Looking closely, you can see why the leaders of the two major parties are so anxious about this presidential election, even while the electorate is generally unexcited or ambivalent.
While a Gore victory would mean more or less the same busy legislative and regulatory agenda as in the past, with Congress most likely reverting to familiar Democratic control, a Bush win could produce the Democrats’ worst situation in Washington, D.C., in 46 years.
The last time the presidency, Senate and U.S. House were all in Republican hands was 1954, when Eisenhower was president. The election Nov. 7 provides the best chance in most Republicans’ lives to win such a partisan trifecta.
A Gore victory would not threaten the GOP on the right, for the peevish Pat Buchanan is not achieving any notice that his government-financed ads can’t buy. But a Bush victory would threaten the Democrats on the left by strengthening Ralph Nader and the Green Party, who are doing very well in this campaign.
Not only will the Greens qualify for federal matching funds if if they garner 5 percent of the vote, but Nader also would become a constant and effective leftward prod to the Democrats during a Bush presidency. Clinton-Gore stands on such issues as free trade and welfare reform would weaken in the party as national Democratic leadership passes to a more liberal minority in Congress, led by Reps. Dick Gephardt (Mo.) and David Bonior (Mich.).
For Republicans, a Bush win would inaugurate the chance to build a lasting majority party. There are still more Democrats than Republicans, and political scientists have long known that minority parties do not establish themselves as permanent – as opposed to occasional – majorities unless they win the initial allegiance of large numbers of new voters.
Today’s 70- and 80-year-olds who first voted for the New Deal and Fair Deal still tend to vote Democratic. The feminist generation that came to adulthood in the 1970s is still reliably liberal.
There are two major blocs of new voters – the young and the new ethnics – that will make their influence truly felt in the first decade of the 21st century. They may not determine the election outcome in 2000, but their future course may be set now. The Republicans need them.
The first group is the so-called Millennial Generation, the youth just now becoming adults. Their voting apathy appalls their elders; 70 percent of an MTV survey could not name the GOP or Democratic vice presidential candidates, and a quarter didn’t know the presidential candidates, either.
But their general aspect is more optimistic than the somewhat ironic “Generation X” above them, let alone their Baby Boom parents.
More important to the Millennials’ future is George W. Bush’s plan to allow young workers to place a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes in stock funds. Long term they would enjoy a much higher return than Social Security alone, and they could pass their lifetime Social Security investments along to their own heirs someday. It will take a whole legislative session to perfect this proposal, if Bush is elected. But once passed, the new option would have revolutionary political and sociological, as well as economic, consequences.
Think about it: If a whole new American generation become owners of the means of production through stock in the country’s economy, they also are likely to become more interested in free trade, property rights, lower taxes and limited government. For the rest of their days they will tend to vote – egad! – Republican. No wonder Democratic leaders are alarmed.
Most young voters are not paying attention yet in 2000 – to this or anything else. But if Bush wins and his program actually happens, they will notice soon enough.
There are other new voters out there that a George W. Bush administration would seek to attract to the Republican Party. Bush was ridiculed for the stream of minority faces that appeared on the platform of his party’s national convention last summer, speaking mainly to a sea of white delegates. But Bush in Texas has a patronage record that includes 13 percent Hispanic and 9 percent black appointments. His campaign is making a bigger appeal to Hispanics than any before. This again is a key to the future, since the Hispanic population is growing faster than other broad ethnic groups.
Other newly prominent voter groups are also getting attention in the Bush camp: the conservative-leaning Koreans and Asian Indians, among them. These are fast joining the historic parade of American ethnic political power.
The United States is closely divided politically. The party that wins the Millennial Generation and the new or rapidly expanding ethnic groups of voters will be the majority party in the decades ahead. That is why party leaders – Republicans and Democrats alike – are so agitated about a possible Bush victory.