“The Most Consequential Election in U.S. History” . . . Or Maybe Not

Presidential nominees always like to say that the upcoming election is the most consequential election in U.S. history. And it’s true that every Presidential election is very important, especially in the modern era of a very powerful federal government. At the same time, my guess is that this election was actually one of the less consequential Presidential elections of the modern era. I think that for three reasons. First, Congress is so divided that neither Presidential candidate has much chance of enacting his agenda if elected. Second, the two major party candidates expressed a relatively significant amount of agreement on foreign policy, which tends to be the subject on which the President has the most ability to act. And third, the election involved an incumbent President. Incumbent Presidents usually have a pretty good chance of being reelected, and when reelected they usually stay the course (more or less). Given that, the elections involving second terms will tend to be less consequential then elections with no incumbent. Of course, the stakes of the Presidential election were high. They always are. But for these three reasons, my guess is that the 2012 Presidential election will end up as one of the less significant ones.