The Almanac Introductions: 1972-1980|
By Michael Barone
© National Journal Group Inc.
The Almanac of American Politics 1972
The first draft of this Introduction was written by another of the original co-authors. It is mostly in the nature of "how to use this book." It contains a description of the importance of committees which was mostly derived from the political science of the day, and which was pretty accurate at the time. My own contribution is apparent in one sentence: "It is the conviction of the authors that ethnic divisions are more likely to correlate with political attitudes and behavior than economic disparities." That has been my conviction since I first began studying election returns around 1961 and, in modified form, remains my conviction today. The way I would put it now is that cultural attitudes are more likely to correlate with political attitudes and behaviors than economic condition. This analysis ran contrary to the analysis of most political scientists in 1971; they looked at American politics through the lens of the New Deal and saw it as the clash of economic interests. But I saw it differently. One of my first experiences with political analysis came some time in the early or middle 1950s, when I lived in northwest Detroit (Ward 22, Precinct 221 to be exact). Politics in Michigan in those days was in many ways economic class warfare: the Democrats were dominated by the United Auto Workers, the Republicans heavily influenced by Big Three auto company management. But one day I heard one of my parents say, matter of factly, that most Catholics voted Democratic and most Protestants voted Republican. I remember wondering why this should be so. As it happened, I attended a public school whose student body was about one-third Catholic, one-third Protestant and one-third Jewish: I knew that Catholic kids had to study their catechisms, that Jewish kids would be absent on certain Jewish holidays and so forth. Evidently the idea got planted in my brain that political beliefs were connected, somehow, with religious beliefs. The idea has remained planted there -- see the Introduction to the 2002 Almanac.
In 1971 ethnicity corresponded pretty closely to religion. I did not know then that we were in the beginning of the third great wave of immigration in American history. But I did know, from studying election returns, that voters of Irish, Italian and Polish descent were much more Democratic than non-Southern voters of English, Scots and German descent. In the intervening 32 years, the ethnic identity of descendants of the second great wave of immigration, from 1840 to 1924, has become less important. Intermarriage has become common, so most voters today (like me) are descended from more than one such ethnic group, and there are few white ethnic neighborhoods left. The one distinctive ethnic or racial group left are black Americans, who are overwhelmingly Democratic. Voters are divided less along lines of religious denomination and more along lines of degree of religiosity: Catholics who attend church frequently are more Republican than those who don't, and the same is true of both evangelical and mainline Protestants; Orthodox Jews are more Republican (or less Democratic) than Reform Jews. In America today we are free to choose our cultural identity, but once we do it is important to us, and determines more than anything else how we vote. So I think that in the 1972 Introduction I was on the right track.
Click here for a printable PDF copy of the complete 1972 Introduction.
The Almanac of American Politics 1974
This Introduction was, once again, devoted mainly to "how to use this book." It includes only about two pages of general political analysis. It was written, or revised, just after Spiro Agnew resigned the vice presidency in October 1973. It notes the great reversals of the preceding two years. In fall 1971, it argues, perhaps optimistically (I was a strong Democrat then), that Richard Nixon was in danger of losing his race for reelection; in 1972, it notes, a bit perfunctorally, he was reelected by a wide margin. Now, in fall 1973, "Richard Nixon, less than 12 months after his record victory, finds himself in more trouble than any president since Andrew Johnson." That judgment turned out to be justified. I note that it was not necessarily conventional political wisdom in Washington at the time. In spring and summer 1973 many old timers around town told us young Baby Boomers (a term not then in vogue) that the American people don't like to hear about the scandalous doings of their presidents and that this Watergate thing would blow over -- and maybe cause great political trouble for the Democrats who pursued it. As it happened, I was in touch with some of the younger people involved in breaking the Watergate story. I can remember being at a party in Lesley Stahl's apartment in the Watergate where the guests included Bob Woodward and Fred Thompson -- Watergate was a career-maker for all three, who were then all on the cusp of 30.
This Introduction also insists on the importance of ethnic identity in voting. It notes that Catholic voters shifted sharply from Hubert Humphrey in 1968 to Richard Nixon in 1972 -- "Reagan Democrats" before Reagan's time -- but that voters of Scandinavian descent voted almost as heavily for George McGovern as for Humphrey. Such voters are concentrated in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas -- states that in 1972 and again in 1988 tended to vote much more than the national average for culturally liberal Democratic presidential nominees: a continuing pattern. The Introduction also notes that the congressional district with the highest median income, Maryland 8, voted more Democratic than the nation in 1968 and 1972, while the district with the lowest median income, Kentucky 5, voted much more Republican. That pattern, in exaggerated form, has been apparent in results ever since, and in greatly exaggerated form in 2000: Maryland 8 favored Al Gore 60%-36%, while Kentucky 5 (with different boundaries and more ancestrally Democratic counties) favored George W. Bush 57%-42%.
I also noted that Richard Nixon carried 377 of the nation's 435 congressional districts, but in House elections 188 of the Nixon districts elected Democratic congressmen: ticket-splitting galore, as Nixon made no effort to elect Republicans to the House. Incidentally (this was noted in the text of the book, but not in the Introduction), the number one district was Mississippi's 5th, which elected a Republican for the first time since Reconstruction, the 30-year-old Trent Lott. And of the 58 McGovern districts, three elected Republican congressmen: in one of them, Massachusetts 5, the Democratic nominee was a 29-year-old Vietnam veteran named John Kerry.
Click here for a printable PDF copy of the complete 1974 Introduction.
The Almanac of American Politics 1976
The Introduction has only one page of political analysis, but there is a new theme here: the rise of the Baby Boom generation. It argues that on three important issues -- "Watergate, campaign finance reform, Vietnam -- public opinion has been ahead of the politicians." It argued that "the public response to the communist victories in Vietnam and Cambodia was not a bang, but a barely audible whimper -- the public had fully expected it, and any anger the voters may have felt had long since vanished." I wonder now if that was true. My view then was that the fall of Vietnam and Cambodia didn't matter, a view that I think now was, at the least, callously lacking in sympathy for the suffering of people in those countries then and later. And I now find shameful my statement that the Democratic Congress "courageously" rejected Gerald Ford's pleas for military aid to South Vietnam and Cambodia, at least the word "courageously." The people of Vietnam and Cambodia paid a great price; congressional Democrats didn't.
But I think I was accurate in saying that "the elections of 1974 saw a transfer of power, in some minimal way, from this World War II generation which seems to have made such a botch of things [on those three issues] to the generation which sooner or later must take over." There is a note of Boomer triumphalism here, but it is accurate to say that the 75 House Democratic freshmen elected in 1974 made a big difference in American government. It was in large part thanks to their political skills that Democrats held control of the House for the next 20 years; many represented Republican-leaning districts which they were able to keep out of Republican hands for many years. For 20 years, but not forever: today only three of these 75 freshmen remain in the House: Henry Waxman, more an administration gadfly than a shaper of legislation these days; George Miller, no longer a committee chairman but one of the shapers of the bipartisan 2002 education law; and Jim Oberstar, never a fiery liberal and now ranking Democrat on the bipartisan Transportation and Infrastructure. Another generation and another party has taken over.
Click here for a printable PDF copy of the complete 1976 Introduction.
The Almanac of American Politics 1978
This is a longer Introduction, with four-and-a-half pages of political analysis. Much of it is devoted to Jimmy Carter. It notes that Carter could not have been nominated without the changes in the delegate selection process made by Democrats after 1968 and could not have been elected absent the mistrust in established political figures caused by Vietnam and Watergate: sound analysis, but not particularly original. It notes that practically every member of the House was reelected, in large part because members provide most of the information voters get on House contests. The power of incumbency meant the end of straight ticket voting. Again, sound analysis, and a little more venturesome, because some in the press and the political science departments were still hooked on the straight ticket analysis that did a pretty good job of explaining the election results of the 1930s and 1940s.
This Introduction, for the first time, took note of the rules changes in the House and identified the member most responsible for many of them, Phillip Burton. It noted that more older members were choosing to retire, though it does not mention one of the reasons -- that the House Democratic Caucus, largely because of Burton's maneuvering, was now electing committee chairmen, and elderly conservatives and even the liberal Wright Patman had been shoved aside. An observation that on rereading surprises me: The 1974 freshman Democrats "have not proved to be as consistently liberal as some of their supporters had hoped...
Coming from a political background in which the mistrust of government was high, indeed the dominant political emotion, they do not see the federal government as the automatic friend of the average person." In support of that proposition, I mentioned the rejection of the consumer protection agency and the common situs picketing bill and the approval of the budget procedures act (which I said, I now think probably wrongly, "should restrain federal spending"). I was onto something here, but didn't quite identify it: the primacy of cultural and foreign policy issues over economic issues for the younger Democrats. I was also onto something else, in a way that surprises me today: "in this Congress that is supposed to be as liberal as any we have ever had, the ideological conservatives show the greatest elan and the most aggressive advocacy of position." This was the Congress which, at the behest of Wisconsin Republican William Steiger, cut the capital gains tax and the Congress which in its tax bill established 401(k) plans, which did more than anything else to create the investor class majority that voted in 2002. I couldn't see nearly that far ahead, but I was looking in the right (in two senses) direction. It's all the more interesting because I was working as a Democratic pollster, for Peter Hart, at the time. But maybe not too surprising: Peter was always concerned to be on the lookout for dangers to his candidates.
About Jimmy Carter, I was a bit prescient. "But unless he makes what are perceived to be significant achievements in the substantive areas he has defined as important, Carter may easily face problems with his constituency, the presidential electorate, in 1980. Symbols of openness may not be enough." And I give myself some marks for prescience in the following passage: "But this kind of fundamental realignments [of the 1860s and 1930s] seems unlikely today. Not only are people unable to agree on what the central issues are, and politicians refusing to line up in two easily defined ranks, but the people themselves no longer possess fixed voting habits. The number of independents and the number of voters who split tickets have both risen to more than a majority. Under such circumstances, no dependable party realignment is likely to emerge, be it those of the past of one of some post-Jimmy Carter future."
You can argue that this presages the politics of the quarter century from 1978 to 2003, I suppose, though I wouldn't press that too far. We have seen in the 1992-2002 period a convergence of partisan patterns in presidential and House voting, something that looks like a return to straight ticket voting. In the 1996, 1998 and 2000 elections, that dynamic produced something close to a tie between the two parties. (See the Introductions to the 2002 and 2004 Almanacs.) And you could note that voters moved, slightly, toward the Republicans in 2002. As I write, Karl Rove hopes and many Democrats dread that 2004 could produce a realignment in favor of George W. Bush's Republican party. Maybe. I will partake of Peter Hart's characteristic caution here, and say that that this is possible, and that we will break out of the condition I described in 1977. But I wouldn't go much farther than that.
Click here for a printable PDF copy of the complete 1978 Introduction.
The Almanac of American Politics 1980
Looking back over 17 Almanacs of American Politics, I am inclined to say that the 1980 volume was the weakest of all. For reasons I won't go into here, I was able to devote less time and attention to it than to any of the others. Many of the writeups of states and congressional districts were perfunctory. Even the photos were botched by the then-publisher. My recollection is that I failed to foresee the Reagan triumph or the Democrats' loss of the Senate in 1980. As I remember it, I did not take the Democrats' mild losses in the 1978 elections and the vote in favor of Proposition 13 in California in June 1978 as an augury of the future. Yet as I reread the Introduction to the 1980 Almanac (which I am sure I have not read in more than 20 years), I see that I got more things right than I supposed.
Consider the first two paragraphs. I start off by saying, "As the nation enters the political year of 1980, an unmistakable mood of depression and uncertainty lies across the land." Vietnam and Watergate, the Kennedy assassinations and "rates of inflation we have never before seen" had created a "state of psychic depression, uncertainty and confusion" and shaken confidence in America as a land of destiny and success. I think this analysis, written before the Iran hostage crisis, holds up pretty well, and that this negative mood helps to explain why the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, won only 41% of the vote in 1980. I was correct in pointing out that Carter, "a president with mild popularity and a low job rating," appeared vulnerable to Edward Kennedy in the primaries and that he was "by no means a certain winner in the general election." But I hedged and protected myself by writing that "it is by no means certain that Edward Kennedy...
can maintain the same level of popularity he has as a non-candidate." Kennedy was leading Carter in many 1979 polls, but his popularity plummeted in fall 1979 after he became a candidate. Here I was perhaps reflecting the characteristic caution of my then-boss who became, after this Introduction was written, Kennedy's pollster. Peter was always insistent on keeping his clients informed about downside risks.
What I failed utterly to do in this Introduction was to foresee the nomination of Ronald Reagan. His name does not even appear in the text. I did foresee the possibility of significant Democratic losses in the Senate. Senators had become "the point men in American politics," I argued; "in 1976 and 1978 most senators who had serious challenges lost." (Of course one could always disagree on whether a particular challenge was serious.) I pointed out that 24 of the 34 Senate seats up in 1980 were held by Democrats. "It seems almost certain that Democrats will lose a few seats." I pointed out accurately that "The trend in the Senate in the 1970s has been decidedly to the right," and "the Senate, for much of the 1960s and early 1970s the liberal bastion of the federal government, now is distinctly more conservative than the House on many issues."
I noted, as I had in the Introduction to the 1978 Almanac, that the House had become more conservative even though Democrats had only lost 11 seats net in 1976 and 1978, and that the initiative in the House had gone to conservative Republicans, and that the Republicans seemed to be fielding more politically talented challengers than Democrats, a clear contrast with 1974 and 1976. On the bottom line, this Introduction was prescient. "If the Democrats should lose a substantial number of seats in 1980 -- that is, more than they have lost since 1974 -- Republicans will have the potential to take effective control of the House." Pretty close to the mark. The Democrats lost 33 seats in 1980 and the House passed the Reagan budget and tax cuts in 1981.
In 1979, for the first time in an Almanac Introduction, I took a look at different regions of the nation. In later Introductions, I divided the states into different sets of regions, because I found that different cleavages helped to explain the national outcomes. In this Almanac, however, I stuck to the traditional East, Midwest, West and South -- the same divisions as the Census Bureau uses, except that I put Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia in the East, not the South. And I put emphasis on how the regions had different views on what I called the energy issue, though in retrospect I think that energy issues did not play a major part in the 1980 outcome. The East I saw as supporting federal aid programs and leaning Democratic. In fact it voted only 42% for Jimmy Carter in 1980, but its Reagan percentage, 47%, was the lowest in any region. The West I divided into two different parts: the Rocky Mountains and Alaska, energy-producing and for rapid growth and free enterprise, the most heavily Republican part of the nation; and California, Oregon and Washington, conservative on fiscal issues (California passed Proposition 13 limiting property tax increases in 1978), but "on cultural issues -- Vietnam, Watergate, marijuana, the environment, homosexuality -- they are probably the most liberal in the country." That is still true today, but it didn't do born-again Christian Jimmy Carter much good in 1980; he got pasted in both the Rocky Mountains and the West Coast, and lost the West 54%-34%.
In the South Jimmy Carter's candidacy had resulted in new political patterns. He "finally banished the race issue from the South by beating George Wallace in the 1976 primaries ad forging a coalition of poor and working class whites and blacks to carry all of the region but Virginia [I should have added Oklahoma] in the general election." Similar patterns have prevailed in seriously contested Southern elections ever since. I noted that there was little radical chic among affluent Southerners, who voted heavily Republican; also still true today in presidential elections, though some statewide Democratic candidates have made inroads among them. But I noted that Carter had carried most Southern states by narrow margins in 1976; he lost most by narrow margins in 1980. I also predicted that Carter would have trouble in energy-producing Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi. Again, only partly correct: Carter lost Texas and Oklahoma by wide margins but lost Louisiana and Mississippi only narrowly, similar to the margins by which he lost Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and the Carolinas.
The Midwest I saw as the pivotal region, noting that Carter had run well in 1976 in Southern-accented portions of Ohio, Illinois and Missouri. Looking ahead I wrote, "Regional trends seem to give Democrats an edge in the East and Republicans the advantage in the West; the South, despite its seeming [sic] monolithic behavior in the past, may well be split. That would leave the outcome of the election in the hands of the closely divided large and medium sized states of the Midwest." This might have been right if the 1980 election had been closer, and it correctly rank ordered the regions. Reagan's margin was smallest in the East and widest in the West; the South and the Midwest were both split between states Reagan carried by wide margins and states he carried by narrow margins, with Carter carrying his own Georgia, Walter Mondale's Minnesota and heavily Democratic West Virginia.
Most of the analysis in this Introduction stands up pretty well. But it failed utterly to assess the Republican field of presidential candidates and to anticipate the success of the candidacy of Ronald Reagan. And it failed to anticipate that the Republicans would win a majority in the Senate. A few days before the election Peter Hart and I sat down and went over the Senate races, to see if we thought the Republicans had a chance to win a majority. We agreed that there were enough races which Democrats could lose to make that possible. But we also agreed that Republicans would have to win almost all of the close races in order to get the majority, and we said, "That never happens." In 1980 it did. Republicans won 11 of the 13 closest Senate races and won their first majority since the election of 1952.
Click here for a printable PDF copy of the complete 1980 Introduction.
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