Now is the time for folks who follow Colorado politics to start working on their political wave-watching.
According to state and national news media, a big red wave is rising far out in the political ocean that will hit the electoral beach in Colorado, and the entire United States, this November.
Red wave? That is “red” as in Republican, and “wave” as in a torrent of votes. Giant waves come along periodically in American elections and therefore are the subject of careful study by political scientists.
One thing about political waves is that the trained eye can see them coming, prepare for them, and make predictions based on them. The problem with wave-watching is that sometimes waves that look big in the spring can lose their force, diminish over the summer, and turn out not to be very much at all in the fall voting.
Thereby, the need for trained political observers to work on their wave-watching ability.
In the 1950s a political scientist, Eugene Burdick, wrote a political novel entitled “The Ninth Wave.” The book compared political wave-watching to the way surfers will float on their surfboards and study the incoming waves in the ocean. The goal is to pick a big wave that will provide a nice ride and carry the surfer all the way up the beach.
It was Burdick’s contention that skilled politicians should study political waves the way surfers study real waves. Politicians should learn how to pick big waves that will carry one political party or the other into winning many political offices in a particular election.
The “ninth wave” in the book title was based on the surfing legend that every ninth wave should be a good one and provide a happy ride.
Let’s start to work on our wave-watching by looking at some of the great political waves that have washed across the United States in previous elections.
A great wave happened in 1936, when incumbent Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for a second term in the White House. The New Deal reforms that FDR had developed to try to mitigate the economic effects of the Great Depression of 1929 had made him extremely popular.
The resulting tsunami of Democratic votes was so large that Roosevelt carried 46 of the 48 states at that time. Roosevelt won every state except for Maine and Vermont, and he carried large numbers of Democrats into office with him.
His fellow Democrats ended up with large majorities in both houses of Congress.
A lesser wave swept across the United States in 1952. The Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, ran for president and proved an extremely effective vote-getter. The resulting Republican wave carried GOP majorities into both houses of Congress for the first time since the late 1920s.
But one needs to remember this about political waves. Exactly like real waves from the ocean, they spend their energy roaring up the beach, then lose their power and quickly recede back into the ocean.
It was the same with the Eisenhower wave of 1952. Just two years later, in the congressional elections of 1954, the Democratic Party regained control of both the. Senate and the House. The big lesson was that political waves can be a temporary phenomenon followed by a quick correction in subsequent elections.
Another major political wave, this one a negative wave, occurred in 1964. Barry Goldwater, a US senator from Arizona, won the Republican nomination for president but proved to be an unusually inept and unpopular candidate. He had opposed the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 just when the civil rights movement in the United States was at its peak.
Incumbent Democratic President Lyndon Johnson was reelected on the biggest Democratic wave since the Roosevelt wave of ’36. Goldwater carried only five Southern states and his home state of Arizona.
The Democrats gained large majorities in both houses of Congress thanks to the Goldwater debacle, and the result was such progressive legislation as Medicare (medical care for the elderly) and US government aid to public education.
Republican President Richard Nixon unleashed a cascade of votes when he ran for reelection in 1972. He easily bested his Democratic opponent, South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, who had strongly opposed the United States fighting in the Vietnam War.
But that Republican surge of 1972 was quickly reversed in 1974. Nixon had to resign the presidency because of the Watergate scandal. Voters expressed their disapproval of Nixon by voting heavily Democratic for Congress.
For a good example of an electoral wave that never made it to the beach, there was the congressional election of 1998. Democratic President Bill Clinton was said to be in trouble on character issues, but the big wave of Republican votes for Congress that was expected never materialized.
The most recent wave election was in 2018, when dissatisfaction with Republican President Donald Trump after two years in the White House created a “blue wave” of Democratic electoral victories throughout the nation.
In Colorado, that big blue wave elected a Democratic governor, state treasurer, state attorney general, state secretary of state, and Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
The big red wave of 2022, predicted to come rolling in this fall, is said to be driven by Democratic President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and a host of unpleasant national problems, such as high inflation, rising urban crime rates and complications resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our advice? Get the political equivalents of a folding chair, a beach umbrella and suntan lotion. Sit out on the electoral beach. See that big red wave rising far out there on the electoral ocean?
Be a political wave-watcher. Keep an eye on it. It could be a “ninth wave.” Or maybe not.