The emerging Democratic majority vs. the oncoming train
[Posted by Karl]
One of the nice things about the 2010 midterm election was that we were largely spared triumphalist punditry about political “realignment.” After all, sentiment among conservatives and Tea Partiers was consistent with the polling data suggesting that the 2010 results were much more about stopping Pres. Obama and the Democrats than any great enthusiasm for or trust in the Congressional GOP.
Nevertheless, there have been some Dems bitterly clinging to the “emerging Democratic majority” thesis, i.e., that demographic changes in the electorate will soon put the Dems back in the dominant position they enjoyed for much of the 20th century. It shows up in this recent post-census Slate piece by Christopher Beam. The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost does a nice job exposing one major weakness with the thesis — and if you read the whole thing, Jay links back to his prior dissections of the “emerging Democratic majority” thesis, all of which are pretty darn good.
However, there is a major problem with the “emerging Democratic majority” thesis that Jay adresses only obliquely. Those propagating or buying this thesis rely heavily on demographics because they are at least somewhat predictable. Yet discussions of realignment frequently leave out the role of historical events.
Anyone looking US history would surmise that events like the Civil War, the Great Depression and the capture of the liberal establishment by the New Left in the late 1960s to mid-1970s had a little something to do with major political realignments. It is understandable that people are loath to discuss “unknown unknowns.” Pundits and analysts cannot foretell the future, but it is foolish to invest in theories based on demographics without recognizing that historic unknowns are likely to significantly influence the outcome.