Yale Historian Beverly Gage: Will the Election Spark a Partisan Realignment?

Convening Yale

The tumultuous and divisive presidential campaign may be a sign of historical political shifts occurring beneath the surface, Beverly Gage, professor of history at Yale College, told students on September 29.

Gage, an expert in 20th-century American history, joined Dean Edward A. Snyder in a conversation about the 2016 presidential election at Yale SOM, the first of four Convening Yale events focusing on current events. Convening Yale brings scholars from throughout the university to Evans Hall to share their research with Yale SOM students.

“There are certain elections in American history that become transition elections, in which one party sort of folds in parts of another party, and then one constituency that was in one party moves over to the other party, and it seems as if the [current] Democratic party may experience something like that,” said Gage.

Many well-educated “establishment” Republicans now seem to find themselves without representation in their party, and may make their way to the Democratic Party, she said.

“This tends to happen every 40 or 50 years in American politics—one party becomes the dominant national party, and then you get a switch-up and the other party becomes the dominant national party,” she said. “That happened in the 1930s and it happened again in the 1970s and ’80s, so we’re due for that kind of change, and that may be what we’re about to see.”

Gage said that the election could also trigger ideological changes within the country’s two major parties.

“If we were to see some sort of reconfiguration of the party system and the party identity coming out of this election, I would say that we might begin to see emerge a Republican party that is more protectionist and more nativist in certain ways, which is to say anti-immigration, anti-globalization—and that will have certain class inflections,” she said. “The Democratic party I can see becoming a sort of party of cosmopolitanism and globalism and education… These won’t ever be clean distinctions and breaks, but they would actually be fundamental shifts in the consistencies of the identities of the parties.”

Gage also cautioned against the dismissing the ascendancy of Republican nominee Donald Trump as a fluke.

“If Donald Trump should teach us anything, it is how hard it is to predict what’s going to happen,” she said. “How many pundits and very wise and intelligent people were completely wrong, did not see this coming, couldn’t have predicted it, and couldn’t even conceive of this occurring?”

About the Event

Beverly Gage, a professor in Yale’s History Department with an expertise in 20th-century U.S. political history, will join Dean Edward A. Snyder for a conversation about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. This session is the first of the special four-part Convening Yale series.

Convening Yale presents talks by faculty and leaders from throughout Yale University, who share their research and expertise and help students broaden their understanding of an increasingly complex world. The Convening Yale series is made possible through the generous support of the Robert J. Silver ’50 Fund for Innovation in Management Education.

This event is open to the Yale SOM community. Registration is required.


Speaker Biography

Beverly Gage is professor of 20th-century American history. She teaches courses on politics and government, liberalism and conservatism, communism and anticommunism, and the craft of historical writing.

Her first book, The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in its First Age of Terror, examined the history of terrorism in the late 19th- and early 20th centuries, focusing on the 1920 Wall Street bombing. Her next book, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the American Century, will be a biography of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

In addition to her teaching and research, Professor Gage has written for numerous journals and magazines, including the Journal of American History, the Journal of Policy History, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Slate, and The Nation. She appears regularly on the PBS NewsHour, among other programs. In 2009, Professor Gage received the Sarai Ribicoff Award for teaching excellence in Yale College. In 2015, she was elected to serve as the first chair of Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate.