Are the Democrats an Authoritarian Successor Party?

Authoritarian Successor Party
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An Authoritarian Successor Party in America

The Democrats represent a big tent coalition of many disadvantaged groups alongside educated elites. However, they have a complicated history. The party arose out of demands for greater popular participation and democratic sentiments. The Democrats gained support through the expansion of voting rights and pushed to expand them even further. Still, it was a populist sort of democracy with Andrew Jackson as its hero. Over time the Democrats became the party of slavery in America and later on of segregation in the South. So, why did the Democrats embrace the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s?

In the 1890s the Democrats conceded national elections to the Republican Party in exchange for complete control of Southern politics. A notable event happened in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898 when white supremacists terrorized the town and forced out its elected officials. They seized control of power through force, disenfranchised opponents, and consolidated their hold on power through law. Wilimington is a dramatic historical event, but the Democratic Party used similar tactics throughout the South. However, things changed with the election of FDR. The New Deal appealed to African American voters. Over the next thirty years, African Americans shifted their support from the Republicans to the Democrats.

By 1965 the Democrats saw African Americans as part of their big tent coalition. Consequently, political liberalization of the South did not threaten their political viability. Dan Slater and Joseph Wong call this democratization through strength. They apply this theory to authoritarian regimes in developmental Asia. However, it also helps to explain democratization in the United States as well. The Democrats became America’s authoritarian successor party. It’s not an uncommon path to democratization and the United States is yet another example.

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