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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Party-Switching Not That Good For Political Health

In the wake of the recent party-switch by Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama, it’s been sort of assumed that “opportunistic” party-switchers are obviously doing the right thing for their own political futures, if not for their constituents or any conception of duty and honor.
Wondering about that, LaGrange College’s John Tures, writing in Southern Political Report, does a compliation of every party-switch since 1980 by a serving member of Congress. Turns out that of 19 cases, seven lost the very next time they faced voters, sometimes in primaries, sometimes in general elections. Only eight went on to enjoy reasonably successful political careers.
But what struck me most about Tures’ article is how relatively small the number of congressional party-switchers turned out to be over a turbulent thirty year period, even in the South (12 of the 19 party switches), where very large blocs of voters were on the move off and on throughout this era. Perhaps I was misled over the years by the inveterate habit of Republicans in trumpeting every party-switch by some dogcatcher as “Taps” for southern Democrats, but I would have expected the number of Parker Griffiths to be higher. Maybe turning one’s coat isn’t quite the “opportunity” it sometimes seems to be.

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