Posted by Curt on 5 August, 2016 at 3:00 pm. 1 comment.


Michael Barone:

Heading into the 2016 presidential election cycle, the most influential guide for political journalists was a 2008 book called The Party Decides. Written by four eminent political scientists, it explained that for several decades presidential nominees have effectively been chosen by unelected political insiders, as candidates fight in “invisible primaries” for endorsements by prominent politicians and interest groups. The voters, it argued, tended to ratify these choices and rally around candidates with widespread and prestigious support.

But like John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1967 book The New Industrial State, which argued that big corporations, tempered by big government and big labor unions, determined the course of the economy, The Party Decides turned out to be a better description of the recent past than an accurate forecast of the near-term future. Political science, despite its name, is not a science, and generalizations about presidential elections are risky because there have been so few of them—only 46 since something like the current two-party system sprang into existence in 1832 and only 11 since primaries started dominating the selection of party nominees in 1972. When I was in the political polling business, I was told not to base conclusions on the responses of subgroups comprised of fewer than fifty respondents. Scholars of presidential elections, even if they go back to the days when Andrew Jackson faced off against Henry Clay, have less data to work with than that.

Certainly few analysts in May 2015, just 14 months before the national conventions, predicted that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would be serious competitors for the Republican and Democratic nominations. Neither the New York real-estate billionaire nor the Vermont socialist had significant support from his party’s elected officeholders or party officials. Indeed, each had received endorsements from only a handful of party insiders up through the conclusion of the primary season 13 months later. Yet Trump won 42 percent of the votes cast in Republican primaries and caucuses up through the Indiana primary on May 3, 2016, after which his remaining two opponents withdrew. By the last contest on June 7, he had won 44 percent. Sanders had won 43 percent of votes cast in Democratic primaries and caucuses, but that was not enough to defeat Hillary Clinton in what was effectively a two-candidate contest. But Trump’s vote totals were enough to secure a delegate majority in a race that had started off with 17 serious candidates. “The party” got the Democratic nominee of its choice, but only after a longer struggle and by a narrower margin than it surely imagined, while “the party” was utterly foiled in the Republican contest despite an impressive array of attractive and competent candidates.

So why has this presidential campaign cycle been different from all other presidential campaign cycles? And is the general-election campaign likely to be as different from other general-election campaigns as the primary contests were different from their predecessors?

One way to look at this election is as a collision of an irresistible force with an immovable object. This irresistible force is the widespread discontent with the direction of the nation today. The immoveble object is the persistent partisan divisions that have prevailed and intensified in presidential, congressional, and state elections over the past twenty years.

The sources of the irresistible force of discontent are not hard to discern. After resurgent growth and victory in the Cold War in the 1980s, and continuing economic growth in the 1990s, the 21st century brought Americans 15 years of mostly sluggish growth and a series of mostly unsuccessful, or at least inconclusive, foreign military interventions. Major legislation passed by one-party votes, notably the 2009 stimulus package and the 2010 Affordable Care Act, have proved to be far less popular than their sponsors expected. Major bipartisan legislation, frequent in Bill Clinton’s presidency and the first term of George W. Bush’s, has become rare if not extinct, with a President lacking the inclination and skill to negotiate and a Republican House majority often unwilling to trust its leadership.

This discontent found an outlet in the disruptive candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Each attracted constituencies different from those in his party’s recent nomination contests. Republicans in 2008 and 2012 were divided between countryside and suburbs, between white Evangelical Christians and less intensely religious groups. The divisions can be seen in the critical contests between John McCain and Mike Huckabee in 2008 and between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in 2012. In both cases the eventual nominee piled up big majorities in the relatively affluent and somewhat less Evangelical suburbs, while his opponent carried rural areas and small towns, but not by enough votes to prevail.

In 2016 the divisions were different. White evangelicals did not vote solidly for any candidate, but split their votes between Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. Large suburban counties in many states gave Trump pluralities or even majorities. One clear pattern is that Trump ran better among voters without college degrees (“I love the poorly educated!” he exclaimed after winning the Nevada caucuses) than college graduates, but he got sizeable numbers of votes from graduates as well. Certain demographic groups resisted Trump’s appeal: Mormons, Dutch-Americans in northwest and central Iowa and western Michigan, German- and Scandinavian-Americans in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest states. Other ethnic groups tilted toward Trump. A majority of Italian-Americans live within a hundred miles of New York City, and in that arc Trump won more than 50 percent of the votes, including 81 percent in heavily Italian-American Staten Island. In addition, he ran strongest not in Florida’s Southern-accented congressional districts, but in those with the largest number of migrants from New York and the Northeast. Examining the returns, I argued that Trump fared poorly with those groups with large degrees of what scholars Charles Murray and Robert Putnam have called social connectedness or social capital, and did very well with groups with low social connectedness. His percentages in Appalachia—from southwest Pennsylvania through Tennessee, northern Alabama, and Mississippi—were especially large.

The Democratic primaries saw some reversals of the Party’s trends in 2008. That year, Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton among black voters by wide margins. In 2016 Clinton won black voters over Bernie Sanders by similarly large margins in the South and somewhat smaller margins in the North. However, in 2008 Clinton dominated Appalachia; in 2016 it voted for Sanders. In both elections Clinton tended to carry Hispanic voters, but in 2016 she did significantly less well among white voters without college degrees, and Sanders tended to carry small towns and rural counties not only in his home area of New England but across the Midwest and in white-majority regions in the South.

Read more

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x