Journal of Politics
Cambridge University Press
Realignment theory has long offered the primary framework for understanding American political history, particularly as it relates to the party system. The ‘‘System of 1896’’ is central to the theory and holds that William McKinley’s victory in that year ushered in a Republican-dominated era lasting until Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election in 1932. The 10 years of partial—and six years of total—Democratic control of Congress and the White House (1910–20) during this 36-year stretch (1896–1932) remains an anomaly among realignment theorists. I conduct content analyses of Democratic and Republican party documents and media commentary and find that World War I played a crucial role in the GOP’s resurgence in 1920. This conclusion highlights realignment theory’s failure to account for the important role of international events and contingency in general.