The "Mapping-Changing" Meme In Historical Perspective, 1896 To Date

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 16:54

The term "map-changing" has become one of those buzzwords this election cycle.  It was, like most buzzwords, high on sizzle, low on steak.  Why?  Because candidates don't change maps-map-changing conditions change candidates-at least, successful ones.  Which means, in effect, that any Democrat who won the nomination this time had a decent shot at becoming a map-changing candidate.  To see why this is so, I've assembled a series of maps showing all the presidential elections from 1896 to date, so that the the progression of changes can readily be seen.   At the end, I'll return to the current election, and dove-tail with the analysis in the previous diary, looking at what sort of map-change we can expect if all the swing states looked at go the Democrat's way.  Of course, there's no guarantee that will happen-but that's what real map-changing elections are all about-sailing with the flood of a rising tide, and taking all the credit for the work of the elements.

Details on the flip.

Paul Rosenberg :: The "Mapping-Changing" Meme In Historical Perspective, 1896 To Date

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.

What Next?

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.

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I think you've got your last 3 maps mixed up. (4.00 / 1)
Incidentally, I was paging through all of the US electoral maps 1789-2004 on Wikipedia a few days ago; besides the various-colored states, the territorial growth of the US was also pretty interesting to watch.

And it's pretty remarkable how the 1896 map is almost the exact inverse of the modern 2000/2004 Bush maps.

Grrr...Fixed! (4.00 / 2)
I've been having memory problems. Had to shut down windows when I didn't want to, getting confused with what I've posted where.  They were in the right order at one time. And then photobucket disappeared my link.  And the dog ate my homework.  And I don't even have a dog.

1896 vs. 2000/2004

The inversion between 1896 and today has been much remarked upon.  Much less noticed is how 1956 vs. 1964 encapsulated that reversal in a much smaller time-frame.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Oh yeah (0.00 / 0)
I was specifically looking for when the South first became Republican territory, and 1964 was it. Which is odd given that the "Southern Strategy" is usually attributed to Nixon (or maybe I should say, makes it odd that the "Southern Strategy" is usually attributed to Nixon?), but makes sense when you consider the basic fact that Johnson was for Civil Rights legislation while Goldwater was against it. (Maybe Goldwater really was doing it out of principle though, and not as a craven strategy. I'm not historian enough to know.)

[ Parent ]
Goldwater (0.00 / 0)
     Goldwater famously observed that "the Republicans should go hunting where the ducks are". To the extent that he had any strategy for winning, it was to hold northern New England, carry the Great Lakes region based largely on "white backlash" (Wallace had received almost 30% of the vote in the Wisconsin Democratic primary), hold the mountain West, hold California, and add the South. He was pretty clearly not a racist himself, but he was just as clearly willing to accept the support of the racists.

[ Parent ]
Civil Rights= "Communism" (0.00 / 0)
Goldwater didn't mind in large part because Civil Rights was widely identified with Communism.

I swear to God, it was a common occurance to hear someone say something like, "I'm not a Communist, but I think we need to have equal rights for Negroes."

So, if even supporters acknowledged the link....  

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Libertarians And Racism (4.00 / 1)
This was one of those periodic reminders that libertarianism has a de facto racist underbelly, regardless of anything and everything that libertarians may say to the contrary.

At the time, there was a joke that went, "Goldwater likes black people. He thinks everyone should own two of them."  This was grossly unfair in one sense, and spot on in another.  He was not a racist, but he saw things so narrowly through cramped ideological, propertarian lens that he just couldn't see the obvious.

But there really wasn't a deliberate "Southern Strategy" to Goldwater's campaign.  This was simply bottom-up opportunism asserting itself.

As for Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act, it has since been blamed on bad Con Law advice from Rehnquist and Bork, but one still has to ask, "Why did he need to ask anyone?"

Here's a brief recount:

Most of the twenty-seven senators who voted against the Civil Rights Act were Southern segregationists. Goldwater was not a segregationist, nor was he any kind of racist. He was, in fact, a lifelong opponent of racial discrimination. At the beginning of his political career, as a city councilman, he had led the fight to end segregation in the Phoenix public schools; his first staff assistant when he went to the Senate, as Perlstein tells us, was a black woman; he was a member of the N.A.A.C.P. Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act because he believed, as a conservative, that the federal government did not have the power to compel states to conform to its idea of racial equality, or to dictate to individuals whom they must associate with.

The decision tormented him. Before the vote, he asked for advice from a political ally and speechwriter for his campaign, William Rehnquist, then a Phoenix attorney. Rehnquist assured him that the bill was unconstitutional. Goldwater sought a second opinion from another member of his brain trust, Robert Bork, then a law professor at Yale. Bork wrote a seventy-five-page concurrence. It was with a heavy heart (to borrow a phrase of L.B.J.'s) that Goldwater cast his vote on civil rights. He was, Perlstein says, "a shaken man afraid he was signing his political death warrant, convinced that the Constitution offered him no other honorable choice."

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Very interesting. (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Appalachia (4.00 / 1)
Does the solid Republican support in Appalachia represent their stronghold in the re-alignment or is this just an area Obama can't reach personally?  I think we'll need to look at down ticket races to get that picture.

I think the southwest is becoming a solid Democratic block and, perhaps more importantly, Texas is becoming part of the southwest more than the South.

I suspect these maps are determined by two major factors: born-again Christians and Latinos.  Republicans seem to be down to only the Christian Right and Democrats are making huge gains with Hispanic/Latino community, which is in turn growing, particularly in the southwest.

This Is The Great Unknown (4.00 / 1)
I think it's pretty significant that Obama's weakness correlates so strikingly with Carter and Bill Clinton's.  It's not just because he's black, either, as indicated by Gore's failure to carry his home state of Tennessee, just 4 years after Clinton carried it--and Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia as well.

But whether this is a permanent condition I think it's too soon to say.  It does seem possible, though that this, rather than the Deep South, could remain the new GOP core.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
What and where (4.00 / 1)
What becomes the new Repub base, and where, is almost frightening to contemplate. I'm hoping for this election to be a complete repudiation of the Repubs, driving them from the White House, the Senate, the House, the Supreme Court, and governor's mansions and state legislatures across the country. This wouId purge and force a renewal of the Repub Party -- or not.

Damn, I must be as old or older than Paul Rosenberg, so I can remember when Repubs like Eisenhower or Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois were the opposing party, but were not ruining the country, unlike the Repubs today. And Chief Justice Earl Warren and Governor Nelson Rockefeller (who signed a law legalizing abortion) actually improved the country.

But take a best-case scenario. Obama wins, we get 60 seats in the Senate (yes, we can!), and add 30 or 40 or 50 House seats. That could leave the Repubs with a Western base of Mormon states and an Appalachian base of Dominionist holy rollers and nobody like Ike or Warren or even Bill Scranton or George Romney for heaven's sake. Having all that poison contained in a minority party will be better than having it in power the way it is with Bush. But will Congress "normalize" into having a minority party like the current bunch of obstructionists in the Senate?

Even looking forward to a sweeping victory in November, the future appears not so bright. Maybe the Democrats can win all the offices and then split into two parties, letting the current Repubs go the way of the Whigs.

[ Parent ]
I Sure As Hell Can't Puzzle That Out (4.00 / 1)
But I can say that we need an revolution/transformation of our collective imaginations before anything else is possible.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
A Couple Things (4.00 / 1)
     Two things I'd like to point out:
    1. The 1964 result is virtually a mirror image of the result from only 8 years earlier in 1956. Of the 48 states in 1956, only 5 voted the same way in 1964: MO, NC, and Arkansas stayed Democratic, and Louisiana and Arizona stayed Republican.
    2. In 1928, after eight years of Republican control in Washington, Herbert Hoover was elected President with 57% of the vote. Hoover's win was the 14th in 18 elections for his Republican Party. The main issues in the race were Prohibition and religion.
    In the ensuing 24 years, some things happened. There was a stock market crash and the longest period of economic malfunction in world and national history. Prohibition was repealed. Much of western Europe came under the control of right-wing dictatorships. In the 1930s there were huge Democratic landslides: 1932 began a period of 20 years of Democrats in the White House, the longest ever by that party, and by 1936 the Republican party, America's governing party for all but 20 of the preceding 76 years, was reduced to a helpless minority of 20% or less in both houses of Congress, as Franklin Roosevelt carried 46 of the 48 states. In 1939, a war which would claim 50 Million lives broke out in Europe. The next few years witnessed the unprecedented election of a President to a third term, Pearl Harbor, and 3.5 years of total war on two fronts. America emerged as a global superpower. Eastern Europe fell under Soviet control. The Atomic Age, and then the age of McCarthyism, dawned.
    In 1952, the great hero of the deadliest war in history was elected President. In that election, 43 of the 48 states voted the same way as they had in 1928, with the result that Eisenhower received 442 electoral votes, two fewer than Hoover received. And the changes in the other five states were all much more easily explained by the peculiarities of the 1928 election than by anything that happened thereafter: in 1928 the Democratic candidate was Catholic, but in 1952 the Democratic nominee was not. Catholic Massachusetts and Rhode Island voted for Smith but supported Eisenhower in 1952, while heavily Protestant and Prohibitionist North Carolina, West Virginia, and Kentucky moved back to the Democrats after turning their backs on Smith in 1928.
    It was as though nothing had changed since 1928. Despite all the psychological, economic, technological and demographic changes the country had experienced in what was undoubtedly the most eventful quarter century in its history, in 1952 the voting patterns of a bygone age of Prohibition, Jim Crow, and isolationism were recapitulated on the screens of millions of televisions, a device not yet invented when Hoover kicked Smith's ass.

Funny You Should Mention That... (4.00 / 1)
(1) Your first point is one I made myself.  In fact, I think it's arguably the most important about a pair of elections that I make in this piece.  What's more, the 1956 election was a very typical one, while the 1964 election is a complete anomaly.  Nothing else like it has ever happened.

(2) What happened in 1952 was not a simple reversion to 1928, however.  Eisenhower clearly rejected key elements of the conservative/Taft wing of the party.  He was not anti-New Deal, he accepted it, and proposed to manage it better than the Dems.  Nor was he isolationist, or bent on war with China.  He was a war hero, however, and this harkened back to a major recurring theme of 19th Century elections which had simply been eclipsed for most of the 20th Century until then. (Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Rider" image was certainly part of his presidential package, for example.)

Of course, this is not to say that there wasn't a dark side to Eisenhower's victory. McCarthyism played a big role in it, so I'm not totally rejecting your point.  Clearly, there's an element of truth to what you say, but it's only an element, not the whole thing.

The formal similarities of the election result masked a great deal of change, and the fact that this configuration would almost completely reverse itself 12 years later (point #1 above) is perhaps the best indication of this.

(3) The upshot of these points is that while practical politics demands that we think in terms of individual presidential elections, the real significance of map-changing appears to lie with a larger dynamic, that spans contrasting extremes.  1952 does belong with 1928, bookending the New Deal Era, and yet, Eisenhower did not end the New Deal, and 1952 belongs equally with 1964 as its polar opposite.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
That's True (0.00 / 0)
     I was embarrassed that I didn't notice your post about 1956 and 1964 until I'd already posted mine. Still, it's an important point, and doesn't suffer from repetition.
    With respect to 1928 and 1952, I was trying to highlight how partisan divisions survived almost unchanged despite the radically different circumstances, issues, and candidates separating those elections. I'd meant to also mention that Hoover was a Quaker who gained fame from wartime civilian work, while Eisenhower was a Five-Star General. In that sense, Eisenhower's elections can be seen as a return to the partisan patterns of the 1920s, and even of the turn of the 20th century.
    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That's The Beauty of The Web (0.00 / 0)
You mess up in public, and it gets archived forever.  I should know.

As for the 1928/1952 thing, I take your point, but it's still not accurate that partisan patterns were identical, since the House and Senate were only barely Republican after Eisenhower's election, and quickly returned to Democratic control.  (Ticket splitting would only get more important in the decades to come.)

Again, this underscores how important Eisenhower the war hero was.  He vastly over-performed the GOP as a whole.  WWII was a real war, and Eisenhower was a real war hero.  Not a John McCain substitute war hero, some schmuck who got shot down in a war where we didn't have any heroes, but a real war hero.

Makes a huge difference.  

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
1992 vs. 2008 (0.00 / 0)
It seems to me that most likely outcome in 2008 is a map that roughly follows the pattern of 1992, with the Dem sweeping the northeast, nearly sweeping the midwest, and running strong in the west. (Whistling past Dixie, anyone?) The major exception would be Obama's weakness vs. Clinton in BC's home region of the Upland South . Plus, among lowland South states, Obama is more likely to win VA, and maybe NC, rather than GA and LA.

What's striking about that is that Clinton was only able to win many of those states, expecially in the west, thanks to Perot's presence on the ticket. Maybe it's just the same old swing voters we've had for the last generation, with the only difference being that now there's a larger core of non-white/straight/Christians to comprise the Democratic base.

Realingments and the 36 year speculation (0.00 / 0)
Do you think that there is anything to the theory of the 36 years between realignments? It's a striking pattern, for me at least: 1788 (very first election), 1824 (where realignment was delayed till '28 because of Clay stealing the election), 1860, 1896, 1932, 1968, and then 2004, which was expected (and seen) by some as a realignment, which clearly it wasn't.

My explanation for that would be that the Watergate scandal allowed Carter to squeak by, in a term that in other circumstances Reagan or Agnew would have won in '76. So the realignment clock was suspended for 4 years, and the necessary political successor victory that solidifies the realignment (Van Buren, Grant in '68, Roosevelt and Taft in '04 and '08, Roosevelt and Truman in '40-'48) was delayed by Watergate, and the long national nightmare, till '80-'88. In that case, we are due for one in '08.  

The 36-Year Thing Is Too Rigid, IMHO (0.00 / 0)
But, yes, I've writing about realigning elections since before the 2006 election, when I noted that realigning elections are typically associated with two consecutive House wave elections, and I predicted that 2006 and 2008 would both be such elections.

Click on the realignment tag, and you'll see plenty of such diaries that I wrote here.   "Party System Myopia-Part 2" is perhaps the best place to look for a presentation of my views on the subject.  My view is that what's central is not the realigning elections themselves, but the transitions from one party system to another.  In general, the realigning elections are the means to this end.  This is, if you will, an "organic" view of realigning elections as opposed to a "magical" or metaphysical view, tying them to the number nine (36 years=9 presidential elections).

There is one exception, however, to the pattern of the elections being tied to party system transitions, and that's the election of 1800.  This is explained by the fact that the country started off without a party system.  The Federalists emerged as the dominant party by virtue of their superior leadership networking, but this happened gradually, over the course of a few years, without a single sharply defining election. They almost immediately went into tyrant mode with the Alien and Sedition Acts, prompting an enormous backlash, in what was then known as "the Revolution of 1800," and that was the realigning election of that era.

After that, the next two realignments involved the dissolution of the Federalists, and the Whigs.  It was only after that that the two parties remained strong enough to survive their defeats during a party system transition.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
2004 (0.00 / 0)
     I think the simplest reason why 2004 was not the realigning election on the usual 36-year pattern is that 9/11 and its after-effects were just barely enough to push Bush over the finish line, by scaring enough older women in Ohio into voting for him.
    I remember that on 9/11 the Senate was scheduled to vote on Bush's budget plan, which would have been buried, and he would have been crippled less than 9 months into his term.
    If Kerry had won, 2004 would have been a realigning election because it would have been the first time in American history that a Democrat got elected without a single Southern electoral vote.

[ Parent ]
There IS No "Usual 36-year Pattern" (4.00 / 1)
The 36-year period was real for the last 3 cycles, but not before that. The realigning elections are:

1828 (28 years)
1860 (32 years)
1896 (36 years)
1932 (36 years)
1968 [de-aligning] (36 years)

You don't get a realigning election just because of some quirk like "the first time in American history that a Democrat got elected without a single Southern electoral vote."  When these sorts of things do occur, they are icing on the cake.  You get a realigning election because voting patterns change significantly, and even if Kerry had won, the results would not have been dramatically different than they were in 2000.  You need to look at the House of Representatives, too, when talking about realignment (but not de-alignment, which involves the dominance of divided government).  That didn't start until 2006.

The best explanation of the realigning pattern is in terms of coalitions exhausting their problem-solving capacities as a result of a variety of contributory factors.  There is good reason to accept that this follows a generally regular cycle, but not a rigid one--and, of course, as the pace of change accelerates, it would not be surprising to find that the cycles may shorten.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]

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