Changes in the Presidential Game since 1844

The presidential game, 1844-1968 -- biggest changes

  • party system changes
    • Whig demise after 1852
    • immediate rise of Republican Party:
      • 114/296 electoral votes for Fremont, 1856
      • 90/237 seats in 35th Congress (elected 1856)
      • 116/238 seats in 36th (largest party)
    • Party realignments: 1896, 1932, but little change in overall organization
    • 1936 Dems eliminate 2/3 requirement for nomination

  • suffrage (including actual Article-V amendments!)

  • ballot reforms
    • official ballots; secret ballot (late 1800s)
    • Early voting and vote-by-mail (since around 2000)

  • presidential succession and inauguration (including actual Article-V amendments!)
    • two-term limit (22nd Amendment, 1951)
    • presidential disability; replacement of VP (25th Amendment, 1967)
    • inauguration date changed to Jan. 20.  Also changed date for new Congress to convene, so now the newly elected Congress would conduct any contingent election

  • increasing focus on candidates in campaigns
    • active campaigning by candidates throughout 20th century
    • television (first campaign commercial 1952)
    • 1960 Nixon-JFK debate; LBJ "Daisy" commercial

  • Nominating process
    • Convention Reforms
      • 1936 Dems dropped 2/3 rule for selecting nominee
    • Primary Elections—now the main mechanism for nomination
      • first used in 1912, by 12 states
      • by 1916 25 states either selected delegates via primary, expressed presidential preference in a beauty-contest primary, or combined the two to choose pledged delegates
      • fell out of favor, but began to regain it after WW2. Occasionally influential: 1952 (showed Ike popularity), 1960 (JFK electable), 1968 (LBJ vulnerability)

  • Electoral disputes:  The Electoral Count Act of 1887 now determines how disputed EVs are to be settled in the Tabulation Joint Session of Congress

 

Rapid change since 1968

Compared to 1844-1968, the recent period has been one of more rapid change:

  • nomination via primary elections
    • broader participation in conventions (Democrats' McGovern-Fraser reforms)
    • both parties now select over 80% of delegate via primaries; >3/4 of states
    • subsequent developments: regional primaries, earlier primary dates (earliest was NH on Jan. 8, 2008)

  • realignment of South from majority-Dem to majority-Repub: Presidency, 1964 (except Carter); Congress, early 1990s; state legislatures, early 2000s

  • 2000:  Electoral Count Act of 1887 short-circuited by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore
  • snowballing of candidate debates: general election since 1976 Ford-Carter debate; since 2000, nomination debates. See American Presidency Project, Presidential Debates

  • media
    • increased importance of television (from modest beginnings, 1956)
    • talk radio, 1980s
    • cable news, 1990s
    • social media organizing and fund-raising, from 2004
    • social media advertising and propaganda, from 2016

  • regulation and de-regulation of campaign finance
    • Federal Election Campaign Act (1971); public financing; PACs
    • Buckley v. Valeo (1976)
    • "soft money"; McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (2002)
    • the demise of public financing, Obama-McCain 2008
    • Citizens United v. FEC (2009): "social welfare organizations," "dark money"

  • voter ID laws, registration purges, and the elimination of Voting Rights Act pre-clearance (Shelby County v. Holder)