The election of 1896 is regarded as one of the classic realigning elections. In 1892, Democrats had won solid victories in the Midwest-taking Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri-and in the Northeast, winning New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware. But in 1896, they lost all those states, as well as neighboring Kentucky and West Virginia, as the party aligned itself with the growing Populist movement, centered in the Prairie states and finding new strength in the South. But the failure of the Populists to appeal to the industrial North set in place the dominant paradigm for the next 36 years, which would only be broken by Woodrow Wilson in 1912, thanks to the progressive/conservative split in the GOP leading to the Bull Moose rebellion. In 1916, Wilson would win re-election by a whisker. Aside from these two elections, Republicans dominated the presidency, and usually controlled Congress as well.
Here, we look only at the first part of this era, when there were two basic configurations. From 1896 through 1908, the Republicans held the industrial North-from New England to the Midwest-with additional Western states ranging from a mere handful-California, Oregon and North Dakota in 1896-to a clean sweep under Teddy Roosevelt in 1904. Taft did almost as well as Roosevelt in 1908, but his conservative policies once in office drew Roosevelt into the most successful third party bid in presidential history. Indeed, Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party did so well in 1912 that it actually reduced the Republicans to third party status, winning both more popular votes and more votes in the electoral college. The resulting Democrat-dominated map represented a profound change, but it was clearly a fluke. Even with the power of incumbency, Wilson barely held on, as his 1916 victory was remarkably similar to the Democrats sound defeat in 1896, with only a few key states making the difference. The Democrats had a stronger showing out West, including the newly admitted states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as California, they swapped one Dakota for the other, and picked up Ohio, Kentucky and New Hampshire in the Republican's stronghold. Despite controlling the vast majority of geography, it was the most narrow of victories, and was followed by a virtual reversion to the map of Roosevelt's victory in 1904, which was replicated almost identically in the elections of 1920 and 1924, as will be seen in the next section.
This next period is much longer, but that's because it only consisted of two basic maps. The first was the pattern of Republican dominance, virtually identical to Teddy Roosevelt's 1904 victory in the elections of 1920 and 1924, with even greater dominance in 1928, thanks in part to Al Smith's Catholicism causing some Southern Democrats to defect. But this map was dramatically changed by the Great Depression, and although there was some erosion after the high-point of 1936-particularly when Truman headed the ticket in 1948-the Democrats clearly were no longer confined to a Southern base with wildly fluctuating support elsewhere, as they previously had been. Indeed, Truman lost parts of the South to the racist Dixiecrats, and even though he lost most of New England down to the Mid-Atlantic, he held on very well in the Midwest. The old Teddy Roosevelt 1904 map-or slightly worse-would not reappear until after teh Korean War drove Truman from office, in our next section.
This next next period, 1952-1972, was much more like the era 1896-1916, only moreso-an era of wild swings. This was the period in which the Democrats finally lost the "Solid South" (though of course they had lost Southern states before), although they would make a brief comeback in 1976. It began with Eisenhower's two smashing victories in the 1950s, with maps more similar to 1928 than 1904, as the Democrats failed to carry either Texas or Florida. This was followed Kennedy's narrow win in 1960, with a map unlike any ever seen before. His solid block from Massachusetts and New York down to West Virginia was then cut off by Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee-states Democrats had regularly carried when they were victorious, and often even when they were not. Eight years later, however, Hubert Humphrey would win that exact same block of states-but not enough else to win. Still, the 1960 and 1968 maps were clearly more like each other than they were like anything else. In between was another anomaly-LBJ's landslide victory over Barry Goldwater, which was a lot like a return to the New Deal Era of 1932-1948, except that the handful of states Johnson didn't carry were almost exclusively in the very heart of the Democrat's traditional stronghold-another sign of a fundamental shift. Indeed, of the six Southern states that the Democrats won in 1956, Goldwater won four of them just eight years later. Finally, Nixon's 1972 re-election landslide represented yet another map not seen before-an almost total Republican sweep, with the Democrats only winning Massachusetts (hence, the post-Watergate bumper-sticker, "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts).
This next period of time has just two different basic maps. The first, Jimmy Carter's narrow win over Gerald Ford in 1976, is a remarkable throwback-to the otherwise virtually anomalous 1960 Kennedy victory over Nixon. The next three elections are variants on Nixon's 1972 landslide, with Minnesota playing the role of Massachusetts in 1984, and a handful of states replacing the solo status of those two in 1980 and 1988.
Finally, the era 1992-2004 has two different basic maps. In 1992 and 1996, Clinton won with three major axes of states. One axes stretches from Maine to Tennessee. This intersects with a second axes stretching from from Minnesota, down the Mississippi River to Louisiana. The third axes is the three West Coast states plus Hawaii and Nevada. In contrast, the elections of 2000 and 2004 gave us the division of "red states" and "blue states" that have been falsely identified as if representing eternal categories. It warrants attention that the key differences between between 1990s Clinton victories and the 2000 Bush victories come down to a handful of significant states. Both times Clinton ran, he won Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana-a solid phalanx of Appalachian states running right into three lower Mississippi River states. He also won Nevada. Both times Bush ran, he won these states as well. Note that these are not traditional "Deep South" states. Clinton did win one such state, Georgia, in 1992, but did not win it in 1996, running for re-election, although he did pick up Florida, instead-one of the quintessential "Outer South" states that many Southerners don't even consider "Southern." Clinton also won New Mexico both times and one or two other states-Montana and Colorado in 1992, and Arizona in 1996. Bush won New Mexico only in 2004.
|Examining Map Types Over Time|
Within each of the periods I used above-ones that often cross over traditional boundary points--we can order the map types from most Republican to most Democratic, see where the different configurations cluster, and where they change abruptly or gradually, and make some observations about what underlay these changes.
The maps of this period range from the extremely Republican map of 1904, when Teddy Roosevelt ran for re-election, to the extremely Democratic map of 1912, when Roosevelt running as a third party candidate actually surpassed the Republican candidate, and allowed Woodrow Wilson to win a sweeping victory. The defining election of this period was 1896, and once defined the Republicans improved their position until the split in 1912.
The 1896 election was one in which the Republicans successful defined the Populists as tied to the past, and presented themselves as "progressive." This was, however, a highly contested term, and there were profound differences between the insider good old boy networks that Mark Hanna and William McKinley represented and the reformer that Teddy Roosevelt appealed to. The muddle involved here may be part of the reason that although 1896 was the realigning election that defined the era, it was actually the worst showing of any election that the Republicans won. The attempt to co-opt Roosevelt by making him Vice President-a political dead-end job in those days-succeeded at first, it got a a larger margin than the 1896 election, but it backfired when McKinley was assassinated and Roosevelt became President. His 1904 re-election represented the high tide of Republican progressivism presenting itself as something positive, and inclusive. Taft ran as his successor in 1908 and did nearly as well, but outraged Roosevelt by abandoning the progressive path as Roosevelt understood it. His third party run in 1912 opened the door for Wilson's Democratic version of the Progressive vision, which was notably to the right of Roosevelt, and downright schizophrenic in many ways, combining high-minded internationalism with good old Southern racism and repression of dissent during WWI that was unparalleled in our history to that time.
The most reactionary aspects of Wilson's politics did not come out until after he won his narrow re-election in 1916, but his contradictions did underscore the flukish nature of his initial 1912 victory even though it was matched by a Democratic surge in the House as well. This all set the stage for the 1920s dominance of the corrupt big-business Republicans who had engineered the 1896 realignment, only to have control repeatedly slip away, until they got their hands on all the levers at last.
The maps of this era are clearly split between the Republican maps of the 1920s and the Democratic maps of the 1930s and 40s. In this case, the realigning election of 1932 was so sweeping that it was only possible to improve on it for one election before some erosion set in.
The three most Republican maps of this next era-1928, 1924 and 1920-reflect the final success of the engineers of the 1896 realignment, beginning in 1920, and the progression of their consolidation, winning larger georgraphic majorities in each successive election.... until, of course, their policies helped lead right into the Great Depression. This was, of course, a world-wide event, but they were clearly in sync with the rest of the world leaders who were collectively responsible for the disaster-as well as the further disaster yet to come, WWII.
In contrast with the three elections that favored the Republicans, the Democrats started off strong, with their 1932 election representing an even more lop-sided victory than Wilson's 1912 win, particularly since there was no strong third party splitting the Republican vote. But the Democrats only improved their map in one succeeding election, 1936, when they won all but two states. Geographically, there was very little difference between the 1940 and 1944 elections, it was only in 1948 that the Democrats faltered significantly, but still won despite strong splintering to the left, with former VP Henry Wallace, and to the right, with the Dixiecrats. What happened during this period was simply that the Republican hard core refused to adapt to the reality of their previously failed policies. This formed the breeding ground for a particularly pernicious politics of personal attack, as I described in my diary two weeks ago, "Patriotism Smackdown: Barack Obama Vs. Hitler's Ghost?". When they finally did come back to power, it was in a manner almost as schizophrenic as Wilson's 1912 victory. On the one hand, it was powered from below by the McCarthyite attack on Democrats' personal integrity and patriotism, on the other hand, it was powered from above by Dwight D. Eisenhower's hero status, and his commitment to accept the basic contours of the New Deal economy.
This was a period of extreme change, with the maps of 1956 and 1964 being almost exact mirror images of one another. As usual, the the realigning--or rather de-aligning election of this era, 1968, is toward the middle, and the following election, 1972, represents an astonishing consolidation of the GOP gains made in 1968. What sets up the unprecedented map of 1972 is the equally unprecedented map of 1964, the first time ever that Republicans swept the Deep South, even as LBJ was winning a resounding New Deal-style national landslide.
Although we didn't know it at the time, the period 1952-1972 represented the most fundamental shift in American political geography in our history. As noted above, the most dramatic representation of this was the near mirror-image character of the 1956 and 1964 elections, just 8 years apart. The 1956 map was a relatively extreme example, but part of a very familiar pattern of similar maps, with Democrats limited almost exclusively to winning most or all Southern states. The occurred in 1904, 1920, 1924, 1928, and 1952. If we include maps where Democrats won several to many western states, but still lost, we could add 1896, 1900, and 1908 to this list, for a total of 9 elections from 1896 to 1956--every election except for 1912, 1916, and 1932-1948. The reverse of this pattern, however, had never been seen, which is why the 1956/1964 transition is so striking, and why it presaged enormous changes to come.
In between these two elections, the 1960 election represented a configuration that also had never been seen before, although echoes of it returned in 1968 and 1976. JFK won every state from Massachusetts and New York down to West Virginia, but lost Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, thus cutting him off from the traditional Democratic stronghold of the South, and isolating his Northeast support from the Midwest. (Carter would win Kentucky and Ohio, but not Virginia, even while the over-all look of his map would remain similar.) These three elections are clearly connected with one another structurally, even while their meanings in time were quite different. 1960 was a clear Democratic victory, taking back the White House after two consecutive GOP landslides under Eisenhower. 1968 was the realigninig--or rather de-aligning--election of this era, as Nixon's presidential victory was not matched by Republicans in Congress. The crucial geographic signature of the 1968 was the shut-out of the Democrats in the South, outside of Texas. As is customary, the realigning election was followed by an even more decisive victory, Nixon's near-total landslide in 1972 which presaged the lopsided Republican victories of 1980, 1984 and 1988--all of which elections failed to produce a Republican House. The 1976 election, which Carter won, by recapturing Southern states lost in 1968, was clearly a throw-back, the last of three similar, unstable transitional maps.
This era has already implicitly been described in the previous section. The dominant map form (1980, 1984, 1988) is the national GOP landslide, with solid or almost-solid South, while the sole exception, 1976, is the last example of the anomalous transitional form previously seen in 1960 and 1968.
The only further comment needed here is to view 1976 through a different lens-rather than seeing its similarity to 1960 and 1968, we can stress its difference, and its similarity to Clinton's two victories in 1992 and 1996. Although Clinton would not carry the Carolinas, Mississippi, Alabama or Texas in either election, and would carry a solid Northeast, and a significant group of Western states where Carter came up empty, both men carried a solid spine of Appalachian states from New York down to Tennessee, and-with the exception of Carter losing Iowa-a solid spine of Mississippi River states from Minnesota down to Louisiana.
This last period, 1992-2004, has two basic maps-the Clinton victories of the 1990s and the Bush victories of the 2000s. As described in the previous section, Clinton's maps, although unique (see initial description ) were clearly related to Carter's 1976 map, even though it more closely resembled 1960 and 1968. It is only because of the incredibly myopic Versailles media that we've developed the parochial view of the Bush/Gore (and almost identical Bush/Kerry) divide of Red States and Blue States as symbolizing anything in way of durable categories. Indeed, the 2000 and 2004 maps are even more anomalous than the Clinton maps, which at least have a structural similarity to the Carter 1976 map, and through it to the 1960 and 1968 maps. These may be odd maps compared to earlier history, but if one regards them as a single super-family of maps, then 5 maps out of 10 (from 1960 to 19996) can hardly be characterized as anomalous.
Indeed, one could argue that since 1960, the one truly anomalous map is LBJ's 1964 landslide, while all the rest of the maps fall into two super-families. I've already described the first super-family. The second consists of the one family of Republican landslides--1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988-and the second family of George Bush squeakers. The two families are related by the fact that both represented GOP dominance in the South, Mountain West and Great Plains. Furthermore, in the weakest of the GOP landslides, 1988, 8 of 9 states the Democrats carried (excepting West Virginia) would also be carried by Gore in 2000.
In similar fashion, we can look back to the previous era, and discern two super-families there as well, but this one divides simply over who has won the election, either the Democrats, with their victories in 1916 and 1948 as the two close calls, and everything else pretty much a landslide, or the Republicans, with the Democrats either completely confined to the South, or else gaining states elsewhere, but not enough to win.
Looking at the three maps generated in the last diary to look at best-scenarios for Obama and McCain, it's easy to categorize McCain's best-case scenario. This map:
is clearly part of the Bush 2000/2004 family
But the Obama best-case scenarios (with and without Edwards VP assist) are much harder to puzzle out:
Without VP Assist:
With VP Assist:
Of course, as I've said repeatedly before, we can't assume that these will be realized, these are the "best case" maps. But what do they point toward?
I'm going to take an extremely chicken-shit way out and say, "We simply can't tell." It may be chicken-shit, but it's also well justified by history. If we look back at the previous realigning (or de-aligning) elections, then we see that they are often transitional elections, where majorities get built upon later, leading to maps that look quite different from the realigning one. If Obama has a very successful first term, then it's entirely possible that 2012 could see a landslide re-election with the GOP carrying 5 or fewer states, and his successor could easily do almost as well, just as Bush I did in 1988. If Obama's first term is successfully frustrated by the GOP, then any number of outcomes are possible in 2012.
Either way, however, it seems very likely that we are on our way into a new era in which the types of maps we see are as different from the maps of 1960-2004 as those maps were from the maps that preceded them. In all probability, this will be a map-changing election, not just for this election, but for many to come--and this will apply to both Democratic-victory maps and Republican-victory maps. We just don't know what they will look like yet.