Jim Manzi at National Review Online’s blog has a thoughtful piece on the ideological inclinations of the American people:
Every U.S. presidential election matters a lot in absolute terms, because the power of the office is so enormous, but some elections are a lot more important than others because they signal the start of a multi-decade period of dominance for one party or the other. This might very well be one of them.
It seems to me that conditions are set up for major change this year. Here’s why:
1. We’re due. If you start the clock at 1968, we’ve had Republican dominance at the presidential level for about 40 years. The prior period of Democratic dominance lasted from 1932 to 1968, or 36 years. The period of Republican dominance that preceded this lasted from 1896 to 1932, or 36 years. In the modern American context, the typical duration of these shifts is, maybe not coincidentally, about equal to the working lifetime of an adult.
There’s nothing magical about this duration, and two data points don’t prove anything. But there is something to the folk wisdom of a pendulum that swings back and forth between left and right. There have been groups, tendencies or interests that crudely correspond to what we mean today by left vs. right, conservative vs. progressive or whatever you want to call them in every reasonably representative government that I can think of all the way back to the democracy in Athens. This ought to be a clue that there will never be some ideological battle of Armageddon in which one side or the other achieves final and complete victory (and that we probably wouldn’t want such an outcome anyway).
In extremely rough terms, this dynamic appears to function pretty reliably.
“Extremely rough terms” is an understatment. I don’t think there is a great deal of evidence that Americans have become more liberal, but time will tell.