Friday, October 08, 2004

Why don’t in-power parties win close Presidential elections?


There are 4 scenarios:
1. Bush is re-elected easily
2. Kerry wins easily
3. Kerry wins a close election
4. Bush is re-elected narrowly.

What does history tell us?

Year = result
2000 = in party (Gore) defeated by narrow margin by Bush
1996 = in party (Clinton) wins by wide margin over Dole
1992 = in party (Bush) defeated by wide margin by Clinton
1988 = in party (Bush) wins by wide margin over Dukakis
1984 = in party (Reagan) wins by wide margin over Mondale
1980 = in party (Carter) defeated by wide margin by Reagan
1976 = in party (Ford) defeated by narrow margin by Carter
1972 = in party (Nixon) wins by wide margin over McGovern
1968 = in party (Humphrey) defeated by narrow margin by Nixon
1964 = in party (Johnson) wins by wide margin over Goldwater
1960 = in party (Nixon) defeated by narrow margin by Kennedy
1956 = in party (Eisenhower) wins by wide margin over Stevenson
1952 = in party (Stevenson) defeated by wide margin by Eisenhower
1948 = in party (Truman) wins by narrow margin over Dewey.

I suppose I could continue further back into history and find another example.

But I think the point is made that the in-power party has a hard time winning close elections. In this sample, only 1 in 14 elections yielded an in-power party victory in close voting.

Of the last 14 Presidential elections, 50% of the time, the in-power party was defeated. 9 of 14 were wipeouts and only 5 of 14 were close.

When the in-power party was defeated, 4 were close, 3 were huge defeats.

When the in-power party wins, 6 were big wins while only 1 was close.

The trend is clear: if the in-power party wins, they win big.

And this makes sense: the in-power party has done a good job so they get re-elected big.

But when they are defeated, about half the time they get smoked and about half the time it is close.

Landslides that bury the in-power party is easy to explain: they have done a terrible job and there is a throw them out mood in the country.

But what happened in the five close elections?

In 4 of 5, the in-power party lost.

Why is that?

Swing voters and the intensity of support of partisans decide elections.

My guess is that if an election is close then the in-power party has some kind of problem making its case for re-election. As such (1) the intensity of their supporters wane, (2) swing voters are more willing to consider the challengers and (3) the out-of-power supporters smell possible victory and are highly motivated.

As of right now, of the four scenarios I started off with, I would say in order of likelihood is:
1) Kerry wins a close vote
2) Bush wins in a landslide
3) Kerry wins big
4) Bush wins a close one.

Kerry is a weak candidate.

Alexandra Pelosi, who made “Journies with George” was profiled in the following NRO article. (Hat tip to Instapundit)


So why does she think Kerry became the Democratic nominee? "He had the most stamina and he was the most politically savvy, and I think he had the best organization," Pelosi said. Or at least, that was as good a reason as she could offer. In the end, Kerry remains as much an enigma to her as he does to voters.

"The truth is," she says at the end of Diary, "after a year on the road, I know why the other guys lost. But I still don't know why John Kerry was the winner."

Kerry will win a close election because out-of-power partisans will be more motivated. I’ve heard so much anti-Bush, hate-Bush, Bush is evil and so on and so on and so on that it is pretty clear they have the motivational edge right now.

I don't see him winning in a big landslide because he simply isn't an inspirational figure. If a hard-core Democrat like Alexandra isn't wild about him then I don't see swing voters being all that excited either.

Truth in blogging: I’m a Bush supporter and plan to vote for Bush. I respect Kerry’s service in Vietnam and in the Senate. I disagree with how he acted when he returned from Vietnam and his record in the Senate. But he has the right to hold those views and that is what makes America the great nation that it is. Now, is this the rantings of a rabid anti-Kerry person? I blog, you decide.

As for his candidacy, I don’t believe you can build a campaign around, “I served in Vietnam so I know what to do.” Instead, I look at his Senate record and he hasn’t been strong on national security issues. As much as Iraq has not been handled well by the Bush team, I’m not convinced Kerry would do any better. What is his position really?

He claims: I'll get more allies. Are the French and Germans really going to help?

He claims: I'll train the Iraqis faster. Umm, you think the Bush team is deliberately training them slow?

Certainly, in Kerry's most recent public statements, he has sounded a lot tougher. But some of his statements in the recent past and pandering to the anti-war wing of the party during the primaries don't give me confidence in the solidity of his view on this subject.

Bush can go onto re-election if in the next two debates he makes his case more clearly and firmly and the new efforts to bring the insurgency under control prove successful. I think the economic numbers are okay not great but probably good enough that it doesn’t work for one side or the other. If the numbers were worse, Bush is done.

Thus, it will come down almost exclusively about Iraq and whether Bush can inspire confidence among those undecided voters who are concerned that he got us into a situation he can’t deal with.

As I've said, I'm a Bush supporter. But to tell you the truth, if Iraq calms down and the January elections are modestly successful and still Bush is packing up to leave the WH, I think Bush will ride off to the ranch happy. Sure Bush will be disappointed, he doesn't want to lose (who does?), but you know, I think W will go home to Crawford a happy man because the Iraqi people suffered enough and he did something to help them out.

Just the opinion of one righty on the lefty-coast,

P.S. I'm going to liveblog the 2nd debate over at my other blog.


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