We’re probably going to suffer through quite a few of these over the next fifteen months so let’s just get used to it now. Doug Sosnik at Politico has a lengthy “think piece” on the subject of how most presidential elections are actually over long before the polls close on the big day, and a clever reader of the tea leaves should be able to know who is going to win long in advance. Of course, such an article wouldn’t be much fun if you weren’t going to announce the winner, so Doug does so. And… surprise, surprise… it’s not the Republicans.
In every game there are decisive moments that determine the ultimate outcome. We like to think that presidential elections are dramatic fall campaigns pitting party against party, but the truth is that the most decisive moments often occur long before the general election kicks off. If history is any guide, the outcome of next year’s presidential campaign will likely be determined before the Republican Party has even selected their nominee. That uncomfortable fact means that the longer and more divisive the Republican primary, the less likely the party will be to win back the White House in 2016.
That introduction is rather far afield from the rest of the analysis in this article. Sosnik points out some statistical data as he goes along, some of which is actually quite relevant. For example, when an incumbent president has an approval rating of greater than 50% in the final year of their term, they are far more likely to win reelection, or their successor from the same party to win election if it is the incumbent’s second term. That’s not exactly rocket science, though. If the president is getting high ratings, the country is generally happy and happy people don’t tend to switch horses in mid-stream. But how far in advance are the president’s ratings “locked in” prior to election day? Look how far underwater Obama was just six weeks ago. But then two SCOTUS decisions later (which he had absolutely nothing to do with) he was back up over fifty percent. The electorate is a fickle bunch and you can’t take anything for granted when six months is an eternity in politics.
The author also notes the influence of early voting on “ending” elections early. To a limited degree I’ll give him that one, and it’s one of the greatest arguments against early voting and expanding voting windows. There may be a lot more information to come but voters are locked out of changing their minds if their ballots are already cast. But again, it’s not that big of a window. The vast majority of ballots will be cast in the final two weeks, with most of those still being on election day. And yes… by the final two weeks the die will pretty much have been cast unless we’ve got a serious nail biter taking place.
Perhaps the most curious part of the Politico analysis is where the author notes one of the most favored of all liberal chants… Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections. (They have to include that last disclaimer to take into account Bush in 2000.) This is offered as proof of how unpopular the GOP is, regardless of the fact that Republicans control pretty much everything else at the moment.
While it is true that the Republicans now control both branches of Congress, as well as a significant majority of governorships and state legislatures around the country, it’s not enough to become the dominant political party in the country—not without the White House. Despite their successes in these recent off-year elections, Republicans have been unable to articulate a coherent national party agenda that appeals to a majority of Americans in the last two presidential elections—and they’ve lost the popular vote now in five of the last six presidential elections. At a time when the electorate’s makeup is changing and views on social issues are evolving, Republicans continue to espouse a backward vision for the country.
What this actually proves is two very different things. First, it shows us that it’s possible to lose presidential elections in places where you win gubernatorial races, state houses and a majority of congressional seats. And second, it shows that Democrats are fairly lazy as voters and tend to only show up for the big, gauzy White House race while not paying much attention to everything else in between. And yes, that’s a problem for the GOP. The real power happens at the local and state level for many aspects of life but for change on a federal level it’s hard to get much done without the big chair. The SJW have been very effective in turning out their voters every four years and finding various bits of hyped up outrage to stampede them in the direction they need.
The GOP needs an answer for that particular puzzle and they need to be getting on the problem fast. Sosnik may be grossly overstating how soon the election will be “over” but the end is most certainly on the horizon and heading our way.