The Magazine

Symbolitics As Usual

A guide to non-instant election analysis.

Jan 21, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 18 • By JOHN J. DILULIO JR.
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Finally, the ostensibly pivotal moments in recent electoral history weren't actually the product of huge electoral swings. For example, the Republicans' victory in the 1994 House elections--the Gingrich revolution--wouldn't have happened but for narrow victories in 13 House districts, while nationally GOP House candidates took just 52.4 percent of the votes cast. Similarly, the Democrats' 2006 victory in the House occurred even though most voters liked or trusted Democrats only slightly more than they liked or trusted Republicans. Each and every electoral-analysis bromide since 1980--the "new conservative bloc," the "angry white males," the "soccer moms," the "security moms," the "NASCAR dads," to name a few--has proven to be bogus as an explanation of election outcomes.

In sum, symbolitics is a clarifying concept, not a predictive explanation or theory. Political science tells us that polls are imperfect. There is, alas, no substitute for state-by-state, election-by-election analysis, undertaken with well-informed circumspection. The prerequisite is patience.

John J. DiIulio Jr. is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America's Faith-Based Future (2007).