David Broder, as is his custom, attended the APSA meeting this past week. His column today summarizes the panels he attended analyzing election trends. Not surprisingly, no consensus was reached and many conflicting theories were advanced. Broder is most impressed by David Mayhew’s historical analysis:

“There is no emerging majority,” he said, at least when it comes to electing the president. Despite what happened to Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush, an incumbent president seeking reelection probably starts with a six-point advantage over his challenger. But when no repeat candidate is on the ballot, “the results are essentially like flipping a coin. The result of the previous election gives no clue.”

Mayhew’s figures are striking: There have been 53 elections since George Washington first took office. In 20 of the 30 in which an incumbent was running, he won. In the other 23, 12 times the party in power won, but 11 times it lost. It mostly depends on how the voters size up the performance of the people in office, and in recent years, those job appraisals have divided sharply on partisan lines, as they do now for President Bush.

Mayer said that Bush may have a slight advantage going into 2004 (a point Teixeira readily conceded), but basically, Mayer said, “another 2000 is what you should expect — a random result.”

That is not a very satisfying forecast, but it is probably more realistic than predictions based on some rigid, pseudo-scientific formula.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bryan says:

    Wow. I bow before the awesome power of the politically scientific mind. 😉