Now that was a shellacking

USA2For more than eight decades the Democratic Party has been the dominant party of the US. It is one of the most successful political parties in the democratic world. But, at least for the moment, everything has changed. 

Past realignments have been long term. The Republican Party became dominant after the Civil War and remained so until FDR created a new Democratic coalition in the 1930s. That coalition gave the Democrats massive dominance in depth that lasted for decades. Republicans were still able to win the presidency about half the time, but Democrats had a near permanent lock on Congress and still greater dominance in state legislatures. This enabled Democrats to gerrymander a small but consistent margin in votes into a large majority in election results. From 1956 to 1994 Democrats controlled the Senate for all but six years and the House without a break.

The 1994 Republican takeover of Congress was accompanied by a surge in GOP support down the ballot. For the first time since before FDR Republicans were broadly matching Democrats in number of state legislators and the number of registered voters. In the later Bush and early Obama years Democrats pulled ahead again on all measures, but this proved temporary. 

While LBJ – who led the Democratic Party to its biggest victory since FDR – always believed that he would lose the Democrats the ‘solid South’ that process did not really happen until Barack Obama became president. The South voted Republican at nearly every presidential election of the seventies, eighties and nineties – most southern states in every election except 1976. But Democrats still had a lock down ballot. The first time the GOP took full control – governorship and legislature – of even one southern state was in 1998, and that was Florida, a very atypical southern state. Thanks partly to a lock on the South, Democrats still controlled most of the redistricting process after the 2000 census. It was the GOP’s best redistricting cycle since 1920, but Democrats still dominated. 

The 2010 elections, however changed that. This time Republicans controlled more states than Democrats for the first time in almost a century. And this control was consolidated last week. Significant gains in the Senate and even – contrary to this columnist’s expectations – net gains in the gubernatorial elections, were matched by major gains in state legislatures.

Of 98 partisan state legislative chambers 77 were on the ballot last week and Republicans gained ground in 61 of them losing ground in only 10. Sixty six of 98 chambers are in Republican control, including the NY State Senate for the first time in some years. 

Republicans made strong gains in the swingy Great Lakes region and in the two fastest growing regions – the South and the Rocky Mountains. White Southern Democrats have been almost eliminated from Congress. The last person standing is Mary Landrieu of Louisiana who faces a run off next month which she is very likely to lose. 

LBJ’s famous prediction of a Democratic wipeout in his home region has finally come true. Whether this new Republican dominance will last for a generation remains to be seen. 

That past realignments – in the 1860s and the 1930s – have held for some decades does not mean that this one will. But the significance of the change is nonetheless immense. 

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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