Opinion | This Election Day, Keep Your Eyes on the Losing Candidates

The first two factors – the similarities in the sides and the differences between them – are the result of decades of change. The passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the mid-1960s probably started the slow process of reforming voters’ party ideology, resulting in today’s few self-proclaimed Republicans. Democrats and Democrats are more conservative than they were in the 1950s. At the same time, for decades, there have been little in common between the two sides, driven in part by divergent stances on issues such as tax cuts, regulation and abortion. As these issues created a controversy among politicians, voters watched.

The long-term trends are unmistakable. In the 1950s, the US National Election Study began ask everyone: “Do you think there are any important differences in what Republicans and Democrats represent?” The concern at that time parties are local institutions, lacking national identity, organization and discipline – and because of this, they have frustrated voters by not being able to speak on national issues of the day. In 1952, 50 percent of Americans said they thought there were important differences between the parties. In 1984, this share had increased to 63%, and by 2004 more than three-quarters of the countries had significant differences. In 2020, the last year the study raised this question, about 90% of Americans saw significant differences between what the parties represented. Everyone understands: There are two different versions in the world on offer.

These trends are meaningful in themselves, but they are more important because they coincide with how people feel about Democrats and Republicans. A significant fraction of both sides say members of the other party are more close-minded, unintelligent, immoral, or unpatriotic than other Americans, and the gap between how much people like the party their own and dislike the other party is now bigger than ever. . Add to that the magnitude of identity-based issues, and you have an extremely divisive politics. We no longer fight for tax cuts and deregulation; We were fighting over who could call us American.

Lurking in the background is the final ingredient of the calcification process: partisan parity among voters. If the next election offers the real promise of controlling Congress or the White House without changing course, there will be little incentive for parties to do so. Worse still, the calcification creates an incentive to change the electoral rules to get the final few votes needed to get ahead.

But calcification alone does not detract from democratic outcomes. That loses everyone.

What makes the aftermath of 2020 stand out from previous elections is the interaction of calcification with political action. Specifically, Mr. Trump did the opposite of Nixon, Mr. Gore and Mrs. Clinton: He asserted that he won. Other partisan leaders echoed his claim of a stolen election, and voters, appreciating both the party-to-party differences and the fact that the outcome was so few votes, follow.

So yes, a decades-long drift towards calcification made it possible, but politicians and their voters made it happen. In other words, who wins the election, but who loses, is equally important to the future of free and fair elections in the United States.


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