Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Kenneth Bickers

Abstract

Over the past half century America’s two party system has undergone significant geographic, ideological and demographic shifts. The Democratic Party that once had a strong support base of working class whites and southerners, has now become a party comprised of mostly progressives and racial minorities. I expected that the decline of private sector unions over the past fifty years was contributing to a pattern of working class whites abandoning the contemporary Democratic Party. Moreover I expected the fall in labor membership numbers along with a rise in white collar unions at the expense of traditional manufacturing organizations, to affect the ability of labor leaders to politically mobilize members in the same successful manner that characterized much of the mid 20th century. In testing these expectations I gathered ANES survey data from the 1960 and 2008 election cycles and created a number of variables that would paint a picture of the electoral environment in both years. What I found was that racial polarization between the two parties had replaced the traditional class divisions that had existed for over a century. Across the country, the binding relationship that once existed between working voters and the Democratic Party had disappeared. The splintering of the working class vote has been compounded by consistently low voter turnout among poorly educated individuals relative to individuals with a college background. This paper reveals the increased political isolation of working class voters and the emergence of a highly racially polarized two party system.

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