Author archives: Peter Sprigg

Historical Precedent Suggests That Trump Is on the Right Side of History

by Peter Sprigg

October 30, 2020

The closer we get to Election Day, the more intently many people are examining polls in an effort to determine the likely outcome of the presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

On the one hand, Biden has held a consistent lead in the average of national polls on the website RealClearPolitics. The same website’s aggregation of state polls suggest a significant lead for Biden in the electoral college vote as well.

On the other hand, similar indicators four years ago pointed to a Hillary Clinton victory—yet in the end, she lost in the (decisive) electoral college, despite winning the popular vote. These comparisons are keeping Trump supporters hopeful, and Biden supporters on edge.

However, there is another way of predicting the outcome that has nothing to do with polls. Instead, it has to do with repeating patterns of history.

There is one such pattern that I have never seen anyone describe. It is this: since the 1951 ratification of the 22nd Amendment, which limited the president to a maximum of two terms, we have had an almost unbroken pattern of the two major parties, Republican and Democratic, alternating in their control of the White House every eight years.

After the first president, George Washington, voluntarily stepped down after serving two terms, subsequent presidents had followed that tradition. First elected in 1932, Franklin Roosevelt broke with that tradition when he sought, and won, a third term in 1940. He was then re-elected to a fourth term in 1944—but died shortly after it began, in 1945. The 22nd Amendment, introduced in 1947 and ratified by 1951, ensured that no future president would be able to maintain a similar hold on the office.

People of my (baby boom) generation have witnessed convulsive events such as the assassination of one president (Kennedy) and the resignation of another (Nixon), plus two who were impeached but not convicted (Clinton and Trump). During the period from 1968 to 1992, in a stretch of seven presidential elections, four of them featured an incumbent eligible for re-election who was not re-elected: Johnson (1968) chose not to run; Ford, who succeeded Nixon, was defeated (1976); as were Carter (1980) and George H. W. Bush (1992) in their reelection bids.  

Nevertheless, beginning with the Republican Eisenhower (serving 1953-61), Democrats Kennedy and Johnson (1961-69), and Republicans Nixon and Ford (1969-77), and ending with the more recent occupants of the White House Bill Clinton (1993-2001), George W. Bush (2001-2009), and Barack Obama (2009-2017), the eight-year cycle of party control has mostly held.

Since a Republican, President Trump, has currently occupied the White House for only four years, this pendulum swing pattern of history points toward his reelection, giving Republicans control of the White House until the 2024 election.

In the 64-year period from 1953-2017—16 four-year presidential terms—there has been only a single exception to this pattern of eight years in, eight years out, in terms of partisan control of the White House.

That exception was Republican Ronald Reagan’s defeat of Democrat Jimmy Carter’s bid for reelection in 1980, after only four (not eight) years of Democratic control of the White House.

The question, then, is—does 2020 resemble 1980?

There’s no question that 2020 has been an exceptional year. The coronavirus pandemic, and the unrest in American cities following the death of George Floyd (and other African Americans) as a result of police action will make this year go down in history. But what does that mean for the election?

Does incumbent President Donald Trump resemble Jimmy Carter? In personality, the soft-spoken Carter and the brash Trump could not be more different. However, both faced unique challenges that began with events no one could have predicted.

For Carter, it was the Iran hostage crisis. The seizure of American diplomats late in 1979, and their continued captivity throughout 1980, contributed to an impression of American impotence.

Do the continuing pandemic or racial unrest in 2020 make Donald Trump similarly vulnerable?

On the other hand, few observers, left or right, would question that Ronald Reagan was a unique political talent.

Does Joe Biden have similar gifts that would allow him to pull off a similarly historic win?

We will find out soon.

Liberals are fond of claiming that they stand on “the right side of history” (especially when they are on the wrong side of majority opinion). But regardless of polls, personalities, or policies, precedent suggests that Donald Trump’s reelection bid is on the right side of history in 2020.

Do Candidates’ Family Structures Affect Voters?

by Peter Sprigg

October 26, 2020

When Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris as his running mate, much attention was paid to the fact that she is the first woman of color to appear on a national ticket (her mother was from India, her father from Jamaica). However, less attention has been paid to another characteristic of Harris that may break new ground, or at least break recent precedent.

It appears (from some quick research on Wikipedia) that she is the first nominee for national office on a major-party ticket since at least 1952 (which is as far back as I went) who was not a parent of her own children.

Harris is a stepmother to her husband Douglas Emhoff’s two children from his first marriage, but they were apparently both teenagers when she married him in 2014. So she has never had the experience of raising a child from birth, or even from childhood.

This struck me because in 2017 at the World Congress of Families in Budapest, Hungary, one of the speakers mentioned that all three of the leaders of the major Western European powers at the time—Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and Britain’s Theresa May—although married, were childless. (Merkel and Macron, like Harris, have stepchildren; Theresa May and her husband struggled with infertility.)

The speaker seemed to suggest this raised a question about the extent to which they could personally empathize with the challenges of family life, and suggested that by their own choices they might be showing the relatively low priority they placed on the importance of family formation in general.

It’s unclear whether voters will have such concerns about Harris, or whether it will have an impact on their decisions on Election Day. But Harris herself has given evidence that she is conscious of the issue, since she has gone out of her way to emphasize the loving bonds that unite her with her stepchildren Cole and Ella—who call her “Momala.” In May of 2019, when Harris was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, she wrote a Mother’s Day article for Elle in which she appears to be deliberately trying to portray herself as someone who does understand the struggles and difficult choices of parenting.

Obviously, the Constitution has no “parenthood test” for public office, and Donald Trump himself may serve as evidence that voters care more about the candidates’ policy positions than their personal lives. Nevertheless, the nomination of a childless candidate, who did not marry and form a blended family until she was almost 50, may be at least symbolic of some significant differences between the two major political parties—not just on family issues, but with respect to family structures.

The evidence seems to be strong, for example, that married people are more likely to vote Republican than single people. Exit polls after the 2016 election showed that among married voters (59 percent of the voting population), Donald Trump out-polled Hillary Clinton by 52-44 percent, but among the unmarried (41 percent of voters), Clinton beat Trump 55-37 percent. However, this marriage gap was even larger in favor of Mitt Romney in the 2012 election—even though Romney ultimately lost and Trump won. Research on voter turnout has also shown that married people are more likely to vote in the first place—a fact which should be an advantage for Republicans.

With regard to parental status, the evidence is more mixed. Republicans tend to have more total children than Democrats, by a large margin. It’s been calculated that on average, “100 conservative adults will raise 208 children, while 100 liberal adults will raise a mere 147.” In fact, the top 10 states in children per capita are all heavily Republican “red states.” This “fertility gap” between the parties may give Republicans an inter-generational advantage.

While Republicans may have more children, in my research I was unable to find definitive proof that merely being a parent (regardless of marital status or the number of children) makes people more likely to vote Republican. One article asserts that Barack Obama won a large majority of the votes of parents in 2012—but no source was cited. The turnout data suggests that married people without children are the most likely to vote, while parents who have never married are the least likely to vote.

Sociologist Brad Wilcox has noted that cultural factors are at work—“married Americans tend to be more socially conservative and religious than their unmarried peers”—but there are economic ones as well:

We know that men, women, and children in married families are more likely to enjoy financial success, economic stability, and private health insurance. This means that married adults typically pay more in taxes and depend less upon the government for their financial welfare. These financial factors, then, probably help to explain why marrieds are more likely to vote Republican.

This may also explain the mixed data on parenthood and voting—single parents (who are more likely to depend on government assistance) may be more likely to vote Democratic, while married parents are more likely to vote Republican.

The person who poses the most direct contrast to the childless Harris, and the most dramatic illustration of the family structure differences between the parties, is not Harris’s opponent, Vice President Mike Pence (father of three). Instead, it may be President Trump’s latest nominee for the Supreme Court—Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the mother of five biological children and two adopted ones.

It has been widely noted (sometimes, from the Left, sarcastically) that Barrett would be the first mother of school-aged children to serve on the nation’s highest Court.

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Conservative Values Won Big Across America, Except in Contested Swing States
by Connor Semelsberger (Nov. 20, 2020)

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