The re-election of Barack Obama in November 2012 meant that the Democratic candidate had won the popular vote in five of the past six national elections, spanning almost a quarter of a century. It raised the possibility that an erstwhile conservative realignment had been superseded by a new, more liberal era in American politics.

The re-election of Barack Obama in the November 2012 US presidential election meant that the Democratic candidate had won the popular vote in five of the past six national elections, spanning almost a quarter of a century. It raised the possibility that the conservative realignment that took hold from Richard Nixon's narrow victory in 1968, through the two terms of Ronald Reagan, and the single term of George H.W. Bush, had been superseded by a new, more liberal era in American politics.

Historic shifts
Political realignments, much hoped for by strategists and ideologues on both sides, are vague and often quasi-mystical occurrences. It was pretty clear that a centre-left consensus underpinned the Democratic ascendancy from Franklin D. Roosevelt's election in 1932 through the tumultuous end of Lyndon Johnson's presidency in 1968. That 36-year span saw the triumph of an American New Deal version of the communitarian creeds that emerged in Europe from the economic and political disasters of the first half of the century: Catholic Christian Democracy and secular Social Democracy on the continent; Labour Party socialism in Britain. In the American circumstance, where the disasters were not so complete, the New Deal welfare state was somewhat weaker, while strong conservative currents included very religious and messianic anti-communists as well as white supremacists (many of whom, however, were New Deal Democrats, a reflection of America's complex political landscape.)

There was, in this period, the two-term presidency of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower. There were also, in this period, occasional Republican majorities in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. However, Eisenhower, a comparatively non-ideological Second World War commander who had also been asked by some Democrats to run as their candidate, did not challenge the New Deal consensus as he presided over high marginal tax rates and a highly restrictive regulatory state, the powers of which derived in significant measure from war-time mobilisations. More than any particular ideology, in any event, Eisenhower embodied the small-'c' conservatisms that can be said to characterise a majority of most populations, in most countries, most of the time.

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