A red shift in US politics?

Some US political scientists are talking about the end of a conservative era, a cyclical shift in the partisanship of American voters “which could last at least through 2016, if managed carefully.” In US terms, we might call this a ‘red shift’ away from power.

Any political scientist worth her salt can identify the periods where partisanship shifted in favour of one or other of the major parties. This year the realignment might be particularly favourable to Barack Obama. University of North Carolina political scientist James Stimson says that:

“All regimes overshoot what the electorate wants in their policy behavior to satisfy both their own internal ideologies and their party base, and thus sow the seeds of future opposition.”

Stimson cites as examples the administrations of Johnson and George W. Bush. He graphs the ebbs and flows of liberal leanings:

This year, things look auspicious. Say Stimson and his colleagues in another paper:

“As of 2008, the relevant time series show a rare convergence of Democratic macropartisanship and liberal mood. These can be traced to the president’s persistent unpopularity and conservative policies. According to our modeling, the result should be a presidential victory for the Democrats and (as begun in 2006) Democratic control of the House and Senate.”

Note, however, “election outcomes are stochastic processes, so this prediction is no ‘lock.'” In other words, watch out for swift boats and other random variables.

How long might the “liberal” ascendancy last? Other political scientists (see below for reference) say that such cycles tend to last 12 to 15 years. That takes us to 2018–2021 according to the boffins.

[Note, This article is available to the pubic: Samuel Merrill, III, Bernard Gorfman, & Thomas L. Brunell (2008). Cycles in American national electoral politics, 1854-2006: Statistical evidence and an explanatory model. American Political Science Review,  102(1), 1–17.

And Happy Independence Day to any American readers!

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3 Responses to “A red shift in US politics?”

  1. MacDoctor Says:

    Interesting articles, JP. I note that the data in Merrill, Gorfman and Brunell, which covers 150 years seems to indicate that liberalism peaked in the 1930s and is now trending downwards, albeit with a clear cyclical swing of about 12-15 years. Even more interesting is that the presidency seems substantially more random – just examining the graphs.

    This would indicate that the democrats will hold the house and senate for a number of years, but that the presidency is more of a “crap shoot”, as the Americans say. Whereas the house and senate may represent the overall mood of the country, I suspect that the presidency is really personality politics, hence its more stochastic nature.

    And, yes, I suspect the boats will indeed be swift, both here and in the USA…

  2. AndrewE Says:

    I wonder if the same thing is happening here?

  3. adamsmith1922 Says:

    Most interesting, I agree with MacDoctor though on the Presidency, that is definitely more of a crap shoot.

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