The 2004 Presidential Election Will Answer a Very Important Question: Is There Any Democratic Party Majority in the United States?
The election of 2004 is about whether there is any Democratic Party national majority left in the United States today. John Kerry is in may ways the generic Democratic candidate, and his victory or loss will tell us a great deal about the future prospects for his party as it is currently governed.
The Kerry candidacy
Let’s start by stating that John Kerry is the man for his time in this regard: he is the generic Democratic presidential candidate. Hitchens nails it in the NYT:
[H]ow often have you met a self-described Kerry supporter?….The name Kerry is thus another tired synonym for ABB, or ”Anybody but Bush.” Shall we ”take America back” this November? In such a case, we would be taking it back to a fairly familiar version of Democratic consensualism.
The excitement the Democratic Party has is of a general nature, taking back the country and so forth from those nasty, greedy Republicans, that “crooked bunch” in Kerry’s words.
The most important map in politics: the Democrat media, money, megaphone
It should be no surprised that the Democrats are as jazzed as they are. Whether or not they are a majority, they are pretty close to being half the people. That’s a lot of people, and they have both an echo chamber and a megaphone in places like NYC, LA and DC. Crank it up to 11, and you’ll go deaf. My favorite map demostrates this. It shows that there are huge Democratic fundraising majorities in NYC, LA, and DC — the major media and government centers — and that the rest of the country is red, or pale blue.
The loudness of the megaphone obscures the Democrats’ decline
The Democrat trends have not been good for the last decade. As I posted two years ago, in an article by Sam Smith in the Progressive Review, the trends were bad even before the 2002 election. In the last decade, there was:
the disintegration of the Democratic Party itself. An analysis I did in 1998 found that during Clinton’s administration, the Democrats had lost:
– 48 seats in the House
– 8 seats in the Senate
– 11 governorships
– 1,254 state legislative seats
– Control of 9 legislatures
In addition 439 elected Democrats had joined the Republican Party while only three Republican officeholders had gone the other way.
While Democrats had been losing state legislative seats on the state level for 25 years, the loss during the Clinton years was striking. In 1992, the Democrats controlled 17 more state legislatures than the Republicans. After November 2000, the Republicans controlled one more than the Democrats. It was the first time since 1954 that the GOP had controlled more state legislatures than the Democrats (they tied in 1968). Among other things, this gave the Republicans more control over redistricting.
In fact, no Democratic president since the 19th century suffered such an electoral disintegration of his party as did Clinton.
The question for the Democrats is whether their fervor this year translates into enough electoral votes to retake the presidency and stop the red shift that has been going on for over a decade now. On this question, the situation appears to me to resemble, appropriately enough for America, the Super Bowl. The Fans of the Blue Team, the Sensitive Warriors, are the media, the elites, the campuses, the biggest cities, and the interest groups that depend on government. The Fans of the Red Team, the Compassionate Warhawks, include talk radio, Fox, the blogosphere, and fly-over country.
The point spreads are given by pollsters, many of whom, incidentally, have made side bets on the outcome. And the current political commentary sounds mostly like a pre-game show. In ABC’s The Note on Monday, it was Kerry’s to lose. In the Note on Tuesday, the message was: here’s how Carolina can upset the Patriots — wait, I mean here’s how Bush can win.
The media, and it appears, a lot of the pollsters, are rooting for Kerry to win. And they don’t care a whit about Kerry. Most in the media in fact do not like him. So what they are jazzed about is their own energy, and the feeling that maybe, just maybe, THE DEMOCRATS ARE BACK!
John McIntyre of the indipensible RealClearPolitics, has a fine distillation of the current thinking, both Red and Blue. It’s a must read. Among many fine points, he says that Ohio and Florida are key barometers of the feasibility of a Democratic win: if either of these goes Dem, the show is over for Bush. And if Bush takes them both, he probably wins in the electoral college. He says of polling:
Is it any wonder why the polls pick up angst and nervousness among the public? The mistake here is interpreting that angst and nervousness as a repudiation of President Bush and his administration. Maybe it is, but it is not inconceivable that by mid-late September when the public if forced to focus on the real choice between the leadership of George W. Bush and John F. Kerry, this race may appear to be quite different.
What perplexes me most about all the negativism over Bush’s chances is the failure to explain – even absent a decent bounce for Bush in the national polls in the next 4-6 weeks – exactly how John Kerry is going to get to 270 electoral votes. Again, don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that Kerry can’t get to 270 or beyond, just that given the current position the President is in, I think Bush has an easier route to 270 than Kerry.
From an electoral college standpoint, the race is somewhat easy to analyze because most states are going to follow the Bush-Gore 2000 results. Because of reapportionment, this year if all states stayed the same Bush’s total would rise to 278 from 271 and Kerry’s number would fall to 260 from Al Gore’s total of 267. (Late clarification: Officially Gore received 266 electoral votes, because of one abstention form the District if Columbia.) So the question for the Democrats is how does Kerry get to 270?
Let’s stipulate up front that if Kerry wins wins either Florida or Ohio Bush is more than likely finished. But if we leave aside Florida and Ohio for a second and assume they stay in the Bush column, suddenly Kerry’s path to 270 becomes very difficult.
I understand the confidence of the Democrats, but I think it is misplaced. I think I’ve stated well that in LA and NYC generally, and in media circles specifically, the Dems have both a megaphone and an echo chamber working. They are at a pep rally on steroids. But it is hard to see how this translates into a Democratic victory in eighty days or so. Bill Clinton got 43% and 49% of the vote in his two elections, and the current generic candidate is not the politican that Clinton is.
No trend over the past decade or current statistic tells me there is a Democratic Party majority in the United States. (Qualification: the current generic Dem/Rep or congressional question favors Dems at the moment, but Scott Rasmussen tells me that this will change after Labor Day.) I think that will be confirmed by a sizeable Bush victory in November. If I am wrong, I am wrong, and I will learn something from it. But if I am right, then a prediction I made two years ago about the emergence of a New Mainstream media, not including the NYT or WaPo, will, I think have been borne out. This will be particularly true since these political newspapers of record have chosen not to cover the most dramatic story of the campaign.
Throughout the history of capitalism, it has been the case that most companies do not change. They continue to do what they do the way they do it, even when that becomes unpopular. They create a market opportunity by doing so, and eventually some entrepreneur or other company comes along to exploit the unfulfilled demand. So, if there is a significant Bush win in November, I do not expect soul-searching at the Times, the Post, CNN or the alphabet networks. They will be puzzled and outraged, and look for dirty tricks as the explantion — even as their readerships and viewerships continue to decline. After all, everyone they know in New York, Los Angeles and Washington votes Democratic.