It’s been somewhat fashionable amongst the Washington beltway to classify the past few decades as an era dominated by the Republican Party, at least on the presidential level. According to this view, Republican presidential dominance started under President Ronald Reagan, who initiated the Reagan Revolution. Since then America has been under continuous Republican hegemony, interrupted only by the centralist term of President Clinton. In light of the 2008 Democratic victory, holders of this idea sometimes assert that President Obama has initiated a new era of Democratic presidential dominance.
The idea of Republican presidential dominance, however, fares poorly when compared to the evidence. It is true that Mr. Reagan dominated politics during his administration, enacting a series of conservative policies and winning two landslide elections. His term paved the way for another comfortable Republican victory, in 1988.
However, this was to be the last time Democrats ever lost badly in a presidential election. Mr. Reagan’s term came near the end, not the beginning, of the cycle of Republican presidential hegemony. Indeed, the real man responsible for Republican strength was President Richard Nixon, whose law and order policies constituted the foundation for Reagan Republicanism:
Ever since 1988, however, Republicans have not done so well. In terms of the popular vote, they have lost four out of the past five presidential elections. Their only victory in the popular vote was by a mere 2.46% – akin to President Jimmy Carter’s 2.06% victory during the cycle of Republican strength:
Under this series of graphs, Mr. Obama’s election appears less a realignment than a continuation of Democratic dominance on the presidential level.
Of course, this analysis ignores Republican gains on the congressional and statewide level. In 1994, most famously, Speaker Newt Gingrich led Republicans to a sweeping mid-term victory – taking control of Congress for the first time in more than two generations. To label these recent decades as an era of Democratic hegemony would be inaccurate.
Then again, Democrats were controlling Congress during those very years of Republican presidential dominance. In no way can one describe the past few decades of the United States as dominated by either the Democratic or the Republican Party.