On Demographic Change and Competitive Equilibrium in American Politics

Joshua N. Zingher


In their seminal analysis of American elections, Stokes and Iversen (1962) demonstrated that each party’s share of the vote never strays very far from a competitive equilibrium.  However, it is difficult to envision how this equilibrium will maintain amid changing demographics.  The Republican leaning white proportion of the electorate is shrinking while the Democratic leaning Latino and Asian proportion is rapidly growing.  These demographic changes threaten to tip the partisan balance in favor of the Democrats.  Can the competitive equilibrium hold amid changing demographics?  I answer this question in three steps.  First, I analyze presidential election returns since the end of the Civil War.  I confirm the presence of a competitive equilibrium.  I then use a set of simulations to establish that demographic changes will tip the partisan balance in favor of the Democrats.  I then assess how much the Republican Party will have to increase its level of support among whites and/or other groups to remain competitive.  I find that relatively modest changes in white and/or Latino and Asian voting behavior will be sufficient to give the Republican Party an even chance of winning well into the future.

Full Text:



Axelrod, R. 1972. Where the Votes Come From: An Analysis of Electoral Coalitions, American Political Science Review, 66(1): 11-20 https://doi.org/10.2307/1959275

Bartels, L. 1998. Electoral Continuity and Change, 1868-1996. Electoral Studies, 17(3): 301-326. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0261-3794(98)00035-3

Bartels, L. 2006. What's the Matter with 'What's the Matter with Kansas,' Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 1: 210-226. https://doi.org/10.1561/100.00000010

Black, D. 1958. The Theory of Committees and Elections. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bowler, S. & Segura, G.M. 2012. The Future is Ours: Minority Politics, Political Behavior, and the Multiracial Era of American Politics. Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly Press.

Budge, I., Keman, H., McDonald, M.D. & Pennings P. 2012. Organizing Democratic Choice, Party Representation Over Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199654932.001.0001

Carsey, T. & Harden, J. 2014. Monte Carol Simulation and Resampling Methods for the Social Sciences. SAGE.

Craig, M. & Richeson, J. 2014. More Diverse Yet Less Tolerant, How the Increasingly Diverse Racial Landscape Affects White Americans' Racial Attitudes, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, doi:10.1177/0146167214524993 https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167214524993

Downs, A. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Duncan, B. & Trejo, S.J. 2011. Tracking Intergenerational Progress for Immigrant Groups: The Problem of Ethnic Attrition, American Economic Review, 101(3): 603-608. https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.101.3.603

Erikson, R.S. & Wlezien, C. 2012. The Timeline of Presidential Elections: How Campaigns Do (and do not) Matter. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226922164.001.0001

Erikson, R.S., Stimson, J. & MacKuen, M. 2002. The Macro Polity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Frymer, P. 2010. Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hanjal, Z. & Lee, T. 2011. Why Americans Don't Join the Party: Race, Immigration and the Failure (of Political Parties) to Engage the Electorate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hajnal, Z & Rivera, M 2014. Immigration, Latinos, and White Partisan Politics: The New Democratic Defection, American Journal of Political Science, 58(4): 773-789. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12101

Hotelling, H. 1929. Stability in Competition. The Economic Journal, 39: 41-57. https://doi.org/10.2307/2224214

Kaufmann, K. & Petrocik, J. 1999. The Changing Politics of American Men: Understanding the Sources of the Gender Gap, American Journal of Political Science, 43(3): 864-887. https://doi.org/10.2307/2991838

Lewis-Beck, M. 1990. Economics and Elections: The Major Western Democracies. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.8153

Lewis-Beck, M. & Nadeau, R. 2001. Economic Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections, Journal of Politics, 63(1): 159-181. https://doi.org/10.1111/0022-3816.00063

Mayhew, D.R. 2011. Partisan Balance: Why Political Parties Don't Kill the U.S. Constitutional System. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

McDonald, M.D. & Best, R. 2006. Equilibria and Restoring Forces in Models of Vote Dynamics, Political Analysis, 14: 369-392. https://doi.org/10.1093/pan/mpj008

Meffert, M.F., Norpoth, H. & Ruhil, A. 2001. Realignment and Macropartisanship, American Political Science Review, 95(4): 953-962.

Merrill, S., Groffman, B. & Brunell, T. 2008. Cycles in American National Electoral Politics, 1854-2006: Statistical Evidence and an Explanatory Model, American Political Science Review, 102(1): 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055408080064

Miller, G & Schofield, N. 2008. The Transformation of the Republican and Democratic Party Coalitions in the U.S. Perspectives on Politics, 6(3): 433-450. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537592708081218

Norpoth, H. & Rusk, J.G. 2007. Electoral Myth and Reality: Realignments in American Politics, Electoral Studies, 26(2): 392-403. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2006.10.017

Petrocik, J. 1981. Party Coalitions: Realignments and the Decline of the New Deal Party System. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Pew Hispanic Center, 2011. 2011 National Survey of Latinos. http://www.pewhispanic.org/category/datasets/?download=19140

Robbins, S.M. & Norpoth, H. 2010. Balance or Dominance? Party Competition in Congressional Politics, Political Research Quarterly, 63(2); 316-327. https://doi.org/10.1177/1065912908328859

Robinson, G., Krasno, J., Zingher, J. and Allen, M. 2015. Creating a Racially Polarized Electorate: the Partisan Fallout of Immigration Politics in Arizona and California, Politics, Groups, and Identities, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21565503.2015.1050417

Schattschneider, E.E. 1960. The Semisoverign People: A Realist's View of Democracy in America. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

Schlesinger, A.M. Jr. 1999. The Cycles of American History. New York, NY: Mariner Books

Schofield, N. & Miller, G. 2007. Elections and Activist Coalitions in the United States. American Journal of Political Science, 51(3): 518-531. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5907.2007.00265.x

Schofield, N., Miller, G. & Martin, A. 2003. Critical Elections and Political Realignments in the USA: 1860-2000. Political Studies, 51: 217-240. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-923X.00181-i1

Stokes, D. 1962. Party Loyalty and the Likelihood of Deviating Elections. Journal of Politics, 24(4): 689-702. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022381600016182

Stokes, D. & Iversen, G. 1962. On the Existence of Forces Restoring Party Competition, Public Opinion Quarterly, 26(2): 159-171. https://doi.org/10.1086/267086

Teixeira, R. & Judis, J. 2004. The Emerging Democratic Majority. New York, NY: A Lisa Drew Book/Scribner.

Tichenor, D. 2009. Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Trende, S. 2012. The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government is Up for Grabs—and Who Will Take It. New York, NY: Palgrave-MacMillan.

Trende, S. 2013. Are we in Electoral Realignment? In Barack Obama and the New America: The 2012 Election and the Changing Face of Politics, Ed. Larry J. Sabato. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Press.

Wlezien, C. 2000. An Essay on 'Combined' Time Series Processes, Electoral Studies, 19(1): 77-93. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0261-3794(99)00037-2

Wlezien, C. & Erikson, R.S. 2002. The Timeline of Presidential Election Campaigns, Journal of Politics, 64(4): 969-993. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2508.00159

Zingher, J.N. 2014. An Analysis of the Changing Social Bases of America's Political Parties: 1952-2008, Electoral Studies, 35: 272-282. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2014.02.003

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15763/issn.2374-779X.2016.35.2.27-47


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2016 Joshua N Zingher

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.