Fifth Party System

← Fourth 19321980 Sixth →

United States presidential election results between 1932 and 1960 (Fifth Party System) and 1964 to 1976 (Dealignment). Blue shaded states usually voted for the Democratic Party, while red shaded states usually voted for the Republican Party.

The Fifth Party System, also known as the New Deal Party System, is the era of American national politics that began with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to President of the United States in 1932. Roosevelt's implementation of his popular New Deal expanded the size and power of the federal government to an extent unprecedented in American history, and marked the beginning of political dominance by the Democratic Party that would remain largely unbroken until 1952. This period also began the ideological swapping of Democrats and Republicans into their modern versions, largely due to most Black voters switching from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, while most conservative, White, usually southern Democrats shifted to the Republican Party as Democrats began increasingly prioritizing civil rights; this process accelerated into the 1960s.[1] The Fifth Party System followed the Fourth Party System, also known as the Progressive Era, and was itself followed by the Sixth Party System.


The onset of the Great Depression undermined the confidence of business in Republican promises of prosperity. The four consecutive elections of Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the Democrats virtually uncontested dominance. By the time of their sweeping victory in 1936, the Party had become dominated by the New Deal Coalition, remaining unchallenged until Dwight D. Eisenhower led Republicans to victory in 1952.[2]

Despite the power of the New Dealers, the conservative coalition, comprising northern Republicans and southern Democrats, generally controlled Congress from 1938 to 1964.[3] Nevertheless, the New Deal Coalition quickly grew to include a range of politicians unusual at the time for its diversity. Although still broadly consisting of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants who dominated the conservative coalition as well, New Dealers also grew to include new ethno-religious constituencies, such as Catholics and Jews, in addition to liberal White southerners, trade unionists, urban machinists, progressive intellectuals, populist farm groups, and even some ex-Republicans from the Northeast. These groups all became primary voting blocs of the Democratic Party that are still dominant in the modern era.[4]

The Republican Party underwent a dramatic ideological change of its own during this period, consisting of a conservative wing led by Senator Robert A. Taft and then Barry Goldwater, and a liberal wing led by Thomas Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller, Earl Warren, Jacob Javits, George W. Romney, William Scranton, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., and Prescott Bush. The liberal wing experienced more electoral victories than the conservatives until the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, marking conservative Republicans' first major victory, as Eisenhower had been more aligned with the Party's liberal wing.[5][6] Despite his rhetoric, Nixon continued and expanded on liberal policies stating in 1971 "We are all Keynesians now". However, Nixon's implication in the Watergate scandal ruined him and badly damaged public perception of the Republican Party nationwide until 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president and successfully revitalized the party, as well as effectively swept away the last remnants of its liberal wing, who had all switched to the Democratic Party by this time. For this reason, Reagan's election is widely regarded as marking the end of the Fifth Party System and the beginning of the Sixth Party System that arguably continues today.[7]


United States presidential election results between 1932 and 1976 (One possible span for the Fifth Party System).

The party system model with its numbering and demarcation of the historical systems was introduced in 1967 by Chambers and Burnham.[8] Much of the work published on the subject has been by political scientists explaining the events of their time as either the imminent breakup of the Fifth Party System, and the installation of a new one, or suggesting that this transition had already taken place some time ago.[9] The notion of an end to the Fifth Party system was particularly popular in the 1970s, with some specifying a culminating date as early as 1960.[10]

In Parties and Elections in America: The Electoral Process (2011), authors L. Sandy Maisel and Mark D. Brewer argue that the consensus among experts is that the Sixth System is underway based on American electoral politics since the 1960s:

Although most in the field now believe we are in a sixth party system, there is a fair amount of disagreement about how exactly we arrived at this new system and about its particular contours. Scholars do, however, agree that there has been significant change in American electoral politics since the 1960s.[11]

Opinions on when the Fifth Party System ended include the following: The elections of 1966 to 1968; the election of 1972; the 1980s, when both parties began to become more unified and partisan; and the 1990s, due to cultural divisions.[12][13][14][15]

Stephen Craig argues for the 1972 elections when Richard Nixon won a 49-state landslide. He notes that, "There seems to be consensus on the appropriate name for the sixth party system... Changes that occurred during the 1960s were so great and so pervasive that they cry out to be called a critical-election period. The new system of candidate-centered parties is so distinct and so portentous that one can no longer deny its existence or its character."[15]

The Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History dates the start of the Sixth Party system in 1980, with the election of Reagan and a Republican Senate.[16] Arthur Paulson argues, "Whether electoral change since the 1960s is called 'realignment' or not, the 'sixth party system' emerged between 1964 and 1972."[17]

See also


  1. ^ Kersh, Rogan; Morone, James (2019). "By the People: Debating American Government". Oxford Handbooks Online: 406 (of 823).
  2. ^ Paul Kleppner et al. The Evolution of American Electoral Systems pp 219–225.
  3. ^ V.O. Key, Jr., Southern Politics in State and Nation (1949) ch 1.
  4. ^ Thomas Ferguson, "From normalcy to New Deal: Industrial structure, party competition, and American public policy in the Great Depression." International Organization 38.1 (1984): 41-94.
  5. ^ Lewis L. Gould, 1968: The Election That Changed America (2010).
  6. ^ Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2010)
  7. ^ Rick Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (2014)
  8. ^ William N. Chambers and Walter D. Burnham, eds. American Party Systems (1967).
  9. ^ e.g., Paulson (2006) argues that a decisive realignment took place in the late 1960s.
  10. ^ Aldrich (1999).
  11. ^ L. Sandy Maisel; Mark D. Brewer (2011). Parties and Elections in America: The Electoral Process (6th ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. p. 42. ISBN 9781442207707.
  12. ^ "What is the sixth party system". 19 May 2011.
  13. ^ "The Sixth Party System in American Politics (1976–2012)".
  14. ^ Alex Copulsky (July 24, 2013). "Perpetual Crisis and the Sixth Party System".
  15. ^ a b Stephen C. Craig, Broken Contract? Changing Relationships between Americans and Their Government (1996) p. 105
  16. ^ Michael Kazin, et al. eds, The Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History (2009) Vol. 2, pg. 288
  17. ^ Arthur Paulson, "Party change and the shifting dynamics in presidential nominations: The Lessons of 2008." Polity 41.3 (2009): 312-330, quoting page 314.

Further reading

  • Allswang, John M. New Deal and American Politics (1978), statistical analysis of votes
  • Andersen, Kristi. The Creation of a Democratic Majority, 1928–1936 (1979), statistical analysis of polls
  • Bibby, John F. "Party Organizations, 1946–1996", in Byron E. Shafer, ed. Partisan Approaches to Postwar American Politics, (1998)
  • Cantril, Hadley and Mildred Strunk, eds. Public Opinion, 1935–1946 (1951). (A massive compilation of public opinion polls; online.)
  • Caraley, Demetrios James, "Three Trends Over Eight Presidential Elections, 1980–2008: Toward the Emergence of a Democratic Majority Realignment?", Political Science Quarterly, 124 (Fall 2009), 423–42
  • Fraser, Steve, and Gary Gerstle, eds. The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930–1980 (1990); essays on broad topics.
  • Gallup, George. The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion, 1935–1971 (3 vol 1972)
  • Geer, John G. "New Deal Issues and the American Electorate, 1952–1988", Political Behavior, 14#1 (March 1992), pp. 45–65 JSTOR 586295.
  • Gershtenson, Joseph. "Mobilization Strategies of the Democrats and Republicans, 1956–2000", Political Research Quarterly Vol. 56, No. 3 (Sep. 2003), pp. 293–308. JSTOR 3219790.
  • Green, John C. and Paul S. Herrnson. "Party Development in the Twentieth Century: Laying the Foundations for Responsible Party Government?" (2000)
  • Hamby, Alonzo. Liberalism and Its Challengers: From F.D.R. to Bush (1992).
  • Jensen, Richard. "The Last Party System: Decay of Consensus, 1932–1980", in The Evolution of American Electoral Systems (Paul Kleppner et al. eds.) (1981) pp. 219–225.
  • Kazin, Michael. What It Took to Win: A History of the Democratic Party (2022)excerpt
  • Ladd, Everett Carll Jr., with Charles D. Hadley. Transformations of the American Party System: Political Coalitions from the New Deal to the 1970s 2nd ed. (1978).
  • Leuchtenburg, William E. In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to George W. Bush (2001)
  • Levine, Jeffrey; Carmines, Edward G.; and Huckfeldt, Robert. "The Rise of Ideology in the Post-New Deal Party System, 1972–1992". American Politics Quarterly (1997) 25(1): 19–34. ISSN 0044-7803. Argues that the social basis of the New Deal party system has weakened. The result is ideology shapes partisan support.
  • Manza, Jeff and Clem Brooks; Social Cleavages and Political Change: Voter Alignments and U.S. Party Coalitions. Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Manza, Jeff; "Political Sociological Models of the U.S. New Deal". Annual Review of Sociology, 2000. pp. 297+
  • Milkis, Sidney M. and Jerome M. Mileur, eds. The New Deal and the Triumph of Liberalism (2002)
  • Milkis, Sidney M. The President and the Parties: The Transformation of the American Party System Since the New Deal (1993)
  • Murphy, Paul L. ed. "The New Deal Realignment and the Fifth-Party System, 1928-1948" in Paul L. Murphy, ed., Political Parties in American History: 1890-present (vol 3. 1974) pp. 1109-1246.
  • Paulson, Arthur. Electoral Realignment and the Outlook for American Democracy (2006)
  • Pederson, William D. ed. A Companion to Franklin D. Roosevelt (Blackwell Companions to American History) (2011)
  • Riccards, Michael P., and Cheryl A. Flagg eds. Party Politics in the Age of Roosevelt: The Making of Modern America (2022) excerpt
  • Robinson, Edgar Eugene. They Voted for Roosevelt: The Presidential Vote, 1932–1944 (1947). Statistical tables of votes by county.
  • Schlesinger, Arthur Jr., ed. History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008 (2011). 3 vol and 11 vol editions; detailed analysis of each election, with primary documents; online v. 1. 1789–1824 – v. 2. 1824–1844 – v. 3. 1848–1868 – v. 4. 1872–1888 – v. 5. 1892–1908 – v. 6. 1912–1924 – v. 7. 1928–1940 – v. 8. 1944–1956 – v. 9. 1960–1968 – v. 10. 1972–1984 – v. 11. 1988–001
  • Shafer, Byron E. and Anthony J. Badger, eds. Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775–2000 (2001)
  • Sternsher, Bernard. "The New Deal Party System: A Reappraisal". Journal of Interdisciplinary History v.15#1 (Summer 1984), pp. 53–81. JSTOR 203594.
  • Sternsher, Bernard. "The Emergence of the New Deal Party System: A Problem in Historical Analysis of Voter Behavior". Journal of Interdisciplinary History, v.6#1 (Summer 1975), pp. 127–49. JSTOR 202828.
  • Sitkoff, Harvard. "Harry Truman and the Election of 1948: The Coming of Age of Civil Rights in American Politics". Journal of Southern History Vol. 37, No. 4 (Nov. 1971), pp. 597–616 JSTOR 2206548.
  • Sundquist, James L. Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States, (1983)