Much scholarship in political science on electoral change tends to neglect the perspectives and actions of the politicians who both responded to developments that offered them opportunity, and sought to achieve electoral gain as a result. The study of the Republican party from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush suggests that such neglect has negative consequences for our understanding of how electoral coalitions undergo transformation, and of how parties interact with political change. First, it was much more difficult for politicians to analyze the implications for party coalitions of social and political upheavals than hindsight suggests. Even at a moment of apparent crisis for the Democrats, in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Republicans were uncertain, and in disagreement, about how to respond. Second, even when politicians decided a project of party revitalization, the implementation of such a project was far from straightforward, encountering many obstacles – not least dissent within their own party as well as counterstrategies from the opposing party. If many now see the paradigm of electoral realignment as failing to provide explanations for change in party coalitions over time, how politicians engaged with their understanding of an opportunity for realignment provides insights into party politics and electoral change.
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