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The Roller Coaster of Class Conflict: Class Segments, Mass Mobilization, and Voter Turnout in the U.S., 1840-1996

Bill Winders
Social Forces
Vol. 77, No. 3 (Mar., 1999), pp. 833-862
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.2307/3005963
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3005963
Page Count: 30
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The Roller Coaster of Class Conflict: Class Segments, Mass Mobilization, and Voter Turnout in the U.S., 1840-1996
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Abstract

Most attempts to explain voter turnout in presidential elections focus on either of two general types of factors: individual characteristics of voters or the "shape" of political institutions. This article moves beyond such analyses by applying insights of class segment and social movement analyses to U.S. voter turnout from 1840 to 1996. Beginning with political changes in the late 1800s, I isolate four periods during which turnout rates changed significantly: 1896-1924, 1928-40, 1948-68, and 1960-96. I demonstrate how (1) conflict or consolidation between dominant class segments and (2) the presence or absence of mass social movements combine to influence the amount of mobilization 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.

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