A number of pundits, including the incomparable Michael
Barone, have recently written about the evaporation of the
much-ballyhooed “new Democratic Party majority” that
was heralded in 2008 and thereafter not only by liberal
commentators, but some throw-in-the-towel conservatives
I agree with their general observation, but I would like to
suggest that voters, as well as pundits, need to suspend a
number of commonplaces about the electorate as we
approach the national presidential election in 2016.
To think “outside the political box” for the next cycle,
could have both positive and negative implications for both
major political parties.
One of the possible voter myths might be the generally
accepted notion that Democrats start out with a “lock” on
about 240 electoral votes (271 being necessary to win the
presidency). (This notion is usually accompanied by the
commonplace that the Republicans have an indefinite “lock”
on control of the U.S. house of representatives.) Both of these
notions are based on the evolving urban vs. rural demographic
division across the nation, as well as certain assumptions
about ethnic voting patterns. The 2014 national mid-term
elections tended to reinforce all of this, including the
assumption that the relatively low turnout in 2014 (which
helped Republicans) will be followed by a much greater voter
turnout in 2016 that will help Democrats, especially the
Demographic patterns are powerful matters, and long-term
have historical validity, but like the weather also change
direction abruptly sometimes in the short-term for reasons
which cannot usually be anticipated.
Perhaps observers and analysts will resist most any
argument which challenges the very large base of votes for the
Democrats in the electoral college. The states of California,
New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wisconsin,
most of New England, Oregon and Washington have recently
been liberal voter strongholds, and there does not seem to be
obvious reasons why this will soon change, particularly in
2016. Most of these states have large urban centers and large
ethnic minorities which have recently voted Democratic.
On the other hand, voters in some of these states voted for
Republican statewide candidates in 2014, a phenomenon not
based on new voting patterns, but on the personalities and
local issues of the candidates.
This suggests that the selection of the Republican and
Democratic presidential nominees in 2016 might be more
critical than usual. No matter who the GOP nominated in 2008
and in 2012, they were not likely, for different reasons, to defeat
Barack Obama. In 1952 and 1956, no Democrat was going to
defeat Dwight Eisenhower; in 1984, no Democrat was going to
win over Ronald Reagan; and in 1996, no Republican could
defeat Bill Clinton.
Although I would argue that the momentum for 2016, with its
likely accumulation of “Obama fatigue” by mid-2016, favors
the Republicans, the dynamics and divisions in both major
parties, I would also argue, makes the November result less
likely to predict.
Hillary Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee at this
point. Assuming she runs and wins her party’s nomination,
she will almost certainly win most of her party base as well as
some independent voters who want to choose the first woman
president. But her hold on previously reliable Hispanic, Jewish
and Asian voters, as well as the kind of turnout from black
voters for Mr. Obama, is not guaranteed. Her general appeal to
independent voters is also in question.
Current GOP frontrunner Jeb Bush clearly would appeal to
many Hispanic voters, and likely would win Florida (won by
Obama in 2012). New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, with the
most charismatic personality in either party, could make
inroads in the North East (particularly in Pennsylvania) and
in the Mid-Atlantic states and among independent voters.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker could have considerable
appeal in several midwestern states won by the Democratic
nominee in 2008 and 2012. Other conservative candidates, if
they won their party nomination, could also win in previously
liberal voting states, based on their individual appeal. In the
same way, if the Republicans nominated a divisive presidential
candidate, the GOP could lose some traditionally Republican
states in 2016, and throw away any advantage they might have.
Much more than in congressional elections, the personality
and issues of the nominees in presidential elections can
overcome previous demographic patterns.
I am not yet prepared to suggest which Republican candidate
is likely to win the nomination in 2016, or which of them
brings the most electoral power to the table, but I do suggest
that certain electoral commonplaces might not hold when we
reach election day in November, 2016.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.