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

7
Mondale's Revenge: Ideology and Retrospective Evaluations in 1992

The 1992 presidential election might initially seem to mark an end of the era of Republican dominance in presidential elections that dates back to 1968. Bill Clinton's victory was only the Democrats' second since 1964. And while Jimmy Carter's triumph could easily be attributed to the more-or-less accidental effects of Watergate, Clinton's seemed rooted in more fundamental and long-term aspects of electoral politics centering on core issues of economic management and prosperity. Those schooled in the classic theory of realignment would undoubtedly find the thirdparty effort of Ross Perot intriguing, suggestive of a failure of an existing party system to contain new cross-cutting issues associated with the budget deficit and, quite likely, indicative of Republican failure to maintain control of the issue agenda that had underlay the Reagan successes of the 1980s.

Yet in many ways the message of 1992 is one of continuity rather than change. The first, and in many ways the most important, indicator of the lack of change in 1992 is Clinton's percentage of the popular vote: Clinton of course won with a minority of the popular vote, able to do so because Perot and Bush divided the opposition.1 The evidence from Chapter Two provides considerable evidence that the 1992 outcome marks continuation in the pattern of recent elections which the Democrats lost: the standard deviation of Democratic percentage of the vote for a five-election sequence falls when 1992 is substituted for 1972 to 3.90, the lowest for any five year sequence since Roosevelt's first victory; and five of the six t statistics that mark discontinuities in Democratic election performance in Figure 2.1 through Figure 2.4 decline from already low levels. In terms of outcomes, there is no evidence that 1992 marks a break with a pattern of Democratic electoral performance that dates back to 1968.

Even more striking is the continuity of most of the attitudinal components of past elections that had favored the Democrats well before 1992: a continuing surplus of Democratic identifiers over Republicans, a continuing perception of the Democratic Party as centrist rather than ideologically extreme, a continuing modest Democratic advantage in relative proximity to voters in ideological issue space,

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