Since 1976, voters have elected the president by a double-digit percentage only once. The party controlling the House has seen the double-digit wins three times in that span, most recently 2008.
In this same period, there have been nine years, including the current year, where a single party has controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency. The vast majority of the time, the American people have split power across each side. When it does occur, single-party domination is short-lived; other than President Bush’s (41) term, the party holding the presidency and both houses of Congress lose at least one on the next election cycle.
America isn’t highly ideologically driven, and while each party has a relatively reliable base of supporters, there is an equally sizable segment of independent centrists. The stable support within each party can rarely be convinced to vote for the other, but when they think the other side (or the other party’s local candidate) might be right, they just don’t show up to vote.
When the dominant party starts acting as if they have a mandate to govern in a highly partisan manner, the centrists switch sides. Pundits refer to these people as swing voters, but this ignores why these votes can swing while others don’t. They swing because they don’t necessarily hold opinions as high as the far left or right (hence, “centrist”) on the role of government, but they do expect the government to work, and won’t vote for a party that they don’t see as a good steward. Winning the center requires a party to nominate moderate candidates – or hoping the other party appoints a highly immoderate opponent.
So why do elected officials act like they have mandates for partisan governance when the numbers show most elections are close?
With help from President Trump, the Republicans will lose either the House or Senate. The GOP’s partisan governance is alienating the center, and history shows a correction will come. But that correction also requires Democrats to understand the role of the middle, and run moderate candidates whose belief in the decisive role of government, infused with a strong sense of stewardship.
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