The Collapse of the Democratic Presidential Majority: Realignment, Dealignment, and Electoral Change from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton

By David G. Lawrence | Go to book overview

6
The Fragile Extension of the
Second Mini-Realignment:
Retrospective Voting
and the Politics of Prosperity*

The interplay of ideological extremity and perceived distance to parties and candidates in issue space accounts nicely for important aspects of presidential election competition between 1968 and 1980. Perception of the Democrats as ideologically extreme explains disproportionate Democratic defection in general and the very different patterns of defection of the two parties' ideological cores, with perceptions of George McGovern and Ronald Reagan particularly helpful in accounting for the ebb and flow of relative perceived distance over time. And yet the intertwined effects of ideological extremity and perceived distance no longer account for disproportionate Democratic losses after 1980: Reagan's driving perceptions of the Republicans to the right destroys the ideological basis for the higher level of Democratic defection. If citizens voted on the basis of the ideological factors discussed in Chapter Five, Democrats would have won the 1984 and 1988 presidential elections. The attentive reader will note that they did not.


THE PECULIAR ROLE
OF PROSPECTIVE ISSUES IN THE 1980S

The failure of such ideological considerations to explain voting behavior and election outcome in the 1980s is striking, but it is not the only evidence that citizen attitudes one might expect to predict vote choice no longer do so. Table 4.1 demonstrated that Democrats retain an advantage in numbers of partisans, albeit to a lesser extent, through 1988. And the more numerous Democratic identifiers also appear to be more intense in their party loyalty: there are 1.21 Democrats for each Republican in the 1984 electorate; if we exclude the weakest identifiers, the Independent Democrats and Republicans, the ratio increases to 1.37. It may well be that the Republicans maintain a candidate orientation advantage sufficient to allow them to overcome these apparent problems with issues and partisanship. But

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