The Lost Majority: Everything the Punditocracy Told You is a Lie
I just finished reading Sean Trende's The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government Is Up for Grabs - and Who Will Take It. And there's no hesitation on my part in saying this is the book you need to own to understand what brought us to the 2012 cycle, and where the country goes from here. It's a data driven analysis of the political movements of the past two centuries in America which highlights the gap between conventional wisdom and reality with the verve of a mythbusting sledgehammer.
Trende's analysis is marked by restraint and evenhandedness. But much of the book is a confrontation with the dominance of inaccurate or insufficient analyses from punditocracy, full of forceful assertions about the wrongness of 100,000 foot analysis from the TV knee jerk mafia. Each chapter begins with a definitive intonation from some respected source who pronounces the death of one party or the other for the foreseeable future. The post-election view always seems the same: the party that just lost is dead on the mat, and they aren't getting up. And yet a few years later, time and again, they do. Why does this happen? Well, Trende tells us why - with an argument founded in data, not ideology.
Trende's focus on the history of coalition building explains why Barack Obama's (for all appearances dominant) 2008 performance unraveled with surprising speed, why Reagan's coalition was built on Ike's, and why the history of the Southern strategy is completely divorced from the truth.
In the picture Trende paints, the overreach of coalitions in the aftermath of elections is a failing of both parties - but so is an underestimation of the power of personality and leadership to hold together the delicately balanced dysfunction of governing majorities. Bill Clinton's mastery of this approach is tabulated in striking fashion - it may be that no president since FDR was so talented at espousing the combination of high and low necessary to win the country over. But while we know how Clinton almost lost this coalition in his first two years, Trende highlights another failing of the conventional memory: the truth is that FDR almost bollixed his own coalition, too (and laid the foundations for the South's break with the Democrats a decade later).
Yet this is all history, and while it makes for interesting debate, what makes Trende's book essential that it doesn't just look backwards, but examines the forward-focused prospects for the next few years. He analyzes key projections of youth, Latino, and white working class voting patterns and interests - and here, again, Trende's data details the potential failings of conventional expectations.
Trende's taken a much-needed hard look at the things we think we know about how coalitions rise and fall, how majorities are built, and what it takes to take and keep political power. Those who absorb the lessons from his analysis will improve their odds of navigating the next few years of fractious political divides with a fuller understanding of the means to survive, and even win, in the political reality of the now.