History Suggests The Democrats Won’t Stay In the Wilderness

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tags: election 2016, Democrats



After Tuesday’s election results, Democrats lost the White House and remained a minority in Congress and in state legislative chambers. Their appointees to the Supreme Court are likely to remain in the minority for years to come. But history suggests that parties this deep in the political wilderness don’t remain there for long.

The last time a party was in this situation, it was the Republicans in 2008, and they won back control of the House two years later and never let go. Before that, Democrats held control of the White House and Congress in 1978, but lost the presidency and the Senate to Republicans in 1980. In both cases, the majorities won by Democrats masked growing party fissures and fragile coalitions. It’s possible — though many historical norms have been shattered this year — that the same thing is happening in the Republican Party.

Parties rarely spend long periods completely shut out of the national government, but it has happened a few times. After Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican president in 1861, the party won every presidential election (with the possible exception of 1876, in which the party lost the popular vote and won in the Electoral College under questionable circumstances) until 1884. But during this period, after years of a Republican lock, the Democrats started winning House majorities in the 1870s.




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