Since November, I’ve become accustomed to predictions that the Republican Party is on its way to irrelevance. Nonetheless, I was disappointed to hear that sentiment voiced by University of Virginia professor and pundit Larry Sabato, who generally tries to provide a relatively objective analysis. On MSNBC’s Hardball today, Sabato opined that “we’re on our way from being a two-party system to being a party-and-a-half system. And the Republicans are the half a party.” Here’s Sabato’s analysis followed by my thoughts on why such predictions are silly.
Essentially, it boils down to this. Minorities are going to be the majority by 2042. It could even be by the 2030s. Young people 18 to 29, they voted more than two to one for Obama, and their turnout is going to go up with each additional year as they age. The same with people with graduate degrees, who used to vote Republican on fiscal issues. Now they’re so turned off to Republicans because of [conservative rhetoric] and the social issues, they turned Democratic. Hey, you can`t just win with white male voters in the South, and that’s what the Republicans have left.
This sort of analysis sounds quite logical but is reminiscent of what the pundits said following the re-election of both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. After the 1984 election, expert after expert explained why the shift of population and thus electoral votes to the Sun Belt had given the Republicans a “lock on the Electoral College.” Despite my youthful eagerness for a GOP presidential monopoly, this electoral analysis struck me as too sweeping and simplistic to be correct. Unfortunately, I was right.
Following the 2004 election, the message from the experts was the same, though the explanation had changed. Now the Democrats had little chance of winning presidential elections because they were only competing in states that accounted for barely half of the 538 electoral votes. It was a seductive argument, but again it was too simplistic and backward-looking to be true.
Predictions of electoral locks are appealing in their simplicity and particularly persuasive in the aftermath of a one-sided election. But, like all analyses based on sample sizes of one or two elections, they’re essentially worthless, if only because the news headlines and candidates that await us are unknowable Although it’s much less fun and won’t get you a guest appearance on MSNBC or FOX, the only honest analysis is admitting that you haven’t got a clue about what’s going to happen in future elections.