Will 2020 Be a Realignment Election?

“Twenty weeks is an eternity in politics; a lot can change if we demand more now” is what I have been telling my students as we talk online about the seemingly endless problems that are hitting the nation: Our ongoing pandemic and economic recession have been eclipsed, at least momentarily, by social unrest that the nation has not seen in generations. And it’s taking place in an environment of uncompromising political extremes.

The question, then, is whether or not the alarming polarization that we are currently living through can be repaired if one party or leader is able to take advantage of this moment and actually builds a meaningful new coalition that breaks with the status quo position of cancelling and demonizing the opposition.

The stage is set for a fall electoral realignment because the United States is already in the midst of numerous significant, path-changing events that are facilitating a real transformation of extant party ideologies and leaders. We are seeing a shift in which issues matter, an alteration of the structure or rules of the political system, and a non-trivial swing in the demographic bases of power that typically support political parties. 

From racial equity and community safety protests on the left and extreme, tone-deaf executive orders on the right—including orders that hurt families and orders in the name of border safety or withdrawing from certain treaties and alliances—values are being contested and are changing and numerous political institutions are being reformed. Moreover, just 20 percent of Americans are satisfied with the direction of the country, government dysfunction and a lack of leadership is considered the greatest problem facing the country sans COVID-19, and Americans have been moving away from both the Democratic and Republican parties for decades.

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