Vincent J. Cannato: Two Visions of the Electorate

Roundup: Historians' Take

Vincent J. Cannato is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and the author of The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York.

What happened with this election? Many conservatives predicted that Romney would win the election, with some even predicting a landslide. Many liberals were equally confident that Obama would win, even if they thought the results would be relatively close. 

This election was more than just a race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, more than just a battle between liberalism and conservatism. It was a race between two different visions of what the American electorate looks like. Democrats saw the race through the lens of the “emerging Democratic majority.” Rising numbers of minority voters — and a corresponding declining white vote — meant that Democrats were playing with the wind at their backs. Add to that young voters, upscale professionals, and single women, and you have a pretty durable coalition that could push President Obama across the finish line despite the stagnant economy.

On the other hand, Republicans saw this as a “Silent Majority” election. They were trying to refight the 1980s, putting together the political coalition that gave the country the Reagan Revolution: evangelicals, working-class white Catholic “Reagan Democrats,” small businessmen, and rural voters. Conservative pundits kept saying that polls were wrong because they oversampled Democrats and ignored Republican enthusiasm. They seemed to argue that the polls were missing potential GOP voters who would show up on Election Day and oust Obama....

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