V.O. Key, Jr.

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Valdimer Orlando Key, Jr. (March 13, 1908 - October 4, 1963), usually known simply as V. O. Key, was an influential American political scientist known for his empirical study of elections, voting behavior, and the politics of the American South.

Key was born in Austin, Texas, to a Ukrainian family. He was educated at the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., 1929; M.A., 1930), earned his Ph.D from the University of Chicago in 1934, and taught at UCLA, Johns Hopkins University (1938-49), and Yale University (1949-51) before starting his last professorship at Harvard University in 1951.

In 1936–38 he served with the Social Science Research Council and the National Resources Planning Board.

During World War II he worked with his mentor Harold Gosnell at the Bureau of the Budget.

In 1942 Key published the first edition of his textbook, Politics, Parties, and Pressure Groups, in which he emphasized that politics was a contest and the main players were organized interest groups. The book decisively shaped the teaching of political science by introducing realism in analysis of politics, introducing the "interest group" model, and introducing behavioral methods based on statistical analysis of election returns. It went through three editions but was not revised after his death. His Southern Politics in State and Nation (1949) was a microscopic examination, state by state, of Southern politics using interviews and statistics. see the discussion by John Corbett. In Public Opinion and American Democracy (1961) he analyzed the link between the changing patterns of public opinion and the governmental system. He opposed the "Michigan model" that that argued voters' preferences were determined by psychological factors, thereby taking most of the politics out of political science. In his posthumous work, The Responsible Electorate: Rationality in Presidential Voting 1936–60 (1966), he analyzed public opinion data and electoral returns to show what he believed to be the rationality of voters' choices as political decisions rather than responses to psychological stimuli.

Other works by Key include The Techniques of Political Graft in the United States (1936), A Primer of Statistics for Political Scientists (1954), and American State Politics: An Introduction (1956). He pioneered the study of critical elections and served as president of the American Political Science Association in 1958–59.

He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


  • Andrew M. Lucker. V. O. Key Jr.: The Quintessential Political Scientist (2001).
  • Keith Fitzgerald. "History, institutions, and political culture: V.O. Key as an exemplar for a revived research program." Political Science Reviewer (December 31, 2000).
  • Ness, Gary C. "The Southern Politics Project and the Writing of Recent Southern History." South Atlantic Quarterly 1977 76(1): 58-72. ISSN 0038-2876 * Uslander, Eric M. "Comparative State Policy Formation, Interparty Competition, and Malapportionment: a New Look at 'V. O. Key's Hypotheses'". Journal of Politics 1978 40(2): 409-432. ISSN 0022-3816 Fulltext at Jstor and Ebsco