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As the smart money in the blogosphere seems to coalesce around economic fatalism regarding the upcoming election, I would like to wave my contrarian flag and boldly declare: well, maybe.

Or at least, it seems to me like this explanation is missing something. For example, here is how black Americans have voted since my grandma was a young’un:

Whatever else you want to say it’s hard to argue that the median black American seems to struggle much with how they will cast their vote. Neither, it seems, does the median Jewish American:

Jewish Voting Patterns in Presidential Elections

So what, you might say? The median American voter overall is likely to vote on an economic basis, consciously or otherwise, so what does the coalition matter? But for me these two hypotheses conflict in a way that needs at least some explanation. If for whatever reason a big chunk of white evangelical America were to vanish overnight would the Republican Party suddenly adjust as median voter theory would suggest? I’m not entirely sure. Or maybe the theory is that economics drive turnout – for example, will fewer black people and more old white people show up in 2012 than in 2008?

I am more inclined to believe that this may just be a matter of coincidence and institutional design rather than an iron-clad law of politics. For example, the ANC has governed South Africa without interruption since 1994 even though they’ve presided over two recessions. Maybe that’s because the ANC is widely credited with leading the successful fight against apartheid in a country that is 80% black. Or to use an example closer to home, the Democratic Party controlled both houses of Congress with only the faintest blips of interruption from 1932 to 1994. Maybe that’s related to the fact that they ended the Great Depression and won World War II.

But these are legislative elections, not executive, so maybe the theory is that while a successful coalition can persistently hold Congress the Presidency hinges on economic outcomes, which is entirely possible. But that still requires a more refined theory than sheer economic determinism. I think over the next few decades the rapidly evolving demographics of the United States will put this theory to an interesting test, but more immediately it seems to me that who wins the 2012 election hinges less on the economy and more on turnout, which are certainly not unrelated but still very different equations.

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