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Megan McArdle

No Party Will Get a Permanent Majority

Democrats and Republicans in search of permanent majorities need a reality check.
Permanent majorities are as real as the Easter Bunny.

Permanent majorities are as real as the Easter Bunny.

Photographer: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Many Republicans seem confident that last week's performance in the mid-term elections bodes the end of the Obama era, and the dawn of the bright Republican future.  Many Democrats seem confident that last week's performance in the midterms was a mere blip on the way to the Emerging Democratic Majority.  Both sides would do well to read Sean Trende's 2012 book, The Lost Majority, which I made my way through this weekend.

To state Trende's thesis simply: There is no such thing as a permanent majority.  Parties are coalitions of disparate groups of voters, and they win by strapping enough different groups together to push themselves across the electoral finish line.  Unfortunately, the broader your coalition, the harder it is to hold together.  Those different groups may have radically different values and interests; satisfying one may end up alienating the other. Trende suggests that the longest-lived coalition was not, in fact Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famed "realignment," which showed large cracks as early as 1937, but the Eisenhower coalition that lasted roughly from 1952 to 1988.  As the dates suggest, the reason for unity was the external threat from the Soviet Union.  That's a pretty stiff price to pay for internal unity.