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That change began with the 1932 presidential campaign of Franklin Delano Roosevelt . FDR determined that his best path toward victory was to create a new coalition based not on region or ethnicity, but on the suffering of those hurt the most during the Great Depression. This alignment sought to bring African American voters in as a means of shoring up support in major urban areas and the Midwest, where many southern blacks had migrated in the decades after the Civil War in search of jobs and better education for their children, as well as to avoid many of the legal restrictions placed on them in the South. Roosevelt accomplished this realignment by promising assistance to those hurt most by the Depression, including African Americans.

The strategy worked. Roosevelt won the election with almost 58 percent of the popular vote and 472 Electoral College votes, compared to incumbent Herbert Hoover’s 59. The 1932 election is considered an example of a critical election    , one that represents a sudden, clear, and long-term shift in voter allegiances. After this election, the political parties were largely identified as being divided by differences in their members’ socio-economic status. Those who favor stability of the current political and economic system tend to vote Republican, whereas those who would most benefit from changing the system usually favor Democratic candidates. Based on this alignment, the Democratic Party won the next five consecutive presidential elections and was able to build a political machine that dominated Congress into the 1990s, including holding an uninterrupted majority in the House of Representatives from 1954 until 1994.

The realignment of the parties did have consequences for Democrats. African Americans became an increasingly important part of the Democratic coalition in the 1940s through the 1960s, as the party took steps to support civil rights.

Philip Bump, “When Did Black Americans Start Voting So Heavily Democratic?” The Washington Post , 7 July 2015.
Most changes were limited to the state level at first, but as civil rights reform moved to the national stage, rifts between northern and southern Democrats began to emerge.
Edward Carmines and James Stimson. 1989. Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politic s. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Southern Democrats became increasingly convinced that national efforts to provide social welfare and encourage racial integration were violating state sovereignty and social norms. By the 1970s, many had begun to shift their allegiance to the Republican Party, whose pro-business wing shared their opposition to the growing encroachment of the national government into what they viewed as state and local matters.
Ian Haney-Lopez, “How the GOP Became the ‘White Man’s Party,’” 22 December 2013, https://www.salon.com/2013/12/22/how_the_gop_became_the_white_mans_party/ (March 16, 2016).

Almost fifty years after it had begun, the realignment of the two political parties resulted in the flipping of post-Civil War allegiances, with urban areas and the Northeast now solidly Democratic, and the South and rural areas overwhelmingly voting Republican. The result today is a political system that provides Republicans with considerable advantages in rural areas and most parts of the Deep South.

Nate Cohn, “Demise of the Southern Democrat is Now Nearly Complete,” The New York Times , 4 December 2014.
Democrats dominate urban politics and those parts of the South, known as the Black Belt, where the majority of residents are African American.

Summary

Electoral rules, such as the use of plurality voting, have helped turn the United States into a two-party system dominated by the Republicans and the Democrats. Several minor parties have attempted to challenge the status quo, but usually they have only been spoilers that served to divide party coalitions. But this doesn’t mean the party system has always been stable; party coalitions have shifted several times in the past two hundred years.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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