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  • When Movements Anchor Parties: Electoral Alignments in American History by Daniel Schlozman
  • Russell Muirhead
When Movements Anchor Parties: Electoral Alignments in American History. By Daniel Schlozman (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2015) 288 pp. $95.00 cloth $29.95 paper

Only by aligning with parties can movements create the possibility of not merely influencing policy but of transforming a polity. Only through [End Page 239] parties, Schlozman argues, can social movements in the United States hope to rule. Movements, which are evanescent, rarely lasting for even a generation, must “confront parties” if they are to exercise any lasting influence over law and policy (18). In this confrontation, movements offer ideas, connections to social groups and voters, volunteers, and money. Parties, in return, offer power, or the chance to shape the “contours of politics” (242, 246).

In the nineteenth century, parties had independent access to the resources necessary to obtain and maintain political office: They had their own money, their own organization, and their own benefits (like patronage jobs) with which to reward their supporters. But the reform of the Progressive Era left parties less autonomous and more dependent on outside groups for the resources and connections necessary to win elections. As a result, each of the great parties in American politics came to depend on—and be defined by—a social movement that anchored it in society: The Democratic Party was anchored by labor unions, beginning in the New Deal, and the Republican Party was anchored by white evangelicals, starting with the time of Ronald Reagan.

In a series of exquisitely detailed chapters that form the heart of the book, Schlozman gives a powerful account of the intimate and sometimes tense relationship between the Democrats and labor on the one hand, and the Republican Party and evangelicals on the other. Each is a story of mutual cooptation, in which victory and influence are offset by chastened ideals and frequent frustrations. Schlozman couples his historical account to a simple rational-choice framework wherein movement and party leaders ally only when it is in the interest of each to do so. The tricky thing for all involved is that these interests are difficult to discern, and pursuing them involves risk, judgment, and political skill, or the ability to “leverage opportunities at critical junctures” (106).

As Schlozman’s analysis shows, the alliances of American parties and social movements need not have unfolded as they did. The Democratic Party and the unions might not have found a way to work together. Nor were evangelicals forced to marry the Republican Party. The outcome, which profoundly shaped the electoral alignments that define American politics today, was the product of a series of unforced strategic choices made by movement entrepreneurs and partisans in turn. To amplify the point, Schlozman pays careful attention to a series of movements that failed to anchor parties, such as the abolitionists and Republicans following the Civil War, the Populists and the Democrats at the turn of the twentieth century, and the antiwar activists and Democrats in the 1960s and 1970s.

As this book reveals, the movements that have anchored the Republican and Democratic parties—evangelical churches and unions—are themselves struggling to retain their hold on society. In part because the Democratic Party never succeeded in establishing a legal regime favorable to unions, and in part because unions themselves have come under attack (first by Republicans in power and more recently by both [End Page 240] Democrats and Republicans), the share of the labor force that belongs to unions is at a 100-year low. Amid the forces of secularization, evangelical religion’s hold is also weakening. Unions and churches continue to offer parties brute resources—money, volunteers, and organizing capacity—but they may not be offering the same kind of anchor, or tether into the society, that they did in the past.

Without these anchors, the parties themselves will become like marketing machines—merely “brands” that convey a bit of information but fail to connect to society, thus threatening to sever the state from the interests of ordinary citizens. Movements need parties if they are to have any chance of transforming the polity, and parties need movements if they are...


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pp. 239-241
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