The Decline of the Reagan Coalition
With all the inevitable gnashing of teeth about whether or not W's re-election constitutes a "mandate," it's important to keep in mind just how miniscule his margin of victory was compared to Reagan, and even his old man in 1988. Far from constituting a permanent electoral juggernaut, the Republicans were able to drag their smirking, petulant standard-bearer across the finish line by squeezing the waning Nixon-Reagan political coalition for all it's worth. Catholic University's John Kenneth White has written an essay on this subject for Zogby entitled "The Reagan Coalition Meets the Twenty-First Century." Unfortunately, it's subscription only, but Ruy Teixeira quotes this revealing passage:
Despite George W. Bush’s win, the Reagan coalition is not nearly as potent as it once was. Contrast George W. Bush’s vote in 2004 with the support his father received sixteen years earlier. While the figures are similar, the power of the Reagan coalition translated Bush Sr.’s 53 percent of the popular vote into 426 electoral votes thanks to victories in 40 states. This year, Bush’s 51 percent garnered him just 286 electoral votes and 30 states. Bush’s puny electoral vote margin ranks among the smallest in history– close to his 271 votes in 2000, Woodrow Wilson’s 277 votes in 1916, and Jimmy Carter’s 297 votes in 1976.
Obviously, this historical comparison is small comfort for those of us still licking our political wounds. Nevertheless, this does suggest that, in spite of the boundless timidity and short-sightedness of our Washington Generals (i.e. Beltway Dems), Republicans will continue to experience ever-diminishing returns (on the presidential level, anyway) from their shriveling post-Goldwater coalition if they remain unable to bring new voters into the fold. Of course, it would be nice if we had some Harlem Globetrotter types in charge of the Democratic Party, instead of the decrepit, hapless Generals we're currently stuck with (see here for a perfect example). But hey, that will change rather soon, right?