Hopkins on What Matters in Electoral Politics (hint: not much)

On his politics blog Honest Graft, political theory professor David Hopkins recently discussed why he feels the current Republican legislative majorities are more resilient than conventional wisdom would suggest.  His conclusions are unsettling and tie into a lot of recent thought on the topic.  

I started reading a book about a year ago called Democracy for Realists.  The book was about this general concept; that swing voters vote much more frequently based on very broad feelings about the general state of the country.  The authors noted studies ranging from the effects of shark attacks on incumbent performance to the effect of football game outcomes on regional voting patterns.  The reason “the economy” is generally seen as a major determining factor in the swing vote is because it’s one of the only of these broad circumstantial factors over which the president has any control at all (though very very very little).  Never mind an individual representative, senator, or state-level politician.

I stopped reading the book because, right around election day, I started getting to parts of the book where they discussed why so few voters were swing voters at all.  They argue that party identification is often inherited and can become as much a part of identity as race and class.  When I read those ideas, I saw not just the manifestation of that identity but the fusing of partisanship with – in particular – racial and religious (or more appropriately, probably “cultural”) identity.  It seems sometimes that they’ve become a weird entangled mess, but largely one and the same in recent years.

I share Hopkins’s skepticism that policy failures will have much impact on Republican electoral prospects.  As long as Republicans keep antagonizing the appropriate enemies they might be just fine.