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July 25, 1995
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v2.1 Reference

The Two Majorities

The Issue Context of Modern American Politics

Why do Democratic political candidates avoid the one issue on which the general public is most in agreement with them? Why do Republicans consistently raise the one issue their advisors urge them to avoid? Why do voters so often exhibit patterns of policy preference vastly different from what analysts and strategists predict? And why do these same voters consistently cast ballots that ensure the continuation of "divided government?"

In The Two Majorities Byron Shafer and William Claggett offer groundbreaking political analysis that resolves many of the seeming contradictions in the contemporary American political scene. Drawing on an unusually large sample of all Americans, taken by the Gallup organization, Shafer and Claggett argue that the recent turbulence in American politics is in some ways superficial. Below the surface, they contend, the political preferences of the American people remain remarkably stable.

Shafer and Claggett find that American public opinion is organized around two clusters of issues—both of which are favored by a majority if voters: social welfare, social insurance, and civil rights, which constitute an economic/welfare factor (associated with Democrats), and cultural values, civil liberties, and foreign relations, a cultural/national factor (associated with Republicans). Provocatively, the authors argue that each party's best strategy for success is not to try to take popular positions on the whole range of issues, but to focus attention on the party's most successful cluster of issues.

About the Authors

Byron E. Shafer is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of American Government at Oxford University. He is the author of Quiet Revolution: The Struggle for the Democratic Party and the Shaping of Post-Reform Politics and Bifurcated Politics: Evolution and Reform in the National Party Convention. William J. M. Claggett is associate professor of politcal science at Florida State University.


"Byron Shafer and William Claggett have given us an important book. While attending ably to their primary objective of advancing our understanding of the contemporary partisan realignment, the authors manage as well to contribute significantly to another subject of even greater scope."

- Everett Carll Ladd - Public Opinion Quarterly

"The stated scholarly mission of the book is to tease out the structure of American political opinion in the late twentieth century: the central concerns of that opinion, their roots and the distribution of preferences on them, and the gathering and dividing of preferences in partisan ways. In addition, Shafer and Claggett consider the implications of an opinion structure for practical—and successful—politicking."

- Edward Sidlow - Perspectives on Political Science

"Overall, The Two Majorities is an interesting and useful study of public opinion. It provides readers with a good picture of public opinion and it connects that picture with sound strategic advice for each party about what sort of issues to emphasize and to ignore."

- Eric R. A. N. Smith - American Political Science Review
Johns Hopkins University Press
Interpreting American Politics
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