LBJ’s Landslide

Many historians view the mid twentieth century as a time of great change in American society. This is especially true in regards to politics. The 1964 Presidential election between Lyndon B. Johnson highlights this political shift. Historical interpretations attribute two main issues to Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide victory. The first issue is the vast liberal disposition of Americans following the untimely end of the Kennedy administration. The second is the concerns many people felt towards Barry Goldwater’s civil rights and foreign policy stances. Though these interpretations are not necessarily false, they do not represent a complete picture of the sentiments of voters at the time. Contemporary interpretations discredit the idea that Johnson experienced his victory because of a general trend of liberalism. Present analysis finds more validity in the idea that the landslide support for LBJ was brought about by drastic shifts in voter demographics and party association during the 1964 election.

Historical interpretations of the 1964 election point to public perception of Barry Goldwater as one of the two major driving forces behind the voter turnouts. Newsweek concluded in a post mortem analysis of the election that, “Barry Goldwater’s loss showed the nation will not go for an unabashed conservative.”[i] By “unabashed conservative,” Newsweek reporters were referring to the popular representation of Goldwater as right-wing extremist whose foreign policy stances advocated for the use of nuclear weapons as a solution to the Vietnam War.[ii] Goldwater was not in fact a racist, rather a victim of a relentless smear campaign led by Johnson’s administration. Goldwater’s opponents used his vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to question him about racial equality. Goldwater’s opposition to the bill was not fueled by a racist demeanor, but constitutionalism. Dr. Lee Edwards asserts that, “Goldwater, who had voted for the 1957 and 1960 civil rights bills, wanted to support the 1964 act but objected to two of its provisions: Title II (public accommodations) and Title VII (fair employment).”[iii] He also didn’t vote for the act because he believed, “as a conservative… the federal government did not have the power to compel states to conform to its idea of racial equality, or to dictate to individuals whom they must associate with.”[iv] However, Goldwater’s explanation had little effect in defending him against the onslaught of criticisms from high profile civil rights advocates such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson.[v] From then on Goldwater could not escape the negative imagery he had received through popular perception of his position on civil rights. While the idea that Goldwater’s negative image played a role in Johnson’s success in the 1964 election is not wrong- the idea that the domination of liberalism among a majority of voters attributed to Johnson’s success is misguided.

One idea that is popularized before and after the election is that much of Johnson’s success was based on his connection to the legacy of John F. Kennedy and the liberal policies he supported. Tom Wicker wrote an article for the New York Times that described how Kennedy’s name “Hang[s] over the Election.” Wicker later goes on to establish the, “powerful symbol of the Kennedy name,” as an issue supporting Johnson’s campaign.[vi] The Kennedy name was certainly an issue on the front of peoples’ minds given his recent assassination, but it is not clear that the public recognized themselves as ideologically liberal based on the successes of the Kennedy administration. Furthermore, there is no evidence that confirms there even existed a sense of liberalism within the public; that was brought on by Kennedy’s time in office, and directly correlated with Johnson’s victory in the election.

Researchers in the nineteen sixties conducted studies of voter ideology that lacked the capacity to make accurate interpretations of trends in voter ideology. Hasty conclusions were then drawn from narrowly focused data. The Washington Post[vii] presented its readers with a question: “Do you wish the government to continue its intervention in affairs which before 1932 were largely left to private decision?” “To that question”, said the Post, “the voters have answered ‘Yes!”’[viii] Popular political analysts such as Walter Lippmann[ix] and the New York Times[x] then presented commentary connecting the Post’s survey to a widespread trend of support for moderate liberalism. Although this correlation seemed like a valid explanation for the outcome of the election, critical analysis discredits the idea that liberalism was even a main concern in voters’ decision making process. Liberalist policies that were supported throughout World War II were still beneficial to some, and thus maintained positive approval ratings. This does not validate the idea that liberalism itself was an ideology that was increasingly supported by a majority of Americans.  In fact, most voters at the time did not feel their decisions were based on one given ideology over another. In a study conducted by the University of Michigan researchers found that in the 1964 election, only 11.5% voters characterized their choice based on liberal or conservative terms. With 88.5% of the population disregarding ideology as an effect on their decision- one cannot make a creditable inference on liberalism influencing political outcomes. Dr. Calvin Mackenzie and Robert Weisbrot present these same findings in their book “The Liberal Hour.”[xi] Mackenzie and Weisbrot contend that, “America was not as liberal as the outcome of the 1964 suggested.” For these historical researchers the impact Goldwater had on reinvigorating conservatives shows that the right was experiencing a noticeable movement as well. This swell of conservative political fervor rooted itself in the sixty-four election- blossoming in the seventies and eighties with politicians like Clifton White and Ronald Reagan. These men were given the opportunity to get their name on a national political stage because of their work with the Goldwater campaign.[xii] If the country was on a trend that leaned heavily towards liberalism, then it would not make sense that a liberal presidential victory would foster a series of conservative presidents over the next two decades. Although the 1964 election did not represent a growing trend towards liberalism, it did have an effect on conservatism. That effect can be summarized as this: “The Goldwater campaign may have failed miserably in winning the 1964 election, but it succeeded famously in midwifing a modern conservative politics in America… Republicans would rise from these ashes much more swiftly than anyone would have dared predict on the day after the 1964 election.”[xiii] Historical interpretations varied when it came to the validity of their analysis of Johnson’s landslide victory. As time went on however, contemporary interpretations offered a more encompassing representation of the historic outcome of the 1964 election.

Contemporary analysis finds more authenticity behind the idea that, “shifting voter seismology,” had a greater role in producing the outcome that was seen in the 1964 election.[xiv] The effect of race-relations and civil rights issues on the campaign caused dramatic changes in the demographic make-up of each party. Goldwater’s vote on the 1964 Civil Rights act pushed the liberal and minority vote towards Johnson. While Goldwater’s vote on the act disaffected civil rights supporters, Johnson’s vote would be the deciding blow that dissolved the “solid south” support that Democrats had enjoyed for the last century. Even Johnson knew that his, “support of civil rights legislation began the process that would eventually push the South consistently into the Republican column.”[xv] For contemporary interpretations, the radical shifts in party support played the largest roll in giving Johnson one of the greatest triumphs in election history. Although this rationale explains the majority support for Johnson in the election, it is unsuccessful in capturing the disposition most voters had towards the candidates and the election as a whole

Though shifts in party affiliation played the largest role in achieving Johnson’s triumph over Goldwater, the movement of minority votes to the Democratic Party was not indicative of Johnsons effect on voters as a presidential nominee. Shifts in African American support for the left had been developing since Harry Truman took, “home over 77% of the black vote,” during the 1948 presidential election.[xvi] Johnson did not give black voters any reason to shift their support that the Democratic Party was not already offering them. For this reason, the most accurate explanation of why Johnson experienced such a remarkable turnout in supporters has more to do with the candidates being offered rather than the various external influences effecting the election.

The votes casted in the election of 1964 were undoubtedly influenced by several aspects:  Kennedy’s legacy, civil rights and foreign policy concerns, and shifting party alignments. To say that any one of these issues was the major factor in the outcome of the election would be misrepresenting the legacy that the 1964 election had on politics. In reality voters were struggling with the reality that they were choosing between two unpopular candidates. Neither Goldwater or Johnson’s platform offered voters anything that resonated with their beliefs long term. Johnson’s landslide does not represent a devotion by a majority of beloved supporters. What it actually represents is a combination of voters who could not bring themselves to support Goldwater over his various policies that became viewed as extremist and warlike. Goldwater is more often remembered as the candidate with the most image issues during the 1964 election. Because of the outcome of the vote in 1964 many people forget that Johnson had image issues of his own. What became the most, “damaging to LBJ’s standing… was his escalation in Vietnam.”[xvii] America had been involved in the war for a decade at the time of the election, and many people felt like Vietnam was a lost cause. This made Johnson’s decision all the more unpopular. Kenneth Walsh of US News and World Report is also highly critical of Johnson’s mentality as a politician:

“Johnson never made the transition from Senate majority leader to president of the United States. He was a nuts-and-bolts politician and a Washington insider, and lacked the communication skills or charisma to give the country a wider sense of vision or to inspire his fellow citizens, as Kennedy had done.[xviii]

The nation did not recognize Johnson as a leader that deserved ninety percent of the electoral vote and sixty one percent of the popular vote. That outcome was simply the product of a time in U.S. political history where voters knew what they didn’t want, but didn’t know what they actually wanted. Johnson was merely a better choice than what the Goldwater-Miller ticket was offering. The only theme that remains consistent among historical and contemporary reports of voter ideology is that politically speaking- the average American voter had no idea what they wanted ideologically. The two major political parties were experiencing great change in how they were going to meet the desires of the disaffected constituents they now represented. Liberals and minorities on the left and “solid south,” new conservatives on the right. Change truly was the overarching theme in this election.

~WDL

[i] Goldman, Peter, and Eleanor Clift. “The Politics of Austerity.” Newsweek, January 29, 1979.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Edwards, Lee. “Barry M. Goldwater: The Most Consequential Loser in American Politics.” Makers of American    Political Thought Series 11 (July 3, 2014). The Heritage Foundation.

[iv] Menand, Louis. “He Knew He Was Right.” The New Yorker, March 26, 2001. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2001/03/26/he-knew-he-was-right.

[v] Fairclough, Adam. Martin Luther King, Jr. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995, 94.

[vi] Wicker, Tom. “Johnson’s Problem- To Unify Democrats.” The New York Times, August 9, 1964.

[vii] “The Voters Answer,” Washington Post, November 4, 1964, A20.

[viii] Mackenzie, G. Calvin., and Robert Weisbrot. The Liberal Hour: Washington and the Politics of Change in the 1960s. New York: Penguin Press, 2008, 109

[ix] Walter Lipman, “Return to Normal Political Setup After Election Seems Unlikely,” Los Angeles Times November 4, 1964, 87.

[x] “The Johnson Landslide,” New York Times, November 4, 1964, 38.

[xi] Mackenzie and Weisbrot, Liberal Hour, 109.

[xii] Ibid

[xiii] Ibid

[xiv] Ibid

[xv] Levy, Michael. “United States Presidential Election of 1964.” Encyclopedia Britannica. August 17, 2009. https://www.britannica.com/event/United-States-presidential-election-of-1964.

[xvi] “How Blacks Became Democratic: The Myth of Republican Racism.” Soul Therapy, March 26, 2016. https://dathistoryguy.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/how-blacks-became-democratic-the-myth-of-republican-racism/.

[xvii] Walsh, Kenneth T. “The Most Consequential Elections in History: Lyndon Johnson and the Election of 1964.” U.S. News and World Report, September 17, 2008.

[xviii] Ibid

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Saint Reagan: Trends in conservatism following the Reagan Revolution

There are many examples of exceptional presidential leadership in American political history. Ronald Reagan is the most iconic figure of the Republican Party, and stands as an example of greatness for both liberals and conservatives. While Reagan’s popularity may not be in question, some academics assert that Reagan’s legacy was not a long lasting agent of unification for the Republican Party.  Historian Gil Troy advocates the idea that conservative unification brought on by the Reagan, was a “fleeting alliance, not an enduring coalition.”

Mr. Troy bases this claim on an increasing trend of liberalization in American politics. Troy emphasizes on the stance that conservatives were, “unable to consistently convert favorable public sentiment into legislative victories or effectively change or form public opinion. While once can accept the growing trend of liberalization in American politics, to discredit the effect Ronald Reagan had on the Republic Party would be a misrepresentation if historical events.

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Although Reagan became popularized by the media years after his presidency, many of his economic and security policies were heavily criticized while he was in office

Conservatism in 80’s was defined by the rise of the Christian right, as well as the Reagan Revolution.  This revolution was coined in recognition of the political shift in favor of conservative policy, both at home and abroad. Reagan’s strong stance against communism, support of supply-side economics, lowering taxes, and popularized traditionalism created a platform that the Republican Party would run off of for the next three decades.

To say that the conservative platform of traditionalism (that stemmed from the Reagan Revolution) is fighting a growing trend of liberalization of political ideology has merit when developing a historical representation of American politics. But this is a completely separate notion than the extent to which Reagan’s legacy unified specifically conservative demographics.

When analyzing polls of the republican primaries through-out the 80’s and 90’s, a clear trend in favor of Reaganesque conservatism (whatever candidate is waving that banner at the time). Those Republican’s that are endorsed by Reagan, have greater success in the primaries (i.e. George H.W. Bush 1988 & 1982, Bob Doll, and George W. Bush)

A majority of creditable polls show republican voters unified behind one nomination in all of the primaries following Reagan’s presidency. These trends do not support the idea that the unification of the Republican Party behind the Reagan campaign was simply a “fleeting alliance.”

~WDL

Race Relations and Presidential Races

When researching the events leading up to, and following the 1968 presidential election, it is obvious that this election had a lasting effect on American politics. Many historical representations of the sixties support the idea that the Vietnam War was the biggest issue not only the 1968 presidential election, but in the lives of American’s during that time. Supporting this idea misrepresents what American’s really felt, and what a majority of public perception was towards politics during this decade.

The Issue that truly dominated the public interest was race relations. Historian Lewis L. Gould takes a different perspective in his book 1968: The Election That Changed America. Gould defends the idea that race relations, and not the Vietnam War, was a bigger issue in the minds of the American people. Highlighted especially by the events during the 1968 presidential election.

There are three main reasons that explain why race overshadowed the Vietnam War as a main issue during the sixties. The first being voter demographic changes. The 1968 election marks an end the south voting democratic. A trend that had being building since the early part of the decade.

The 1968 Chicago Riots is the next event that underscores the racial tension that effected the day to day lives of Americans.  Catalyzed by the assignation of Martin Luther King Jr., the Chicago riots captivated national audiences. Later that year the events that started in Chicago would resurface around the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and the city would experience again, political protest and racially fueled rifts between African Americans and police.

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As the DNC convention gets underway in Chicago, thousands of protesters flooded the streets. What started as an anti-war movement quickly escalated when news of MLK Jr.s assassination spread.

Lastly the Civil Rights Act of 1968, provides a landmark example of how race relations was the biggest issue in the perception of Americans during the 1960s. Also sparked by King’s assassination, the Civil Rights Act marks the federal government’s official policy in regards to race during the late sixties.

Although the Vietnam War did have a huge effect on American society and politics, to mark its importance over race relations would not be an accurate portrayal of the most important issue for American’s during the sixties.

~WDL

What Just Happened? Post Mortem Election Analysis

For anyone that has been paying attention to polling data over the last few months, you have probably realized by now how wrong most projections were. Virtually every poll showed Clinton leading a comfortable victory.

IBD/TIPP was the only forecast that predicted a Trump upset, showing him claiming a win with only two percentage points. IBD/TIPP is a collaboration between Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) and TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence (TIPP). IBD claims to have the most accurate polls to date, and looking at their data seems to corroborate that. In the last three election cycles IBD/TIPP has been the most accurate poll out there.

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So what did IBD/TIPP see that everyone else missed? According to their reports, it was two main issues. Employment and the economy.

Employment might seem odd as a main issue for Americans given the low unemployment rates projected by the Obama administration. IBD’s polls however, show that many American families are still suffering from job instability and after effects of the 2008 financial crisis.

IBD’s research, “…consistently show[s] that the share of households that were “job insecure” paint a far more dire picture than the official, and increasingly useless, unemployment number. And how the public was overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the direction of the country.” When analyzing employment rates many people (myself included) misrepresented the data. What most pollsters did not account for is, “How the number of people who’d dropped out of the labor force had grown at a faster rate than jobs.” Meaning while employment rates may be on the rise, this does not necessarily equate higher approval rates for the policies enacted by the left.

On the economy, one issue remains consistent- not only in IDB’s analysis but in most of the other accepted polling organizations as well. That issue is the Dodd-Frank Act, an attempt at Wall Street reform and consumer protection. Essentially collection of federal regulations instituted under the Obama administration, Dodd-Frank hoped to prevent the recurrence of events that caused the 2008 financial crisis.

These regulations had an unforeseen consequence on small business that were most effected by the 2008 financial crisis. Dodd-Frank makes it “far more difficult for small businesses to get credit.” The act also drives small community banks out of business because their competition is backed by the federal government.

While Hillary Clinton shouldn’t necessarily take the blame for the negative consequences of previous administrations, public perception still links her campaign with the Obama administration. Employment and economic concerns were in the front of voters’ minds this election. While Clinton was perceived as a vote for same policies many viewed as harmful to their wellbeing, Donald Trump was perceived as an extreme change to the establishment. That is where he fostered his support. Disenfranchised, working class voters turned out in huge numbers, and the Trump campaign owes them a big thanks you.

This election has exposed a misrepresentation and a misunderstanding of the concerns of the general public by mainstream media outlets. I’m curious to see if that trend continues in the next four years.

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~WDL

Trump Train Losing Passengers as New Video Surfaces

This week brings yet another controversial quote from presidential candidate Donald Trump. A video recording of a lewd conversation Trump had with a reporter in 2005 has surfaced and is being heavily criticized. Not only his opponents, but some of his supporters as well. Writer David A. Fahrenthold reports: “Donald Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation caught on a hot microphone, saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” according to a video obtained by the  Washington Post.”

But why is this Trump tape a breaking point for many in the G.O.P.? Why is this instance worse than Trump’s offensive rhetoric against handicapped reporters, or Islamic parents of fallen U.S. soldiers? Did Trump cross an invisible line in the conservative establishment?

These questions potentially find in answer when both the implication of Trump’s quote and his explanation of it are analyzed. Although Trump may not have intended to advocate for sexual assault when he made the comment, it’s clear how many could misrepresent what was said to mean just that. It is also important to consider that the comment has become a statement perceived by many to be degrading towards women. A broad demographic that has a huge influence on the outcome of the election. Even Trump’s male supporters have made statements that connect the impact of Trumps comments in the video on their daughters, wives, sisters, and any other meaningful female figures they have a connection to.

Trumps explanation of the tape is also cause for his male supports to abandon the Trump train. In statements following the release of the video, Trump justified his comments as simply locker room braggadocio, something that “men” commonly talk about. This generalization of an entire gender as one that condones and takes part in vulgar sexual conversation behind closed doors was met with strong disapproval.

As the exodus of republicans from the Trump campaign continues it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back from this setback. For the first time Trump’s controversial comments have not earned him an increase in the polls. Although this might not be indicative of the outcome of the election, it does support the idea that voters are getting tired of the reality TV antics. People are realizing that the election is almost here, and they want to see what a viable presidential candidate will bring to the table.

~WDL

Loyal Opposition, Political Criticism, and Organized Dissent: America’s Party System

Since the late 1950s liberal democrats and conservative republicans have maintained a consistent political and ideological feud. Popularized by the press, these two parties developed into equally powerful organizations. The two-party system became the status quo for Americans- so much so that people began to support the myth that it was established by a clause in the U.S. Constitution. For decades democrats and republicans have dominated a majority of national and state elections. The tightly held constituencies of both parties leave no support for third party candidates. Essentially baring any other parties from gaining real influence in American politics.

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Libratarian presidential canidate Gary Johnson won more voter support than any third party candidate has in the last four election cycles. Johnson still trails behind both the democratic and republican nominees by double digit percentages.

To some this might seem arbitrary; however critical analysis reveals why the two party system can hurt the integrity of America’s political system. Writer Jill Lepore analyzes the potential consequences of a two-party system in her article for the New Yorker titled, The Party Crashers. Lepore supports the idea that the growing polarization of the two-party system is throwing American politics into “disequilibrium”. She develops the idea that for the two-party system to maintain the success that it has enjoyed; each party needs to uphold, “loyal opposition, political criticism, and organized dissent.” Meaning that the success of each party is defined by its’ constituent’s ability to remain dedicated to the party, while also challenging its direction. This ensures that the party always accurately represents its voter’s ideologies. In recent years this sentiment has faded, being replaced with growing feelings of betrayal towards party establishments. The divergence of right and left ideologies primed by a revolution in political communication has created large numbers of disenfranchised voters who feel that they don’t fall in line with the platform of either major party.

Armed by the information age (namely social media sites), these disenfranchised voters have a new found influence on politics. Anti-establishment sentiments have rallied many voters behind Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed Washington outsider. While many view Trump’s policies as essential in reestablishing America’s “greatness,” a large number of critics view Trump’s campaign platform as racially insensitive, vague, and volatile.

It is unknown what a Trump presidency would look like if he were to win; however, what is known is that there is a large trend of voters who have lost faith in the two major parties. Does this mark the beginning of the end for the two party system? Or will democrats and republicans evolve their platforms in order to regain the support of so many marginalized voters? The answers two those questions isn’t clear. What is clear is that now more than ever, the power of political change is in the hands of the people (more so now than has been seen in a long time).

 

~WDL

New York Times Forecast: Beyond the Scope of Their Study

As election day draws closer, political analysts are poring over polling number in order to come up with what they think is the most accurate representation of where the candidates stand. This week, the New York Times took another shot at this in their article, Who Will Be President, by Josh Katz. Katz’s article presents an in-depth analysis of the latest and most creditable polling data, as well as a state-by-state breakdown of voting estimations.

The Times gives Clinton an 85% chance to beat Trump for the highest office of the land. While this estimation might seem confident in Clinton’s ability to shore up the voters she needs to reach 270 electoral votes, the Times analysis follows along the same general trend as other respected news outlets. Sites such as FiveThirtyEight, Princeton Election Consortium, and the Cook Political Report all represent the same forecast that Clinton has around a 75% – 80% chance for victory in November.

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While Kuntz does offer a detailed analysis of current polling data and expert prediction, the article does not address criticism concerning the validity of the data under observation. For years polls have been slated because they have the ability to misrepresent the demographics being polled with wide sweeping judgments and general conclusions. Writer Jonathan Bernstein presents a compelling argument against the validity of polls. Bernstein’s main idea is that most polling organizations use two-candidate surveys, which fail to incorporate demographics that support third party candidates. This system also fails to consider the effect of undecided voters across the board.

Most of the polls that are used in the New York Times statistical models are based on incomplete data sets that would lead the researcher to potentially draw misguided conclusions. These polls often fail to compile an accurate representation of the general public. This can happen because not enough people were polled, inconsistent research standards were used, and disproportionate voter demographics were representative of the overall study.

This election has brought with it a large increase in voter turnout. What this will mean for the outcome of the election is still unknown; however, it will certainly change the make-up of demographics, and how political analysts interpret polling data from now on.

~WDL

(featured image from shutterstock)