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Party Instability: Why American Politics Feels Broken


Published: May 2, 2019

American politics feels broken because existing voting blocs are regrouping and reconsidering which issues motivate them and which political party they support. Ongoing economic and demographic structural changes have led to control of the legislative and executive branches shifting back and forth. While this is not the first time in the history this has occurred, political parties will need to figure out a winning combination of policies that can consistently win them elections in order to stabilize American politics. 

Discussion Questions

  1. How does political instability affect economic growth?
  2. Why are other nations affected by the US political instability?

Additional Resources

  • Read “Globalization and Political Instability” by David Brady, available here
  • Read “What American History Can Teach Us” by David Brady, available here.
  • Read “Economics in a Time of Political Instability” by David Brady and Michael Spence. Available here.
  • Read “Flipping the House: What '94, '06, '10 Turnout Tells Us” by David Brady and Brett Parker, available here.


View Transcript

American politics feels more chaotic and unstable than ever. Our political parties have sorted into ideological opposites. 

But there is a reason for all this turmoil: America’s political instability is occurring because of deep, ongoing economic and demographic structural changes that are causing existing voting blocs to regroup and reconsider which issues motivate them and which party they support. 

As a result, control of the legislative and executive branches keeps shifting back and forth. 

And notably, these structural changes are affecting countries all over the world. 

What is stable today isn’t stable tomorrow, and political parties have to adjust in order to find positions that win them a majority of voters. 

Lucikly there is a reason to be hopeful: This has happened before in our history. 

For example, in response to the Great Depression, Democrats found a winning combination of issues with the New Deal. They promised voters security from financial ruin, made welfare a popular voting platform, and as a result, went on to control Congress for sixty years. 

Today, political parties are struggling to find a winning combination of positions on the challenges that are causing people to change political allegiances - including global trade, immigration, automation, access to health care, and inequality. 

Once one political party figures out a winning combination of policies that can consistently win them elections, political stability will return.