Are we currently seeing another ideological realignment happening in today's unstable political climate?

Similar to how, in the years since the WW2 post-war period, the main political parties underwent an observable ideological realignment, which eventually led to the aforementioned changes in party affiliation.

Signaled by the election of Donald Trump, the rise in popularity of Bernie Sanders and the nationalist movements sweeping across Europe...

Is that sort of ideological realignment happening again?

I'm also curious what you might think about the impetus that created this ideological shift.

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    I would break this up into three questions:1) the first phenomena is well documented, as people age they become more conservative. That's been true for awhile. 2) Next I would talk about the Post WW2 shift (it actually dates to pre-Eisenhower) and was geographical, but ideological really on one side only. 3) Current situation. – user9790 Jan 12 '17 at 16:23
  • Admittedly, my question is more trying to get at whether it's happening today, but I thought that the preceding points would provide context to the question -- and subsequent answers. – holaymolay Jan 12 '17 at 16:29
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    Issues: a)"Today's political climate" is always "unstable": We simply are no longer worried by how unstable it was in the 80s or the 90s. b)Magnification effect: "Traditional parties" are still in power almost everywhere. c) Short time: You are comparing a supposed realignment that took more than twenty years (until LBJ Civil Rights Act? or even more?) with a supposed trend that is 4 or 5 years old. The human mind is very good at finding patterns, but sometimes it leads to finding patterns even if there is none. I do not think the question is answerable right now. – SJuan76 Jan 12 '17 at 17:15
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    I don't think it's possible to answer that question here until well after the fact, but I do not think any of the things mentioned in the question indicate a realignment. Republicans don't seem to have changed very much, but Democrats have become more pro-corporate and pro-war, having supported them for 8 years under Obama while he continued and extended Bush's policies. – J Doe Jan 12 '17 at 17:32
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    @KDog No, positions are things like "I support this trade agreement" and "I do not support prosecuting torture". Ideological shifts are just what I said, "becoming more pro-corporate and pro-war", they are the underlying trends behind the positions. – J Doe Jan 12 '17 at 20:18

An observer looking at the United States in 1964, would not have regarded Barry Goldwater as the winner. Yet his basic governing philosophy took over the Republican party by 1980. Also, after the landslide loss in 1964, who would have expected the Republicans to win five of the next six elections?

In 1992, Democrats won with just a plurality of the popular vote and had lost five of the last six elections. In 2000, most of the departing Democratic president's accomplishments were compromises with Republicans. In 2016, we're talking about Democrats winning a plurality of the popular vote in six of the last seven elections.

There are two separate paths before us. Trump could be very successful and win reelection in a landslide. Trump could be an utter failure and lose in 2020. Which will happen? Many speculate but no one knows.

Even if Trump wins, it's unclear what effect it will have. Bill Clinton won in 1996, but the centrists seem to have lost control of the Democratic party. Remember that it was Goldwater's loss that realigned the party last time. And that only after sixteen years. In between, a centrist Republican won election twice. And of course, someone might credit George Wallace's role in peeling off Democrats in the South.

In the last seven elections, we've only had a clear, majority winner three times (2004, 2008, 2012). Twice the popular vote leader lost the electoral college. Twice there was a three-way race with no one winning a majority of the popular vote.

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    This answer has much to commend to it, but Reagan was still an outsider in 1980, although an heir to Goldwater. It's almost silent on ideology however. – user9790 Jan 12 '17 at 22:31
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    While I can't argue with any of the facts you present, I'm unsure how this actually answers the question? – user4012 Jan 13 '17 at 17:59

That's the kind of thing you can really only see in retrospect.

The major USA parties do periodically go through realignments. The last one (arguably) happened between the late 1960's and early 1980's, when conservative white southerners switched to the Republicans, and the Liberal wing of the Republican party slowly migrated the other way.

(Note: One simplistic but useful way for people used to Parliamentary systems to look at the US system is that the major parties are like Parliamentary party coalitions, not parties. In typical Parliamentary systems, people vote for parties, and then the parties attempt to form a ruling government based on the amount of votes they got. In the US system what would be "parties" are unofficial, they form into 2 coalitions before the election, and then the voters decide which is the ruling coalition and which is the opposition. So this question devolves to "are the party coalitions changing"?)

The thing is, that last (sixth) realignment is still controversial, and it ended roughly 20 years ago. If people can't decide if that one happened, there's really no hope of a definitive answer for one speculatively going on right now.

I've seen a lot of talk the last few years about some new "Obama Coalition" existing, and alternatively talk this past cycle about blue-collar white voters becoming more Republican and white-collar whites becoming more Democratic.

The problem with the "Obama Coalition" theory is that the groups that comprise it seem to be the same alignment of voting blocks, just with a different emphasis. The racial makeup of the USA is changing, so it makes sense that the party coalition favored by the parts of it that are increasing would cater to those blocks' interests more. That's not a full-on realignment though.

The problem with the "Trump Realignment" theory is that when we look deeply at actual exit poll results for the 2016 election, not a lot of change was to be seen. Racial preferences have not changed a lot, and it appears that on election day the voters mostly voted like they did in 2012, with the exception that more Democrats simply stayed home in 2016.

  • I agree that Trump doesn't actually signal an ideological change in the Republican party. Instead, I would say that Trump is more a message from the voters to the party itself, which says "fall back in line". – holaymolay Jan 13 '17 at 16:55
  • @brianjason that's an actual old saw: Democrats fall in love with their politicians; Republicans fall in line. – user9790 Jan 13 '17 at 19:37
  • @KDog - Well, this past election certainly did little to debunk it. – T.E.D. Jan 13 '17 at 20:16
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    @T.E.D. I don't think so at all. Did you know that for the 2 years leading up to Trump declaring his candidacy, he paid someone on his staff to listen to conservative talk radio? He did this because he wanted to know what really is important to the conservative Right. Trump won because his message was perfectly on point with what Republican voters wanted to hear. – holaymolay Jan 14 '17 at 0:15

There is certainly a growth of nationalism taking place. A possible reason is that people have become disillusioned with liberalism, but more specifically they are disappointed in the application of liberalism in the field of international relations, as opposed to the ideology itself. Western democracies are currently shopping for a new ideology and nationalism seems to be in the lead when one considers issues such as the EU referendum, Trump's presidency and how well Marine Le Pen seems to be doing according to current polls.

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    I'm no expert on Europe, but from what I see, the Nationalism sweeping across Europe appears to be caused by a couple main factors. 1) EU governance to a lot of Europeans feels like taxation without representation. In other words, the EU requires a tribute from all member nations, but only some countries are truly enjoying the benefits. Hence the Brexit. 2) the Syrian migrant crisis and the explosion of crime in the wealthiest EU member nations. Internally, the EU is descending into chaos and the nationalist movements are an attempt by the populous to regain control. – holaymolay Jan 14 '17 at 0:44

While ideologies tend to change with each generation, it is my belief that the rate of technological advancements corresponds the shift in generational ideology. For example, many youth in the US find it absurd that Supreme Court justices use mail couriers rather than email yet interpret laws regarding cyberspace; like many other politicians, the same logic can be applied to many politicians since it is harder for older people to connect and understand the younger generation and their technology. This is visible in most, if not all, debates on net neutrality.

But more the point, these technological shifts change the way voters perceive issues and live their lives, and as a natural consequence, politicians must adapt. A good example of this was Hillary Clinton using old methods of propaganda (such as platitudes and failure to address controversy head-on) to win over voters; it backfired (along with many other reasons) whereas the outreach to voters from the Trump campaign can all fit on a bumper sticker. This appeals to a generation of people conditioned by technology (ex: phones, apps to skip ads, social media, etc) to have shorter attention span; coupled with lowered education standards (in regards to literacy and STEM), this enables a politician like Trump to exploit a vulnerability of a democratic system.

Perhaps the best example of this is the source of news for most people. Many work long hours and do not have time to keep up on current events. It seems today that news from one source contradicts news from another source. If two people google the same keywords, they will get different results based on their preferences. If team blue only gets blue news and team red gets red news, then both people are in a bubble accusing the other of being factually wrong. And given that TV media killed print media, it's harder to find universally accepted sources. The average age of a FOX viewer is 70 and the average age of an MSNBC viewer is 65. Most youth don't follow TV news; even Pewty Pie (unsure of spelling) gets comparable views on youtube playing video games than mainstream cable news! (For those that do not believe Russia hacked the DNC, this may partially explain why alternative media - such as Russia Today RT - is being labelled propaganda, as their viewership among youth has increased as cable news viewership is declining.) It seems relevant given that most youth get their information from youtube, online blogs, reddit, etc.

In places where the corporate media stranghold is not as powerful, changes unlike that in the US (and Britain with Brexit, France with the conservative winning over the relatively liberal incumbent, Germany with the rise in neo-nazi sentiment and immigration concerns, etc) are taking place. For example, the Pirate Party of Iceland, which was a third party not long ago, is now basically a major political party. Interestingly enough, a lot of Wikileaks work is done there, and their press freedoms and liberties have gone unexploited in a similar vein, causing the opposite shift in ideology.

This is my opinion based on facts, so I don't know how to prove this. Also, it is often hard to discern actual change from noisy data until enough time has passed. It is worth noting that "outsider" candidates have won past elections and although current news sourcing contributes to partisanship over ideology, both parties have been polarized in the past. Had the number of US voters increased rather than decreased from last election, I would be more confident about my answer. However, half the country does not vote, implying large error bars.

Question for Op: Had Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders won the electoral vote, would you still think an ideological shift is happening?

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    I'm not sure if "Question for Op" refers to me, but I think that Bernie Sanders, by virtue of running in the primaries, became the catalyst for an ideological shift among young voters, because he justified Marxist thought to the youth of America. While a lot of what Bernie says is factually inaccurate (e.g. Scandanavian model being "socialist", which it isn't) his influence cannot be understated. I believe his ideas will have a massive effect on the Democratic party in coming years. If Hilary won, she would have had a greater effect on the republican party, pushing them further to the right. – holaymolay Jan 13 '17 at 17:15
  • @brianjason Bernie has consistently said the Scandanavian model is Democratic Socialist, not Socialist. So I think his statements might be a lot more accurate than you think. – J Doe Jan 13 '17 at 22:30
  • @JDoe maybe so, but much of his proposed policies are flat out socialist. These "Scandinavian socialist" countries are more free-market than we are in the united states. For example, Norway has no minimum wage, yet workers at McDonald's make $16-24USD per hour, depending on age. And when someone wants to start a business there are fewer regulations, so government-imposed barriers to entry are less. In other words, they do a better job at encouraging free enterprise. Yet their tax rate is comparable to what you see in the U.S., which allows them to afford a large welfare state. – holaymolay Jan 14 '17 at 0:29

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