When Political Parties Die
A Cross-National Analysis of Disalignment and Realignment
by Charles S. Mack
August 2010, 323pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-38546-9
$75, £58, 66€, A103
eBook Available: 978-0-313-38547-6
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Although major political parties in first-past-the-post democracies, such as the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States today, thrive on ideological polarization and rarely die, they can, under a very particular set of circumstances, die quite suddenly. Under what circumstances would it be possible for a major American party, such the GOP, to actually die, as opposed to suffering severe but temporary electoral reverses?

This book presents a theory of political disalignment and a revised theory of party realignment, using four case studies from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Italy to illustrate these concepts.

Why do major political parties die? The shelf life of minor parties in democracies tends to be short, but major parties tend to be highly durable. The Democratic Party of the United States and the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom have been going strong for two centuries. Major parties perpetuate themselves by maintaining a consistent ideology on major national issues, even at the cost of periodic defeats at the polls. In American politics, ideological polarization maintains the vitality of the two major parties and renders them almost immune to threats from new parties, even as it impedes consensus and compromise on public issues.

Spectacular instances of sudden death in major parties have nevertheless occurred in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Italy, and they all exhibit similar characteristics. The fatal event—which author Charles S. Mack calls “disalignment”—occurs when a schism opens between party leaders and traditional core-base voters on an issue of overriding national importance. Major parties survive periodic defeats, but they cannot survive disalignment.


  • Includes a schematic presenting a novel theoretical organization of voters, applicable to the electorate of any democracy
  • The bibliography contains a reference list of important and pertinent works on party systems, leadership and realignment, as well as on the politics of pre-Civil War America; Britain after World War I, Italy after World War II, and the full scope of Canadian politics
  • Contains over 50 tables showing voter behavior in each of the four case studies
Charles S. Mack, PhD, is a post-doctoral scholar in politics at the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. He was previously president and CEO of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, and director of public and government affairs for CPC International Inc. His published works include Business Strategy for an Era of Political Change; Business, Politics, and the Practice of Government Relations; and Lobbying and Government Relations.


"For decades, much attention has been paid to the notion of party realignment--i.e., how parties acquire enduring majorities. Charles S. Mack is doing something equally important. By looking at how parties die, he provides us with a rich knowledge of the conditions that make such powerful events possible and, in so doing, tells us much about the relationships between voters and parties." —John Kenneth White, Professor of Politics, Catholic University of America

“The demise of a major political party is a rare and fascinating phenomenon which has received little attention in the scholarly literature. This important book brilliantly fills the gap by developing an original theory of realignment and disalignment that will certainly raise some controversy. Stressing the decisive role of party leadership in alienating core voters and the impact of the electoral system, Charles Mack provides an insightful and comprehensive comparative study which refers to historical institutionalism by pointing out that disalignments and realignments constitute critical junctures leading to new developmental paths.” —Pierre Martin, Research Fellow at Sciences Po Grenoble (France) and author of numerous books on electoral systems and realignment theory

"Dr. Mack makes an important contribution to developing a paradigm for explaining why political parties die and party systems realign. In the process of applying his theory of 'disalignment' to 21st Century American politics, Dr. Mack strengthens our understanding of the dynamics behind the stability and transformation of political parties and party systems."—Dr. Kirk Buckman
Department of Political Science
University of New Hampshire, Durham

“Charles Mack's groundbreaking study of what he calls 'party disalignment' -- defined as the actual destruction of major political parties and in one case an entire party system -- provides fresh insights on the much debated topics of party realignment and dealignment. Mack offers both rigorous structural analysis and richly presented case histories of disalignments in the United States, Britain, Canada, and Italy. His findings are relevant to current political developments in many Western democracies. The result is a feast for scholars and a good read for all political junkies."—A. James Reichley, author of The Life of the Parties

"A new and original addition to the study of realignment and more pronouncedly disalignment. Dr. Mack’s analysis includes both North American (the United States and Canada) and Western European (Britain and Italy primarily) party systems and systematically tests the proposition that a disalignment results from a fracture or rupture that takes place between a party’s core support groups and its leadership or is fueled by an atypical cleavage issue. Realignments deal more with medial voters and in broad canvas constitute a change in relationships more conceptually familiar to social scientists. The study is a most impressive and creative exercise that makes an innovative contribution to our understanding of political change." —William Crotty, Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life, and Professor of Political Science, Northeastern University
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