Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> United States
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 177-178

UNITED STATES: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Since the War between the States in the middle of the nineteenth century, politics in the United States has revolved around the two dominant parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. Occasionally, third parties make a showing on the national scene in presidential elections. Their success, however, has been limited in terms of votes, and they have often disappeared after only one or two elections. The record of third parties in winning representation in the Congress is even less impressive, especially in the twentieth century. From the turn of the century to the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Republican Party was dominant nationally, although the Democrats monopolized politics in the southern states after their defeat in the Civil War. Beginning with Franklin Roosevelt's victory in 1932, however, the national electorate grew to favor the Democrats over the Republicans, and Roosevelt was reelected in 1936, 1940, and 1944. Upon his death in 1945, he was succeeded by his vice president, Harry Truman. Truman won election in his own right for a four-year term in 1948 and served into the beginning of our time period.

Democratic control of the national administration was ended in the elections of 1952, in which former general Dwight Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson for the presidency, while the Republicans also won narrow majorities in both houses of Congress. But, in the congressional elections of 1954, the Republicans lost control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The presidential campaign of 1956 was a rerun of 1952, with the Republican Eisenhower versus the Democrat Stevenson. Eisenhower once again demonstrated his personal popularity with the voters, defeating Stevenson handily although the Democrats won control of Congress.

Eisenhower faced Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress for the remainder of his term as president. Indeed, the congressional elections in the midst of the recession of 1958 dramatically increased the margins of Democratic control. The Republican Party finally lost control of the executive branch of government in 1960, when Richard Nixon succeeded Eisenhower as his party's candidate and lost in a close election to John Kennedy, the first Catholic elected to the presidency. Kennedy took office in 1961 and governed throughout our time period with a Congress controlled by his own party. He was assassinated in November 1963 and was succeeded by his vice president, Lyndon Johnson.

Continuity and Change since 1962

Plotting the parties' representation in the House of Representatives from 1950 to 1978 reveals the basic stability of the two party system in the United States. Except for one Congress under the Eisenhower administration of 1953-1954, the same party controlled the House throughout, and virtually all House seats were held by the majority and minority parties together. No new parties formed after 1962 were strong or stable enough to qualify for study.

Original Parties, Continuing

001 Democratic Party. Although the Democrats controlled Congress (both House and Senate) for all but one session from 1950 through 1978, the party held the presidency only in 1950-1952 (Truman), 1961 1968 (Kennedy and Johnson), and 1977-1980 (Carter).

002 Republican Party. Nearly always the minority party in Congress, the Republicans fared much better in presidential elections, winning four of the seven and holding the presidency for 16 of the 29 years from 1950 to 1978 (Eisenhower in 1953-1960 and Nixon in 1969-1976).


Despite changes in party personalities, issues, and campaign methods, the U.S. party system in 1979 remains essentially the same as in 1950. The Democrats still constitute the majority party and the Republicans the minority, yet Republicans compete on equal terms for the presidency. This feature of American politics strengthens its claim for classification as a competitive two-party system, which otherwise would be difficult to justify by reference to congressional representation alone.

[For party politics since 1962, see the essay by Kenneth Janda]

1. The United States was not included in the original random sample of 50 countries in the ICPP project. Therefore, no special information base was created on microfilm for American party politics. The Democratic and Republican parties were included in the study on the basis of codes and comments prepared by Kenneth Janda, who worked with notes and suggested codes from Mark A. Siegel. Nicole Finitzo, Adrienne Levatino, and Karen Wolfson were especially helpful in their contributions for the issue orientation variables. William Crony reviewed all the codes and suggested several improvements in the coding. James Epstein subsequently recoded most of the variables for the American parties without knowledge of the original set of codes. The product moment correlation between the original and recoded variables was .86 for 103 comparisons for both parties, indicating high reliability in the coding process.