The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Dems as a presidential party

The technical snafu now thankfully rectified, I've duly plunged into the post-match analysis.

For the purposes of the blog, I've treated the American polity as something of a game or puzzle - trying to divine the underlying mechanics by the operations visible to the kibitzer's eye.

There has been no shortage of teachable moments: the effectiveness of the Swifties' counter-factual campaign, for instance, and the limited effect of Bush's stumbling (for want of a better word) performance at the first debate both came as a surprise.

And the election result - will need a deal of teasing out.

To start: it's another tribute to the historical strength of the Republicans as a presidential party: cursory analysis of the list shows that, since the end of Reconstruction with the election of Rutherford Hayes, Democrats have generally needed at least one of the following to win:
  1. the GOP vote seriously split by a third party candidate (1912, 1992);

  2. economic collapse (1932/6);

  3. a general European war in progress (1916, 1940/4) or recently ended (1948);

  4. a differentially outstandingly charismatic Dem candidate (1960, 1992);

  5. recent gross misfeasance by a GOP incumbent (1976).

Johnson won in 1964 on the back of the Kennedy assassination and the GOP's Goldwater experiment; why Grover Cleveland managed to win [1] I am too lazy to research right now.

But, from the perspective of at least a couple of generations from 1932 onwards, Republicans were Yesterday's Men [2] - at least as far as Federal government was concerned: Alf Landon, Wendell Willkie, Thomas Dewey a cavalcade of no-hopers [3]; Eisenhower was wholly anomalous, Nixon in 1968 triumphing on the back of Dem divisions (the DEWDROPs' cry that year was Dump the Hump!) [4].

Which makes 48 years in which the Dems were the natural party of government - at least so far as the top job was concerned.

From today's perspective, the FDR-to-LBJ period of Dem domination in presidential races looks like an exception rather than a new rule.

Yet neither party has seen its vote collapse so as to threaten its existence, in the manner of the Canadian Tories under Kim Campbell: even in 1936, Landon managed 37% of the vote.

  1. So good they numbered him twice, of course - my October 15 2003 piece.

  2. The title of a famous 1971 British TV documentary on Harold Wilson's Labour government of 1964-70.

  3. Dewey was far from without hope in 1948, of course: according to this, he ran a safety first campaign against Truman which might bear comparison with Kerry's effort - but that would require research...

  4. I'm not clear where Wallace got his vote: he picked up the EVs of AL/AR/GA/LA/MS plus one EV from North Carolina. In 1964, AL/GA/MS voted for Goldwater - who made only 52 EVs to Wallace's 46!

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