Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

The Semicentennial Upheaval

January 18th, 2016, 9:07pm by Sam Wang


About every fifty years, a major U.S. political party undergoes an upheaval. It’s graphically represented here by Randall Munroe, in what may be his finest chart.

Molly Ball asks whether we are witnessing such an upheaval. A fine piece of reporting in The Atlantic.

From comments, Kevin says:  The problem with the upheaval theory is that Republicans currently dominate Congress, the Supreme Court, governorships, and state legislatures. The rhetoric, tactics, and policy positions of the Republican party have been shifting drastically for years already. Stylistic differences aside, there isn’t much daylight between the pronouncements of Trump/Cruz and the rest of the field, even Kasich. If Trump or Cruz gets nominated, it will be a moment to look around and recognize that it has been their party for a while.

Tags: 2016 Election

31 Comments so far ↓

  • Mark F.

    Mc Cain had the misfortune of trying to win an election with an unpopular sitting President and an economic downturn. I doubt running to the left would have helped him. And even the most liberal Republican would have lost badly to Johnson in 1964. Nixon, Bush and Reagan, in contrast , were running in years with “fundamental” conditions favorable to their party.

  • bks

    Certainly some GOP turmoil going on. NRO has an all anti-Trump front page tonight. Meanwhile Bob Dole and a phalanx of GOP Senators are stabbing Cruz in the back. NYTimes pet Republicans David Brooks’ and Ross Douthat’s heads exploded:
    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/01/ross-douthat-regrets-palin-fears-trump.html

  • Jim Lovejoy

    Some on the right are already prepared for a Trump fiasco. There are claims that Trump is one of the most moderate of the candidates. If he wins the nomination and tanks in the general, they’re all ready with “we should have picked a real conservative.”

  • Olav Grinde

    A fresh NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (conducted 9-13 January) indicates that Bernie Sanders has a 15% edge over Donald Trump in the general election. That’s tantamount to Reagan’s election landslide!

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/295919133/NBC-WSJ-January-Poll

    And despite the spin doctors, Bernie has a 27 % lead against Hillary in New Hampshire. (27 percent — that is not a typo!)

    The question, of course, is whether Bernie might build sufficient early moment to unravel Hillary’s air of invincibility. Just as O’Bama did eight years ago.

    However, in my opinion there is one Black Swan: the global financial meltdown that is currently unfolding in slow motion. Who knows how that may influence things!

    • Olav Grinde

      (O’Bama, of course, is written in the Irish manner, inspired by old bumper stickers seen here in Boston.)

    • Sam Wang

      It’s too early for general election matchups to be all that useful. That said, Trump is likely to be very weak in the general election.

      In regard to the NH poll showing Sanders up…I hate it when people cite outlier surveys. Sanders is probably up by about 10 percentage points, median of 4 surveys.

    • Amitabh Lath

      Sanders was always tipped to win NH so this is not a huge deal. SC and the rest of the south are looking a lock for Clinton (more African American voters than NH).

      And as Sam points out, looking at general election matchups is a waste of bandwidth right now. Nothing is broken out by states, for one.

    • TC

      There is one and only one piece of fiction standing between Bernie Sanders and the presidency: the false notion that he is not electable. Once that piece of fiction falls, if it hasn’t already, and how can it not, then he will have the votes he needs, white, black, brown, purple, red, green, yellow-polka dot.

      Sanders has a good chance, at the very least. We saw it eight year ago: Clinton is a terrible candidate. But more importantly, since then, the economy has changed, the electorate has changed, communications have changed. And Sanders is a novel candidate. The last time a Sandersesque candidate ran for election, he would up being president for 4 terms: FDR. The establishment could curtail FDR greatly in office but couldn’t stop his election.

    • Olav Grinde

      Point taken, Dr Wang. Apologies, but I was not aware to what degree that recent NBC/WSJ poll was an outlier.

    • Matt McIrvin

      Once that piece of fiction falls, if it hasn’t already, and how can it not, then he will have the votes he needs, white, black, brown, purple, red, green, yellow-polka dot.

      I think that if you talk to a wide variety of Democrats about Bernie Sanders, electability isn’t their sole concern. He does very well with the intra-party faction of white liberals with a particular concern with economic redistribution: the Elizabeth Warren wing. But most minority voters haven’t warmed to him.

      Hillary Clinton had a problem with this in 2008 because she was running against Barack Obama, but Obama’s not in this race and she seems to have established herself as the least worst choice.

      I expect Sanders to take New Hampshire, with a concomitant burst of great publicity, and he even has a chance of winning the Iowa caucus. I still think he’ll fade in the Southern and Rust Belt primaries.

    • Amitabh Lath

      I am a little uncomfortable with the “people really really want to vote for candidate X but are voting for candidate Y because of “concerns” (electability, age, etc).

      This is a gut feeling that says: I like this candidate so much and if others (minorities, etc) do not, there must be some false reason that will soon fall away.

      One should distrust all such gut feelings. There is simply no solid way to quantify them.

    • Matt McIrvin

      Here’s an old 538 post on the modeling relevance of economic indicators:

      http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/18/which-economic-indicators-best-predict-presidential-elections/?_r=0

      They think these are generally less good as predictors than people usually imagine, but they also say that rates of change over the first three quarters of the election year seem to be more important than overall goodness or badness. Unemployment in the US isn’t bad right now, but the improvement from the depths of 2009 or so has been slow. Certainly a major crisis suddenly dropping and leading to a new recession and mass layoffs could have an effect.

    • Amitabh Lath

      I never understood why 538 and others insist on tarting up the poll results with “fundamentals”. It’s some unholy mess of an algorithm with poll results and GDP and unemployment, consumer confidence, blah blah blah. And the coefficients are determined by some fit to historic data (look, it got LBJ right!)

      I do not understand how this helps. Polls are supposed to have all these fundamentals baked in. You ask people who they are going to vote for, and they tell you. Presumably whatever effect GDP, unemployment, etc are having on the voting population will affect the answer. So what good does further correcting do?

      Polls suck. I know this. But of all the estimators out there polls are the only thing where you can at least try to do some uncertainty estimate. Polls+fundamentals? You’ve lost me.

  • JayBoy2k

    I have an interesting perspective on the 2016 race. I have 5 siblings who span the political spectrum from a sister who was a Teacher’s Union negotiator in Michigan to another sister who is a confirmed GOP establishment voter, canvasser, donation coordinator. In the average Presidential election , we get 3 DEM versus 2.5 GOP.. One brother voted for Perot in 1992 and tends to be libertarian. The Union Negotiator detests Hillary only slightly more than Trump and swears she will not vote this year for the 1st time in her life.
    I do not think I will vote for any of the GOP Governors but I”ll see after the 2 Nominees are set. I believe that there were LOTS of Republican voters who were disappointed in GOP Establishment Nominee in the last 20 years.
    So is Kasich or Bush or Christie REALLY attractive to those who might vote for Trump, Cruz, or Carson? That seems dubious, Are democrats going to desert Hillary to vote for Kasich? That seems dubious. You would have a large segment of the Republican voters who lack enthusiasm for the GOP nominee.. Motivated by what — hatred for Hilliary to vote for an establishment nominee.
    Then it comes down to independents — Enough Independents vote GOP establishment candidate or alternately Hillary/Sanders. How does that equation close? I do not know anyone who thinks like that.
    There is no way that this becomes clear enough to get a valid insight based on polls prior to the nominating conventions. Just go with the leaders in the Polls.

  • LondonYoung

    Despite urban clustering of dems and some 2010 rep friendly gerrymandering, the dem party can control the house by venturing no further than R+2 on Cook PVI. In 2012 the dems achieved a 1.2% advantage in house voting. A new dem president may control both houses of congress and also get to flip the court.

    The stress of a similar results in 2008 resulted in tea party enthusiasm in 2010 but an establishment nominee in 2012. But if there is a non-establishment nominee in 2016 and another wipe out for the reps? Will they bounce back from that or go into crisis? Time to ask indeed.

    • Kevin

      Romney may be considered “establishment,” but he ran as an orthodox conservative with extreme far right policy positions, just as McCain did in 2008. The word establishment isn’t particularly helpful.

    • Froggy

      I second Kevin’s response. What McCain apparently took from the 2000 race was that he wasn’t going to let himself get flanked on the right again. Romney learned the same lesson in 2008, and applied it in 2012.

      This time that message has been taken to heart by all of the serious contenders. Even Cruz, who takes positions far on the right, gets attacked for being … too liberal!

    • LondonYoung

      I think many voters don’t believe that different candidates, if elected, will behave the same even if they stake out identical policy positions on the campaign trail. But this is a very shadowy and very dangerous aspect of democracy.

  • bks

    Palin endorses Trump. Trump has total command of the GOP news for at least a day, maybe two or three. Can anyone remember any of the vaunted endorsements of Bush or Rubio?

  • Kevin

    The problem with the upheaval theory is that Republicans currently dominate Congress, the Supreme Court, governorships, and state legislatures. Only the Supreme Court is even close, and possibly under threat in the presidential race. See, e.g., here: http://www.vox.com/2015/10/19/9565119/democrats-in-deep-trouble

    Also, I think anyone who looks critically at the rhetoric, tactics, and policy positions of the Republican party would find that they have been shifting drastically for years already. Stylistic differences aside, there isn’t much daylight between the pronouncements of Trump/Cruz and the rest of the field, even Kasich.

    If Trump or Cruz gets nominated, it won’t be a moment when the Republican party becomes the party of Trump/Cruz, it will be a moment to look around and recognize that it has already been the party of Trump/Cruz for a while.

    • Sam Wang

      Agree with all those points. The way I would describe that is to say that we are seeing the end, not the beginning, of a shift. In this description the GOP already shifted, in a transition that started circa 1994, when Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House.

    • Josh

      I agree with this. Although Matt Yglesias seems to think the Dems are in a far worse place than I believe they are.

      Increased voter turnout tends to A) favor Dems and B) have down-ballot effects that also favor Dems; I fully expect at least a few of those red states to become purple or even blue after the 2016 election motivates lots of relatively apathetic people to get off their butts and vote. More importantly, 2020 is another Presidential election, which means (relatively) more Dems controlling state assemblies and statehouses at the time when redistricting happens. If Sam’s work with regard to creating fair redistricting standards hasn’t come to fruition (although I hope it does), many of the heavily GOP-favored gerrymanders from 2010 will be gone, making the House an even playing field again.

      I agree that Dems are in worse shape than they believe themselves to be, but I also think that the quirks of our political system, coupled with extremist policies on the right, will result in a Democratic party that controls a good number of states, and possibly both the Presidency and Congress, by the early 2020s.

    • alurin

      Agreed that the Republican Party of today is already the party of Trump and Cruz… but what happens when (as seems likely to me) Trump|Cruz gets plastered in the general election? The conservative narrative for years has been that Republicans have been doing poorly at the Presidential level because the candidates are not “true conservatives” (e.g., Romney, McCain). What happens to the party when that narrative is conclusively shattered?

    • Kevin

      I don’t think that a Republican running against Hillary is going to get plastered, no matter who the nominee is. Identity politics are too entrenched, and HRC is too vilified. Something in the range of the McCain/Romney margins is the best (or worst) that can be hoped for.

    • pechmerle

      “The conservative narrative for years has been that Republicans have been doing poorly at the Presidential level because the candidates are not “true conservatives” (e.g., Romney, McCain). What happens to the party when that narrative is conclusively shattered?”

      Nothing. A truly conservative candidate — by everyone’s measure — Barry Goldwater — got hammered in 1964. Republican cognitive dissonance on this issue causes them to say “we just have to try harder.” One way to try harder is to find the really right candidate — they are drawn to this idea because they got very lucky in 1980 with Reagan. A real right winger, but one with superb skill at presenting himself as a genial guy who wouldn’t do anything really right-wing wacko [like the truly wacko neo-con Iran-Contra deal]. This is why “Saint Ronnie” is still so regularly invoked as the model candidate they want. The party has struggled mightily with this, because no candidate with Reagan’s particular bundle of attributes has come along for their party since.

  • Amitabh Lath

    Your Princeton colleagues Anne Case and Angus Deaton published a study showing the mortality rate was not decreasing for US whites as rapidly as that of non-whites or whites of other nationalities. There has been some discussion of addiction, despair, and suicide among this cohort.

    Could this be correlated to the evisceration of the Republican party (if indeed this is one and not just an adiabatic adjustment to a new voting bloc like the Democrats did in the civil-rights era)?

    • 538 Refugee

      Ironically, if either of the two current leading Republican candidates managed to win the presidency, that suicide thing might seem like a good option.

      I was having lunch one day some years back in an area that is known for having folks running around with guns in the woods on weekends calling themselves “militias”. The guy behind me was explaining to someone how Bill Clinton was going to use the Monica Lewinsky scandal to declare martial law and take over the government and they had to be prepared. I’m not sure you need depression and suicide to explain their dwindling numbers as I’m surprised they even manage to survive into adulthood. Maybe they do the Barney Fife thing and keep their bullet in their pocket during their weekend outings?

      I sometimes wonder if that guy claims credit for making Clinton back down from his plans and saving the Republic.

    • Amitabh Lath

      Unfortunately it’s not just an American thing. I’ve been on shift with colleagues from Italy, Hungary, the UK, etc. All of them have stories of right wing yahoos. In fact, the shuttle out to our experimental cavern from the CERN main campus passes through little towns plastered with Le Pen posters. But of course, only our right wing yahoos parade around with real guns.

    • pechmerle

      Right wing yahoos parade around with real guns (mostly outside Budapest) in Hungary too.