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November 28, 2004

The R-Word: Realignment

You know the Washington Post didn't want to write this article, but they did:

This election was the first in which exit polls showed equal numbers of self-identified Republicans and Democrats -- both at 37 percent -- erasing what had been a decades-long advantage for Democrats, 4 percent in 2000..... On a percentage basis, he improved on his 2000 performance in 48 states.

Most significantly, in the view of people who suspect realignment, exit polls showed Bush cutting into Democratic advantages with some historically Democratic groups -- especially Hispanics, who gave Bush 42 percent of their votes, compared with 35 percent in 2000. ...

A preeminent scholar of realignment is Walter Dean Burnham at the University of Texas at Austin, the author 33 years ago of "Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics." He was out of the office and did not return messages during the week before Thanksgiving, but he recently told the Weekly Standard magazine that long-term trends favoring Republicans among culturally conservative and hawkish voters came to full flower in 2004, and he predicted, "If Republicans keep playing the religious card along with the terrorism card, this could last a long time."


Mark Gersh, a leading elections analyst with the Democratic-supporting National Committee for an Effective Congress, said he does not believe a realignment has occurred, but he does fear that the results highlight serious structural problems for Democrats. In addition to the higher number of Republican-leaning states -- a major GOP advantage in the Senate -- the Democrats are getting trounced in the outer suburbs of metropolitan regions. While these areas still produce relatively few votes, they are the fastest-growing areas of the country. A Los Angeles Times analysis found Bush won 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties.

"If the Democrats don't do well" in places and with groups "that are growing faster than others," said Gersh, "they are going to be in trouble."

Fred Barnes puts it like this: the Republicans have not achieved political dominance as the Democrats enjoyed throughout most of the post-WWII period. But they have achieved "parity-plus" in his term, equal footing plus just a little something extra. And that, in itself, represents a realignment (albeit one that's been coming for a long time).

The Democrats take a lot of solace in the fact that Bush, an incument during wartime, did not score a landslide. Thus, they believe, they're in pretty good shape in 2008.

But that analysis seems strongly at odds with their pre-election beliefs. Before the election, they claimed -- and they honestly believed, I'm sure -- that Bush was the most disasterous president since, well, either Herbert Hoover, Andrew Johnson, or Martin Sheen in The Dead Zone. If President Bush was such a failure in terms of results, and yet he still won a somewhat comfortable popular-vote victory, well then, the public must really appreciate Republican ideas. After all, Bush had few results to show for his first term.

Bush wasn't nearly as "disasterous" a President as the Democrats believed, but, speaking honestly, the facts on the ground were not much in his favor. Yes, there are reasons the economy is still "ooching" along, as President Bush once said; but it is still merely ooching, not growing gangbusters. Iraq is not nearly the fiasco that Howard Wolfson claims, but it hasn't been a real success, either, at least not since April or May of 2003.

And yet-- Bush won.

The Democrats, then, should not be sanguine about almost beating a Republican President with a so-so economy and mixed-to-bad war of his own making.

Al Gore's administration presided over the greatest expansion in history, and could crow about how "peaceful" the world was under his watch. (We know better now, of course.) And yet he lost-- narrowly, yes, but still, he lost.

If the Democrats have to produce a candidate as charismatic and skilled as Bill Clinton, plus a gangbusters economy and no major foreign policy threat known by the public in order to win an election, that means they're not going to win too many elections in the future.

Heck, any party can win with a Bill Clinton presiding over a supercharged economy. Even, say, the Libertarians. But any scenario less advantageous than that seems to produce Democratic losses.

And that's a problem. That's a big problem.

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posted by Ace at 05:09 AM

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