There’s No Such Thing as a Realignment

The worst thing that happens after most US elections is that people begin to debate whether or not the election in question is/was a “realignment” election.

So when I saw that Stan Collender had a post titled Beware of Those Who Call This Election a Realigment” I was excited. But instead of his argument being the correct one that this is a bogus concept, he’s saying “It may well be a realignment, but anyone who uses that word tonight, tomorrow, or in the next few months to characterize the 2010 election will either be guessing or spinning.”

What you really need to do with realignment-mongering pundits is suggest they read David Mayhew’s Electoral Realignments: A Critique of an American Genre in which he persuasively argues that there’s no meaningful “realignment” phenomenon. There’s a good short summary here if you’re interested. To give my own summary, Mayhew’s point is that there’s no dichotomy between two “kinds” of elections. There’s just a lot of elections. Some are more important than others, especially in retrospect. Sometimes a party wins a bunch of elections in a row. Sometimes a voting bloc switches partisan loyalties on an enduring basis. But there’s no “pattern” in which these things all go together. Stuff just happens. Partisan majorities are usually fleeting.

People gaze at the stars and see constellations, but that just goes to show that human intelligence plus random occurrences equals pattern-detection not that there’s some deep underlying structure to the heavens that’s painting pretty pictures for us.