Posts Tagged ‘elections’

Along with reviving The “failing” New York Times, Donald Trump can take credit for having launched an entire academic enterprise, Trumpology: trying to understand how and why he rocketed from a reality show celebrity to the White House. It’s been about a year since I summarized studies trying to answer that question and it’s now about a year before Americans revisit their 2016 decision. What does the last year’s research show?Trump

My previous two entries on Trumpology (“Explaining Trump” and “Explaining Trump Some More”) suggested the following tentative conclusions from earlier studies:

* Explaining why Trump actually won the electoral college is not very interesting. The election was close and any number of minor events could have made the difference. We need to understand why such an improbable candidate won the nomination of a major party and, in particular, what motivated his MAGA enthusiasts.
* The key seems to have been cultural anxieties–Trump’s success in addressing and inflaming worries about race and immigration, clearly, but also worries about feminism and other elements of the “culture wars.” Trump’s attention to economic distress was, at best, secondary.
* Once Trump won the nomination, party partisanship–much greater in 2016 than it was a couple of decades ago–ensured strong support from Republicans and strong opposition from Democrats. Thus, the fall campaign was fought over a very narrow no man’s land, where any event (say, Access Hollywood, purloined emails, or an FBI news conference) could make the difference.

The new research I report below is consistent with these conclusions but fills them out, particularly telling us about Trump’s takeover over the Republican party and his nature as a populist. I am sure that there are many more studies out there, but this is a start. I will review what new we have learned about Trump’s capture of the Republican nomination and of the fall election, place Trump the populist in international perspective, consider parallels to a 1960s-’70s precursor of Trump, and close by speculating about 2020.


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For several years now, this blog has tracked growing political partisanship in the U.S., the estrangement between grassroots Republicans and Democrats that echoes some of nineteenth-century inter-party vitriol, although does not reenact some of nineteenth-century bloodshed (yet). The division is increasingly about culture and identity rather than about policy. Differences on issues such as health, immigration, and entitlements are not fundamental–witness red states voting for Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage. Instead, more and more voters are basing their policy preferences (and a lot more) on their parties. Furthermore, party lines increasingly match regional, state, and community borders, which intensifies the political consequences.

This polarization had been under way for a few decades among political elites but not among the wider public until more recently. Trump’s victory depended critically on that polarization; his campaign and presidency, in turn, widened it. Both in 2016 and 2018 Trump spurned the “big-tent” outreach strategy of the GOP elites and instead revved up the base over cultural topics.

One result of this year’s midterms is, as many commentators have noted (e.g., here), yet further widening of the cleavage. The very size of the midterm turnout is one sign: Massive mobilization against Trump seemed to spur massive mobilization for Trump. In the end, a handful of culturally red states purged themselves of anomalous Democratic senators as many culturally blue congressional districts purged themselves of anomalous Republican representatives–often by replacing them with the sorts of victors who provoke the Trump base: career women, minorities, LGBT, and even Muslims.

Where is this bitter polarization heading?


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Voting Violence

One of the simmering issues of the political summer is the court battle over voter identification laws in many Republican-governed states. Requirements that voters present photo IDs, such as drivers’ licenses, and other constraints, such as curtailing early voting, promise to reduce the number of poor, elderly, and minority voters in those states. One of the hardest tasks supporters of the new restrictions have is to keep a straight face when claiming that these changes have nothing to do with partisan politics, with reducing Democratic votes.

Registering 1960 (Tennessee Encycl.)

No doubt, some trickery comes from both sides – for example, encouraging college students to register at school or at home depending on where their votes will make the most difference, or ignoring the people who vote twice because they have residences in two states. One’s position on the ID debate should depend on whether your principle is “better ten legitimate voters disenfranchised than one illegitimate voter casting a ballot” or vice-versa. But people’s actual positions depend on whose voters are being turned away.

As this struggle unfolds, it recalls an old American tradition of voting fraud, voting suppression, and voting violence.


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What Works? Votes.

One hears a lot these days, particularly from those on the left who are disappointed by the last few years, that electoral politics do not work  – or do not work any more. It is given as a reason for some to be apathetic and a reason for others to engage in direct action.


It is an odd claim, since the efficacy of electoral politics is evident all around us. The problem for the discouraged is that sometimes they just don’t have the votes to effect the change they want – which is especially likely to be true if they don’t vote.


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Win Stay, Lose Change

As I post this on the evening of Nov. 2, 2010, the election returns are yet to come in.

Source: theocean via flickr

Still the wise guys who run the numbers (like this guy and that guy) have already made it clear that the Republicans will do very well tonight. Tonight also marks the end of all the sophisticated analysis of what will happen and why and the start of all the sophisticated analysis of what did happen and why. In the end, it’s all pretty simple: Win stay, lose change.


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Why Vote?

Source: Irechis via Flickr

The three basic principles for winning elections seem to be: turnout, turnout, and turnout.

Political science research suggests that relatively few voters’ minds are changed during the campaign, so winning depends mainly on getting your supporters to actually vote. As election day approaches, concern arises again about how many Americans cared enough to register and how many will care enough to turn out. That concern picked up in the last decades of the 20th century as voting turnout dropped from its modern high point in 1960 (see figure below).

There are complexities involved in calculating turnouts (see, notably, here). For one, adding 18-to-20-year-olds to the voter base in 1972 helped pull down the turnout rate (initially in the years marked by diamonds in the figure above). Still, there was a real fall-off in voting from 1960 into the 1980s, in spite of some efforts to make voting easier, such as DMV registration and mail-in ballots. A small industry of scholars have worked on trying to explain that drop: Did would-be voters get turned off by the political turmoil of the ‘60s, by growing media cynicism about politics, by general social alienation, or what?

That decline, however, is a minor fluctuation compared to much larger ups and downs in Americans turning out to vote. A look at that history might suggest what gets Americans out to vote.

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