The Mid-Term Election of 1994: An Upheaval in Search of a Framework

  • Byron E. Shafer


A lot of cheap conventional wisdom about American politics was slain by the mid-term election of 1994. Indeed, the death of these conventional grand explanations stands as one of two unequivocally beneficial outcomes of that election. Such ‘explanations’ included hoary old chestnuts like ‘All politics is local’, and trendy insider lore like ‘The House of Representatives is constitutionally Democratic’. And they included noxious new aspirants like ‘It’s the economy, stupid’. Their passing remains an unequivocal abstract benefit.


American Politics Vote Share Congressional Election Divided Government Democratic President 
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  1. 1.
    The fountainhead for all such work is Angus Campbell, ‘Surge and Decline: A Study of Electoral Change’, Public Opinion Quarterly 24 (Fall 1960), pp. 397–418.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    James E. Campbell, The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    A huge amount of the relevant literature is mobilised, and the 1994 election placed within its context as well, in Paul R. Abramson, John H. Aldrich and David W. Rhode, Change and Continuity in the 1992 Elections, rev. edn (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Landmarks in this perspective include Walter Dean Burnham, Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 1970), and James L. Sundquist, Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1973).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The debate over its applicability can be sampled in Byron E. Shafer, ed., The End of Realignment? Interpreting American Electoral Eras (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991); the attack is most richly exemplified in Joel H. Silbey, The American Political Nation, 1838–1893 (Standford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For an even more portentous analysis of the crime bill and the crime issue, see Holly Idelson, ‘An Era Comes to a Close: Costly victory on crime bill exposes Democratic weakness, foreshadows GOP takeover’, Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, 23 December 1995, pp. 3871–3.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Byron E. Shafer and William J. M. Claggett, The Two Majorities: The Issue Context of Modern American Politics (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The cultural pattern — for a ‘bicoastal coalition’ — comes through clearly in, for example, Joel Garreau, The Nine Nations of North America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981); the economic coalitions stemming from the New Deal alignment are even more explicit and clearer in Everett Carll Ladd, American Political Parties: Social Change and Political Response (New York: W.W. Norton, 1970).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Regional rankings for cultural conservatism (and liberalism) are developed from the data in Shafer and Claggett, The Two Majorities.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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  • Byron E. Shafer

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