In the last talk of a semester-long series on the election season, The Publius Society invited Professor Phil Klinkner of Hamilton’s Government Department to give his thoughts in “An Election Post-Mortem.”
Klinkner has written extensively on a variety of topics related to American politics. His books include The Losing Parties: Out-Party National Committees, 1956-1993, and Midterm: The 1994 Elections in Perspective.
Klinkner began his analysis by presenting a graph showing the correlation in past presidential elections between economic growth at the time and percentage of votes received by the incumbent party. As he illustrated, Tuesday’s results fit almost exactly on the trend line, demonstrating what he called an election driven by fundamentals. In Klinkner’s opinion, data and studies had suggested a close victory for President Obama going into Tuesday and that’s precisely what happened.
Specifically, he said it’s no surprise that an incumbent President would win re-election in what has been a recent period of economic growth, controlling for two campaigns that were, for the most part, equally matched. This predictability aside, Klinkner highlighted what he saw as standing out about the 2012 cycle. For the most part, he cited a question of identity for the Republican Party centered on demographics and social issues.
On demographics, Klinkner discussed how the two main political parties have become increasingly defined by race. This spells trouble in particular for Republicans as they will likely see their base of white voters continue to shrink in percentage of the electorate. If Obama had been running with the racial make-up of America 10 or 20 years ago, we would have a President-elect Romney right now, according to Klinkner. Now, with increasing Hispanic and other minority race communities, the Democrats will continue to gain an edge as long as the Republicans do not make major moves to court non-white voters.
On social issues, Klinkner highlighted same-sex marriage and extreme views on women’s reproduction as issues that will likely continue to hurt the Republicans as long as they’re not willing to move toward a middle ground. He cited the historic success of marriage equality at the ballot box and the election of the first openly-gay Senator, Tammy Baldwin, as evidence that the Republican Party is now at odds with the majority of the country on LGBT issues. Klinkner also cited rejection by voters of Todd Aiken and Richard Mourdock as case-studies in the need for Republicans to move away from radical social conservatism if they want to remain competitive with the next generation of voters.
Commenting on news articles from both sides that have praised, condemned or attempted to extract long-term meaning from the results of the election, Klinkner’s response was to remain critical. “There will be a lot of ink spilled in trying to assign implications of Tuesday’s result to future elections,” he said, “but the fact is politics have a habit of rapidly changing. 2014 could look much different than 2012 and certainly, by 2016 they will be very different.”