Opinion | This Election Day, Keep Your Eyes on the Losing Candidates

The first two factors — homogeneity within parties and differences between them — are the result of decades of change. The passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the mid-1960s probably initiated a slow ideological shift in the parties of the electorate, resulting in fewer liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats today than in the 1950s. Also, over the decades, there has been Less common ground between the two partiesFueled in part by divergent positions on issues such as tax cuts, regulation and abortion. As these issues vexed politicians, voters followed suit.

Long-term trends are unclear. American National Election Studies began in the 1950s. Ask people: “Do you think there is a significant difference between the positions of Republicans and Democrats?” gave Concern at this time That parties were local institutions, lacking national identity, organization and discipline—and because of this, they were disappointing voters by not being able to address the national issues of the day. In 1952, 50 percent of Americans said they believed there were significant differences between the parties. In 1984, the share increased to 63 percent, and in 2004, three-quarters of the country saw significant differences. In 2020, the last year the study asked the question, nearly 90 percent of Americans saw a significant difference between the parties’ positions. People get it: there are two different versions of the world on offer.

These trends are important in their own right, but they take on added significance because they align with how people feel about Democrats and Republicans. Substantial segments of both parties say that members of the other party are more close-minded, unintelligent, immoral, or unpatriotic than other Americans, and the difference between people liking their own party and disliking the other is now widening. More than ever. . Add to that the salience of identity-based issues, and you have a deeply divisive politics. We are no longer fighting over tax cuts and deregulation. We are fighting over who gets to call themselves American.

Lurking in the background is the final component of calcification: partisan parity among voters. If the next election offers a real promise to control Congress or the White House without changing course, parties will have little incentive to do so. Worse, calcification creates an incentive to change the rules of elections to get those last few votes needed to get to the top.

But calcification alone does not undermine democratic outcomes. It takes people.

What distinguished the post-2020 results from previous elections was the interplay of calculus with the political process. In particular, Mr. Trump did the opposite of Nixon, Mr. Gore and Ms. Clinton: He insisted that He won. Other partisan leaders echoed his claims of a rigged election, and voters, appreciating the differences between the two parties and acknowledging the fact that the results were coming down to a narrow margin.

So yes, decades of drifting towards calcification made it possible, but politicians and their voters made it a reality. In other words, it is of great consequence who wins the election, but the candidates who lose are just as important to the future of free and fair elections in America.

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