Transformation 2016: Which Way USA? (Teaching Election 2016 Part 3)
This is the third post in a series on approaches to teaching about election 2016. In this post I focus on an underlying theme, political change, rather than candidates and issues.
Some Presidential elections are corrections, others are affirmations, fewer are mandates, and very few are transformative. In a corrective election, the incumbent party is voted out of office because the public blames them or their candidate for continuing national malaise. Examples are the Clinton election in 1992, the Bush election in 2000, and the Obama election in 2008. Affirmations are essentially reelections, Reagan in 1984, Clinton in 1996, Bush in 2004, and Obama in 2012, although sometimes, as in the election of George Bush in 1988, the same party remains in power with a different candidate. There have been very few mandates that sweep a party to overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate as well as the Presidency. Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and Lyndon Johnson in 1964 definitely qualify as mandates, and maybe Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Transformative Presidential elections that realign politics in the United States for the long-term and integrate new political parties into the two-party system are exceedingly rare. The last time a new political party was swept into office was the Republican Party in 1860 in the midst of the crisis that brought on the civil war.
However other elections did mark new political alignments. Between the Civil War and 1928 the Republican Party dominated national politics and the Presidency. In 1932, a combination of urban immigrants who newly became citizens and were now eligible to vote with the Great Depression made the Democratic Party dominant until 1968. In 1968, White working class men, partly in response against the Civil Rights Movement and partly to due to the lose of skilled manufacturing jobs became to shift from the Democratic to the Republican Party. The shift was best exemplified by the relatively rapid movement of Southern Whites, who had been loyal to the Democratic Party since Reconstruction, into the Republican Party where they continue to remain.
In April, the New York Times ran an article, “Electoral Map Is a Reality Check to Donald Trump’s Bid.” The article focused on the electability of Donald Trump as a potential Republican Party candidate, but made the point that the appeal and positions that make it possible for a candidate to win a major party’s Presidential nomination could actually put a candidate at a decided disadvantage in the general election.
In 1964 Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona who was to the right of the Republican Party mainstream and in 1972 Senator George McGovern of South Dakota who was to the left of the Democratic Party mainstream each secured their party’s nomination and both went down to resounding defeats in the Transformation 2016: Which Way USA? (Teaching Election 2016 Part 3):