Election punditry is not good. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s bad. While poll aggregators and election modeling mercifully cleared out a lot of the junk prognosticating, still with us is the post-election autopsies telling us what it all means.
Those who provide autopsies of the purely game-focused sort are interesting and worth reading. Those who provide autopsies that go on to grandly theorize about the great American shift in this or that direction, or how the American people were moved by this or that appeal or idea, on the other hand, are unbearable.
There is a lot of that kind of analysis floating about right now. David Brooks has perhaps the funniest iteration of it over at the New York Times, where he claims:
Republicans didn’t establish this dominant position because they are unrepresentative outsiders. They did it because they have deep roots in four of the dominant institutions of American society: the business community, the military, the church and civic organizations.
I pick on Brooks here, but he’s hardly the only one doing this.
There is an obvious problem with moving from election results to discussions of the American people more broadly, which is that most people don’t vote. This is easily forgotten because all of the figures that fly by you in the election punditry bubble relate to votes or polls of likely voters. If you want to know how American adults in general are feeling about Democrats and Republicans, the answer lies, not in election tallies or likely voter polling, but in polls of American adults in general.
Pew has conducted such a poll in the waning days of the last three elections, which has produced the following Democratic/Republican breakdowns:
If you read the election pundits, you get the sense that there have been huge swings and sea-changes that tell us a lot about Americans in this country. But the reality has just been a total flat line. Elections haven’t churned out the same result each time because the electorate has been different in each election, but that’s about the game not shifts among the American people.
Now in some sort of idealized representative democracy, you’d just have a proportionally-representative parliament that allocated seats like this essentially. We don’t have such a democracy. This means that the operative electoral question in most years is not how Americans have or haven’t changed, but how representative or unrepresentative the voters and seat-allocation system will be.