Winders_voting

Winders_voting - .. . l . Sf”??? ,_ 4 The Roller Coaster...

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Unformatted text preview: .. . l . Sf”??? ,_ 4 The Roller Coaster of Class Conflict: M“ ' %)L’”Ra ' My ’ Class Segments, Mass Mobilization, and Voter Turnout in the U.S., 1840—1996* This Material May be Protected by Copyfigl” law ma. :1 us. code) APR 0 5 2004 £1“ , BILL WINDERS, Emory University Abstract Most attempts to explain voter turnout in presidential elections focus on either oftwu general types of factors: individual characteristics of voters or the "shape" of political institutions. This article moves beyond such analyses by applying insights ofclass segment and social movement analyses to US. voter turnout from 1840 to I 996. Beginning with political changes in the late [8005, l isolatefour periods during which turnout rates changed significantly: 1896-1924, 1928-40, 1948-68, and 1960-96. l demonstrate how (I) conflict or consolidation between dominant class segments and (2) the presence or absence of mass social movements combine to influence the amount ofnmlnlizn/ion by political parties, which is crucial to voter turnout. When social movements challenge conflicting dominant segments, party mobilization often increases to channel protest into electoral politics, thereby increasing turnout. In the 1996 US. presidential election, a mere 49% of the voting-age population went to the polls. Not since 1924 had a majority ofeligible voters abstained from a presidential election. This historic low turnout is part of a larger decline that began in the 19605. What factors account for the current period of decline in voter turnout? Scholars and political analysts generally emphasize two types oflactors to explain voter turnout: individual attributes, such as demographics, individual " I am grateful to Rick Rttbinsott for providing thorough comments and general guidance throughout this project. [also thank Iohn lioli. Frances I-‘ox l’ivrn. Charles 'l‘illy. ltinrylveth Stat/v. Kristin Marsh, and participants of the Sociology Department Seminar at limory Universityjor their comments. Direct all correspondence to liill Winders, Department of Sodding): Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, 30.322. Email: wwindrrG‘emoryedu. . l V - © The University of North Carolina Press Social Forces, March I999, 77(3):833-6ii 834 / Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 attitudes, and cultural values (e.g.,Abramson 8r Aldrich 1982; Teixeira 1987); and political institutions, including political systems, party structures, and election procedures (e.g., Iackman 8: Miller 1995; Rosenstonc 8r Wolfmger 1978). These approaches, however, fail to place current voter turnout in an adequate historical context and, consequently, ignore the causal significance of class struggle on voter turnout. Using insights from class segment (Moore [1966] 1993; Prechel 1990; Rubinson 1978, 1986) and social movement (Bloom 1987; McAdam 1982; Morris 1984; Tarrow 1998) analyses, I argue that the fluctuations of voter turnout throughout US. history are partly a function of ongoing class struggles. In this regard, three processes are central to explaining contours in voter turnout throughout US. history: conflict and consolidation among dominant class segments; social m0vements; and, demobilization of and by political parties. These processes affect the amount of political mobilization (cf. Shefter 1984), thereby guiding the significant shifts in turnout. Individual-level and political institutional perspectives tend to overlook and understate the importance of mass mobilization to voter turnout. Groups and organizations that draw people into politics are central to producing high turnout, but political mobilization is not constant. Political and economic contexts regulate political mobilization. Current political institutions promote relatively little mobilization largely because political parties are weak in this regard.l Even this institutional perspective on mobilization overlooks the crucial role of class conflict. Political institutions (and the resulting degree of mass mobilization) do not exist a priori or emerge in a social vacuum; they are consequences of previous class struggles. To explain voter turnout more completely, we must understand how class conflict shapes political institutions. Further and perhaps more important, class conflict affects mobilization within the context of particular political institutions. Class forces affect turnout in two important ways: (1) by shaping the political institutions and (2) by promoting or depressing mobilization within particular political contexts. Using this foundation for my analysis, I show how a class segment perspective encompasses and underlies important aspects of individual-level and political institutional explanations of turnout. After a comparative and historical description of turnout in recent US. presidential elections, I critically examine the individual- level and political institutional explanations of voter turnout. I then discuss insights from class segment and social movement perspectives. After developing these arguments, I analyze class conflict and sharp changes in voter turnout during three historical periods: 1896-1924, 1928-40, and 1948-68. Finally, I apply the arguments about class conflict to the current period ofdeclining turnout, 1960-96.2 Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 835 11.8. Thrnout in Comparative and Historical Perspective U.S. voter turnout has been falling since the 19605. After reaching 65% of the voting- age population in 1960, turnout decreased to 57% in 1972, 53% in 1988, and most recently 49% in 1996 (see Table 1). However, the low turnout rates of the last thirty years — and especially that of 1996 —— neither are the norm for democracies nor have they always been characteristic of the US. Compared to other “western industrialized” democracies, the US. has had low voter turnout for most of this century. Table 2 shows average turnout rates for various western industrialized democracies in the 19805. During this decade, an average of 53% of those eligible voted in US. presidential elections. In national elections during this same period, Belgium, Australia, and Austria had average voter turnout rates of 90% or higher; New Zealand, Sweden, West Germany, and Denmark had average rates above 85%.3 Among the countries in Table 2, France, the UK, and Canada had lower than average turnout rates in the 19805. Yet, in recent (1997) national elections, each of these countries had turnout rates significantly greater than that of the 1996 U.S. election: France, 71%; the U.K., 71%; Canada, 66% (compared with the recent 49% turnout for the U.S.). Thrnout in the US. is small even compared with some less industrialized democracies. For example, in recent national elections, Cambodia and Nicaragua had turnouts of 90% and 80%, respectively. Thus, according to these data, the US. has exceptionally low voter turnout. But this has not always been the case. - While recent voter turnout in the US. is exceptionally low, turnout in the past has exceeded 80%. Table 1 and Figure 1 both present voter turnout levels for US. presidential elections from 1840 to 1996. In the sixteen elections from 1840 to 1900, turnout averaged 78% of eligible voters. This is comparable to western industrialized democracies in the 19805 (see Table 2) and even higher than turnout in France, the UK, or Canada in 1997. As Figure 1 shows, however, a steady decline began after 1896. This drop hit bottom at 49% in 1924, and turnout has fluctuated since then. After reaching 65% in 1960. turnout declined in every year except 1984 and 1992. Thus, voter turnout in the US. has varied significantly, and for sixty years it remained near 80%. How can we explain the current and historical levels of U5. voter turnout? Explaining U.S. Voter Turnout TWO broad perspectives dominate the research on voting turnout rates: individual characteristics (of voters) and political structure (e.g., number of parties and election regulations). .836 I Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 I TABLE 1: National and Regional Voter Turnout in the United States, 1840 to 1996 _________________________.————-—-————-————— National Non-South South Year I Turnout Turnout Turnout 1840 80.3 81.6 75.4 1844 - 79.0 80.3 74.2 1848 72.8 74.0 68.2 1852 : 69.5 72.1 I 59.5 1856 79.4 , 82.3 67.9 1860 7; b - 81.8 83.1 , 76.5 1864 76.3 76.3 Civil War 1868 ‘ 80.9 82.8 71.6 1872 72.1 73.7 67.0 1876 82.6 ‘ 85.0 75.1 1880 80.6 85.5 65.1 1884 78.3 83.1 _ 63.3 1888 7 80.5 . 85.5 64.2 1892 75.9 80.7 59.4 1896 79.7 86.2 57.6 1900 ' 73.7 82.6 43.5 1904 ' 65.5 76.5 29.0 1908 65.7 76.1 50.7 1912 59.0 67.7 27.8 1916 61.8 69.1 31.7 1920 49.3 57.3 21.7 1924 48.9 57.5 19.0 1928 56.9 ' 66.7 22.5 1932 57.0 66.2 24.5 1936 61.0 71.4 ' 25.0 1940 62.5 72.9 26.5 1944 55.9 65.1 ‘ 24.5 1948 53.4 61.8 25.0 1952 63.8 71.4, 38.4 1956 61.6 69.2 36.6 1960 65.4 72.8 41.4 1964 63.3 68.6 46.4 1968 62.3 65.7 51.8 1972 57.1 61.1 45.1 1976 55.2 57.9 47.5 1980 54.3 56.6 48.1 1984 55.2 57.8 48.7 1988 52.8 — — 1992 55.1 — . —— 1996 48.8 — —- _____________.______._____.————————-— Sources: Burnhlm (I987zll3-tl4, table 5-3); Teixeira “992:9, table l-3): Minusheimer (I996). Based on legally eligible electorate. which excludes black man before 1870, most women before I920. eighteen to twenty year-olds until I972. and most or all aliens throughout. __________—_______________————————————-—- Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 837 TABLE 2: Average 'Iurnout in Twenty Democracies, 1980-1989 Nation Turnout Belgium 94 Austria 92 Australia 90 New Zealand 89 _ Sweden _ 88 West Germany 87 Denmark 35 Italy 34 Netherlands 84 Norway 83 Israel 79 Greece 73 Finland. 74 United Kingdom 74 Ireland 73 Canada 72 France 70 Japan 58 United States 53 Switzerland ' 49 Source: Teixeira (1992: table 1-2). Data are from national legislative elections, except in the United States, where data are from presidential elections. The base is the legally eligible elector- ate. INDIVIDUAL CHARACTERISTICS AND VOTING Many scholars try to understand the current period of turnout decline by comparing individual characteristics of voters and nonvoters (Abramson 8c Aldrich 1982; Boyd 1981; Cassel 8: Hill 1981; Teixeira 1987, 1992; Wolfinger & Rosenstone 1980). This perspective analyzes a wide range of variables that essentially fall into two individual-level categories: demographic and sociopolitical. Several studies have correlated particular demographic characteristics with voting. From this perspective, increases in socioeconomic status (SES) among the electorate —— education, occupation, and income — is one key to improved voter turnout (Teixeira 1987). The argument is that individuals with relatively high 5138 can more easily manage the task of voting, which requires political understanding and bureaucratic navigation, among other skills (Teixeira 1987; Wolfinger Sc 838 I Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 Rosenstone 1980). Emphasizing the relation between 8138 and turnout, however, presents a “puzzle” (Brody 1978), since SES increased after 1960 but turnout declined. Voter turnout should have increased during the past thirty years. Consequently, scholars concentrating on individual-level characteristics to explain voting try to solve this puzzle by examining other demographic characteristics that also affect voter turnout. . . I . . Among the more notable alternative characteristics are age. residential mobility, and marital status (Cassel 8t Hill 1981; Teixeira 1987; Wolfinger 8r Rosenstone 1980). Teixeira (1987223) refers to these characteristics as measures of “social rootedness.” That is, greater age, low residential mobility, and being married all help to connect individuals to their communities, thereby increasing thehkelihood that they will vote. Over the past thirty years, demographic characteristics have changed in the electorate in ways (e.g., higher residential mobility) that would decrease turnout (Boyd 1981; Cassel 8r Hill 1981; Teixeira 1987; Wolfinger 8t Rosenstone 1980). All the same, demographic changes do not explain much of the decline in turnout during this period (Cassel 8: Hill 1981; Teixeira 1987, 199.2). Nor do demographic changes explain comparative differences among democracres, since other western industrialized democracies have maintained high turnout despite demographic changes similar to those in the U.S. (Burnham 1982; Piven 8r Cloward 1988).4 p ' Some scholars include sociopolitical variables among their individual-level data, emphasizing partisanship, political efficacy, and campaign involvement (Abramson 8rAldrich 1982; Cassel 8t Hill 1981; Kleppner 1982; Teixeira 1987,1992). Teixeira (1987, 1992) argues that as these characteristics decrease, individuals become more “disconnected” from politics and are less likely to vote. In fact, since the 19605, the U.S. electorate has come to identify with political parties less, to feel less able to affect government, and to follow political campaigns in the newspapers much less frequently (Abramson 8r Aldrich 1982; Cassel 8r Hill 1981; Teixeira 1987). While some scholars suggest that these characteristics explain little of the turnout decline (Cassel 8: Hill 1981; Hill 8: Cassel 1983), others argue that this political disconnection of the electorate accounts for roughly two-thirds of the turnout decline from 1960 to 1980 (Abramson 8r Aldrich 1982; Teixeira 1987). Nevertheless, sociopolitical attitudes cannot explain the comparatively low U.S. turnout because the U.S. electorate surpasses those of Europe in many attitudes conducive to voting, including optimism and self-confidence about participation, and political efficacy (Glass, Squire 8t Wolfinger 1984). As Powell (1986219) argues: “despite the decline [in sociopolitical attitudes] in the period from 1960-75, American political attitudes should still facilitate more political participation than political attitudes in other democracies." The sociopolitical attitudes of the U.S. electorate should actually increase turnout relative to many other nations. Another fundamental problem with arguments that focus on changes in sociopolitical attitudes is that they rarely attempt to explain why these attitudes changed. Some Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 839 scholars oEer rather weak and vague explanations for the changes in sociopolitical attitudes: “generational replacement” in which younger cohorts have less political efficacy or a weaker sense of partisanship than do older cohorts (Abramson 8r Aldrich 19822519, 520); idiosyncratic events, such as Watergate, political assassinations in the 19605, and Vietnam; the social movement activity of the 19605 (Abramson 8rAldrich 19821519; Teixeira 1987:81-105 passim); and the legacy of past disfranchisement (Brody 1978:287). These explanations for changes in at! itudcs lead to other questions (e.g., why do younger cohorts have weaker sociopolitical attitudesi). Explaining declining turnout requires moving beyond individual characteristics. POLITICAL STRUCTURE AND VOTING A perspective centered on state structure and political institutions helps to explain why such a great discrepancy exists between the level of turnout in the U.S. and that of other western industrialized democracies (Boyd 1981; Glass, Squire 8r Wolfinger 1984; Jackman 8t Miller 1995; Powell 1986; Rosenstone 8t Wolfinger 1978; Teixeira 1992). Democracies differ in numerous factors that can affect the level of voter turnout: system of voter registration, number of parties, frequency of elections, and number of legislative bodies — i.e., unicameralism versus bicameralism (Jackman 8( Miller 1995). According to this perspective, the structure of the U.S. political system produces the nation‘s comparatively low voter turnout (Boyd 1981; Iackman 8r Miller 1995; Powell 1986). The method of voter registration is one central difference between the US. and other western industrialized democracies. Many democracies have nonpersonal systems of voter registration, which means that registering voters is the responsibility of the state or political parties (Burnham 1982; Glass, Squire 8r Wolfinger 1984; Piven 8r Cloward 1988; Teixeira 1992). The U.S., on the other hand, has a personal system of registration, which puts the responsibility of registering to vote upon each individual rather than the state. A personal system of registration depresses voter turnout (Burnham 1982; Glass, Squire 8r Wolfinger 1984; Piven 8t Cloward 1988; Powell 1986; Rosenstone 8r Wolfinger 1978; Teixeira 1992). In the U.S., about 80% of those registered to vote go to the polls (Glass, Squire 8r Wolfinger 1984; Piven 8r Cloward 1988). As Table 2 shows, this is comparable to other nations for the 19803. However, less than 70% of the voting-age population in the U.S. is registered to vote (Glass, Squire 8r Wolfinger 1984; l’iven 8r Cloward 1988; Powell 1986). In contrast, voter registration is almost universal in western European as well as other democracies with nonpersonal systems of registration.~" Since such a smaller proportion of the U.S. electorate is registered to vote, the method of registration is a likely key to the low turnout in the U.S. (Glass, Squire 8t Wolfinger 1984; Rosenstone 8t Wolfmger 1978; Piven 8t Cloward 1988). 840/ Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 A personal system of registration presents more obstacles to registration and voting than are found in nonpersonal registration systems. Until recently, many US. states had numerous laws and regulations that complicated the process of registration, including a lack of absentee registration, irregular weekday registration hours, a lack of weekend registration, and so forth. Other obstacles, such as closing dates by which voters must register (e.g., thirty days prior to election day), still exist in many states. Rosenstone 8t Wolfinger (1978; see also Glass, Squire 8r Wolfinger 1984) demonstrate that such laws have a negative effect on turnout. An important point is that registration laws affect individuals in lower classes or with little education more than they affect other groups in the electorate (Glass, Squire 8c Wolfinger 1984; Piven 8r Cloward 1988; Rosenstone &Wolfinger 1978; Teixeira 1992). Further, scholars agree that the class skew in us. voter turn0ut has increased since the 19605 (Edsall 1984; Piven 8t Cloward 1988; Rosenstone 8t Wolfinger 1978228; Teixeira 1992). The personal registration system, then, provides a context in which 5133 affects turnout. As with the individual-level approach, however, a perspective centered on US. political institutions cannot explain why voter turnout has declined since 1960. As this period of decline was beginning, changes occurred in political institutions (e.g., elimination of literacy tests, poll taxes, long-term residency requirements) that should have increased voter turnout (Brody 1978; Teixeira 1992). Rosenstone 8r Wolfinger (1978:41) point out that the "modern peak of voter turnout was reached in 1960, when one- and two-year residency requirements, poll taxes, and literacy tests were common; and when millions of southern blacks were disenfranchised through maladministration of the laws.” The highest turnout of the past forty years came at a time (in 1960) when legal and institutional barriers were greater than at any other point thereafter. 'Ilumout reached its lowest point in seventy years in 1996 after the passage of the National Voter Registration Act (dubbed the “motor voter" bill) in 1993 (cf. Solop 8: Wonders 1995). This law lowered the restrictions to voting just as changes in the 19605 had done. Yet turnout fell in the following presidential election. Finally, this approach fails to examine the conflicts that underlie the development and maintenance of political institutions. Even while they agree that the class bias in turnout has increased, many scholars (e.g., Rosenstone 8t Wolfinger 1978; Teixeira 1987, 1992; Wolfinger 8r Rosenstone 1980) fail to recognize or examine the class struggles that underlie changes in turnout. Others (Iackman 8r Miller 1995; Powell 1986) do not assume an adequately historical perspective and consequently fail to examine the past social and political struggles that created contemporary state and political institutions. As Argersinger (1992:xiv) notes, Rules regulating suffrage, representation, and the voting process fix the parameters of the electoral system and thereby shape political participation, party decisions, elections results, and the responsiveness of government. But while productive of Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 841 such important political consequences, election laws and institutional arrangements are themselves the product of previous political decisions. Class segments shape the state as they struggle to embed their interests in it and influence social policy (Gilbert 8c Howe 1991; Prechel 1990; Rubinson 1978). The characteristics of state institutions resulting from these class struggles affect various political outcomes, including voter turnout. Analyzing only the state institutions themselves thus fails to provide a complete explanation. CLASS STRUGGLE AND VOTING A class segment approach focuses on three elements to explain voter turnout: conflict/consolidation among dominant class segments, social movement activity, and the extent of mobilization of and by political parties. This perspective moves beyond the institutional approach in two important ways. First, it takes into consideration both changes in political institutions —— particularly, political parties and election procedures —— and factors contributing to those changes, thereby including the origins of the political institutional context in its analysis. Second, this perspective demonstrates how the presence or absence of social movements and conflict between dominant class segments combine to affect turnout within a particular political institutional context —-— specifically, the demobilized party structure of the 19005. Class segments are subgroups of social classes that share immediate interests: “As a consequence of their distinct location in the social process of production, class segments have specific political economic requirements and concrete interests that may be contradictory to those of other class segments” (Prechel 1990:649). Examples of class segments include monopoly capital, unionized craft workers, large landowners, unionized industrial workers, small farmers, nonunion workers, and competitive capital. Of particular importance are segments that dominate industry or agriculture. Class segments in the US. frequently form along regional as well as economic lines —' e.g., southern large plantation owners (Bensel 1984). Ultimately, the interests along which these segments divide depend on the segments‘ positions in the world-economy (see Bensel 1984; Gourevitch 1986; Prechel 1990; Rubinson 1978).6 The power of various class segments is not equal. Just as the interests of segments derive from their position in the world-economy, so too does their power (Bensel 1984; Gourevitch 1986; Rubinson 1978). Class segments act to shape both state policy and the structure of the state to favor their particular interests. Since no single class segment can entirely dominate the state, however, they frequently enter into coalitions. Because their interests derive from the world-economy, which is constantly changing and full of competition, coalitions among class segments break down and conflicts arise between them (see Bensel 1984; Gourevitch 1986; Moore [1966] 1993; Rubinson 1978). Dominant class segments must then find 842/ Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 other coalition members, which sometimes means turning to weaker class segments (e.g., industrial labor). As Tarrow (1998:79) notes, such a situation presents an opportunity for less powerful groups because “Dwrsions among elites . . . encourags portions of the elite that are out of power to seize the role of ‘tribunes of the people. Dominant segments may also ally with weaker class segments when strong challenges emerge from below through social movements (Bloom 1987; Domhoff 1991; Kousser 1974; Piven 8r Cloward 1977, 1988). Such coalitions channel movements into political institutions, often through political parties that increase their mobilization efforts to absorb challenges. Cross-class alliances and the resulting political mobilizing are not inevitable responses to social movements. Shefter (1984) points out that the political context affects how dominant segments and political elites respond to challenges from below. He suggests that dominant segments and political elites will pursue a strategy of mass mobilization when (1) they experience a serious cleavage or schism, (2) they are confident that they will not be displaced, and (3) they cannot rely upon intimidation to deal with opponents. I ' Scholars agree that social movements have their greatest impact during periods of elite conflict (Bloom 1987; McAdam 1982; Piven 8t Cloward 1977; Tarrow 1998; Tilly 1978).7 Movements affect voter turnout primarily in two ways: '( 1) by politically organizing weaker class segments, thereby creating the possibility that dominant class segments will channel protest into political institutions and (2) by increasing the political efficacy of movement participants. First, movements by weaker class segments challenge dominant class segments, whose response depends on the political-economic context. If dominant segments respond by increasing mobilization by political parties — responses that are more likely during periods of conflict -— turnout will increase. However, if dominant segments respond with repression, by changing political institutions, or the like — which is more likely during periods of consolidation - then social movements will have much less of an effect on turnout. Second, social movements influence voter turnout by fostering “cognitive liberation" and a concomitant increase in the sense of political efficacy among participants, beneficiaries, and constituents (McAdam 1982; Piven & Cloward 1977; see also Bloom 1987:128-54 passim; Morris 1984). One way that social movements increase the political efficacy of less powerful groups is by bringing politics into their “everyday lives,” including church, work, school, and so forth (Morris 1984; Piven 8t Cloward 1977). Movements also increase indivrduals' political efficacy by evoking positive responses from the state, political elites, and dominant class segments (McAdam 1982; Piven 8r Cloward 1977). Since political efficacy increases voter turnout (Abramson & Aldrich 1982; Cassel 8t Hill 1981; Teixeira 1987, 1992), understanding the ebb and flow of social movements 15 important in explaining fluctuations in turnout. Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 843 Mobilization by political parties is the key link between dominant class segments, social movements, and voter turnout. The capacity and willingness of political parties to mobilize voters is crucial to the level of voter turnout (Kornbluh I987; Rosenstone 8r Hansen 1993; Shefter 1984;Zipp,1.anderman 8r Luebke 1982). Parties that do not mobilize voters exacerbate declining turnout because they fail to incorporate new voters - whether individuals coming of voting age or groups just entering the electorate (e.g., women in 1920) — into the electoral and political process (Kleppner 1982;1(ornbluh 1987). The effect of party mobilization on turnout is clear from US. history. Between 1840 and 1900, political parties engaged in active, vigorous, and continuous partisan mobilization, thereby bringing politics into people's everyday lives (Burnham 1987; Kleppner 1982; McGerr 1986; Piven 8r Cloward 1988; and see Figure 1). Parties focused heavily on mobilizing voters during this time because of the “instability in electoral politics wrought by third-party activity. . . [and the] exceedingly close competitive balance between the two parties throughout the nation” (Kornbluh 1987:32). Gienapp (1982:32) describes the extent of party mobilization during this period, One reason for mass interest in politics was the party system‘s social function as popular entertainment. . . . Parades, political clubs, bands and glee clubs, marching associations, pole raisings, bonfires and mass rallies, barbeques and picnics, debates and stump speaking were all intended both to entertain and generate interest and enthusiasm not only among the party faithful, but also among the less-committed observers. Because parties mobilized around ethnocultural and religious issues, "the politics of the age . . . concerned issues that were immediate, personal, and important to voters” (Kornbluh 1987:24; see also Burnham 1970; Kleppner 1982). Since political mobilization was high and politics permeated people’s lives, political participation and voter turnout were high (see Table 1 and Figure 1). Pointing to this historical period, however, some analysts argue that the struggle over or within political institutions or voting is not based on class but is solely political. This sentiment ignores the fact that class conflicts often find expression through political conflict. It is conflict among class segments — not just any political split —— that brings fundamental changes in political institutions and turnout levels. On the surface, this period of high turnout seems to undercut the importance of class because political parties mobilized large segments of the electorate along ethnic and religious lines (Kleppner 1982; l’iven 8K Cloward 1988). But this period of high voter turnout and the ensuing decline actually reaffirm the assertion that conflict among class segments, not just any political split, is central to explaining when political institutions change and sharp fluctuations in voter turnout occur. Class was not a basis for politics during this era because of the political institutional context —- for instance, partly because all white males were en franchised by 1830 without much struggle (see Rubinson 1986). The point, though, is that the system 844/ Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 FIGURE 1: Voter 'Itirnout in Presidential Elections, 1840-1996 100 80 V"y"71'." V' ’ I“. i .1. 60 I, 40 20 O 1852 1878 1900 1924 1948 1972 1996 1840 1864 1888 1912 1938 1980 1984 National Turnout did not change until class began to enter into electoral politics. The party systembased on ethnic and religious divisions existed from about 1840 to the late 18803 Without much fundamental change in the electoral institutions or any sharp fluctuations in voter turnout trends (see Figure l). The high rates of voter turnout didanot translate into threats to dominant class segments because during this era 'the structures of government and party typically did not transform class interests into political decisions" (Rubinson 1986:533; see also Piven 8r Cloward 1988). In the late 18005, however, rapid economic change and more frequent, widespread economic crises provoked protests around economic issues (Wiebe 1961). Segments of capital (e.g., banking and railroads) had already begun making appeals to the federal government for economic assistance and regulation, thereby legitimizing economic intervention as a new extensron of state authority. As a result, weaker class segments also started to appeal to the state on economic issues: "increasingly, popular demands were directed to the states and even the national government for action on economic grievances" (Piven 8r Cloward 1988:41). The dominant segments reacted to this rise of class issues in politics, as wrll be seen shortly, by reshaping regional political institutions. Once class — not religious or ethnic —- conflict emerged, the U.S. political institutional context changed, and voter turnout consequently fell. Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 845 FIGURE 2: National and Regional Voter Turnout, 1840-1996 1896-1924: 1928-1940: Consolidated Mm Dominant mobilization Segments 1948-1968: — Civil rights movement Ir the South Voter Turnout 102030405060708090100 1840 in m ms in 1900 um 1924 ms ms 1960 i972 1984 ms Yea- Within this changed political institutional context, periodic social movements and conflict between dominant class segments became essential to increasing turnout and political participation. When sharp divisions exist, dominant segments and political elites try to channel protest and other social movement activity into political institutions, especially the electoral system. Thus, when social movements emerge, political parties often incorporate the mobilized groups into institutional politics — especially voting. Part of the emphasis of a class segment analysis, then, centers on how political institutions affect mobilization. This is analogous to research on union mobilization that finds that the institutional context of class struggle is important (e.g., Franzosi 1995; Tilly 8r Tilly 1998; Western 1997). in particular, Western (1997) demonstrates how institutional context has filtered the effects ofwidcr economic trends since the 19505: nations with corporate institutions experienced the smallest declines in union membership and density, while those without such structures experienced sizable drops in unions. Just as political institutions set the limits for effective labor mobilization, they do the same for political mobilization. Further, Franzosi (1995) shows that not only does the institutional context affect union strength, but the latter also affects the former; collective actions I 846/ Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 by labor can reshape political institutions and the organization ofworlt, in part by evoking responses from capital and the state. This same dynamic IS evrdent in the history of voter turnout: social movements evoke responses from the dominant segments and the state within a particular political-economic context. The analogy between analyses of union activity and of voter turnout highlights and reinforces the importance of understanding how political-economic institutions shape class conflicts and vice versa. . Figure 2 demonstrates the centrality of class struggle to historical fluctuations in voter turnout and to understanding the current decline. In what follows, I briefly examine three historical periods to demonstrate concretely how consolidation among dominant class segments and mass mobilization (or the lack of either) contribute to fluctuations in voter turnout: 1896-1924 (class consolidation), 1928- 40 (nonsouthern mass mobilization), and 1948-68 (southern mass mobilization). I then apply this class approach to the present period of declining national turnout (beginning in the 19605) to show how the historically low 1996 turnout IS in part a function of ongoing class struggle in the US. Past Eras of Class Struggle in the US. Focusing on periods in which turnout levels changed dramatically demonstrates the interaction between dominant segments, social movements, and political parties. Between 1896 and the 19205, dominant segments reacted to social movements by restricting access to political participation and reducing party mobilization. In the middle of the 19005, dominant segments channeled protest into electoral politics, in part through increased party activity. Distinct political- economic contexts fostered the different responses to mobilization. RESHAPING REGIONAL POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS, I896-l924 After remaining relatively high through the 18905, turnout declined from 80% in 1896 to a low of 49% in 1924 (see Figure 2). What facilitated this dramatic drop? Several changes occurred in political institutions: parties greatly decreased or even halted their mobilizing efforts among the general population; registration and voting became more restricted; and competition declined between parties (Burnham 1970; Kousser 1974; McGerr 1986; Piven 8t Cloward 1988; Weinstein 1968). Yet we must look behind these changes to gain a more complete understanding of why turnout decreased. The class segment model presented here suggests that two factors are key to understanding the political institutional changes and the resulting fall in turnout. First, social unrest — exemplified by Populist farmers and striking workers —-— threatened the economic and political power of regionally dominant class segments. Second, dominant class segments were consolidated during this period. The Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 847 response of dominant segments depended on the particular political-economic context of the period: after a significant period during which dominant class segments were in conflict at the national level (roughly 1856-1868), the end of Reconstruction in 1877 signaled a decrease in conflict both within and outside the South, with substantial consolidation within each region (Bensel 1984; Kousser 1974; Rubinson 1978; Woodward I951). Dominant segments depressed political mobilization because no deep cleavage existed, coercion was a viable option (in the South), and it appeared that the challengers aimed to displace the dominant segments and political elites (cf. Shefter 1984). In response to challenges from below, the dominant segments changed the political institutions to reduce mass participation (Argersinger 1992;1(ousser 1974; Piven 8t Cloward I988; Weinstein 1968). In the South, Radical Republicans and the Populists challenged the dominant class segment — the planter-merchant class. The political-economic context conditioned the responses of the planter-merchant class to each of these challenges. The tariff issue had been won by industrialists and accepted. however reluctantly, by the planter-merchant class (Moore [1966] 1993). In return for votes for presidential candidate Hayes, the Republicans — representing the northern ‘ industrial class segment -— conceded two points to the planter-merchant segment: (1) Reconstruction would end, and (2) federal funds would be sent to the South to help economic recovery, especially railroad development (see Bensel 1990 and Woodward 1951 for detailed analyses of the compromise of 1877). With this consolidation and the end of Reconstruction, federal intervention in the South was withdrawn and political restrictions on the antebellum landed class were removed. This allowed the planter-merchant class to regain its dominance in the Democratic party and thereby confront the Radical Republicans and Populists. During Reconstruction, the Radical Republicans found their political base among lower-class whites and blacks. The planter-merchant class responded to this challenge by destroying the southern wing of the Republican party. Voter fraud, including “manipulating the returns or . . . paying blacks not to vote for opposition parties” (Kousser 1974:16), was rampant in counties where blacks were a majority or near-majority (i.e., the Deep South). Bloom (1987:33) notes that ballots "were destroyed or thrown out along with whole ballot boxes.” Such procedural fraud was accompanied by coercion, physical intimidation, and terror against anyone who opposed the southern Democrats (Bloom 1987; Kousser 1974; McAdam 1982). The Ku Klux Klan directed its violence not only at blacks but also at whites who supported Republicans or other parties in opposition to the Democrats (Bloom 1987; Crow I984). The Populist movement, which also challenged the planter-merchant segment’s hegemony, sustained party competition and political opposition until the late 18805 and 18905. Like the Republicans before them, the Populists frequently attempted to organize the lower classes across racial lines, and they were equally radical 848/ Social Forces 77:3; March 1999 politically (Bloom 1987; Crow 1984; Kousser 1974). The Populists’ electoral strength demonstrates the extent to which they threatened to the position of the dominant planter-merchant segment: in the 18905 they received more than 4.0% of the vote in state gubernatorial races in Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia (Kousser 1974; table 1.5).8 To eliminate this threat of a white-black alliance among the lower classes, the planter—merchant class fought for numerous legal barriers to voting.9 Literacy tests, poll taxes, the white primary, multiple ballot boxes, and grandfather clauses were the most effective tools against mobilization by lower-class whites and blacks (Argersinger 1992; Bloom 1987;1(ousser 1974). These laws, passed mostly between 1880 and 1900, were much more effective than intimidation or fraud. In 1882 South Carolina instituted a system of eight ballot boxes (instead of one) for elections, which had the indirect effect of “spoiling” the ballots of illiterate whites and blacks; this procedure “cut the Republican vote by two-thirds, and it cut the Negro vote and Overall turnout by half” (Kousser 1974191). Louisiana used a literacy test and a registration requirement to reduce white turnout by about _60% and black turnout by 90% (Kousser 1974:49). Throughout the South, restrictive voting laws reduced turnout from 75% in 1876 to 43% in 1900 to 19% in 1924 (see Table 1).10 By reshaping the political institutions, the dominant planter-merchant segment weakened their opponents — lower-class whites and blacks. Had dominant class segments been in conflict at this time, such actions would likely have invoked reactions by the northern industrialist segment through the Republican party. Consolidation at the national level facilitated this successful effort by the planter- merchant class to depress the political participation of their opponents. The same factors -— challenges from below and the political-economic context — help to explain the decline in the non-South as well. Due to the economic instability of the period, protests and mobilization by workers and farmers increased in the North and West, as seen by the emergence of nationwide strikes, the Socmhst party, and various third-party movements against corporate domination (Boyer 8t Morais [1955] 1980; Piven 8r Cloward 1988; Weinstein 1968). While the response of dominant class segments in the North and West was subtler than that of the planter-merchants in the South, Kleppner (1982:80) points out that “Not-unlike their southern counterparts, northern elites aimed at demobilizing what they yudged to be the least desirable components of the electorate —- its immigrant, lower-class elements.”” I ' ' . By bringing economic issues into the ethnic/religious-bascd parties, the mass mobilizations threatened the dominant segments because state policy was developed through partisan politics. The dominant industrial and business segments sought to eliminate these challenges by forming alliances with other segments to reform regional political institutions. This resulted in the Progressive movement, through which reformers from the upper and (“new”) middle classes and from the busrness Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 849 community sought to remove partisan politics from policy development (Buriiliam 1970; Hays 1964; Kornbluli 1987; Piven 8r Cloward 1988;Weinstein 1962, 1968; Wiebe 1961).12 At the center of the Progressive movement was the push for municipal reforms, which had the effect of decreasing the political power of the lower-class segments (Hays 1964; Weinstein 1962). The reformers proposed shaping municipal governments on the model of corporate business, thereby centralizing control of local policies and removing the influence of partisan politics, Several changes in the political institutions accompanied the corporate model of local government: the Australian (nonpartisan) ballot, the direct primary, personal registration systems, literacy tests, residency requirements, and so on. These reforms weakened the abilities of parties to mobilize and influence voters. In addition to the attacks on mass politics, competition between the two major parties decreased in the non-South as Republicans came to dominate the region (Burnham 1970; Kornbluh 1987; Piven 8r Cloward 1988). Reduced party competition contributes to decreased political mobilization (see Burnham 1981). Further, since there was no split among the dominant segments, elites had no impetus to increase the mobilization of the electorate. The political demobilization of this period was successful largely because the dominant class segments were not in conflict nationally or within their respective regions. Regionally dominant class segments (e.g., planter-merchants in the South) did not have to fear interference from other dominant segments (e.g., industrialists from the North) over the issue of political rights for lower classes. Thus, the dominant segments did not need to channel the mass mobilizations into cross- class alliances. Instead, they confronted the protests directly by reshaping regional political institutions and restricting the participation of less powerful groups. Political parties no longer engaged in mass mobilization as they had during the 18005. This had an important effect on the electorate and turnout: “politics lost its central place in community life. As a result . . . many voters —— especially new ones — were not integrated into the political process” (Kornbluh 1987:32-33). Consequently, voter turnout and political participation among large sections of the electorate decreased dramatically (see Figure 2). These new political arrangements became stable and went relatively unchallenged for almost thirty years. TWO CHALLENGES TO DOMINANT SEGMENTS, 1928-40 (NON-SOUTH) AND 1948- 68 (SOUTH) Despite the seeming omnipotence of dominant class segments, political-economic changes can create political opportunities for less powerful classes. Constantly changing markets affect the interests of various segments, making coalitions unstable. During two periods in the twentieth century, changes in the world‘ economy produced conflicts between dominant class segments that increased 850/ Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 political mobilization and voter turnout. This critical difference in the political- economic context -—- dominant segments that had once been consolidated were now in conflict —— was central to the dominant segments’ responses to mass mobilization. ' Within the political institutional context forged after the 18905, voter'turnout dropped to 55% in 1920 in the North and West, but it increased steadily from 1928 to 1940 (see Figure 2). The same general processes that conditioned the earlier decline also account for this increase: (1) challenges emerged from weaker class segments, and (2) the political-economic context facilitated a particular response on the part of dominant class segments. Mass mobilization permeated this period of economic depression: strikes by industrial workers, demonstrations .by the unemployed, protests by the aged, and uprisings by small farmers in the Midwest. This was a distinct change from the 19205, when few movements were vocal and unions were in decline (see Boyer 8t Morais [1955] 1980). These collective actions brought politics back into people’s everyday lives and increased political efficacy among much of the electorate. For example, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (C10) brought politics into hundreds of thousands of workers lives by trying to organize unions to expand labor’s political rights and power. In domg so, these movements contributed to increased turnout, since political efficacy increases voting. Yet it was more than social movements or objective economic hardships that increased voter turnout. The political-economic context — in particular, conflict that emerged between dominant class segments — was such that channeling mass mobilization into political institutions was more likely than it had been between 1870 and 1920 (Domhof’f 1991; Piven 8r Cloward 1977; Quadagno 1984). Lower- class movements found allies in the liberal industrial segment in the North and in the southern landed class. Each member of this coalition gained political benefits: the northern liberal industrial segment got greater regulation of the economy. (nonsouthern) lower classes received social assistance programs and labor poliCies, and the southern landed class gained agricultural assistance. This coalition isolated more conservative segments of northern capital (e.g., Little Steel), which opposed these programs because they increased state expenditures and state interference in business (Domhoff 1991; Jenkins 8: Brents 1989; Quadagno 1984). The liberal industrial and landed class segments found their political home in the Democratic party, which was the party that mobilized the electorate, partly in response to collective actions and protests. Piven & Cloward (1977) demonstrate that dominant segments and political elites responded to worker and unemployed mobilization by encouraging greater political participation, especially through elections. In addition to increasing the political efficacy of much of the electorate, the social movements of this period directly mobilized voters by participating in election campaigns. Dominant segments condoned, if not facilitated, this increased political mobilizing because it channeled more disruptive actions such as strikes, protests. Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 851 and violent confrontations. The New Deal reinvigorated the mobilizing capacities of the urban political machines left ineffectual by the onslauglits of 1896 (Kleppncr 1982). As Piven 8r Cloward (1988:130-31) put it, “The vast new federal or federally funded programs not only linked program beneficiaries to the Roosevelt wing of the Democratic party but also created organizational vehicles to mobilize voters from the bottom.” This led to significant increases in party mobilization, especially in northern urban areas. Unions also became directly active in mobilizing voters. In fact, unions were so central to voter mobilization that in “many places, unions functioned as local parties, turning out their own members for Democratic slates, and organizing campaigns in their localities" (Piven 8r Cloward 1988: 132). In this coalition between industry, nonsouthern lower classes, and the southern landed class, the latter was an inconsistent partner at best and opposed attempts to better the conditions of the lower classes in the South (Domhoff 1991; Piven 8t Cloward 1977; Quadagno 1984). The planter-merchant class fought successfully to retain their own labor-repressive political economy, supporting only labor and social policies that did not threaten southern control of labor (Domhoff 1991; Gilbert 8t Howe 1991; Piven 8r Cloward 1977; Quadagno 1984). Consequently, most mobilization occurred in the non-South, which is where voter turnout increased most significantly (see Figure 2). This reinforces the class-segment model’s explanation of shifts in turnout. Conflict existed between dominant segments outside the South, between liberal and conservative segments of capital, over issues such as labor unrest, state regulation of business, and social policies (Domhoff 1991; Jenkins 8c Brents 1989; Quadagno 1984). The dominant planter— merchants in the South, however, did not have any powerful rivals to their hegemony. Furthermore, while the northern industrial segment did not have great fears about being displaced by workers incorporated into the political process, the situation of southern planter-merchants was different. The dominant class segment in the South had much more to lose (as the 19505 and 19605 would show) by allowing or encouraging the mobilization of its lower classes — white and black workers, tenant farmers, and sharecroppers. While they accepted labor mobilization in the North that did not threaten their position, the planter—merchant class responded to attempts at mobilization in the South with coercion, intimidation, and violence. In sum, voter turnout increased throughout the North and West because dominant segments in conflict channeled protest activity into the electoral system through greater party mobilization. The general process was almost identical when voter turnout increased in the South between 1948 and 1968. Again, dominant class segments were in conflict, and they allied with various weaker class segments. The coalition that contributed to increased voter turnout in the South was the opposite oftliat which increased nonsouthern turnout during the Great Depression. At the national level, the northern liberal industrial segment supported — even if only indirectly —— part of the southern lower class (i.e., blacks) (Bloom 1987; McAdam 1982; Piven 8t 852 / Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 Cloward 1977). Northern liberal industrialists were important to the civil-rights movement by either slowing down investment in or withdrawing capital and resources from the South when white resistance led to social unrest and disruptions (Bloom 1987; Piven 8c Cloward 1977). Therefore, the national industrial segment contended with the southern landed class.'This split also translated into divisions among regionally dominant segments and local political elites because the southern business and industrial segments saw their interests threatened by the adamant white resistance led by the landed class (Bloom 1987', Morris 1984). Still, the national split was perhaps more important and extensive than was the intraregional split. As during the Great Depression, one dominant class segment could engage in or at least accept mass political mobilization without fear of losing its posrtion (cf. Shefter 1984). This conflict among dominant class segments allowed and even encouraged the civil-rights movement to make successful gains in political participation and voter turnout. For example, the northern liberal wing of the Democratic party secured funds for voter education projects and voter-registration drives in attempts to dissuade civil rights organizations from engaging in disruptive protests, boycotts, freedom rides, and so forth (McAdam 1982; Piven 8r Cloward 1977). In this way, civil rights activities, such as Freedom Summer, that did so much to increase voter registration and turnout were in part based on one dominant segment’s response to challenges by southern blacks. The northern liberal industrial segment channeled black protest into political institutions by encouraging a focus on voting. ' In addition, the civil rights movement brought politics into the everyday lives of southern blacks when the central institution of the black community —— the church — became the primary organizing force in the movement (Bloom 1987; McAdam 1982; Morris 1984). Church congregations were incorporated en masse into the civil-rights movement (Morris 1984).” The same was true for black college students, as their campuses became movement centers (Bloom 1987; McAdam 1982; Morris 1984). Just as it had for nonsouthern lower classes during the Great Depression, everyday life became politicized for southern blacks. This mobilization, coupled with the responsiveness of the national state, increased blacks’ sense of political efficacy. ‘ . Unlike the movements during the Great Depression, however, the civrl-rights movement concentrated particularly on political structures and the ability to vote, successfully challenging the southern landed class and changing the region’s political institutions. Many of the restrictive and exclusionary voting procedures and politics -— including white primaries, literacy tests, poll taxes, and so on — were ruled unconstitutional. Further, the federal government passed laws to increase voter registration among southern blacks. For its part, the dominant landed class. also increased mobilization of lower- and working-class whites in an effort to retain its hegemony (see Bloom 1987; McAdam 1982; Piven & Cloward 1977). Therefore, Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 853 both of the conflicting dominant segments increased political mobilization, thereby increasing voter turnout. As with previous changes in turnout levels, the fluctuations in regional voter turnout between the 19205 and 1968 were related to ongoing class struggles in the US. Here, increases in turnout partly resulted from increased mass mobilization and conflict among dominant segments. Since conflict existed between dominant segments during the Great Depression and the civil rights era. social movements during these periods were able forge cross—class coalitions, as well as promote greater party mobilization and voter turnout. This is the exact opposite of what occurred in the late 18005, when consolidated dominant segments changed the shape of political institutions rather than channeling protest activity into electoral politics. The Class Struggle from 1960 to 1996 Since reaching 65% in 1960, national turnout has declined almost every year since, falling to a low of 49% in 1996 (see Table l and Figure 1). This decline is grounded in the same general processes that underlie shifts in turnout trends since the 18905: conflict/consolidation of dominant class segments, social movements, and demobilization of and by political parties. POLITICAL-ECONOMIC CONTEXT, SOCIAL MOVEMENTS, AND THE RESPONSE OF DOMlNANT SEGMENTS Conflict between dominant segments has faded for a couple of reasons. First, the South’s political economy has come to approximate more closely that of the nation as a whole. Since the New Deal and World War II, the South has experienced significant economic growth, diversification in agriculture, industrialization, and urbanization (Bloom 1987; Piven 8r Cloward 1977). As a result, the planter- merchant class segment began to lose its dominance over the region because business, commercial, and industrial segments grew in importance and power (Bensel 1984; Bloom 1987; Domhoff 1991). The long-standing split between dominant industrial segments in the North and the landed class in the South became much less significant. Furthermore, since large agribusinesses have displaced southern planters as the dominant segment in agriculture, the political and economic interests ofindustry and agriculture began to coincide as the latter‘s strong support for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and free trade in general demonstrates (see McMiChael 1998). A second reason for consolidation is the “profit squeeze" that occurred in the early 1970s. The economic crises that plagued the 1970s strengthened the position of the conservative segment of industry in the North (Ferguson 8: Rogers 1986). Rising energy costs, high inflation, increasing state expenditures, and union wages, among other factors, decreased the appeal of the economic policies of the New Deal 854/ Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 and 19605. The conservative segments of industry in the North allied with the growing business, commercial, and industrial segments in the South who hadlong been antiunion. Moreover, since agricultural policies decreased in political importancedue to the decreased power of the landed class, the southern busmess and industrial segments left the New Deal coalition and entered a conservative coalition with similar segments in the North (Domhoff 1991). Third, the social unrest of the 19605 spread from the South to northern urban centers, where it came to threaten elements of the coalition that made the eiVil rights movement successful —- e.g., industry and the general public in the North (Bloom 1987; McAdam 1982; Piven 8t Cloward 1977). This, too, helped reduce conflict among dominant segments. When the civil rights movement threatened the political and economic interests of business, industry, and commerce in the North — particularly through urban riots from 1963 to 1968 — the diVide between dominant segments began to shrink (Bloom 1987; Domhoff 1991; McAdam 1982). As this divide shrank, mass party mobilization decreased as well. In short, the political-economic context no longer compelled dominant class segments to channel mobilization into the electoral system. Once the challenges threaten the dominant class segments in a cross-class coalition, these dominant segments Will drop out of the coalition and begin to depress political participation, or at least no longer channel protest into elections or foster party mobilization. In either case, voter turnout declines. This happened at the tail end of 19305 mobilization as labor tried to organize the South. It also occurred in the late 19605 when civil rights protests moved North and threatened the interests of their coalition members. Therefore, because of the changes in the political-economic context, dominant segments have not channeled mobilization into the electoral system when it has emerged during the current era. Furthermore, the social movements emerging after the civil rights era have not evoked the same response from dominant segments regardless of whether the latter are consolidated or in conflict. Two groups of social movements have dominated the political scene since the early 19705: “new” social movements and conservative or right-wing social movements. New social movements focus their organizmg and mobilizing efforts more on issues of group or collective identity than on making demands directly on the state. The activities of these movements do not necessarily have the same effect on “mainstream” political activities as more class-based movements are likely to have. In particular, since new social movements do not directly challenge dominant class segments or political elites, they are less likely to evoke a response from elites that results in mass mobilization by political parties. There is no direct challenge to the dominant segments that needs to be channeled into and controlled by the political system; new social movements direct their activities “inward.” A second difference found in many of the movements emerging since the 19705 is that many are right—wing, or conservative, social movements. As with new social Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 855 movements, the right-wing movements of this period are likely to have much less effect on voter turnout than did the movements of the 19305 and 1960s for much the same reason: they do not necessarily evoke the same response from dominant segments that earlier movements did. Since the political aims of these movements more often reinforce than threaten the dominant class segments, there is no reason for these dominant segments to initiate policies of mass mobilization. In short, the demise of the civil rights movement in the late 19605, the consolidation of dominant segments, and the emergence of identity-based and right-wing movements have all contributed to a decline in party mobilization, which then decreased turnout. Even the labor movement, as exemplified by the AFL-ClO, decreased its mobilizing because it viewed organizing nonunion workers as an unimportant goal until recently. While the current leadership of the AFL-CIO promised that organizing new workers would become a central focus of the nation's largest federation of unions (Moberg 1995), the union spent much of its $35 million campaign budget for 1996 on television advertising (Byrne 1996). Thus, the electorate has not really seen mass mobilization in a way that challenges dominant class segments since the 19403 or 19605. This is compounded by a related decline in mass mobilizing by political parties during the same period. PARTY MOBILIIATION In addition to these changes in mobilization and the consolidation of dominant segments, the current lack of mobilizing by political parties is grounded in three other factors. First, the two major political parties have become increasingly reliant on campaign financing over the past thirty years (Edsall 1984; see also Polsby 1983). That is, fund-raising has become much more important than mobilizing voters — particularly compared to the focus on mobilization during the 18005 (Piven 8r Cloward 1988). The reliance on fund-raising derives partly from the consolidation among dominant segments during the late 19605 and early 19705. As in the earlier period of consolidation (1896-1924), the dominant segments have mobilized during the current era (Edsall 1984; Ferguson 8t Rogers 1986; Useem 1984). Unlike the earlier period, however, the dominant segments no longer try to disfranchise potential voters through more restrictive voting or registration procedures. Rather, through the vast growth in political action committees since 1970 (Edsall 1984; Useem 1984) and skyrocketing campaign contributions and expenditures (see, e.g., Rogers 8t Georges 1996), they have limited policy options and outcomes by increasing their influence over the two major political parties. Partly as a consequence, political parties have become more reliant on money than on organization, and mobilizing voters has become secondary (at best) to fund-raising. This is an important point because, as Shelter (1984) argues, when political elites can rely upon vehicles other than parties for support (e.g., large pools of campaign resources and mass media campaigns), they are less likely to engage in mass 856 / Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 mobilization. This reluctance to mobilize new voters is not entirely a function of reliance on fund-raising, however. . . . A second factor is that the dominant segments and, in particular, political elites likely view the entrance of massive numbers of new voters (e.g., increasing turnout from 49% to 75%) as a risky proposition that will threaten their stable bases of support (Shefter 1984; see also Piven 8t Cloward 1988; Teixeira 1992). In other words, dominant segments and political elites probably fear that pursuing a strategy of mass mobilization will lead them to lose control over their own parties. This seems a real possibility particularly for the Democratic party, but the Republican party is also weary of mass mobilization policies since they fear the disproportionate beneficiary would likely be the Democrats (Teixeira 1992). Furthermore, if the Republicans did succeed in bringing large numbers of new (lower-class) voters into their own party, they would have to contend with increasing Populist demands that would conflict with the party’s corporate bias. Consider the example of Pat Buchanan’s candidacy in 1996, which attempted to draw in working-class voters and thereby alarmed many of the business and corporate segments Within the Republican party. Consequently, Democrats and Republicans alike have come to accept low voter turnout. . _ _ I Third, and most fundamental, while many voting restrictions were removed in the 19605, the political structures that emerged in the late 1800s and early 19005 — a personal registration system and weak political parties Without mass bases.— are still the core of the US. electoral system. Neither period of mass mobilization in the twentieth century successfully challenged these elements of the electoral system. Earlier periods of mass mobilization left largely intact the political institutions forged in the late 18005 that do not mobilize voters. Within the con text of these political institutions, political mass mobilizing and corresponding increases in voter turnout only occur when social movements challenge dommant segments that are ' n ict see Fi ure 2). m coAllfltheie factgrs underlie the explanations and puzzles found in individual- level and institutional-level analyses of turnout. Many factors emphasized in an individual-level analysis do not explain the current decline in turnout, but Teixeira (1987, 1992) and others demonstrate that political efficacy has decreased during the past thirty or so years. Still, these scholars provide inadequate — or no — explanations for understanding this decline in efficacy. A class segment approach shows that the ebb and flow of social movements and conflict among dominant class segments affects the political efficacy of various less powerful class segments. Through mobilization, social movements increase the political efficacy of large segments of the electorate; and, when dominant segments are conflict, they often make appeals to mobilized weaker class segments. The qualitative change in soc1al- movement activity since the late 19605 and consolidation among dominant classes laid the foundation for the decline in political efficacy, thereby depressing voter turnout. Roller Coaster of Class Conflict / 857 A political institutional perspective centers on the shape of the electoral system. Such an approach failsto explain the current decline because the shape of political institutions have become more, not less, conducive to increases in voter turnout. This approach does not capture the role of class conflict that l have discussed. First. an institutional approach neglects the importance of the social construction of political institutions through class conflict. Second, within the current political context (established in the late 18005), the conflicts between and within classes guide the fluctuations of voter turnout. When dominant class segments are in conflict, social movements have their greatest impact on political and economic institutions. Furthermore, dominant segments in conflict try to channel and control unrest and protest through the activities of political parties. The heightened power of social movements and the attempts to channel them into the electoral system increase voter turnout. In these ways, the class-segment approach moves beyond the institutional—level and individual-level approaches. Three factors contribute to a more complete explanation of voter turnout: (1) conflict and consolidation among dominant class segments, (2) the presence or absence of social movements, and (3) demobilization of and by political parties. Within the political context established in the late 1800s, social movements and conflicting dominant segments spur party mobilization and voter turnout in ways that individual-level and political institutional analyses overlook. Notes 1. In such a political institutional context, individual characteristics become important to turnout. In nations with greater party mobilization, factors such as socioeconomic status are less important to voter turnout than they are in the 0.5. (see Piven & Cloward 1988; Powell 1986). 2. TWO periods, 1948-68 and 1960-96, overlap because the former is limited largely to the South, while the latter is a national trend. 3. While Table 2 comes from Teixeira (1992), other scholars present slightly different figures for turnout in western industrialized democracies. For example, lackinan and Miller (1995) place Italy atop the turnout list at 93% and give 87% as Belgium‘s turnout rate from 1981 to 1990. The difference may arise from slightly different periods, since Teixeira (1992: table 1—2) uses data from l980to 1989, whereas Iackman and M illcr ( 1995) use data from 1981 to 1990. Another factor may be different estimates of the eligible voting-age population in each country. in the end, though, the position of the U.S. remains unchanged: it edges out only Switzerland. 4. For example, Powell (1986:29) notes that ltaly and Austria experienced a “very great increase between the 21-24 group and the next older one, with little subsequent change" in voter turnout. Hence, having a larger number of younger voters did not decrease turnout, which is high in both nations (see Table 2). 858/ Social Forces 77:3, March 1999 5. The comparisons in Table 2 are accurate. since in most other western industrialized democracies the registered electorate is about equal to the voting age population (Powell 1986). 6. A class-segment perspective differs from a "traditional" class conflict analysis. The latter views class conflict as occurring primarily between classes -- e.g., capitalists vs. workers (see Boyer 8t Morals [1955] 1980). While a class segment approach recognizes such interclass conflict. it further demonstrates the centrality of intraclass conflict and coalitions of segments of different classes (e.g.. monopoly capital and craft labor). 7. Frequently, social-movement scholars speak of split or divided elites in much the same waythat I use conflict between dominant class segments (see Bloom 1987; McAdam 1982; Tarrow 1998; see also Quadagno 1984; Rublnson 1978). 8. This lower~class threat came to fruition in North Carolina when Populists and Republicans formed the Fusion Party in the 1890s. This party gained control of the state legislature with a large majority (120 to 50) over the Democrats; it also won the governorship (Crow 1984). The Fusion governor attacked the excesses of the railroad (owned by JP. Morgan), “advocated national ownership of the railroads," and proposed a bill that would place “nonresident corporations under stringent state regulation” (Crow 1984:340). This anticorporate display led many of the business elements in the GOP to switch to the Democratic party, which was dominated by the landed class. After this consolidation, turnout in North Carolina declined dramatically. 9. That these restrictions on voting were manifestations of class struggle emerges clearly in who supported and opposed legislation. Kousser (1974) demonstrates that plantation owners and merchants supported suffrage restrictions, while members of the People's party and the lower classes opposed them. The planter~merchant class made few attempts to conceal the purposes of these laws (which were to exclude blacks and lower-class whites) at their state constitutional conventions, at party meetings, and in the press (Kousser 1974; see also Piven 8t Cloward 1988). 10. Southern turnout in the 1926 off-year congressional elections was 8.5% of the voting age population (Burnham 1987). 11. Again, just as in the South, the class struggle is evident in who opposed the Progressive reforms “opponents, such as the political machines in northern cities, the Socialists, other minor parties, and trade unions . . . [decried] the elimination of ward representation, which meant the elimination of minority representation; the extreme concentration of power in the hands of the commission; [and] the ‘fallacy' of the non-partisan ballot" (Weinstein 1962:176). The lower and working-classes. immigrants, and political machines opposed the business-led reforms of the Progressive Era because those reforms effectively increased the political power of local elites at the expense of the lower classes. 12. One important fact to keep in mind is that the Progressive movement was not a unified, homogeneous force (Burnham 1981; Rodgers 1982). Rather, there were (at least) two central factions to the Progressives: the urban business class and midwestern agrarian radicals. These two factions often faced similar opponents —— in particular, political party machines: the urban and rural factions each called for the weakening of the party machines. However, the purposes behind their political positions were not identical. Roller Coaster of Class Conflict I 859 Midwestern agrarian radicals existed on the periphery and experienced politics as dominated by imperial parties that were directed by the northeastern core. Thus. this , element of Progressivism was an attempt to throw off the shackles of the imperial core (Bensel 1984; Burnham 1981). On the contrary, the urban business reformers songht to eliminate threats from below, and weakening the political access of workers, immigrants, and the lower class was one way to do this (Burnham 1981; Hays 1964; Kleppner 1982; McGerr 1986; Piven 8t Cloward 1988; Weinstein 1962). My focus is on the role of the urban business class, whose political intention was control or elimination ofmass politics. 13. Bloom (1987) and Payne (1997) point out, however, that black churches were not unanimous in their support of the civil rights movement; splits emerged between rural and urban churches, as well as between more conservative and more secularist churches. Still, black churches provided a crucial base of support for the civil rights movement. References Abramson, Paul R., and John H. Aldrich. 1982. "The Decline of Electoral Participation in America.” American Political Science Review 76:502-21. Argersinger, Peter H. 1992. Structure, Process, and Party: Essays in American Political History. ME. Sharpe. Bensel, Richard Franklin. 1984. Sectionalism and American Political Development: 18804980. University of Wisconsin Press. . 1990. Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, l859- l877. Cambridge University Press. Bloom, Jack M. 1987. 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