Reagan realignment: staying or going?


There's a fairly widespread view across partisan lines these days that, regardless of what happens in November, the conservative movement is running on fumes.

On a related note, Robert David Sullivan looks in today's Boston Globe at the staying power of the Reagan realignment, and he points to a few bellwethers that will help determine our next president.

IN 2000, Republican strategist Karl Rove often speculated that a victory by George W. Bush could bring a long-term realignment of American politics, similar to the way William McKinley's win in 1896 began 36 years of GOP dominance in Washington. Rove was being immodest in a lot of ways, but the most startling aspect of his boast was that a Republican realignment already took place in 1980, when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. Bush's win 20 years later was pretty much a piggyback victory.

Since Reagan was nominated for president, no Democrat has won a majority of the national vote, though Ross Perot helped Bill Clinton win pluralities twice. During this period, the Democrats have consistently fallen short of a majority in 26 states and in 1,750 counties (out of 3,108). Many of the latter, including the counties of San Antonio, Texas; Tampa, Fla.; Spartanburg, S.C.; and Terre Haute, Ind., gave majorities to both John F. Kennedy and Carter but have snubbed Democrats ever since. I'd say the Reagan realignment was holding up pretty well before Rove came along.

What makes a "Reagan County"? One definition is a county where the Republican vote jumped at least 3 points in 1980 and where that gain was still present in the Bush vs. Kerry race. This does not include places like Las Vegas's Clark County, suburban Atlanta's Clayton County, and Fort Lauderdale's Broward County, where Reagan made dramatic gains that have since been erased. For the most part, these "ex-Reagan counties" are urban areas that have trended Democratic as they've become more crowded, as noted in a previous column. ...

Karl Rove notwithstanding, 1980 will remain the template for presidential politics as long as Reagan's victory continues to echo in counties that include almost half of the American population. Butler [Ohio], York [Pennsylvania], and Chesapeake [Virginia] counties will be three prime indicators of whether Obama can succeed in bringing the Reagan Era to a close.

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