The 2008 election may prove to be a test of an old question: How much do individual candidates matter in determining who gets elected president? At this point, the underlying economic circumstances and trends in party identification favor the Democrats, but John McCain has gained in the polls and enjoys higher favorability ratings than either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
The economic models predict a Democratic victory. In a Bloomberg article today, Alison Fitzgerald writes:
Recessions shaped four presidential elections in the past half-century -- in 1960, 1976, 1980 and 1992. Each time, the candidate from the party trying to retake the White House won. A model that uses economic data to predict presidential race outcomes has the Democrats getting 52 percent of the votes cast for the two major party candidates, says Ray Fair, the Yale University professor who developed it.
The economy may be a factor in the shifting balance of party identification among the electorate. This past week, based on 5,566 interviews during the first two months of 2008, the Pew Research Center reported that Democrats enjoy a significant advantage, with 36 percent of registered voters identified as Democrats and only 27 percent as Republicans. The Republican share has dropped by six points in the past four years and represents "the lowest percentage of self-identified Republican voters in 16 years of polling by the Center." What is especially striking is the change in swing states:
Four years ago there were about as many Democrats (35%) as Republicans (33%) in the 12 states where the voting was closest in 2004, and the balance was similar in the 2000 election cycle. But so far in 2008, Democrats hold a substantial 38% to 27% identification advantage in these states.
Looks good for Democrats. But McCain's image may enable him to avoid the burden that Republicans would normally carry into the election. And Clinton and Obama each carry burdens of their own that have no historical precedent and that models based on past elections can't possibly incorporate.
Given the trends, this ought to be a good Democratic year. But for months (and even more strongly in recent weeks), my sense has been that the presidential race is at best a toss-up. Just as in 2000 the Republicans benefited from the misperception of their candidate (who campaigned that year as a "compassionate conservative"), so they seem likely again to benefit from public misperception of their candidate as a moderate centrist, when on the crucial issues of the day--the war and the economy--McCain's positions are indistinguishable from the incumbent president who's got a 30 percent approval rating. It's going to be the Democratic candidate's job to make that clear.
Labels: American politics
March 21, 2008
The March issue of The American Prospect carries a special report, "Mobilizing Millennials: Will Their Economic Raw Deal Fuel the Next New Deal?" in which I have an article, "A New Deal of Their Own." Here I pursue a theme that I have raised in Freedom's Power and in a series of articles (see my earlier post on "The Idea of a Young America Program").
The persistent problems among America's children are well known. What's less widely appreciated is that during the past 35 years these problems have increasingly extended into young adulthood. But not all age groups have seen their fortunes sink; the economic situation of the elderly has improved markedly, thanks in large measure to public policy. I argue:
As this contrast suggests, the difficulties facing the young generally -- both children and young adults -- are the result of long-standing limitations in social policy whose effects have been aggravated by recent changes in the economy and the family. The three great waves of social reform since the 1930s -- the New Deal, the post-World War II GI Bill, and the Great Society -- failed to establish durable policies in support of the young.It's this historical point that is the key contribution of this piece. Each of these previous eras of reform in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1960s originally included a substantial component targeted to young adults. But unlike the programs for the elderly, the programs for the young were never successfully institutionalized, and those that have remained have been supported by discretionary spending and proved far more vulnerable to cutbacks during recessions.
How to remedy that problem? I've offered several proposals. The first step, however, may be recognition by the young themselves that America hasn't done right by them and that they need a new deal of their own.
Young people interested in these issues should consider attending a conference of the Roosevelt Institution April 9 in Washington D.C.: "Toward a New New Deal: FDR's Liberalism and the Future of American Democracy."