I'm really not temperamentally suited to being any better than any of you at making number-crunching prediction this close to the election. Yeah, I'll toss some numbers out--maybe. But my heart isn't it. I'm not interested in being right. I'm interested in dreaming big, making impossible predictions. Which is where October 2006 comes in. Because that's when I first let my thoughts about 2008 start to slip out... thoughts that had been seriously brewing since Katrina, 13 months earlier. Because that's what I do best.
Now, I didn't write specifically about 2008. Nostrodamus I am not. But I wrote about 2006 in terms of realigning elections, and I said that what was an overlooked key to them was two consecutive wave elections in the House. Well, it's pretty obvious what that means. We're about to say "hello" to number 2.
The chart below shows the House share controlled by Democrats (top, blue line) and the percent change in share (bottom, red line), regardless of whether its a gain or loss. The yellow lines mark the three realigning elections-two definite (1896 and 1932), one questionable, at best (1968). The dotted purple lines mark the congressional elections of 1974 and 1994:
As you can see, the volatility of House elections has declined significantly in the last few decades. Not shown on this chart is what happened in 2006--another wave election, smaller than 1994, in fact, a little bit smaller than 1980. But, of course, it started from a place of greater strength than GOP was before 1994. So being poised for a somewhat similar wave election this Tuesday, we really are set up for the first true realigning election since 1932. That's what I predicted two years ago, and I'm sticking with it.
More on what it means--and maybe what's ahead--on the flip.
I've been writing about realigning elections for quite some time now, looking forward to this November, starting back in 2006. Now that we're just one month out, signs are stronger than ever that this will be a realigning election, though of course, nothing is certain until election day. Still, it's such a strong probability that I can't help asking the next question: what kind of realigning election will it be? It's a question of sharply increased urgency, particularly in light of the just-passed Wall Street bailout, the only legislation that Barack Obama has acted as a party whip on.
One thing seems clear: whatever this election turns out to be like, it won't be 1932, although that is clearly what we need. But what will it be like? My short answer: Nothing we've ever seen before. But that doesn't mean we can't get some hints by looking at the past. That's why I've put together some electoral maps to look at the lead up to four other realigning elections--in one case, actually, a de-aliging one. Our first realigning election was 1800, but that was the most anomalous one, since it threw out a party that formed in government, and it represented the effective beginnings of two-party system. I want to look at all the other examples, except for 1932, to see what they tell us aobut the ebb and flow of 2-party power.
This is one view of what a coalescing landslide election looks like. It's from the Princeton Election Consortium, and it's a distribution map of all possible election outcomes in the Electoral College. On the left is the distribution bssed on polling through Septbember 30. There is just the tiniest tail of the distribution across the red line where McCain wins. The highest peak of blue lines is close to 7% for one specific distribution giving Obama a vivtyory with over 320 votes. On the right is the distribution based on polling just two days later, on October 2. There is no longer any part of the distrubtion across the red line, giving McCain a victory. What's more, the highest peak of blue lines now reaches 14% and it is for more than 350 electoral votes. Of course these are just two snapshots in time. But they do show how dramatically the race has moved in the direction of an Obama landslide, just as early voting is aobut to begin.
Barack Obama's strong rise in the polls has pretty much everyone happy, and even--dare I say it?--excited. As someone who's been writing about a realigning election this year since October 2006, and who's been writing about a 10-20% landslide, I am definitely no exception. But when folks talk about Obama as leading the way, in a pure numbers sense among voters, I just have to step in and say, "Wait a minute!"
A rising tide raises all Democratic boats. In this metaphor, Barack Obama is the fucking moon.
When it comes to mobilizing volunteers, or raising funds, I have no quarrel with this. But when it comes to attracting voters, Obama is much more like a surfer on the wave--who has very skillfully avoided some very treacherous obstacles, than he is like the moon.
It's hardly surprising, really. John McCain was the ultimate media darling, possessed of a totally bogus, superhero-style image in the press, which yielded him high levels of personal approval even among liberal Democrats. And Barack Obama, of course, is black. This is a doubly stacked deck, so it's entirely to be expected that Obama would be underperforming the Dem/Rep partisan split. So this is by no means an attack on Obama, depsite the subtantial substantive criticism I have of him. It is, rather, yet another attempt to remind folks that we're in the midst of a broad and historic period of transformation that overshadows every one of us as individuals, even our candidate for President, our country's first black President to be.