Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is the 2008 Election a Realignment?

A realignment is a lasting change in party coalitions. During a realigning period, one of the two major parties will gain new voters from those who were non-voters, independents, or previously aligned with the other major party. This shift will usually make one of the two major parties dominant in elections until the next realigning period, which lasts about 30 to 40 years.

This idea was first developed by V.O. Key in the 1950s, and was expanded by Walter Dean Burnham in 1970. Burnham classified four elections, 1828, 1860, 1896, and 1932, as "critical elections," or an election that causes a realignment. There is little evidence for critical elections. In Electoral Realignments (2004), David Mayhew finds no evidence that a single election has caused the type of change described by Key and Burnham, though 1932 comes the closest.

We do know, however, that party coalitions change over time. The Democratic Party coalition that put Roosevelt in the White House in 1932 is different than today's Democratic coalition, for instance. This leaves open the possibility that the 2008 election is part of a realigning period. Let's examine the arguments opposed to and in favor of this notion.

No, the 2008 election is not part of a realignment.
  1. Obama only won with 53% of the popular vote, a clear lead, but not a dominating one. We remain a nation closely divided between the two parties.
  2. Looking at the change in the electoral college from 2004 to 2008, small shifts in a few states that were swing states or becoming swing states led to Obama's electoral college victory. So, things didn't change that much, an argument also made by John Sides at The Monkey Cage.
  3. There was no shift in the party coalitions. Democrats did well among groups they traditionally do well with and Republicans did well among groups they traditionally do well with.
  4. "It's the economy, stupid," and an unpopular president. Larry Bartels makes this argument. Democrats did well because the economy is doing poorly and our Republican president is unpopular, not because the electorate has newfound confidence in Democratic policies.
Yes, the 2008 election is part of a realignment.
  1. It's time. Like I said, realignments seem to happen about every 30-40 years. This time period makes sense; because, that is about how long it takes for one generation of voters to leave the electorate and a new generation to enter. So, if a realignment occured around 1932, the next one happened in the 1960s or 1970s, and we are due for another.
  2. For two straight elections, 2006 and 2008, Democrats made big gains.
  3. Voter turnout is high. Realignment theory predicts that turnout will increase during realigning periods. In 2004 and 2008, turnout has been higher than usual.
  4. Obama, and Democrats did well among new voters. A realignment can be caused by bringing new voters into the system. Obama did well among young voters and put a lot of effort into registering Latinos and getting them to the polls.
For more on the Yes side, read this article by John Judis in The New Republic.

But there is still another argument than can be made: Maybe, it is up to Obama.

In The Politics Presidents Make (1997), Stephen Skowronek suggests that realignments are brought about by presidents who are given the opportunity, and take advantage of that opportunity. If Obama has that opportunity, it would be up to him to build a new Democratic Party coalition. A similar argument was made by Andrew Kohut in the Washington Post. He said, "Everything will depend on the success Obama has. If the new administration takes us left and it works, then people will be won over."

So, what do you think? Leave a comment and/or participate in my poll.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Abandon Daylight Savings to Conserve Energy

Daylight savings time was implemented by Congress to conserve energy. Two researchers at UC-San Diego have found that it actually has the opposite effect, however. They discuss their findings in this New York Times editorial. While daylight savings does reduce the need for lights in the evening, it also increases the need for heating (in late Fall or early Spring) or cooling (in the Summer) in the morning. Hence, the overall energy consumption increases.

Daylight savings has long been an annoyance to cow farmers (from what I hear) and parents of young children (from what I've personally experienced), who have difficulty readjusting their schedules twice a year. Now that we know daylight savings has the opposite of the intended effect, Congress should do away with it and reduce our energy consumption.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Top 5: Overused Words in the 2008 Election

  1. Wall Street / Main Street
  2. Change
  3. Maverick
  4. Hockey Mom
  5. Joe the Plumber
Some honorable mentions: Scranton, domestic terrorist, and bipartisan.

Any others you can think of?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thank You, Students

I think my UGA students were a little dismayed when I came to class one day wearing my Gators baseball cap. They must believe that a UGA cap would be more appropriate for a UGA professor (though I am a UF alum). On Monday I found a gift from my students waiting for me at the front of the class--A UGA baseball cap! It came with a note that said, "love the one you're with." I was so overcome with emotion from the thoughtfulness of my students, that I actually wore it for the rest of the day. I've never received a gift from an entire class before.

Now I have to decide which hat looks best on me, so I'm asking for input from my readers. Here is how I look in my Gator hat:

This is how I look in my Bulldog hat:


In case you need a side by side comparison:


So, which do you like best, Bulldog hat, or Gator hat?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Top 5: Exit Poll Results

I looked at the exit polls from CNN and the New York Times for these results. Keep in mind that exit polls are notoriously inaccurate because Democrats are more likely to participate in the poll. Just think of these as preliminary numbers, with more accurate polls coming later.
  1. Suburbanites: Obama 50%; McCain 48%
  2. Latinos: Obama 66%; McCain 32%
  3. Catholics: Obama won 54% of all Catholics, 47% of white Catholics; 49% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly; 58% of Catholics who attend Mass less often
  4. Married Females: Married women with kids supported Obama 51% to 47%. Married women without kids supported McCain 53% to 44%. These results are interesting. My best guess is that those with kids are more worried about the economy and those voters went strongly for Obama. Can you think of another explanation?
  5. Reagan Democrats: 83% of Democrats who voted for Clinton supported Obama.
Some other notable results from the exit polls:

Eighty-five percent of those polled said that they are worried about economic conditions. Of those, 54% voted for Obama. Of those who were not worried, 65% voted for McCain.

Sixty percent of those polled said that McCain's choice of Palin was a factor in their vote. Of these, 56% voted for McCain. This suggests that Palin helped more than she hurt the ticket.

Those who attend worship services weekly supported McCain (55%). Obama was supported by those who attend occasionally (57%) and never (67%).

Anything else you find interesting from the exit polls?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Top 5: Things I Will Look for in the Exit Polls

  1. Suburbanites: Republicans do well among rural voters. Democrats do well among urban voters. The suburbs are the battleground. Whichever party wins the suburbs will win the election.
  2. Latinos: Bush won 44% of the Latino vote in 2004. Though not a majority, this is good for a Republican. It helped Bush win some swing states with large Latino populations, such as New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Florida. If Obama wins a significant number of these Latino-Bush voters he could win these swing states.
  3. Catholics: Typically, Catholics divide their votes almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Bush won the Catholic vote in 2004, running against a Catholic. Who will win the Catholic vote this time?
  4. Married Females: Traditionally, Republicans do well among married females. But in the 2006 midterms, they lost the married female vote, and lost a lot of seats in Congress.
  5. Reagan Democrats: Or sometimes called conservative Democrats. Sen. Clinton did well with these voters in the primaries. Will they stick with their party and vote Obama, or vote for McCain? These voters could make a difference in some important swing states, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.


After the polls come out, I will write another post letting you know the results for each of these. What will you be looking for?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama-McCain Similarities

Elections are about differences. Candidates will spend a lot of time telling you how they are different from their opponent. In this climate differences are often exaggerated. In the heat of political campaign we often here dire predictions about what would happen if the other candidate gets elected. But Obama and McCain actually share a lot of policy positions. Here are 10 examples:

1. The 2nd Amendment is about an individual’s right to own firearms.

2. Increase forces in Afghanistan.

3. Willing to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty to catch a suspected terrorist.

4. Supported the $700 billion financial rescue bill.

5. Keep taxes on dividends low. (McCain wants them lower, but even Obama does not want them as high as the highest income tax rate, a traditional Democratic view.)

6. Reward good teachers with higher pay.

7. Invest more money in wind, solar, and clean coal power.

8. Provide tax credits for the purchase of low emission vehicles.

9. Secure our borders and provide a path to citizenship to undocumented workers without a criminal record.

10. Georgia should be allowed in NATO.


I could've made the list a lot longer. The point here is NOT that it doesn't matter who you vote for. There would certainly be differences between an Obama presidency and a McCain presidency. But, the differences would not be as large as you are led to believe by the campaigns. Liberals would likely be surprised, and upset, at how conservative an Obama presidency would be; and, conservatives would likely be surprised, and upset, at how liberal a McCain presidency would be.

So, if your candidate loses tomorrow, you can take heart in the fact that our system of government favors moderation. And in another four years, you'll have another chance. If your candidate wins, brace yourself for some disappointments.