In 1988, as in four of the previous five presidential elections, the Republicans won the White House with remarkable ease. Pundits have been busy explaining the inevitability of this result. Many attribute the Republican victory to ideology, repeating the familiar line that the Democrats now are too liberal to win a national election. Another popular explanation is the economy. The incumbent party never loses, we are told, when the economy is prosperous. Some even blame the Electoral College.
Other explanations have been offered as well (e.g., Sigelman, 1988). Despite this disagreement on the details, two things appear certain. The Democrats had no chance in 1988. And the Democrats are in the throes of a painful electoral decline.
But is any of this conventional wisdom correct? If we ignore the presidency, the current Democratic party enjoys a period of national hegemony perhaps unequaled since the Era of Good Feeling. For the past quarter century, the Democrats have almost continuously controlled more state legislatures and governorships than the Republicans. And the Democratic hold on Congress is even stronger than its hold on state government. After enjoying majority control for over three decades, the Democrats' lock on the U.S. House never was safer. Following the recent interruption of Republican control, the Senate now seems safely Democratic too. Add to all this a continuous Democratic plurality in party identification and one cannot doubt that the Democrats are the dominant party in the U.S. today and have been for decades.