The myth of Republican disunity
Explaining America’s politics requires reversing conventional wisdom
Democrats lean left even more than Republicans lean right, but they get less for it. While America’s two parties are equally committed to their respective ends of the political spectrum, there is a significant difference in the size of those ideological constituencies. This difference helps explain why the Democratic Party, the larger in registration, is often the minority party today. Conventional wisdom is that the Republicans Party is fractured and dominated by conservatives. Two implications — often explicit — follow from this: Republicans’ domination by the right is costing them politically and the reason for their disunity, while Democrats are less controlled by the left and comparatively more unified.
There are two problems with this “conventional wisdom.” First, Republicans are currently Washington’s majority — controlling the White House and Congress — and an even greater one across the nation’s state governments. So, claimed domination by the right has hardly hurt Republicans here.
Second, this century’s presidential elections — five from 2000 through 2016 — also contradict conventional wisdom. In these five elections, Democrats averaged 37.8 percent of the electorate, and Republicans 33.8 percent. While seemingly small, 4 percent is electorally significant.
Four of the last five elections have had smaller popular vote margins. Further, self-identification overwhelmingly predicts voting: Democrats voted Democratic on average 89 percent and Republicans voted Republican 91 percent.