Making Sense Of Presidential Elections. Steve and Karen welcome back author and historian, Dan Singal, to discuss Critical Election Theory. If you are unfamiliar with the theory, it holds that, approximately every 36 years, a political realignment occurs in which the prevailing party loses power and is replaced with a new political coalition based on changes in ideology, issues, leadership or demographics. These realignments result in what political scientists call Critical Elections.
Singal explains that the theory applies only to presidential elections and has held true since the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Within each cycle of 36 years, the dominant party will typically win seven times and the other party will win twice. “It’s incredibly regular,” says Singal. “There are so few exceptions to this in our history, it’s astounding.”
He notes that the election of 1968 was a perfect example of a Critical Election. The Vietnam War and the passing of Civil Rights legislation in Congress led to the movement of large blocks of voters, especially in the South where southern Democrats switched affiliations to the Republican Party. Similarly, another Critical Election occurred in 2008 when Obama was able to put together a coalition consisting largely of white liberals, black voters, and suburban women.
When asked how the theory applies to today, Singal responds, “My best guess is that we are in a Democratic era that was ushered in by Obama during the Great Recession of 2008. And, as a result, Democrats are going to win the presidency for the next 20 years.” But he reminds us, if the theory holds true, we’ll get two more Republican presidents within that same time period.