Dating to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election to the presidency, political essayist Michael Barone has been writing arguably the most trenchant, thought-provoking analyses of American electoral politics. Appearing in the introductory section of the biennial Almanac of American Politics, which he has compiled for more than three decades, Mr. Barone’s essays review the just-concluded elections and offer insight into their likely impact on the nation’s future political situation.
In the widely anticipated 2006 edition of the almanac, which has recently arrived at bookstores, Mr. Barone’s analysis has managed to exceed the very high expectations that preceded it. In his introductory essay, “American Politics in The Networking Era,” Mr. Barone argues that today’s America reflects “a post-industrial, Information Age nation characterized by decentralization and network-connected organizations.” Finally catching up with these trends, the 2004 campaign “produced a different kind of politics, a politics that reflects the character of the post-industrial, networking age we live in.”
In the public interest, the editorial page of The Washington Times is pleased to disseminate the highlights of Mr. Barone’s essay, which, we emphasize, deserves to be read in its entirety:
While both the Bush and Kerry campaigns concentrated on turning out the maximum number of the party faithful, the Bush campaign “created an organization unlike any seen before, a networking organization that far surpassed what the Democrats were doing.” During the fall of 2003, for example, the news media marveled at Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean’s list of 600,000 e-mail addresses. Virtually unreported, however, was the fact that the Bush campaign had collected six million e-mail addresses. For the general election campaign, compared to the 233,000 volunteers assembled by the Democratic National Committee, the Bush campaign recruited six times as many, or an unprecedented 1.4 million. Thus, the Democratic turnout effort mostly “depended on paid workers persuading strangers to get out and vote.” The 1.4 million GOP volunteers, however, were deployed through sophisticated networks that enabled them to use tailored messages in their contacts with prospective voters who had much in common with themselves. Boy Scout leaders, for example, were dispatched to contact other Boy Scout volunteers.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, which held that Democrats would benefit from a very high turnout in 2004, President Bush won an election that included a historic increase in turnout. Not only did total turnout increase by 16 percent in 2004, but turnout as a percentage of eligible voters soared from 51 percent to 61 percent. Even though John Kerry received eight million more votes in 2004 than Al Gore got in 2000, Mr. Kerry’s 59-million total, which was the second-highest in history, still fell three million short of Mr. Bush’s all-time record of 62 million votes, which represented a stunning 23 percent increase over 2000.
Excluding the 1916-1928 period, when women entered the electorate in large numbers, turnout during the 110 years preceding 2004 increased by more than 14 percent only four times: 1896, 1936, 1952 and 1992. Both the 1896 election, when Republican William McKinley won the presidency, and the 1936 election, when President Roosevelt won re-election in a landslide, led to national majorities that lasted more than 30 years. Noting that President Eisenhower apparently had no inclination to build a lasting GOP majority and observing (no fewer than three times) that Bill Clinton “failed” to build a lasting coalition after his 1992 triumph, Mr. Barone reveals that President Bush’s 23 percent vote increase in 2004 approximated the 22 percent vote increase achieved by Roosevelt in 1936. While the Bush 51 percent majority in 2004 was much smaller than Roosevelt’s 61 percent in 1936, the results of the intervening midterm congressional elections were similar. Prior to the Republican successes in 2002, Mr. Barone reports, “[n]o incumbent president’s party had increased its number of seats in both houses [of Congress] in an off-year election since Roosevelt’s Democratic Party in 1934.”
Recalling that his post-2000 commentary described America as “the 49-percent nation,” evenly split between the two parties, Mr. Barone today concludes that “America is now, perhaps momentarily, or perhaps at the beginning of a long period, a 51-percent nation, a majority — a narrow majority — Republican nation.” Exit polling last year revealed party identification at 37 percent for both Republicans and Democrats, making 2004 “the first election in which Republicans achieved parity in party identification since the invention of random-sampling polling in the 1930s.”
In the safe Bush states (213 electoral votes) and the safe Kerry states (179 electoral votes), a similar pattern prevailed. In both sets of states, Mr. Bush increased his vote share by more than Mr. Kerry did, prompting Mr. Barone to observe: “The 2004 results showed the red states getting redder and the blue states getting less blue.”
Religion once again proved to be one of the demographic variables correlating most directly with voter behavior. Mr. Bush received 78 percent of the vote of white evangelical Protestants, who comprised 23 percent of the electorate. Raising his share by 5 percentage points, the president managed to capture 52 percent of the Catholic vote “against the first Catholic nominee since 1960.”
Mr. Bush also benefited from a huge “marriage gap — a gap that is far wider than the oft-touted gender gap.” Married people, who comprised 63 percent of the electorate, voted 57-42 for Mr. Bush.
Conventional wisdom held that Republicans would raise much more money than Democrats, but that, too, was disproved. The Kerry campaign, the DNC and the Democratic 527 organizations spent $344 million on ads during the campaign. That was more than $55 million above what the pro-Bush forces spent. George Soros and the other wealthy contributors who were so instrumental in funding the Democratic 527s underwrote a TV campaign that “seethed with Bush hatred.” According to post-election surveys, however, the TV assault turned out not to be very persuasive overall. While the anti-Bush ads did connect with the Bush haters, “[a]n enduring problem for the Democratic Party,” Mr. Barone observed, could be the fact that “George W. Bush will not be on the ballot again.”
Mr. Kerry won a 6.5-million majority in the 100 largest counties. More than 6 million of that majority was achieved in the 48 largest counties that had lost population since 2000 or grew by less than 3 percent. Democrats may not be able to increase their turnout by much in slow-growth or population-losing counties. Outside the 100 largest counties, Mr. Kerry lost by nearly 10 million votes. In addition, Mr. Bush won majorities in 97 of the nation’s 100 fastest-growing counties, where he achieved a popular-vote margin of 1.8 million, which was more than half of his national vote margin. This 1.8-million margin, while not as large as the one Mr. Kerry achieved in the 100 largest counties, is nonetheless “likely to increase over time, and can easily be increased even more by the kind of organizational effort mounted by the Bush campaign in 2004,” Mr. Barone argues.
In a Senate controlled by a 55-seat GOP majority, there are nine Republicans from among the 19 states won by Mr. Kerry and 16 Democrats among the 31 states won by Mr. Bush. Mr. Barone reveals that in states where their party’s nominee received less than 47 percent of the vote, there are 11 Democratic senators and only three Republicans. On the House side, where Republicans control 232 (53 percent) of the chamber’s 435 seats, Mr. Bush carried 255 districts (59 percent) compared to Mr. Kerry’s 180. Because the Voting Rights Act, by concentrating the minority vote, “tends to elect more blacks and Hispanics and less Democrats,” Mr. Kerry won more than 80 percent of the vote in 20 districts, whereas Mr. Bush never achieved such a margin in a single one. A lot of Kerry votes in those minority-reserved districts “could have been put to work electing Democrats in adjacent districts; but thanks to the Voting Rights Act, they were not available for such duty,” Mr. Barone noted. “In the long run,” he concludes, “Republicans are well positioned to increase their numbers in both Senate and House.”