To what extent has US voting behaviour changed over the past 25 years and with what impact? Prior to the 1970s the presidential office had been predominantly occupied by elected Democrats, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932-52), John F. Kennedy (1960-1963) and Lyndon B Johnson (1963-68). A dominance built primarily upon the loyalty black in the north and whites in the south, as well as intellectuals, labour union members, ethnic minorities, industrial workers and farmers; emanating from the New Deal Coalition introduced in 1930s.
This policy secured the support of minorities with a moderate welfare programme including greater federal involvement in economic affairs. Difficulties such as racial prejudice and segregation created friction amongst Democratic voters with conflicting interests between northern blacks and southern whites. Protests for racial equality during the 50s and 60s gained support from the Democrats, President Johnson's package of Great Society measures incorporating unheralded voting rights with the creation of the Voting Rights Act (1965).
Furthermore initiatives on various issues such as education, health, employment, housing and welfare convinced blacks to support the Democrats. However, unsurprisingly the move angered the southern white core voters who were destined to lose out, many opted to switch allegiances to the Republicans. This law had huge significance for US politics, previously white politicians could confidently ignore the needs and desires of black citizens, secure in the knowledge this sizeable social group was unable to influence any election outcome.
However this landmark development ensured blacks could no longer continue unnoticed by politicians and making it possible for black candidates to stand for election. During the 1960s, the key issue of the Vietnam War dominated US politics and led to an increase in volatility amongst inner-city industrial workers. Blue-collar employees were angered by the proportion of their children assigned to fight in the war whilst middle-class, college students remained at home, many felt alienated by the Democrats.
Alienated by their party, further affirmative action left southern whites disgruntled, losing employment opportunities, housing and income through heightened taxes to blacks as the Democrats attempted to continue their responsive approach and eradicating racial deficits. Since 1968, America has entertained a primarily Republican tenureship, under Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bushes senior and junior.
Even Bill Clinton (1992-2000) was a moderate conservative Democrat, who's policies appealed more broadly than his earlier predecessors, an approach which allowed him to be successfully re-elected after competition from Republican Bob Dole after his first term. Similarly the Republican Party are more conscious of alienating themselves from sections of the electorate, being vigilant not to pursue hard-line policies.
In modern-day America, Democratic popularity is still prevalent amongst Afro-Americans, Hispanics, Catholics, Jews, women, low-income citizens, union members and the 50+ age category, although the party is hindered a low turnout by these particular social groups. The party's emphasis on welfare and public services remain central to the Democrats' ideology. Whilst Republican core voters remain amongst whites, Protestants, middle and upper classes who favour more traditional values concerning defence, low taxation and crime reduction.
The growth of the educated, middle-class particularly in the mid-west has strengthened the Republican election prowess, with improved wages the issue of taxation was of greater importance. The prominence of the Christian Right in the party represents a serious dilemma for the Republicans; desperate to retain the support these religious fundamentalists who are notorious for their dependence and ability to mobilise additional voters, whilst ensuring the party does not isolate itself from swing voters. It is accepted that class motivated voting behaviour can dictate American elections.
During the 1920s and 30s, the New Deal aided the underprivileged, blacks, ethnic minorities, farmers and industrial workers; this established a direct relationship between class and party allegiance, although it has subsided over the 20th century and is now far less significant. In contrast, the majority of non-manual workers favour the Republican Party. Such voting is most prevalent amongst older, or uneducated, or traditional sections of the electorate or during election campaigns when economic issues are at the forefront of debate.
Today in America far more individuals are employed in white-collar industries, for example, telecommunications, administration and finance, simultaneously manual workers are decreasing; such developments have an influence upon voting behaviour. Ideological voting is of less significance than thirty years ago similar to the trend in the UK; party identification has declined, explaining the rise in independents and swing voters who fluctuate between the two parties. One distinguishing feature of American voting behaviour is the increase of rational choice in determining party selection.
Voters appear willing to 'split their ticket'; supporting candidates from different parties depending on the election. Retrospective voting is prominent, frequently Americans are content to re-elect a president if their individual economic situation has been enhanced during his tenure. Education, income, occupation, race/ethnicity, family background and welfare still represent decisive factors in voting behaviour. Similarly crucial policy areas concerning abortion, gun controls, foreign policy and campaign finance reforms are key to enticing more volatile, swing voters.
Other less influential, fluctuating factors, are taken into consideration by voters including the public persona, strength of leadership and prospective policies of the presidential candidate, an indisputable effect of the greater media coverage of US politics. JFK's assassination, had an unprecedented impact on the 1964, a national wave of sympathy ensuring his Vice-President, Lyndon B. Johnson an emphatic victory, winning 42 out of 50 states. The results also highlighted the southern, Republican heartland, five states remained solid Republican despite the circumstances.
The New Deal Coalition has lapsed and Democrats can no longer be guaranteed the blue-collar workers vote; a massive problem for the Democrats. Whites voters in southern states adopt a mainly conservative political stance, opposed to abortion, gay rights and pro-tax cuts. Additionally they heavily support the military, viewing it as a means of employment for the poor and ethnic minorities, as well as voicing strong claims for more effective and expanded missile defences. Mid-west industrial workers in cities such as Michigan and Chicago, middle-class whites represent key battleground for the two parties.
Voting behaviour is a subject of huge intrigue and importance in American politics; the two parties spend millions of dollars employing analysts to understand the choices of the electorate. Republican core voters have risen as the average American is wealthier, in contrast the proportion of Democrat core voters has fallen, blacks are richer, better-educated, employed in the big industries and are now inclined to deviate towards the Republicans. However unquestionably the desertion of the Democrats by the white south has been the most significant impact of US politics in recent years.