More on the Republican Re-boot: A Rejoinder

by John Sides on March 31, 2013 · 4 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Political Parties,Public opinion

{ 4 comments }

Nameless March 31, 2013 at 11:07 pm

” One is that Republicans had no problem winning presidential elections even when the Democratic advantage in party identification was much larger than now”

You need to split this chart in two parts: pre-’90 and post-’90.

Pre-’90, we had two moderate parties with a lot of overlap in political positions and relatively frequent voting across party lines. In 1976, 1980, and 1984, respectively 22%, 26% and 26% of registered Democrats voted for the Republican candidate. In 1980, 11% of Republicans voted for the Democratic candidate and additional 6% of Republicans voted for the independent candidate. In 1976, Carter (a Democrat) came within 5% of winning the Southern white vote – a feat that could not be replicated by a Democrat ever since (the closest Clinton got was 15%, despite being an ex-governor of Arkansas). And, in 1972, Nixon (a Republican) got the Northeastern white vote by a margin of 65% to 34%, likewise a performance that no Republican could ever reproduce.

Then sometime during the 80′s the Republican party redefined its platform with Southern Protestant white ideals built into the foundation, and Democrats redefined theirs as the opposite, and the two parties moved away from each other. Politicians formed two non-overlapping camps with minimal cross-party voting and high year-to-year voting correlations.

It’s nicely visible, for example, in election result maps. Before 1992, they are all over the place. Florida votes Republican +11% in 1972, -1.5% in 1976, +4.5% in 1980, +6.5% in 1984 (state vote minus average nationwide vote for the Republican candidate). West Virginia votes +3% in 1972, +8% in 1976, -5% in 1980, and -3.5% in 1984. A lot of variability between states and from year to year, which looks almost like noise but really is a consequence of cross-party voting on issues.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Cross-party voting in the 2012 presidential election at the record low: according to exit polls, only 6% of Republicans and 7% of Democrats voted for the “other” candidate. Election result maps from 2000 .. 2012 elections look virtually identical. Florida goes from R+1% in 2004 to +2.5% in 2008 to +2% in 2012. Washington goes from -5% to -5% to -6%. Wisconsin goes from -1.5% to -3% to -1.5%. If there’s any evidence of year-to-year changes at all (except for tectonic shifts of changing demographics and some small group of moderates whose voting is disproportionally influenced by current economic conditions), it’s in the fact that already partisan states tend to become _more_ partisan: West Virginia: R+5% (2004) -> +10% (2008) -> +15% (2012); Kentucky +9% (2004) -> +12% (2008) -> +13% (2012).

In theory, you could look the data and say “Republicans used to win elections even though Democrats had the edge in registration, maybe they can repeat this performance”. In practice, there’s no evidence that current Democrats are likely to vote across party lines, in part because there is a bigger gap on any issue you can think of between the parties, compared to the 70′s. (For example, in the 70′s, both parties were anti-abortion and anti-gay roughly to the same degree. It’s obviously not the case today.)

Kevin April 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm

This is an outstanding point.

MNP April 2, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Since I basically think things like South Park republicanism (note I have no idea if high school kids watch south park these days, it’s an example) have done immense damage to younger people, I find the high school statistic completely chilling.

Phil April 4, 2013 at 9:07 am

I fail to understand how anyone can come to the conclusion that the GOP doesn’t have to change. The party has a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists. Hispanics are liberal on economic and (some) social values and their electorate is set to have doubled by 2030. By comparing the 88 and 2012 elections you can see the gravity of the GOP’s problems. Dukakis won 40 of the white, 86-89 percent of the black and 70 of the Hispanic vote; i.e. quite similar to Obama’s numbers in 2012. Yet he lost by close to 8 points while Obama won by close to 4. If Republicans wish to continue fighting against the inevitability of demographic changes, they are in for electoral defeat after electoral defeat.

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