Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Monday, July 18, 2016

State Of The Race

Josh Marshall breaks down where we are in the presidential polls entering the period of volatility of the conventions.

He also rehashed a piece of conventional wisdom I heard on NPR this morning: It's hard for a party to win a third term.

Is it really?

Let's start in 1900, because why not.  And let's see if a party won a third  or fourth term when they could.

1908 - Taft beats Bryan for Teddy's "third term."

1912 - Wilson wins a four-way race that splits the Republican party.

1920 - Republicans take back the White House after two terms of Wilson.

1928 - Hoover wins a third term.

1940 - FDR wins a third term.
1944 - FDR wins a fourth term.
1948 - Truman wins a second term.

1952 - Eisenhower wins after five terms of Democratic rule.

1960 - JFK wins.

1968 - Nixon wins.

1976 - Carter wins.

1988 - Bush wins.

2000 - Bush wins.  Kind of.

2008 - Obama wins.

So, it's a mixed bag.  But here's another pattern.  From 1900-1932, Republicans held the White House with the exception of Woodrow Wilson.  Wilson won because the Republican party split in 1912.

From 1932-1968, Democrats held the White House, with the exception of Dwight Eisenhower.  Eisenhower enjoyed remarkable personal popularity but had short coattails.

From 1968-1988, Republicans held the White House, with the exception of Carter, who barely beat Ford, who was tainted by his pardon of Nixon.

From 1988-today, Democrats have held the White House with the exception of Dubya, who may or may have won Florida and definitely lost the popular vote.

Incumbent presidents almost always win, with the exceptions of intraparty divisions (1912,1976,1980) or economic hardships (1932).  Or both (1976 and 1980).

This is why 2016 is a lost opportunity for the Republicans.  Unless the Sandernistas split the party in 2020 or there is a major (and truly substantive) scandal, Clinton will likely win re-election.

But what about term limited attempts to hold on to the White House?  This has only been in effect since Eisenhower.  Nixon almost won in 1960.  He would win in 1968, during the upheaval of Vietnam and the latter part of the civil rights movement.  Bush 41 did in fact win a third term.  And Al Gore got a half million more votes than Bush 43.

The evidence to me look a lot like certain parties go through prolonged periods where they hold on to the White House.  Republicans pretty much held the White House from 1860-1932 with only two exceptions.  Democrats held on to it from 1932-1968 with one exception.  Republicans from 1968-2008 with one exception (or maybe it's Democrats who will hold on from 1992-2020).

Ultimately, it seems like electoral coalitions are fundamentally more important than candidates.  When the Democrats lost the South in 1968, they lost the White House - except for the unique circumstances surrounding Watergate - until 1992.  Even Clinton needed a divided GOP and a three way race to win election.

Obama looks to have solidified a new electoral majority coalition.  Trump's terrible numbers amongst college-educated whites would help solidify the Obama coalition.

Given Clinton's unfavorable numbers (even leaving aside Trump's awful numbers), we will be able to test my theory, with only the future of western civilization on the line.

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