Larry Sabato calls 2008 one of four 'realigning elections'
'The big idea of this book is that 2008 looks to be a realigning election-a very rare event in American history. The previous three were 1896, 1932, and 1980. Translation: The Democratic majority is going to last for a while. There have been 38 presidential elections since 1860, and Obama received the 6th highest share of the vote for a Democrat. Only FDR (four times) and LBJ (once) exceeded Obama's percentage. There were three giant demographic shifts that powered this:
'--The young broke more than 2-1 Democratic, and it was an intense preference unlikely to fade quickly. As this group ages and replaces older voters, Democrats will benefit even more since this group's turnout will go up.
'--The proportion of minority voters (black, Hispanic, and Asian) shot up and is likely to climb consistently every four years (mainly because of Hispanics). Democrats get about three-quarters of the votes of minorities, taken as a collective group.
'--Americans with post-graduate educations have begun to move firmly to the Democrats, not just because of Bush and the economy but also because of the GOP's conservative stance on social issues (abortion, gay rights, etc.)
'Republicans will be in the wilderness for a while, whatever they do. If they want to shorten that time, though, they need to focus on the three populations we discuss in the book. There are many ways to increase their attractiveness, but one essential ingredient is to deemphasize social issues-as unhappy as that may make some fundamentalist Christians.'
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James W Loewen - 4/22/2009
Seymour Martin Lipset wrote an interesting article on this topic, collected in the book POLITICAL MAN. Defining elections can be located rather easily: simply look at the correlation of one election to the next, over space. Usually correlations are high -- above .9. Precincts that voted for Bush are likely to vote for McCain, etc. When things change, the correlation decreases. The biggest single change came in 1860 (duh!), between the presidential contest and the secession referenda, and then on to the next presidential election(s). Lipset didn't do the work right, exactly, but he did raise an important topic.