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University of California, Los Angeles 2012

First to the Party: The Group Origins of Party Transformation

Available now at amazon.com.

You can find my New Books Network interview about the book here.

The United States has scores of potential issues and ideologies but only two major political parties. How parties respond to competing demands for their attention is therefore central to American democracy. First to the Party argues that organized groups set party agendas by invading party nominations to support candidates committed to their interests. Where the nominees then go, the parties also go.

Using in-depth archival research and interviews with activists, I apply this proposition to the two most important party transformations of the twentieth century: the Democratic Party's embrace of civil rights in the 1940s and 50s, and the Republican Party's embrace of cultural conservatism in the 1980s. The choices made by the parties in these circumstances were less a response to candidates or general electoral pressures than to activist and group influences on nominations. Party change is ultimately rooted in group change, which in turn is ultimately rooted in the coalitional and organizational challenges confronting groups.

Click here for Table of Contents and Excerpt

Media Appearances

"Is the Electoral College a Rubber Stamp or Protection against Demagogues." This Week in Politics, WNYC News.

Journal Publications

"Independent Politics: How American Disdain for Parties Leads to Political Inaction, by Samara Klar and Yanna Krupnikov." Political Science Quarterly 132 (1), 2017, 191-192.

"Group Agendas as the Root of Party Position Change." The Forum 15(4), 2017, 655- 665.

"First to the Party: The Group Origins of the Partisan Transformation on Civil Rights, 1940-1960." Studies in American Political Development 27 (2), 2013, 111-141.

Book Chapters

"The Possibility of a GOP Realignment" - Sides and Farrell, The Science of Trump (July, 2016)

Blog Posts and Op Eds

"President Trump is trying to reach across the aisle. Good luck with that" - The Monkey Cage at the Washington Post (October, 2017)

"A Key Reason the Founders Wanted the Electoral College: To Keep Out Demagogues and Bullies" - The Monkey Cage at the Washington Post (December, 2016)

"Is Trump the Last Gasp of Reagan's Party?" - The Monkey Cage at the Washington Post (May, 2016)

"Bernie Sanders Can't Win Without Party Elites" - Fortune (April, 2016)

"Is Donald Trump leading a realignment of the GOP? Maybe not" - The Monkey Cage at the Washington Post (March, 2016)

Dissertation Committee

John Zaller (chair), Scott James, Kathy Bawn, and Rachael Cobb (Suffolk University)


American Politics and Quantitative Methods

Research Interests

Presidents and Institutions
Interest Groups
Public Opinion and Voting Behavior
American Political Development
Campaigns and Elections

First to the Party: The Group Origins of Party Transformation

Click here for Table of Contents and Excerpt

New Book Project

My new book project—Ahead of the Class: When Coalitions Represent the Disadvantaged—explains the circumstances under which interest groups pursue the policies of their less advantaged members and allies. Using fresh, in-depth historical evidence on unions, feminists and gay rights groups reveals the considerations group activists discussed behind-the-scenes, including an increasingly unified conservative opposition. Like the black-blue alliance of the 1940s, an attack on one came to be perceived as an attack on the other. My conclusions are based on thousands of archived documents, some of which have only recently become available: the AFL-CIO, ERAmerica, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Education Association (NEA), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), and PAW (Pride at Work).

In moments of profound change, the deepest political forces often come to light. With its fine­grained analysis of cases where disadvantaged subgroups managed to obtain representation in broader coalitions, Ahead of the Class seeks to leverage this observation into a clearer understanding of why interest groups sometimes pursue the agendas of the disadvantaged.

Teaching Interests

American Politics
Political Behavior
American Political Development
The American Presidency
Public Policy
Political Parties and Interest Groups

Statement of Teaching Philosophy

Course Syllabus

Sample Upper Division Seminar Syllabus

Full Time Teaching Positions

Washington College
Wellesley College
College of the Holy Cross

Book Review in the Journal of Politics

“Comparing civil rights liberals and theological conservatives, Christopher Baylor reveals the institutional paths by which a stigmatized faction earns a seat at a major political party’s table. He shows how each group overcame rivalries to transform themselves, build new alliances, and force the political parties to accept them. First to the Party is a much-needed corrective to top-down views of political parties. The more you think you know about parties, the more you need to read this book.”—Samuel L. Popkin, University of California, San Diego, author of The Candidate: What it Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House

“Christopher Baylor’s unique argument that groups are the instigators of the process by which American political parties shift their positions on policy issues represents a challenge to existing accounts. First to the Party offers a new perspective on key questions about the influence of groups within parties and the general nature of representation in the United States.”—Christina Wolbrecht, University of Notre Dame, coauthor of Counting Women's Ballots: Female Voters from Suffrage through the New Deal

“In this important study, Christopher Baylor demonstrates how previously marginal groups can forge alliances that give them entry into a major party coalition. Marshaling an impressive array of evidence, Baylor provides critical insights into two pivotal developments in American politics: Democrats’ embrace of racial liberalism and Republicans’ alliance with Christian conservatives.”—Eric Schickler, University of California, Berkeley, author of Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932–1965

“Who controls political parties? Christopher Baylor’s First to the Party offers a fascinating answer to this question. Drawing on in-depth historical research, Baylor argues that parties change when small factions build coalitions to target nominations. Flanked by these groups, leaders fall into place. Illustrated with fascinating case studies of labor in the Democratic party and the Christian right in the Republican party, Baylor’s study will become a key reading for scholars and political observers interested in the ups and downs of political parties.”—Fabio Rojas, Indiana University, coauthor of Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11

“Drawing on discerning research in a range of historical sources to illuminate how the Democratic Party came to embrace civil rights and the Republican Party came to embrace cultural conservatism, First to the Party adds significant new depth to the idea that groups are the prime agent of party transformation. Students of American politics in both political science and sociology will read it with interest and profit.”— Anthony S. Chen, Northwestern University, author of The Fifth Freedom: Jobs, Politics, and Civil Rights in the United States, 1941-1972

“Through detailed historical research, Christopher Baylor sheds new light on the two most critical cases of party transformation in modern American politics—civil rights and cultural conservatism—and adeptly uses each, along with two shadow cases, to advance his broader theoretical framework about the role groups play in party transformation. First to the Party is an important contribution.”—Daniel J. Galvin, author of Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush


Chris Baylor
(cbaylor AT ucla dot edu)

Chris Baylor, PhD, Department of Political Science, College of the Holy Cross