New Jersey Representative Jeff Van Drew has switched parties from Democrat to Republican over the House of Representatives' vote to impeach President Trump, citing its partisan nature and the political pressure he had received to vote along the party line.

Has this happened before, that a standing Member of Congress switched parties directly from one major party to the other? If so, when?

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    Didn't it happen just a few months ago, with a Republican switching to Democrat? Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 1:26
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    Do you mean switching parties over an impeachment specifically, or switching parties over a specific issue, or just switching parties in general?
    – user29681
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 3:57
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    @zibadawatimmy You must be thinking of Justin Amash, who left the Republican Party in July 2019 but did not join the Democratic Party. Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 5:12
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    @zibadawatimmy Tanner is correct. Justin Amash left the Republican party, but most certainly did not become a Democrat. He's a (staunch) libertarian. His views are almost 180 degrees from those of the Democratic House leadership. The last member of Congress I can think of off-hand who switched R-to-D was Arlen Specter back in 2009. He was badly trailing his challenger in the Republican primary for 2010, so he switched parties and ran as a Democrat instead. However, he ended up losing that primary, too, and his GOP challenger won the general.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 6:28
  • 5
    Why "partisan"? Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 8:36

2 Answers 2


Has this ever happened before, that a standing Member of Congress switched parties directly from one major party to the other? If so, when?

The number of party switchers is too numerous to list here. The names and dates are provided in the links.

List of United States Representatives who switched parties, includes the reference to Jeff Van Drew.

List of United States senators who switched parties.

Party switching in the United States, includes a paragraph on Jeff Van Drew under Notable party switchers.

Democrat congressman Jefferson H. Van Drew left the Democratic Party arguing that it was swinging too far toward a radical progressive political agenda that, in his view, did not reflect the will of most people of the United States, and that Trump and what Republican Party had accomplished during the Trump presidency better reflected their will. In commenting on his party switching and reflecting on the shifting political direction of the Democratic Party, Van Drew quoted former President Ronald Reagan as having once said "I didn't leave my party, my party left me." Van Drew, who voted against the Democratic Party line in voting against impeaching Trump, claims that part of his decision to walk away from the Democrats was the alleged behaviour of at least one unnamed Democratic Party powerbroker who - in the days leading up to the House impeachment vote - had allegedly issued political threats towards him, threats that were alleged to be acted upon if he voted against impeachment, with following words to the effect "You will not get the line. You will not get the county. I will do everything to prevent that from happening and everything to destroy you." These words were disputed as "hyperbole" by a person, Mike Suleiman, interviewed by NBC10 who was thought by NBC10 to be the unnamed figure who allegedly issued the alleged political threats to Van Drew.

Motivations, from the above link.

Politicians may switch parties if they believe their views are no longer aligned with those of their current party. Richard Shelby of Alabama left the Democratic Party for the Republican Party, arguing that the former party had shifted more towards liberalism.

A disaffected incumbent who might not hold a leadership position or feels ignored or mistreated by the majority party might join the minority party with the expectation of holding a leadership position in the minority party and if currently elected, having the complete support of the minority party for re-election, who would certainly want to have more elected officials in their ranks.

Some politicians have also switched parties to improve their chances for reelection. Arlen Specter, a former US Senator of Pennsylvania, cited his uncertainty of winning a Republican primary as one reason for his move to the Democratic Party.

  • 8
    Interesting to note that representatives swap about 1 ever 6.5 years (so definitely not common), and 80% swapped from democrat to republican. It definitely isn't common.
    – user29682
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 4:29
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    "Every 6.5 years" sounds fairly common to me... I guess it's how "common" is defined... Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 14:58
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    @jgn A lot more than 1 every 6.5 years. The wiki list mentions 16 just since 1989. That's about one every other year and the list explicitly claims not to be exhaustive.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 7:38
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    @jgn When talking about modern political parties, data "since 1989" is probably a lot more useful than data "since 1856."
    – Michael W.
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 16:19
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    Of note, Jim Jeffords's switch, although to Independent caucusing with DEM and not "officially" to DEM, changed the balance of the Senate from GOP (50-50 plus a GOP VP) to 51-49 for the DEMs.
    – Damila
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 16:42

This is common enough that there's even jargon for it - "Crossing the floor" - in the UK system, where changing from government and opposition parties sit in different places in the chamber.

This is historically pretty rare, but due to the situation triggered by Brexit, happened many times in the 2017-2019 parliament. Including 11 MPs leaving their parties to form a new party, and 22 MPs being suspended in one go for voting the wrong way.

The reason this is historically very rare is it's relatively unusual for an MP to get re-elected after changing parties. Of the 11 MPs who formed a new party, every single one lost their seat at the next election.

That's not always the case, though - in the US, Rodney Alexander was first elected as a Democrat, changed parties to Republican, then was re-elected as a Republican five times. While a senator Joe Liberman even lost the Democratic primary for his state, ran as an independent, and won.

Compared to the British system, the lists of US Senators and Representatives who have changed parties is extremely short.

  • 1
    Notably, in the most recent parliamentary election, every single MPs who 'crossed the floor' to another party over Brexit (and the large majority of those who 'lost the whip' for voting against the governing party) lost their seats and were voted out in favour of loyal MPs. Changing party isn't a good career move.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 15:13
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    @Valorum Changing to the winning party like Jeff Van Drew is a great career move. Betraying your constituents like the UK mp's is not.
    – user29404
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 17:55
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    @James - it depends on the timing and the circumstances . If you can jump and be given a cushy job in the opposition's top tier or a government role and a safe seat then crossing the floor can be profitable
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 18:04
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    @James - The most recent US example that comes to my mind, that of Senator Arlen Spector, was not in fact a useful career move. He was prompted to switch by the fact that he looked sure to lose the Republican primary in 2010, so he instead proceeded to lose the Democratic primary.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 19:57
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    FWIW, at least here in Australia, "crossing the floor" means to literally move across the floor of Parliament to vote with the opposing party on a particular piece of legislation. Whilst there are often consequences for the person crossing the floor (e.g. they may get kicked out of their current party), it doesn't necessarily mean that they will change party; just that they voted differently to their party on that particular vote. Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 1:49

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