REALIGNMENT?

Stephen Green points to an ABCNEWS.com poll that seems to show the GOP emerging as a majority party:

A year from the next presidential election, the nation stands at a rare point of political parity: Across 2003 precisely equal numbers of Americans have identified themselves as Democrats, Republicans and independents, a first in 23 years of ABCNEWS polling.

The year’s averages–31 percent for each group–mark an uneven but long-term rise among Republicans, to a new high, and the fewest Democrats in annual averages since 1981. All else being equal, the trends suggest continued Republican competitiveness in election politics, albeit far from the Democrats’ onetime dominance in sub-presidential races.

***

Contrary to conventional wisdom, party ID data do not show a long-term rise in the number of independents (as those who posit widespread weariness with the major parties would suggest). Instead, at 31 percent in 2003, independents are at about the same level as their long-term average, 32 percent since 1981.

***

Whatever happens at the presidential level, the change over time in party ID has been accompanied by a change in the division of the nation’s other political spoils.

The Democratic Party controlled 23 more state legislatures than did the Republicans in 1983, and 24 more in 1990; today, Republicans control five more. There were 18 more Democratic than Republican governors in 1983; today, there are two more Republican governors, not counting the yet-to-be sworn in Arnold Schwarzenegger (although the GOP advantage in governorships was higher, +15, in 1997). And in 1983, the U.S. House had 103 more Democrats; today it has 24 more Republicans.

There are strong correlations between the passage of time since 1981 and party holdings of state legislatures, governorships and House seats: .75, .72 and .87 respectively (again, where 1 is strongest, 0 weakest).

Of course, most of this change is in the Deep South, where nominal Democrats have become actual Republicans. One must also acknowledge that Schwarzenegger is only nominally Republican and came to office under some rather unusual circumstances.

What’s really interesting is that, so far, the demographic trends predicted by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira and others have yet to emerge. The combination of a graying population (and thus more love for Social Security) and the massive increase in the Latino population (many subgroups of which have historically trended Democratic) via immigration and differential birthrates was supposed to ensure a Democratic majority. And it still could. But the trend for the past 20 years has been away from the Democrats and toward the GOP.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have always been a little catious of assuming that Latinos will vote democratic. While democrats are “advocates of the poor”, light on immigration laws, etc., they don’t actually back what is thought of as Latino attitudes: pro-religion, pro-family and fairly anti-abortion. As Latinos acquire more wealth and move into the middle class, my experience is that they generally vote republican.

  2. Paul says:

    I think it is actually stronger than the number show. Especially in the south.

    I have a game I play with my dem friends. I ask, “So, why are you are Democrat?”

    After a long pause while they struggle to come up with anything that resembles an answer, I suggest… “Because your parents were Democrats?”

    Almost to a person they laugh and admit that is why.

    Republicans (in my neck of the woods) are like reformed smokers. They are republicans by choice and they strongly dislike their former party.

    Many of the Dems were “cultural dems” and never put any thought into it. The new breed of republicans is informed and passionate.

    That makes a big difference.

  3. JW says:

    Record voter turnout in Mississippi–and they elect a Republican governor, Lt. Gov. and treasurer. What was that again about Republicans only winning by suppressing voter turnout across the board?

  4. James Joyner says:

    JW,

    Who’s saying that, especially with regard to Mississippi? The Republican Party has been dominant in the Deep South for nearly 20 years now. The sizable black vote still tends heavily Democratic, but the white vote is usually over 70 percent GOP.

  5. JW says:

    Conventional wisdom for years has been that Republicans want to limit the number of people voting so that they will have a better chance of winning. Witness all the fuss over voter ID in Mississippi and the charge that it’s a Republican plot to keep voters from the polls. Even serious political pundits fall back on the old wives’ tale that if it’s raining on election day, Republicans do well since it depresses turnout. Well, record numbers of souls turned out to vote on a day clear as crystal–and we still have a Republican Gov. for only the second time since Reconstruction.

    MS is not so nearly as monolithically Republican as you think. (Very conservative, but not necessarily Republican) Witness Democrat Jim Hood’s win over in the Atty Gen. race against a very well-financed Republican Scott Newton. The election was contested since the incumbent AG Mike Moore retired. Hood won by a 2-1 margin. meaning he garnered at least 20-30% voters that voted for Barbour at the top of the ticket. I think what we are seeing in MS is the development of an actual live two-party system, where the parties are finally reaching parity after years of Democratic dominance.

  6. James Joyner says:

    JW,

    I see what you’re saying. I think it’s generally true that light turnout favors Republicans, since Republicans tend to be more committed voters for demographic reasons. And, of course, most Southern Democrats are still essentially Republicans.

REALIGNMENT

Peter Roff thinks we’ve lost sight of how far the Republicans have come in becoming a majority party,

In 2004 it will be 10 years since the Republican Party, riding atop the crest of a wave created by the “Contract with America,” rode into the majority in the U.S. House, the Senate, the governorships and, for the first time in decades, reached parity with the Democrats in the number of state legislative chambers the party held.

This comes in stark contrast to the 1970s and 1980s, where Democrat dominance of the Congress and state governments was seen as a permanent feature of American politics.

Roff concludes,

If the current political alignment holds, then parity and the accompanying gridlock in Washington will remain the order of the day. If Bush is able to cement his hold on the presidency — no small if — and campaign aggressively for Republicans running down ballot, then the long-predicted realignment may actually occur. The elements necessary for such an outcome are certainly in place. Whether the GOP can pull it off is a whole other story.

Quite true. And, really, while all this marks a realignment in the sense of a significant, permanent, change in the party balance–from Democrat dominance to parity–it is not a realignment in the traditional sense of the “out” party becoming the dominant party. That doesn’t appear to be on the horizon anytime soon.

(Hat tip: Reductio ad Absurdum)

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.