local patronage administered by the two largest parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives.
  • The second system emerged following the First World War, and had its heyday from 1935 to 1957, was characterized by regionalism and saw the emergence of several protest parties, such as the Progressives, the Social Credit Party, and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.
  • The third system emerged in 1963 and had its heyday from 1968 to 1983 and began to unravel thereafter. The two largest parties were challenged by a strong third party, the New Democratic Party. Campaigns during this era became more national in scope due to electronic media, and involved a greater focus on leadership. The dominant policy of the era was Keynesian economics.
  • The fourth party system has involved the rise of the Reform Party, the Bloc Québécois, and the merger of the Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives. It saw most parties move to one-member-one-vote leadership contests, and a major reform to campaign finance laws in 2004. The fourth party system has been characterized by market-oriented policies that abandoned Keynesian policies, but maintained the welfare state.

Clarkson (2005) shows how the Liberal Party has dominated all the party systems, using different approaches. It began with a "clientelistic approach" under Laurier, which evolved into a "brokerage" system of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s under Mackenzie King. The 1950s saw the emergence of a "pan-Canadian system", which lasted until the 1990s. The 1993 election — categorized by Clarkson as an electoral "earthquake" which "fragmented" the party system, saw the emergence of regional politics within a four party-system, whereby various groups championed regional issues and concerns. Clarkson concludes that the inherent bias built into the first-past-the-post system, has chiefly benefited the Liberals.[36]


1896 saw a Liberal victory; Sir Wilfrid Laurier Prime Minister. From the 1867 election until 1896, the Conservative Party of Sir John A. Macdonald had governed Canada, excepting a single term from 1873 to 1878. The Liberals had struggled to retake office, under Laurier and his predecessor, Edward Blake. 1896 was the first election held after the death of Macdonald in 1891, and the Conservatives had been in complete disarray in the ensuing years, with no less than four different leaders. The Liberals would remain in office until 1911. Beyond that, political scientists often consider this election that made the Liberal Party the dominant force in Canadian politics, holding office for more than two thirds of the time between 1896 and 2006.[37]


1984 saw the victory of the Progressive Conservatives under Brian Mulroney. The election of 1984 not only saw Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives win the largest number of seats in Canadian History (211 of 282), and the second largest majority (behind John Diefenbaker's 208 of 265 in 1958), it ended over twenty years of Liberal rule, not counting the brief 19791980 tenure of Joe Clark. The Liberal Party under prime minister John Turner suffered its worst defeat ever at the time, winning a mere 40 seats. At the time, it was the worst defeat of a sitting government in Canadian history. Turner had just succeeded Pierre Trudeau as prime minister when he decided to call the election, and the Liberals were losing popularity due to the downfall of the economy and Trudeau's last minute patronage appointments.

The PCs' victory was aided in large part by a massive breakthrough in Quebec, winning 58 seats as compared to the one Quebec seat they won in 1980; Mulroney successfully campaigned in Quebec on a message that Trudeau's Liberals had "sold out" the province during the process of patriating the Canadian constitution in 1982, due to the fact that Quebec never formally signed on to the new constitution. The Liberals were cut down to only 17 seats, all but four of them in Montreal. Although Quebec had been a Liberal stronghold since 1896 (with the exception of 1958), from 1984 to the Canadian federal election, 2015 the Liberals failed to win the most seats in the province (they came close in 2000 and took the majority by winning several by-elections), making this province the most long-lasting realignment in this election.

Although Mulroney is often grouped with contemporary conservative leaders Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and the 1984 election is seen as Canada's version of the 1979 United Kingdom and 1980 United States elections, Mulroney proved in practice to be a relatively centrist leader.


1993 saw not only the sweeping success of the Liberals under Jean Chrétien, but also the fracturing the Progressive Conservatives' support base to regional parties in Quebec and the western provinces; resulting in a five party political system with the Liberals as the dominant party.[38] Throughout Canadian history two parties had taken turns in government and opposition: the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives (sometimes known as Liberal-Conservatives, Conservatives, Union and National Government). The Conservative majority election victories in 1984 and 1988 were based on a "Grand Coalition" between socially conservative populists from the West, Quebec nationalists, and fiscal conservatives from Ontario and the Maritimes, making it difficult for the Mulroney government to balance these diverse interests. During his second term, Mulroney's policies were unpopular, while the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords frustrated Quebec and stirred up Western alienation. New regional parties which formed in protest to Mulroney's government, the Bloc Québécois in Quebec and the Reform Party in the west won many seats formerly held by the PCs despite a lack of national support. The New Democratic Party, the longtime third party in parliament, fell from 43 seats to nine. The unpopularity of the provincial NDP governments in Ontario and BC reflected badly on the federal NDP, also their endorsement of the Charlottetown Accord and Quebec nationalism cost them support among organized labour and rural voters in the West, which switched their support to Reform. Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservatives were nearly wiped out, falling from 151 seats to only two—the worst defeat of a sitting government at the federal level.

The Liberals under Chrétien would win a further two consecutive majorities in 1997 and 2000, while never being seriously challenged as the largest party. The Progressive Conservatives never recovered, winning 20 (of 301) seats in 1997 and 12 in 2000 before merging with the Reform Party's successor, the Canadian Alliance, to form the new Conservative Party of Canada in late 2003. Due to competition with the Liberals for left-leaning voters, the New Democrats had mixed successes in the next several elections, winning 21 in 1997 but dropping back to 13 in 2000, unable to approach their high-water mark showing until 2006.


While Paul Martin's Liberals retains enough seats to continue as the government, it saw the re-emergence of the Conservatives and the resurgence of Bloc Québécois; resulting in a four party system with the ruling party as a minority government. This was the first of three elections where no party managed a majority of seats.

Martin succeeded a retiring Jean Chrétien in 2003 and initially polls predicted that the Liberals could expand their control of Parliament in the next election, as Martin sought inroads in Quebec and Western Canada, while the newly created Conservative Party was besought by controversy over its merger.[39] However, the revelation of the sponsorship scandal, along with party infighting between Chrétien and Martin weakened the Liberals, while the reunited Conservatives became a viable governing alternative, and the rejuvenated Bloc Québécois. At mid-campaign, polls predicted a Conservative lead, but the Liberals regained enough support to win a plurality of seats to remain the governing party.

Several trends would also begin in 2004 which signaled the Liberal party's decline; notably a high turnover of permanent party leaders (in contrast to their predecessors who usually served over two or more elections),[40] and its inability to raise campaign funds competitively once Chrétien banned corporate donations,[41] and it would gradually lose support to the Conservatives, and later to the NDP.

    • Canadian federal election, 2006Conservative victory; Stephen Harper Prime Minister
      • The 2004 election paved the way for the results in 2006, which is the first electoral victory of a Canadian conservative party since 1988 and the first conservative government in Canada since November 1993. This ended 13 years of Liberal government, whose minority government from 2004–06 was propped up by the New Democratic Party until they withdrew their support after fallout from the Sponsorship Scandal. As early as 1989, Harper had theorized that a realignment would occur pitting middle class tax payers versus middle class tax recipients.[42]


The election resulted in a Conservative majority victory under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, after forming two consecutive minority governments.[43] The Liberals dropped to third party status in Parliament for the first time, having previously always been either the governing party or the official opposition, and also no longer had a significant number of seats in Quebec (their bastion of support from 1892 to 1984) or Ontario (a stronghold since 1993, especially the Greater Toronto Area). Some suggested that Rob Ford's mayoral victory in November 2010 had paved the way for the federal Conservatives' successes in Toronto, with right-of-centre politicians garnering significant support from immigrants that traditionally supported the Liberals.[44][45] The New Democratic Party, led by Jack Layton, won 103 seats to become the official opposition for the first time in party history, as a late-campaign surge of support in Quebec took them from one to 59 seats at the expense of the other parties, particularly the Bloc Québécois which saw their 47 seats in that province reduced to a rump of four seats. The Bloc had previously won the majority of Quebec's seats from 1993 to 2008. The party leaders of the Liberals and the Bloc, Michael Ignatieff and Gilles Duceppe, respectively, were personally defeated in their own constituencies. This marked a return to the three party system in parliament which was last seen in the 1988 election.[38][39]

Commentators after the major shakeup in 2011 stressed the theme of a major realignment. The Economist said, "the election represents the biggest realignment of Canadian politics since 1993."[46] Lawrence Martin, commentator for the Globe and Mail said, "Harper has completed a remarkable reconstruction of a Canadian political landscape that endured for more than a century. The realignment sees both old parties of the moderate middle, the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals, either eliminated or marginalized."[47] Maclean's said, the election marked "an unprecedented realignment of Canadian politics" as "the Conservatives are now in a position to replace the Liberals as the natural governing party in Canada." Andrew Coyne proclaimed "The West is in and Ontario has joined it", noting that the Conservatives accomplished the rare feat of putting together a majority by winning in both Ontario and the western provinces (difficult due to traditionally conflicting interests), while having little representation in Quebec.[38][48]


  • Alberta general election, 1971 – End of the 36-year unbroken rule of the Social Credit Party, in favour of the Progressive Conservatives. Peter Lougheed's Conservatives defeated the Socreds led by Premier Harry E. Strom. Although the Socreds lost only a small share of its popular vote from 1967, their support in the province's two largest cities, Edmonton and Calgary, almost disappeared. They lost all of their seats in Edmonton, and all but five seats in Calgary.
    • There were ominous signs of Socreds' decline in the 1967 election, in which they failed to win 50% of the popular vote since 1955. Longtime Premier Ernest C. Manning retired a few months later. His successor Strom had been unable to revive a party that had grown tired and complacent, while the collapse of the other opposition parties made the PCs the only credible challenger to the Socreds. The Socreds sank into near-paralysis in opposition, being ill-prepared for that role after being the governing party for virtually all of its history prior to 1971. Their support collapsed in the 1975 election, in which they barely held onto official status. Although the Socreds stayed in the legislature until 1982, they were never a force Albertan politics again.
    • The Progressive Conservatives won every election since 1968, prior to 2015, despite losing some luster during Don Getty's tenure from 1985–92, they have regained strength under Ralph Klein.
  • Alberta general election, 2015 - The 44-year unbroken rule of the Progressive Conservatives (which begun in 1971) was ended by the Alberta New Democratic Party, who won a majority government and reduced the PCs to third place in the legislature .

British Columbia

  • British Columbia general election, 1991 – End of Social Credit as an effective political force in British Columbia politics. The Socreds under Premier Rita Johnston was reduced to third party status, while the New Democratic Party of Mike Harcourt formed the government. Liberal Party leader Gordon Wilson surprised observers by leading his party to winning one-third of the votes cast. This was enough to not only return them to the legislature, but make them the official opposition.
  • The Socreds had been beset by scandals during Bill Vander Zalm's last term as premier. Party control shifted from urban fiscal conservatives to social conservatives, causing the coalition to unravel and pushing many moderates to eventually switch to the Liberals. After Premier Vander Zalm resigned, Socred members voted the lesser-known Johnston, a close ally of Vander Zalm, over Grace McCarthy. Many viewed this as a mistake, as Johnston was close to the Vander Zalm legacy; even NDP leader Harcourt admitted later that he preferred Johnston over McCarthy. Wilson's party gained gradually but surged after his strong performance in the televised leaders' debates' Wilson was initially not invited and took legal action to overturn his exclusion. However, once he became opposition leader, Wilson proved unable to consolidate the party's leadership; he was eventually deposed and later became a New Democrat.


A considerable number of Quebec general elections have been known characterized by high seat turnovers, with certain ones being considered realigning elections, notably:

  • The 1936 election which ended 39 years of Liberal rule, 16 of them recently under Louis-Alexandre Taschereau and saw the rise of Maurice Duplessis's Union Nationale.
  • The 1960 election, after the deaths of Duplessis and his successor Paul Sauve, which ended 15 continuous years of Union Nationale rule and precipitated its gradual decline. It also ushered in the Quiet Revolution under Jean Lesage.
  • The 1976 election, which saw René Lévesque's Parti Québécois not only make a breakthrough in the National Assembly, it also drove Robert Bourassa's Liberals from office. It also made sovereignty the dominant political issue.
  • The 1985 election marked the successful political comeback of Bourassa and his Liberals, while also putting sovereignty as an issue to rest until a decade later.

The Quebec Liberal Party (unaffiliated with the federal Liberals since 1955) survived since Confederation but they have faced different opposition parties, several of which had formed the government, often alternating with the Liberals.

Realigning elections outside of North America


  • Israeli legislative election, 1977 - Likud defeated the Alignment, led by the Israel Labour Party, allowing Likud to lead a government for the first time ever. For the first 29 years of Israel's independence, politics had been dominated by Labour and its predecessor, Mapai. Due to corruption in the Labor Party many former Labor voters defected to the new Democratic Movement for Change, which won 15 seats coming in third behind the Likud with 46 seats and Alignment (Labor plus Mapam) with 32 seats. The DMC collapsed within three years, allowing Labor to rebound in the next election. Labor and Likud dominated Israeli politics until 2003 when Labor went into sudden decline due to a backlash against the failed Oslo peace process and the outbreak of the Al-Aksa Intifada.
  • ROC presidential election, 2000 (Taiwan) — Chen Shui-bian
    • Though more popular and consistently ranked higher in the polls, James Soong failed to gain the ruling Kuomintang's (KMT) nomination over incumbent Vice President Lien Chan. As a result, he announced his candidacy as an independent candidate, and was consequently expelled from the party. The split in the KMT vote resulted in a victory for Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party, even though he won only 39% of the popular vote. After the election, Soong founded the People First Party, which attracted members from the KMT and the pro-unification New Party, which was by that time beginning to fade. Angry from the defeat, the KMT expelled chairman Lee Teng-hui, who was president until 2000 and was widely suspected of causing the KMT split so that Chen would win. Lee then founded the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union. The impact of these events changed the political landscape of Taiwan. Not only did the KMT lose the presidency for the first time in half a century, but its policies swung away from Lee's influence and it began intra-party reform. The two newly founded parties became far more viable than other minor parties in the past, and the multi-party nature of Taiwan's politics was confirmed by the legislative elections of 2001. The KMT would not return to power until 2008 under the leadership of Ma Ying-jeou.
  • Turkish general election, 2002 (Justice and Development Party victory)
  • Palestinian legislative election, 2006 (Palestinian National Authority) – Hamas victory; Ismail Haniyeh Prime Minister
    • In January 2006 the militant Hamas organization, classified as a terrorist group by the United States government and other groups, won a landslide victory over the ruling Fatah party which had been in power under the leadership of former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. The Bush Administration, the Quartet, and Israel all threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas refused to abandon terrorist tactics and recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist. This concession, though discussed in Hamas circles, did not come about soon enough to prevent a serious breakdown in services under Hamas government, and Western (especially American) support of Fatah paramilitaries eventually led to the breakout of the Fatah–Hamas conflict (termed a "Palestinian Civil War" by some) in December 2006. The Hamas government was suspended by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, a member of Fatah, after some weeks of fighting, and installed a caretaker government under the leadership of Salam Fayyad.


Latin America

  • Brazilian general election, 2002 - According to political theorist and former spokesman of the Brazilian Presidency (2003-2007) André Singer, the rise to power of the Worker's Party (PT) and the subsequent creation and expansion of income redistribution policies (Bolsa Família, minimum wage increases, etc.) has realigned the Brazilian political scene. Even in the event of an electoral defeat of the ruling party, it is argued, no president would risk reverting Lula's programs, for fear of the reaction of the lower classes.[49] Lula's victory in 2002 marked the beginning of the first left-wing government since 1964.


  • Australian federal election, 1972Labor victory; Gough Whitlam Prime Minister
    • After twenty-three years of Liberal rule, the Labor Party took power in 1972, with the slogan, 'It's Time'. The significance of this election was broader than merely a change of partisan rule; new issues, such as the environment, Aboriginal affairs, abortion, multiculturalism, and a broader acceptance of state spending, resulted from the Whitlam government, which in many respects created a bipartisan consensus on major issues of social policy. Although the Whitlam government was relatively brief, its policy legacy—in creating new government policies for society and culture—lasted in many respects to the 1996 election, and even to the present day.
  • Australian federal election, 1996Liberal victory; John Howard Prime Minister
    • The recent Australian political spectrum has consisted of two major parties, the conservative Liberal Party of Australia and the democratic socialist Australian Labor Party (ALP) although as of late Labor has been more aligned with the third way. This election followed Labor's re-election in the 1993 election which was termed the "unwinnable election" for the Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating. It marked the end of the Hawke/Keating Labor government which had been in power for 13 years. During this time the conservative Liberal party had undergone several failed leadership changes including Andrew Peacock in 1984 and 1990, John Howard in 1987 and John Hewson in 1993. The 1996 election saw the ALP lose 31 seats in the House of Representatives with a two-party-preferred result of 46.37%, the lowest for Labor since 1934. The 1996 election was significantly influenced by the demographic coined as the Howard's battlers. These were traditionally lower middle class Labor party voters who felt that the ALP was no longer giving them the recognition they deserve. Notorious demographics which fell in 1996 were outer suburb mortgage belt areas. Howard's battlers played a part in the 2007 election where the ALP under Kevin Rudd was returned to power. Large gains made by Labor took place in many of former Liberal strongholds in the mortgage belt due to various issues common with the 1996 election in terms of general dissatisfaction as well as high interest rates.
  • New Zealand general election, 1984Labour victory; David Lange Prime Minister
    • The election of the Labour Government under the leadership of David Lange and Roger Douglas, brought about radical economic reform, moving New Zealand from what had probably been one of the most protected, regulated and state-dominated system of any capitalist democracy to an extreme position at the open, competitive, free-market end of the spectrum.

See also

Notes and references

  1. Jenkins et al. 2006
  2. Schafer (1991); Rosenof (2003)
  3. Reichley, A. James (2000). The Life of the Parties (Paperback ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 8–12. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Sundquist (1982); Rosenof (2003)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Silbey (1991)
  6. Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850s (1978)
  7. Robert J. Dinkin, Campaigning in America: A History of Election Practices (1989)
  8. Lewis L. Gould, "New Perspectives on the Republican Party, 1877–1913," American Historical Review, Vol. 77, No. 4 (Oct., 1972), pp. 1074–1082
  9. Burnham (1986)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Schafer (1991)
  11. Mayhew (2004); Rosenof (2003); Shafer (1991)
  12. Perlstein, Rick (2008). Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-4302-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>; Rosenof (2003); Shafer (1991)
  13. Perlstein, Nixonland (2008);
  14. Kleppner (1981)
  15. Rosenof (2003); Schafer (1991)
  16. Abramowitz and Saunders (1998)
  17. Krugman, Paul. The Conscience of a Liberal. New York City; W. W. Norton, 2007. Print.
  18. "Morning Joe". MSNBC. Retrieved 2012-03-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Opinion: despite 'autopsy,' GOP could have revival in 2014". Politico. April 7, 2013. Retrieved May 22, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Jenkins et al. (2006)
  21. Ruth Murray Brown, For a Christian America: A History of the Religious Right (2002)
  22. Peter Applebome (11 November 1994). "THE 1994 ELECTIONS: THE SOUTH; The Rising G.O.P. Tide Overwhelms the Democratic Levees in the South". New York Times. Retrieved 22 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Obama in Reagan's shadow". The Week. Retrieved 2012-03-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "End Times for Reaganism". The Week. Retrieved 2012-03-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Nichols, John (November 9, 2012). "Obama's 3 Million Vote, Electoral College Landslide, Majority of States Mandate". The Nation. Retrieved November 18, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Zeleny, Jeff; Rutenberg, Jim (November 6, 2012). "Divided U.S. Gives Obama More Time". The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Pierog, Karen. "Republicans gain big in state legislative elections | Reuters". Reuters. Retrieved November 20, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "Nearly half of Americans will now live in states under total GOP control". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 20, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. "The Other GOP Wave: State Legislatures &#124". RealClearPolitics. Retrieved November 20, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Ray Argyle, Turning Points: The Campaigns That Changed Canada - 2011 and Before (2011) excerpt and text search 441pp
  31. Behiels cites Tom Flanaganm Harpers Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power (2nd ed. McGill-Queens U.P. 2009); Chantal Hébert, French Kiss: Stephen Harpers Blind Date with Quebec (Knopf Canada, 2007); William Johnson, Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada (2nd ed. McClelland & Stewart, 2006); Lloyd Mackay, Stephen Harper: The Case for Collaborative Governance (ECW Press, 2006); Bob Plamondon, Full Circle: Death and Resurrection in Canadian Conservative Politics (Key Porter Books, 2006); and Paul Wells, Right Side Up: The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harpers New Conservatism (Douglas Gibson Books, 2007)
  32. Michael D. Behiels, "Stephen Harper’s Rise to Power: Will His 'New' Conservative Party Become Canada’s 'Natural Governing Party' of the Twenty-First Century?," American Review of Canadian Studies Vol. 40, No. 1, March 2010, 118–145
  33. Alan Bloomfield and Kim Richard Nossal, "Towards an Explicative Understanding of Strategic Culture: The Cases of Australia and Canada", Contemporary Security Policy, (2007) 28:2, 286 - 307 online
  34. Alain-G. Gagnon, and A. Brain Tanguay, Canadian Parties in Transition (3rd ed. 2007)
  35. Steve Patten, "The Evolution of the Canadian Party System". in Gagnon, and Tanguay, eds. Canadian Parties in Transition pp. 57-58
  36. Stephen Clarkson, The Big Red Machine: How the Liberal Party Dominates Canadian Politics (2005)
  37. Ray Argyle, Turning Points: The Campaigns That Changed Canada - 2011 and Before (2011) excerpt and text search ch 4
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 "Scott Stinson: Redefining the Liberals not a quick process | Full Comment | National Post". 2011-05-06. Retrieved 2012-03-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. 39.0 39.1 "Conrad Black: The full measure of Harper's triumph | Full Comment | National Post". Retrieved 2012-03-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. Wells, Paul (2011-05-04). "The untold story of the 2011 election: Introduction and Chapter 1 - Paul Wells". Retrieved 2012-03-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. "CBC News In Depth: Reality Check - John Gray". 2006-06-13. Retrieved 2012-03-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. William Johnson, Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada (2006) pp 117-19
  43. Ray Argyle, Turning Points: The Campaigns That Changed Canada - 2011 and Before (2011) excerpt and text search ch 1
  44. "Rob Ford's approval rating at 70%: poll | Posted Toronto | National Post". 2011-05-05. Retrieved 2012-03-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  45. "This page is available to GlobePlus subscribers". Retrieved 2012-03-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  46. Economist May 3, 2011
  47. Lawrence Martin, "Harper’s triumph: a realignment of historic proportions, Globe and Mail May 4, 2011
  48. Andrew Coyne, "The West is in and Ontario has joined it: How the election led to an unprecedented realignment of Canadian politics." Maclean's May 6 2011
  49. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Wagner, Matthew L., and Paul White Jr. Parties and Democratic Transitions: The Decline of Dominant and Hegemonic Parties (2014).


  • Heppell, Tim. "The conservative party leadership of David Cameron: Heresthetics and the realignment of British Politics." British Politics 8#3 (2013): 260-284.
  • Hutcheson, Derek S. "The Seismology Of Psephology: 'Earthquake Elections' From The Folketing To The Dáil." Representation 47#4 (2011): 471-488.
  • Keil, Silke, and Oscar Gabriel. "The Baden-Württemberg State Election of 2011: A Political Landslide." German Politics 21.2 (2012): 239-246.
  • White, Timothy J. "The 2011 Irish General Election: Critical, Realigning, Deviating, or Something Else?." Irish Journal of Public Policy 3.2 (2011).


  • Johnston, Richard. "Alignment, Realignment, and Dealignment in Canada: The View From Above." Canadian Journal of Political Science 46.02 (2013): 245-271.
  • Koop, Royce, and Amanda Bittner. "Parties and Elections after 2011 The Fifth Canadian Party System?." Parties, Elections, and the Future of Canadian Politics' (2013): 308+
  • LeDuc, Lawrence. "The federal election in Canada, May 2011." Electoral Studies 31.1 (2012): 239-242.

United States

  • Abramowitz, Alan I. and Kyle L. Saunders. 1998. “Ideological Realignment in the US Electorate.” Journal of Politics 60(3):634–652.
  • Aldrich, John H. 1995. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Party Politics in America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Aldrich, John H. 2000. “Southern Politics in State and Nation.” Journal of Politics 62: 643–670.
  • Bullock, Charles S. III, Donna R. Hoffman and Ronald Keith Gaddie, "Regional Variations in the Realignment of American Politics, 1944–2004," Social Science Quarterly v 87#3 (Sept 2006) pp 494+; Finds both critical and secular realignments at work with different patterns in each region since 1944. Stresses the collapse of Republican hegemony in the Northeast and Pacific West. 1994 election was a realigning election.
  • Burnham, Walter Dean. Critical elections and the mainsprings of American politics (1970) (ISBN 0-393-09962-8)
  • Burnham, Walter Dean. "Periodization Schemes and 'Party Systems': The 'System of 1896' as a Case in Point," Social Science History, Vol. 10, No. 3, (Autumn, 1986), pp. 263–314. in JSTOR
  • Chambers, William Nisbet, and Walter Dean Burnham, eds. American Party Systems: Stages of Political Development (1968) (ISBN 0-19-631662-6)
  • Carmines, Edward G., and James A. Stimson. 1989. Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics. (ISBN 0-69-107802-5)
  • Clubb, Jerome M., William H. Flanigan, Nancy H. Zingale. Partisan Realignment: Voters, Parties, and Government in American History (1990)
  • Cunningham, Sean P. Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right (2010)
  • Gerring, John. Party Ideologies in America, 1828–1996 1998. (ISBN 0-52-178590-1)
  • Gienap, William E. The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852–1856 1987. (ISBN 0-19-505501-2)
  • Holt, Michael F. "The New Political History and the Civil War Era," Reviews in American History, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Mar., 1985), pp. 60–69 in JSTOR</
  • Jensen, Richard J.. Grass Roots Politics: Parties, Issues, and Voters, 1854-1983. Westport: Greenwood, 1983. (ISBN 0-83-716382-X)
  • Jensen, Richard. The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896 1971. (ISBN 0-22-639825-0)
  • Jenkins, Shannon, Douglas D. Roscoe, John P. Frendreis, and Alan R. Gitelson. 2006. "Ten Years After the Revolution: 1994 and Partisan Control of Government" in Green and Coffey, The State of the Parties, 5th ed. (ISBN 0-74-255322-1)
  • Key, V.O. "A Theory of Critical Elections." The Journal of Politics, 1955. 17: 3–18.
  • Kleppner, Paul ed. Evolution of American Electoral Systems (1981) (ISBN 0-31-321379-8)
  • Ladd Jr., Everett Carll with Charles D. Hadley. Transformations of the American Party System: Political Coalitions from the New Deal to the 1970s 2d ed. (1978). (ISBN 0-39-309065-5)
  • Lichtman, Allan J. "Critical elections theory and the reality of American presidential politics, 1916–40." American Historical Review (1976) 81: 317–348. in JSTOR
  • Lichtman, Allan J. "Political Realignment and 'Ethnocultural' Voting in Late Nineteenth Century America," Journal of Social History, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Spring, 1983), pp. 55–82 in JSTOR
  • Manza, Jeff and Clem Brooks; Social Cleavages and Political Change: Voter Alignments and U.S. Party Coalitions, Oxford University Press, 1999 (ISBN 0-19-829492-1)
  • McCormick, Richard P. The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era 1966. (ISBN 0-39-300680-8)
  • Maisel, L. Sandy, ed. Political Parties and Elections in the United States: An Encyclopedia. 1991. (ISBN 0-82-407975-2)
  • Mayhew, David R. Electoral Realignments: A Critique of an American Genre. 2004. (ISBN 0-30-009336-5)
  • Paulson, Arthur. Electoral Realignment and the Outlook for American Democracy (2006) (ISBN 1-55-553667-0)
  • Rosenof, Theodore. Realignment: The Theory That Changed the Way We Think about American Politics (2003) (ISBN 0-74-253105-8)
  • Rapoport, Ronald and Walter Stone. 2005. Three's a Crowd: The Dynamic of Third Parties, Ross Perot, and Republican Resurgence. (ISBN 0-47-211453-0)
  • Saunders, Kyle L. and Alan I. Abramowitz. 2004. “Ideological Realignment and Active Partisans in the American Electorate.” American Politics Research 32(3):285–309.
  • Schafer, Byron (ed.). 1991. "Critical realignment: Dead or alive?" in The End of Realignment (University of Wisconsin Press)
  • Schlozman, Daniel. When Movements Anchor Parties: Electoral Alignments in American History (Princeton University Press, 2015) xiv, 267 pp.
  • Shafer, Byron E. and Anthony J. Badger, eds. Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775–2000 (2001) (ISBN 0-70-061139-8)
  • Sternsher, Bernard. "The New Deal Party System: A Reappraisal," Journal of Interdisciplinary History v.15#1 (Summer, 1984), pp. 53–81 JSTOR
  • Silbey, Joel. The American Political Nation, 1838–1893. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991. (ISBN 0-80-472338-9)
  • Sundquist, James L. Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States (1983) online

External links