Arnold Kling  

Election Pre-Mortem

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Economic Ideas Not Well Popula... Political Predictions...

I made a bet with Bryan that seems increasingly dubious. I took the view that the demographic trends favor Democrats. More of the population is non-white, born after 1980, and located in large metro areas.

So, how are the Republicans going to do well in this election, given that they have a white, older, rural, small-town (WORST) base? Some possibilities:

1. 2010 will be the last stand of the WORST. That is, thanks to the tea-party movement, the turnout rate will be disproportionately high in the Republican base. On average, though, demographic trends still favor Democrats.

2. It's the economy, stupid. Relative turnout rates will not change much. However, Democrats will do even more poorly among WORST voters than they did in 2008, because of the weak economy.

3. Not so attached. Perhaps parts of the Democratic constituency, particularly white voters who are young, urban, and suburban, were not strongly attached to Democrats to begin with, and they are shifting to the Republican Party.

I think that the answer is (1). Empirically, the issue will rest on turnout. If turnout is relatively highest in Republican strongholds, that will support my point of view. On the other hand, if turnout is not significantly higher in Republican areas than in Democratic areas, and Republicans do well, then some other explanation is correct.


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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Randy writes:

Is economic policy really subject to demographics? In the short run perhaps, but in the long run mistakes are mistakes, and they will have an impact on everyone. Next question; are Republicans really any less prone to economic idiocy than Democrats?

JPIrving writes:

I doubt the white demographic forecasts, at least the implications. The problem as I see it, is that white birthrates vary amongst states. The weak birthrates for Blue State whites drag the average white birthrate down, but the Red State birthrates are still mostly above replacement. Super Economy has a good post on this

http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/05/conservatives-have-more-children-than.html

It appears voting republican is highly correlated with fertility.

White progressives can't be bothered to reproduce (just like non scandinavian europeans) but who cares? The population who actually vote for republicans is still growing. The mormons and evangelicals will inherit the country. As someone who grew up in Vermont, where you rebel by being a republican, I say the future looks bright!

John V writes:

Or maybe there's simply a large group of people who are not nearly as partisan as was thought and twist with the wind.

Tom writes:

"Republicans really any less prone to economic idiocy than Democrats? "

See mariginalrevolutions post on economics http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/10/popularize.html

Virtually all myths are popularized by the left.

John B. writes:

Party ideologies aren't carved in stone; parties construct ideologies to justify a coalition of interests and to sell the party to the public. If demographic changes mean that the existing messages don't sell, the messages will be changed.

Another way to say this is that in a two-party system the two parties will almost always divide the public into equal halves because a minority party will change itself to be more appealing -- or it will die and be replaced by a new party, as happened to the Whigs (replaced by the Republicans).

This process doesn't apply when one party is so dominant in a region that the real contest is between wings of that party (and in that conflict the same dynamic applies internally).

I therefore suspect that the Democrats will not become a dominant majority. The Republicans will change their message and their interests and the old game will gone on.

Joey Donuts writes:

A little evidence from the last election.

Saxsby Chambliss, a republican incumbent senator from GA, was forced into a run off with the Democrat candidate because there was a third party candidate and GA requires a majority vote for victory. In the runoff the Democrat candidate didn't get the percentage of the vote he received in the normal election. Why, because he rode Obama's coat tails and the urban (mainly Atlanta) blacks voted heavily. Those urban voters failed to show in the run off.

Those voters and others like them won't show in this election either, which partially explains why the Republicans will win big.

Going out on a limb, I suggest that 2012, if Obama runs again, will see democrats winning back the House and perhaps the majority in the Senate, whether Obama wins or not. If Obama, doesn't run, its anybody's guess as to what will happen to the House and the Senate. It'll depend on the candidates for president among other things.

Black and Hispanic voters are a pretty large block that goes heavily in one direction only. If the block shows up, the democrats win big period.

Eli writes:

Arnold, if you think that Republicans are through, why do you keep talking about the Palin Presidency?

For my part, I think the Median Voter Theorem is basically correct and there will always be two parties with roughly equal support.

Adam writes:

Why a race-based hypothesis? It's dubious, anachronistic, and uneconomic. Arnold, I always appreciate your work--but I am shocked that you'd give the time-of-day to the WORST sort of hypothesis.

The long-term dynamics of human organization favor change--change toward greater freedom and autonomy. The market forces working to these ends are overwhelming in the global economy. Politicians and countries that resist these trends are find themselves impoverished as capital and skilled labor rushes to friendlier climes. Just take a look at the capital markets right now--capital is flushing out of the US and EU into the emergent markets. For the history, see Douglas North or, more recently, Matt Ridley.

Neither Ds nor Rs are wholly in line with the big trend. Both parties encompass anachronistic positions--e.g., the D's passion for centralized economic control and the R's passion for central moral control. The party offering greater freedom is going to win against the party promising control and coercion. Compared with freedom, coercion is and looks small and mean--it's not what the median voter wants.

Both the Ds and Rs will seek to survive and win elections. The Rs are now adapting through the Tea Party movement. The Ds will adjust with a counter move. Hopefully, both will be successful in finding ways to get more freedom and more economic growth. Of course, success is uncertain. There are periods of political decadence and decay. What is certain is that the two parties will cycle back and forth over time, struggling for the median voter plus 1, with neither party gaining a permanent advantage.

There is nothing racial or WORST about it--it's just simple economics of trade and specialization. If Ds and Rs don't find a way to ride the long-term trend, then the US will go into economic and social decline. Other regions will be ascendant.

If we're lucky, a few of us will migrate into those growing areas and enjoy the new-found freedom and well-being. The Ds and Rs will be left to squabble over the crumbs.

Doc Merlin writes:

If there is ever a preferences cascade among american blacks where 20% start voting republican, it would basically doom the Democratic party.

Mercer writes:

"Why a race-based hypothesis? It's dubious, anachronistic, and uneconomic. Arnold, I always appreciate your work--but I am shocked that you'd give the time-of-day to the WORST sort of hypothesis."

Given that blacks vote 90 percent Dem and Latinos vote 2/3 Dem any prediction of future voting trends should take race into account to be accurate. Two other demographic trends are important: Whites who are married and attend church vote the GOP line more. Both marriage and church attendance are declining. These three trends together make me think Arnold's first possibility is correct. The economy is in the worst shape in at least 28 years and the Dems will probably still keep the Senate.

John B. said:

"Party ideologies aren't carved in stone; parties construct ideologies to justify a coalition of interests and to sell the party to the public. If demographic changes mean that the existing messages don't sell, the messages will be changed."

True, but it can take a long time for this to happen. The Dems were damaged by not taking crime and welfare problems seriously in the late 1960s. They did not change their message until Clinton was nominated in 1992.

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

I'll go with choice #2.

Center-left democrats are now as embarrassed about Democrat handling of the economy as center-right Republicans were about Bush. It is obvious to anybody that Washington politics has moved sharply left in the last two years, leaving most centrists scratching their heads, not knowing exactly what they want, but knowing they don't want THAT.

Soft-left will stay home (Rush says, to embarrass Obama enough to get Hillary the nomination). Centrists will pinch their noses and vote Republican, whereas they voted enthusiastically Democrat last time. The Black and youth vote is greatly attenuated with no Obama on the ticket.

Request: Please update your "One Party State Watch" series.

Michael Stack writes:

I'm with Eli - in the medium to long run, the Median Voter Theorem will hold, and each party will have roughly equal support.

Michael

Hugh Watkins writes:

Demographics obviously have a role - but they aren't carved in stone.

One big change we are seeing in 2010 is the emergence of high profile women candidates in the Republican ranks. I signal this as it seems to be a 100% "natural" phenomenon and not influenced by "quota" thinking. It is therefore a powerful and important demographic development that wil reverberate over time.

MernaMoose writes:

The Median Voter Theorem will hold, one way or another. Which doesn't for a second mean that Arnold is wrong.

What we call "Republican" and "Democrat" a decade from now, could be (probably will be) quite different from today. Though I'm hard pressed to see the core liberal left giving up their euro-socialist love affair anytime in this century.

I'd bet on Arnold's prediction. Not because of demographics, but because the liberals more or less own our educational system, end to end. I'm amazed this country didn't end up going much further left, much faster than it has.


Adam,

The long-term dynamics of human organization favor change--change toward greater freedom and autonomy.

The long term dynamics of economic growth favor change. That doesn't mean the necessary change is going to happen.

The market forces working to these ends are overwhelming in the global economy.

If only you were right. Sadly, it's quite the opposite.

Just take a look at the capital markets right now--capital is flushing out of the US and EU into the emergent markets.

That's only because they haven't yet seen, belly-up at the bar stool, what's really going on in these "emerging markets". But from what I'm reading, the truth is just now starting to dawn on their profit-greedy little brains.

If you think India and China are Capitalist Paradises on Earth, you're in for a rude awakening. Or do you think Hong Kong alone will save the world from itself?

The truth is that there doesn't have to be any decent amount of freedom anywhere, at any given time. And from my reading of history, the world has gone through long sad spells where that's just about how it was.

True economic freedom is a rare flower indeed.

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