Monday, September 27, 2004

Shakeup: For an election that pundits have said will depend on rallying the political base, each party's base is beginning to muddle.

We appear to be seeing a higher than usual number of partisans switching allegiances this election. Many traditional Democrats are backing Bush. And many conservatives and Republicans, fed up with Bush, are supporting Kerry.

Granted, it's hard to quantify the extent of party switching and compare it to previous elections. But already we've seen high-profile switches, like Zell Miller and Pete McCloskey. Newspapers have been interviewing scores of disenfranchised voters who cast their ballots for Bush in 2000 but who now support Kerry. But a slew of voters who pulled the lever for Gore in 2000 but now back Bush have countered that conventional wisdom. Plus, tons of blogs have been started by folks who say they used to vote one way, but now are switching sides this election.

Is this a sign of a political shakeup? Historic events often have a great impact on party identity. And the political reverberations of 9/11 are still being sorted out.

Many traditional liberals have become hawks because of 9/11 and align themselves with conservatives because the war is their number-one issue. At the same time, many conservatives are disenchanted with Bush's war in Iraq and the president's and Republican Congress's run up of the federal deficit. Now that Republicans rule the world, they aren't preaching fiscal conservatism like they used to, possibly leaving that issue open for the Democrats to grab (fat chance, but one can hope).

Historically, major party identities have also changed by absorbing the platforms of less-popular third parties. With liberals still fuming at Nader, there are no viable third parties to influence the election this time around.

But that may change. Already, we've seen a number of socially liberal foreign policy hawks gain prominence -- such as Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger. If the Republicans continue to dominate, the party may become bloated and produce factions that split over lesser issues. If Democrats get a leg up, they may see infighting between hawks and doves, creating irreconcilable differences between the two. While the Democratic and Republican labels will remain, both parties may go through some substantial changes, complete with members switching allegiances over the years as priorities adjust.

We're still in the middle of the political vortex, so all ideas now are just complete conjecture. But the outcome of this presidential election could go a long way in shaping what each political party represents for many years to come.


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