, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 237-282

Explaining Women's Rights Realignment: Convention Delegates, 1972–1992

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Since the early 1970s, the major American parties have moved from general consensus on women's rights issues to sharp polarization. While previous efforts to explain this realignment have identified pieces of the puzzle, these explanations have been generally incomplete and atheoretical. I argue that party positions are determined by the perceived value of specific issue positions for maintaining and expanding the party's coalition of electoral support. Thus, changes in both the composition of the party's coalition and the way the issue is defined and understood can bring about changes in the issue positions adopted by parties. Using the Convention Delegate Studies (1972–1992), this research suggests that both replacement (coalition change) and in the case of Democrats, conversion (caused by issue change) have been important mechanisms for bringing about party realignment on women's rights. This explanation both encompasses causal factors highlighted by previous scholars and points to other important contributing causes.