Time for some big picture stuff that I've been researching over the past week or so. There will be more data-filled posts later -- with a new model of what drives the electoral pendulum -- but to break the ice on this topic, let's take a look at how hard it is for the same party to win three or more elections back-to-back.
That is one of the most under-reported aspects to this election, both in the media and among internet observers. The only coverage it's gotten has been due to Helmut Norpoth's "primary model," which predicts a Trump victory in 2016 on the basis of the difficulty for the incumbent party to win a third consecutive term, and Trump's stronger showing in his primary than Hillary in hers. Here is a summary of the model in the present context, to appear in a peer-reviewed journal.
The goal now is to see whether the current climate, and Hillary Clinton in particular, look similar to the other times when the same party won three or more elections in a row. Spoiler: it does not. There has to be increasing popularity for the party from the first to the second elections, to carry it into the third term. And the candidate for the third term has to be high-ranking (President, VP, etc.) and incumbent. None of these conditions is true for Clinton's run in 2016, with '08 and '12 as the background, and Hillary as a non-incumbent Secretary of State.
The last time that the incumbent party won a third term was 1988, after wins in '80 and '84. Reagan was not only popular, but gained in popularity from his first to second election. Bush was the sitting VP.
In 2000, the incumbent party won three popular votes in a row, although it failed to win the Electoral College, due to shenanigans in Florida that favored the opposition party. Still, the pattern looks like 1988 -- Gore was the sitting VP, and Clinton was fairly popular, and became more so from his first to second election. (Note: not necessarily his second full term, which became plagued by scandal, but between his wins in '92 and '96.)
During the New Deal era, FDR won third and fourth elections, but that is no longer a possibility. Who knows whether the Democrats would have won those elections if the candidate had to be some one other than FDR. They could well have, but we can't study what conditions favored those third and fourth wins -- did the successor to FDR have to come from within the administration, what role did they play, etc.? Truman did win on his own, and he was the sitting President who had been VP before FDR died in office.
Before the New Deal era, Hoover managed to win a third term for his party in 1928. He was the sitting Secretary of Commerce, for two terms, and was regarded as successful at his job. Hillary is not sitting, was Secretary of State for just one term, and is regarded as a failure at that job. And unlike the Democrats during Obama's rule, support for Republicans had grown from 1920 to 1924, suggesting that it was still popular in '28.
In 1904, Teddy Roosevelt won a third term for his party. The previous two terms showed growing support, from the 1896 to the 1900 elections. And like Truman, Roosevelt was the sitting President who had been the sitting VP when McKinley was assassinated.
One election later, in 1908, Taft won a fourth win for the Republicans. The momentum was on his side, since the 1904 election showed even greater support than 1896 and 1900. Like Hillary, Taft was a one-term Cabinet leader (Secretary of War), although he was the incumbent rather than the next-to-last holder.
Before the Progressive era, Grover Cleveland won the popular vote three times in a row from 1884 to '88 to '92, although he lost the Electoral College in '88. He got roughly the same support in '84 and '88, rather than sagging momentum. And in the '92 election, he was a recent former President.
During the Civil War and Reconstruction era, the Republican Party was dominant because the Democrats were so closely tied to the defeated South. In 1868, Grant won a third term for the Republicans, but largely because in the wake of the Civil War, there was no real competition from the Democrats. He was a military general who people saw as the real leader that ended the Civil War, not the incumbent President, who was actually from the opposition party.
Lincoln and his VP Johnson were from opposite parties, but ran together in 1864 to ease tensions during the Civil War. When Lincoln was assassinated, the Democrat Johnson took over, so in '68 perhaps the voters were already considering the election one of changing parties rather than continuing the run of Republican victories. Grant's third, and fourth, wins may not be such great examples of consecutive third and fourth wins, in the minds of voters.
After Grant's two terms, in 1876 Hayes won yet another election for the Republicans, but he lost the popular vote. Even the Electoral College win is among the most controversial, and it's still not clear he legitimately won that. This makes 1876 a non-example of continuing the incumbent party's run.
Before the Civil War, a third consecutive term was won for the Democrats in 1836 by Van Buren, who was the sitting VP. From 1828 to '32, the Democrats increased their Electoral success, and in the popular vote either stayed even or slightly increased -- Jackson got a slightly smaller share of the vote in '32, but it was a more divided field than the two-way race in '28.
At the beginning of the 19th century, America was a one-party nation at the Presidential level under the Democratic-Republican Party, with Electoral College wins from 1800 to 1820, and a victory in 1824 despite losing the popular vote and Electoral College. This was the Era of Good Feelings, totally unlike today's highly polarized partisan environment, where the same party is not going to just coast on because people don't want to have contentious party battles.
From 1800 to 1804, the Democratic-Republicans increased their showing in the popular vote, meaning the momentum was on their side for a third win in 1808, which they did get. The winner, Madison, was the incumbent two-term Secretary of State -- back when that role was more prestigious than the VP in planning a run for President. In 1812, the momentum was not on their side, since their share of the popular vote declined from '04 to '08. Sure enough, it declined in '12, but it had been so sky-high that even with this decline, it was still just over 50% in '12. The winner was Madison, the incumbent President.
At the same time, 1812 was more of a primary election since both candidates were from the same party, albeit one from a dissident wing. Either way, the party won. This lack of competition would propel the party forward in 1816, whose winner was Monroe, the incumbent Secretary of State. He won with more of the popular vote than the mainstream candidate did four years earlier, in the "general as primary battle," which suggested positive momentum for the next one in 1820. Sure enough, the party won yet again under the incumbent President, who ran unopposed.
The final case of consecutive wins is 1824, although it was really more of a bitter primary battle again, with four candidates running from different wings of the same party. The favored Establishment choice, John Quincy Adams, actually lost the popular vote and the Electoral College. However, the candidate with the plurality of both the popular and EC vote did not get a majority in the EC, and it went to the House of Representatives, who chose the Establishment favorite over the challenger Andrew Jackson, in the infamous "corrupt bargain". Adams was the incumbent Secretary of State.
Do any of these examples match the background conditions in 2016, and the candidate of Hillary Clinton in particular? No.
Already by his second election, Obama and the Democrats were less popular than in the 2008 election, whose purpose was to purge the country of the Bushies and neo-cons for good. Four years after 2012, they are even less popular.
And Hillary Clinton is not the incumbent anything -- she hasn't been in the administration since the previous term. She was also the Secretary of State, not VP -- and in a climate far removed from the founding of the nation, when it was Secretaries of State rather than Vice-Presidents who were considered as the next-in-line for President.
Being an out-of-office Cabinet member makes a real difference to most people about how well and how naturally she could continue the incumbent party's presidency -- if that were truly desired, and judging from the flagging momentum, it is not.
Had Joe Biden run in the primaries, he would have been a more attractive choice for the voters and the states that Crooked Hillary won as the Establishment candidate, and would have become the nominee instead of her. As the sitting VP, he would have been better poised for the difficult task of winning a third consecutive term, although the downward momentum from '08 to '12 would still be working against him.
It's fortunate for the Trump movement, then, that the Clinton machine must have threatened Biden in some way or another into not running in the primaries -- the same way they have clearly threatened Bernie Sanders into shutting the hell up and becoming a ventriloquist for the Wall Street warmonger.
Aside from being in a weaker position to win the third term, Crooked Hillary is much more hated on a personal level than Biden, and is a passive-aggressive woman, rather than the Irishman who would have given Trump more of a fight. Biden would also have been a better protector of blue-collar votes in Rust Belt states, whereas Her Royal Highness cannot conceal her contempt for ordinary Americans. And Biden is not obviously at death's door like Hillary is, despite being older than she is. Not even to mention her failures in office, and her epic levels of corruption, compared to Biden.
The fact that our opposition is Clinton rather than Biden is another major example of how elite hyper-competitiveness has made it easier for the outsider populist candidate to triumph. We saw that in the GOP primary, where the Establishment candidates refused to drop out and unite behind a single challenger to Trump, and where the voters themselves refused to pool their votes into a single non-Trump candidate.
As much as we may hate Hillary Clinton, we ought to be thankful for the deep divisions and internecine Establishment wars that have made her rather than Biden our main opponent.