October 18, 2003


The (Finally) Emerging Republican Majority: GOP officials don't like to talk about it, but they have become the dominant party. (Fred Barnes, 10/27/2003, Weekly Standard)

Democrats insist the recall merely showed anger against incumbents. In fact, it showed California was catching up with a powerful Republican trend over the past decade. In 1992, Democrats captured 51 percent of the total vote in House races to 46 percent for Republicans. By 2002, those numbers had flipped--Republicans 51 percent, Democrats 46 percent. And Republicans have held their House majority over five elections, including two in which Democratic presidential candidates won the popular vote. They won 230 House seats in 1994, 226 in 1996, 223 in 1998, 221 in 2000, and 229 in 2002. They also won Senate control in those elections.

These voting patterns fit Walter Dean Burnham's definition of realignment: "a sudden transformation that turns out to be permanent." Burnham is a University of Texas political scientist, just retired but still the chief theorist of realignment. He is neither a Republican nor a conservative.

The same Republican trend is true for state elections. In 1992, Democrats captured 59 percent of state legislative seats (4,344 to 3,031 for Republicans). Ten years later, Republicans won their first majority (3,684 to 3,626) of state legislators since 1952. In 1992, Democrats controlled the legislatures of 25 states to 8 for Republicans, while the others had split control. Today, Republicans rule 21 legislatures to 16 for Democrats. Governors? Republicans had 18 in 1992, Democrats 30. Today, Republicans hold 27 governorships, Democrats 23.

Not to belabor dry numbers, but Republicans have also surged in party identification. Go back to 1982, the year of the first midterm election of Ronald Reagan's presidency. The Harris Poll found Democrats had a 14-point edge (40 to 26 percent) as the party with which voters identified. By 1992, the Democratic edge was 6 points (36 to 30 percent) and last year, President Bush's midterm election, it was 3 points (34 to 31 percent).

But the Harris Poll tilts slightly Democratic. (In fact, I believe most polls underestimate Republican ID because of nominal Democrats who routinely vote Republican.)The 2000 national exit poll showed Republicans and Democrats tied at 34 percent. A Republican poll after the 2002 elections gave the party a 3- to 4-point edge. Based on his own poll in July, Democrat Mark Penn (who once polled for Bill Clinton) declared: "In terms of the percentage of voters who identify themselves as Democrats, the Democratic party is currently in its weakest position since the dawn of the New Deal." His survey pegged Democratic ID at 32 percent, Republican ID at 30 percent. A half-century ago, 49 percent of voters said they were Democrats. Today, wrote Penn, "among middle class voters, the Democratic party is a shadow of its former self."

All these figures represent "a general creeping mode of realignment, election by election," says Burnham. By gaining governors and state legislators, Republicans are now in the entrenchment phase. "If you control the relevant institutions, you can really do a number on the opposition," Burnham says. "You can marginalize them."

The one counterintuitive that makes such a realignment unlikely to endure for the lengthy period that the last couple have is that modern conservatism--of the fiscal variety--is a young people's politics. Older voters can be bought for the cause of Statism with retirement checks. Younger voters can be kept in opposition to the State on the basis of the taxes they have to pay to support the elderly. The GOP, therefore, has to do several things:

(1) Take advantage of the realignment to privatize social welfare.

(2) Limit/ban abortion.

(3) Accept immigration as a societal good, so long as assimilation is a key element.

The first so that retirees in the future depend on themselves rather than the State; the latter two so that we don't end up with the same kind of rapidly ageing population that is destroying the rest of the West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2003 8:20 AM

Your conclusion regarding #2 would be true if abortion has anything to do with lifetime fertility.

But it doesn't.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 19, 2003 7:00 AM

Yet it moves...

Posted by: oj at October 19, 2003 7:17 AM