For Never Was a Story of More Woe: A Classic of Political Science on the Evolution of the US Party System

Korgunyuk Yu.G.


A review of Kenneth Janda's "A Tale of Two Parties: Living Amongst Democrats and Republicans Since 1952" A Tale of Two Parties: Living Amongst Democrats and Republicans since 1952. N.Y. and London: Routledge, Tailor and Francis Group, 2021).

Kenneth Janda is known to anyone involved in the study of party politics, due in no small part to his massive database of political parties around the world coded on a set of formal criteria – a project that facilitated extensive comparative research [2].

Although Janda spent a lot of time doing comparative research, his new monograph "A Tale of Two Parties" (a reference to the famous novel by Charles Dickens) is proof that he never stopped studying political parties of his home country. The book presents an analysis of the US party system in 1952–2020.

Chapter 1 defines the research problem: identifying reasons for the growing schism between the two major parties in the US, or, as he fittingly puts it, the two parties that retain the same titles [1: 8]. Janda claims that in the 1980s, party leaders could still maintain an amicable relationship, like Republican incumbent president Ronald Reagan and Democrat Speaker of the House Thomas O'Neill. Today, however, even if there is any level of affinity, it is being kept secret [1: 5].

Chapter 1 also gives a brief overview of the changes in the social foundations of both parties. In the decades that followed the Civil War, Republicans had the support of the North and the Midwest, while Democrats dominated in the South. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Democratic Party found new support in the form of the New Deal coalition, which included blue collar workers, urban residents, white Southerners, intellectuals, as well as racial, ethnic and religious minorities. At the same time, the Republican Party enjoyed the support of wealthy and relatively well-educated suburban voters. The coalition fell apart in the 1960s, when Democrat presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson made it their mission to eradicate segregation from every sphere of public life and pushed the South to support the Republican Party as a result. As the author points out, the present Republican voter base is largely represented by farmers, coal miners, Evangelicals, and rural whites. At the same time, the Democratic voter base mostly includes women, city-dwellers, the college-educated, and minorities [1: 12].

Chapter 2 addresses the issues of researching the correspondence between partisan identities and social groupings. Janda uses social identity theory as the methodological framework, while the empirical evidence used consists of pre- and post-electoral voter surveys conducted since the 1950s as part of the American National Election Studies (ANES) project. At the same time, the author draws a parallel between political parties and sports team fans citing "a desire to be part of [a distinct] social world" as a common characteristic [1: 27].

Chapter 3 offers methods for measuring correspondence between partisanship and social groupings of voters. Here, Janda builds his proposals on cleavage theory [3], essentially scaling cleavages down to distinctions on account of region of residence, economic status, education level, urbanization level, religion, ethnicity. He uses the term "cleavages" to refer to these very distinctions.

It must be pointed out that this approach where cleavages are reduced to social and demographic characteristics is quite common in American political science (see, for example, [5] or a more recent [4]). Political scientists in Europe tend to look at a cleavage as a conflict of societal interests that manifests as a conflict of political ideologies. Not all social distinctions become the source of such conflict, and those that can are far from doing so every single time.

However, when it comes to cleavage interpretation, the relative stability of the US party system shifts the focus from ideological interactions and social conflict to demographic, social and economic characteristics of voters. At the same time, Janda admits that social differences turn into cleavages only when they become political [1: 38], although he tends to keep the political aspect of cleavages outside of the book's general narrative.

Janda offers two methods of measuring the correspondence between social and party groupings. The first method stems from the necessity to calculate the proportion of partisan groupings within each social group. On the contrary, the second method calculates the proportion of social groupings within the partisan group as a whole. Janda names the first and the second method Equal Group Appeal Score and Party Base Concentration Score respectively. The values of both scores range from zero to one, but the scores themselves are inversely dependent. The high value of Equal Group Appeal Score means that the party appeals equally to all social groups, while the high value of Party Base Concentration Score means that it only appeals to a single social group [1: 43–47].

Janda uses gender differences as an example to illustrate how these measurement tools can be applied. His conclusion is that while Republicans appealed to women a little more in the 1950s, the preference has since shifted to Democrats [1: 45].

Chapter 4 deals with regional divisions in partisanship that remained relevant for a good hundred years after the Civil War, with the South and the North staying solidly Democratic and Republican respectively. However, the South turned largely Republican after Democrats supported the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. At present, regional divisions have somewhat evened out partly owing to widespread increase in the number of non-white population, so white Southerners mostly support Republicans while non-white Southerners mostly support Democrats [1: 58].

Chapter 5 looks into the correlation between party preferences and economic status of voters. Janda comes to a surprising conclusion where this correlation is not exactly explicit, most likely because the value of income rather than its source serves as the indicator of said status (in 2004, ANES changed the corresponding item in the survey). The author observes, however, that Republicans still appeal to higher-income groups, perhaps even more than before [1: 64].

Chapter 6 describes the correlation between partisanship and urbanization levels. The author points out a particularly interesting detail: over the past 70 years, voter bases of both the Republicans and the Democrats have gotten smaller in urban and rural areas respectively. The number of Democrat voters in cities is twice as high as that of Republican voters, with the latter mostly residing in suburban and rural areas as well as towns [1: 72].

Chapter 7 looks at how education level affects party preferences. This is where the most dramatic change has occurred. Only 15% of voters had a college degree in 1952, and by 2020 this number increased to over a half. At the same time, in 1952, 40% of college-educated voters identified with the Republicans, versus 24% who supported the Democrats. In 2020 the college-educated had reversed their party preferences to 39:32 [1: 77].

Chapter 8 describes the role of religion in party politics. The change is no less significant in this case either. Only 3% of ANES respondents identified as non-religions in 1952, while in 2020 the number increased to over a quarter. At the same time, in 1952, most Catholics and almost all Jewish identified as Democrats, while Protestants made up the Republican voter base. In 2020, the correlation between religious and party identity became weaker and more complicated.

Chapter 9 analyzes the correlation between partisanship and ethnicity. In 1952, 90% of voters were white. In 2020, the number went down to 69%, with African Americans (11%), Hispanics (12%) and other ethnicities constituted the remaining 31%. At the same time, the number of Republican blacks decreased from 16% to 7% between 1952 and 2020 [1: 94].

Chapter 10 focuses on the role of ideology in American party politics. Here, Janda shares a common approach in the US political science where ideological differences are placed on the same level as demographic and socio-economic differences. However, he recognizes the specific character of ideological differences.

Social differences have a one-sided effect on partisanship: a voter's party preference cannot change their gender, age, ethnicity, religious and even socio-economic status. In this case, demographic and social characteristics act as independent variables while partisanship is a dependent one.

Ideological preferences of voters on the other hand can define partisanship and vice versa. They also act as a dependent variable in correlation to social characteristics: can be defined by them, but not vice versa.

For this reason, it would be interesting to check just how much ideological preferences depend on social characteristics. However, Janda is mostly interested in how Republicans and Democrats self-identify as either "liberal" and "conservative" within their respective parties. He puts special emphasis on the fact that just like the Democrats, the Republicans referred to themselves as liberals for over a hundred years, and only started to use the term negatively during Reagan's second term as president (1984-1988). As a response, the Democrats stopped referring to themselves as liberals. As for the term "conservative", neither party invoked it frequently over the past 70 years, with the Republican Party doing so approvingly in 2016 only [1: 105-106].

With regard to ANES respondents, Janda finds out that about a quarter never thought about the meanings of the terms "liberal" and "conservative". Most of the respondents defined the terms with no regard to politics and economics, and only 15% were able to provide a more or less coherent explanation of the differences between the two [1: 110]. Janda follows up with the conclusion that voters follow established clichés most of the time, identifying as liberal or conservative depending on whether they vote Democrat or Republican [1: 117].

What Janda actually means here is voters' awareness of their own political beliefs rather than their ideological preferences. As a matter of fact, no more than 15% of voters are able to reflect on their own beliefs, and the number is not limited to the US alone. Nevertheless, it does not mean that other voters lack ideological bias. They may lack a detailed and more or less developed view of politics, but they do have preferences.

After all, political ideology is not as much a philosophical treatise, as it is a specific political agenda detailing a party's stance on key issues. A voter does not peruse party programs, but responds to and identifies with the issues that are important to them personally. At the same time, the voter has little interest in issues that do not concern them directly.

Mass political consciousness is segmented and contradictory. This exact fact gives rise to things like the New Deal coalition that brought together racists from the South and blacks from the North, blue-collar workers and refined intellectuals, etc.

This is why what parties call themselves does not really matter; what matters instead is their agenda and the issue positions they endorse as well as how the changes in the agenda correlate with the evolving public support base. Janda does make multiple passing references to the subject, like when he addresses the correlation between the anti-segregation policy of the Democratic Party in the 1960s and white Southerners turning Republican as a result. However, in the chapter on ideology, he shifts his focus to the issue of self-identification among the Democrats and the Republicans without paying attention to other aspects of the subject. This is truly a pity, for it would have been interesting to see how the changes in public support base for both parties correlate with the evolution of their respective political platforms.

Chapter 11 summarizes the results of social cleavage analysis conducted in chapters 4 through 9. Janda makes a conclusion that despite the changed social base of both parties, the Democratic Party still appeals to larger sectors of the population than the Republican Party, whose voters are still largely white Protestant [1: 131].

This chapter also provides a chance to reflect on opportunities missed by the author, including different uses of quantitative methods. The book abounds in mathematics, but it is all quite simple. In the meantime, the material downright calls for application of statistical methods, like multiple regression, for example—especially considering Janda's extensive expertise in their usage. For some reason, he opted not to do that. Then again, it is in his right to choose the methodology that, in his opinion, fits his purposes best.

In Chapter 12 the author allows himself a bit of moralizing based on George Washington's admonitions of "the danger of parties in the state". As Janda puts it, there was a time when political agendas were something that made parties distinctive. Now, however, the distinction lies in social composition of parties, which gives analysts reason to draw comparisons with tribes. Janda's appeal to voters is not to vote according to "tribal" logic, but follow the model of "responsible party management" instead by trying to understand candidates’ policy positions [1: 143]. It is indeed a noble call, but most likely a futile one.

Chapter 13 describes the Donald Trump phenomenon, whom Janda considers not so much a conservative, but a reactionary [Janda 2021: 148]. He notes that in both 2016 and 2020, Trump appealed to the dwindling white Evangelical segment of the electorate. However, while it helped him win in 2016, it certainly did not in 2020 [1: 150]. This happens to outline one of the reasons for the growing schism between the two major parties in the US — it is inevitable in a situation where one of the participants in the dialogue "cocoons" and encapsulates himself by looking to the past instead of the future.

His attitude towards Trump is where Janda steps out of his role as an impartial arbitrator and declares a position. Debating the slogan "Make America Great Again," Janda wonders when America "had been greater": "Was it greater before the 1952 Supreme Court decision that ended school desegregation? … Before the 1964 Civil Rights Act that guaranteed voting to Blacks in southern states and banned discrimination in public accommodations and employment based on race, color, religion, and sex? … Before the 1965 Medicare and Medicaid legislation that provide health care to older and poorer citizens? … Before the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972 that reduced pollution in our air and water? Before the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act? … Trump is ten years younger than I am. How had I missed seeing America’s apex of greatness?" [1: 151]. Then he answers his own questions: "Trump was harkening back to the early 1950s, when whites made up 90 percent of the electorate… "Make America Great Again" was akin to saying, "Return a White Man to the White House,"… when the United States was a white Christian nation" [1: 152].

For all the criticisms one can make about the book, it is still a fine example of how mathematical calculations can go hand in hand with personal recollections, which in their own turn act as illustrations to the hypotheses and add certain charm to the book.

Received 12.10.2021, revision received 23.11.2021.


  1. Janda K. A Tale of Two Parties: Living Amongst Democrats and Republicans since 1952. N.Y. and London: Routledge, Tailor and Francis Group, 2021.
  2. Kulik A.N. Sravnitelny analiz v partologii: proekt K. Dzhandy [Comparative Analysis in the Study of Party Politics: Kenneth Janda's Project]. — Polis. 1993. No. 1. P. 92-98. (In Russ.)
  3. Lipset S.M., Rokkan S. Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments: An Introduction. – Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives. New York; London: The Free Press, Collier-MacMillan limited. 1967. P. 1–64.
  4. Piketty Th. Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict (Evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948–2017). WID. world Working Paper. Series N° 2018/7. URL: (проверено 23.11.2021). -
  5. Schneider W. Issues, Voting, and Cleavages. A Methodology and Some Tests. – American Behavioral Scientist. 1974. Vol. 18, No. 1. P. 111–146.