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The Politics Insurgents Make: Reconstructive Reformers in U.S. and U.K. Postwar Party Development

Mount Holyoke College

As insurgent challengers disrupt parties and party systems across the democratic world, political scientists need to think more systematically about insurgents and the politics they make. In this article, I propose a new framework for understanding electoral insurgents and their systemic impact on politics in two-party systems. Insurgencies vary along dimensions of regime- and party-orientation, and unfold in four distinct patterns: reconstructive, co-optive, reorienting, and reactive. I compare two reconstructive insurgencies in which the structure, rules, and procedures of an existing major party were challenged and reformed during the postwar period: the New Politics movement inside the U.S. Democratic Party and the New Left in the U.K. Labor Party. Given the barriers to third-party success in these party systems, insurgents were successful at transforming parties when they framed their projects as being in line with specific aspects of the postwar political regime at a moment when that order was in crisis. In each case, insurgents had durable effects on party development by institutionalizing a reformist dynamic that has routinely drawn organizational issues into intraparty contests, undermining organizational legitimacy over time. Thinking systematically about the politics that insurgents make offers a new way of understanding the role of movements and entrepreneurs in party development.