The 2020 Election: On the Possibility of Political Realignment

Aatif Rashid
5 min readJun 7, 2019

The term “political realignment” is perhaps thrown around too liberally (no pun intended) by commentators always looking to emphasize the historic nature of whatever election just happened. Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 was considered by many to be a realigning election, as he not only put together a new coalition of young people, African Americans, college educated liberals, etc. but also managed to win red states like Indiana, Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina. Of course, in retrospect, Obama’s victories don’t seem like a realignment at all but simply part of the standard post-Cold-War back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. It may have seemed significant that over the course of the Obama years, states like Colorado and Virginia, after voting for George W. Bush twice, became dependably blue (both voted for Obama twice and both voted for Hillary Clinton) — but as Donald Trump’s 2016 victory made clear, this change hardly mattered. If anything, the 2016 election demonstrated a different kind of possible realignment, as Midwestern states like Michigan and Wisconsin voted Republican for the first time since 1988 (1984 in Wisconsin’s case), suggesting that Trump’s appeal to the white working class, however disingenuous, may have shifted voters away from the Democratic party.

Of course, it’s possible (and based on head to head polls, very likely) that in 2020 some Democrat will become President and Trump winning Michigan and Wisconsin will feel less like a realignment and more like an anomaly, much like Obama winning Indiana or North Carolina. But how do we know? How can we differentiate genuine political realignment, a real shift of voters from one party to another, from people simply choosing the more charismatic politician for that particular election? (I know it’s weird to say that a racist and misogynistic reality T.V. star who could barely string together a complete sentence was charismatic, but to enough of America, he sadly was.) Well, as I’ve argued in my previous pieces, to do this we need to go back and look at the narratives and the history.

Political realignments can sometimes happen with a single election, often when there’s some major issue or event at stake — in 1860, rising tensions in the debate over slavey helped propel Lincoln and the relatively new anti-slavery…

Aatif Rashid

Debut novel PORTRAIT OF SEBASTIAN KHAN (2019, 7.13 Books). Writes about politics and literature.