Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Dominant and Recessive Coalitions, or a Reason for Optimism

When was the last time a Democratic Presidential candidate received a majority of the popular vote? And when was the last time a Democratic Presidential candidate carried the South? The answer to both questions is Carter in 1976. That sounds like a simple enough syllogism, and I think a lot of pundits complete it by concluding that the Democrats need to start winning the South again. But the way I see it, this is a misreading of the electoral history: the South is not the key to electoral victory. Carter’s election was a fluke. The man we should be paying attention to is LBJ.

First, Carter was running against the shattered remnants of the most disgraced administration in US history. Second, Carter’s coalition was unique: he carried the South for the first and last time since 1960, but he failed to win a majority in any state in the industrial Midwest, and he won no state West of Texas. Finally, Carter’s "majority" was negligible anyhow: a bare 50.08% of the popular vote. In fact, if Carter hadn’t eked out a 52%-48% victory in New York, he wouldn’t have won at all.

The last genuine Democratic majority was LBJ’s 1964 landslide victory over Goldwater. LBJ won 61% of the popular vote even though he lost the South to the Republicans for the first time since the Reconstruction! Some may dismiss it as just a sympathy vote for Kennedy, but I believe the margin was just too large: even if you only were to count those states that voted for LBJ by more than 62%, he still would have won.

Despite this, many pundits still see Clinton's two terms as confirmation that the Southern strategy is critical for the Democrats. But Clinton would have won both times even had he lost the South entirely. Since World War I, two coalitions have emerged: (1) the "dominant" Progressive coalition of the Pacific Coast, the Industrial Midwest, and the Liberal Northeast, and (2) the "recessive" Conservative coalition of the South and the West. Clinton's coalition was the same dominant coalition that has prevailed for nearly a century.

Since 1920, the dominant coalition has won—and would have won with or without the South—16 times. The recessive coalition has only won 4 times: 1960 (Kennedy), 1976 (Carter), and 2000-2004 (George W. Bush). Not coincidentally the "recessive" wins were also 4 of the 5 closest elections in the same time period. (There were also two oddball elections, 1948 and 1968, with strong regional independent candidates and an effective split of both coalitions.)

Thanks to George W. Bush, the Republicans are now stapled to the South, and will continue to have to hold together every state in the recessive coalition to win. Karl Rove discovered that the glue that could hold the recessive coalition together was Christian fundamentalism. But they still needed a couple of inroads into the Progressive states in order to win, and that kind of glue will not hold forever. The Democrats, by securing the dominant coalition for themselves, should be on the side of history.


Raised By Republicans said...

I agree 100% with Dr. Strangelove on this one! One can look at the electoral college results for all elections at the US Election Atlas (see link to the right).

I would go a step further even than Dr. Strangelove openly did, although he strongly implied this. The Democrats should not look to Carter, they should look to McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt (1900, 1904)! As Dr. Strangelove points out, the Bush administration has completely reversed the party identification of the regional blocs in the USA. Bush has taken Nixon's "Southern Strategy" to it's most extreme conclusion.

Carter won with some Southern support because he was a Southerner and the South had not yet been completely decoupled from the Democratic party yet. Also, many conservative evangelicals believed that Carter was one of them. They were bitterly dissapointed and have not voted for Democrats since. Bush is winning because the Democrats have not yet pointed out to the Great Lakes region that the Republican party has traded them in for the Southerners.

The Democrats are very close to making their case. Bush won Ohio in 2000 by a very narrow margin and won in 2004 riding an unheard of tide of rural voters and under a cloud of suspicion about voting irregularities in urban areas.

I've said repeatedly, that the Democrats need someone who can appeal to the suburbs of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And, although it's not blessed by a Great Lake, Florida is beginning to vote like a Great Lake state.

There is hope friends!

Dr. Strangelove said...

Thanks, RxR. I like the further lookback through time to the McKinley/Roosevelt elections.