For Republicans through the late 19th century, for instance, that meant dominating the growing, largely mainline Protestant Northern states, first as the party of Union, and later as the champion of urbanization and industrialization against the Democrats’ agrarian populism.
During the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt famously fused growing Northern big-city ethnic populations, heavily evangelical white Southerners, and African Americans into his durable New Deal coalition. That lasted until Republicans, behind Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, sheared off many in the first two groups with cultural wedge issues like crime and abortion starting in the 1960s.
Those coalitions have produced several sustained periods of popular vote dominance—but none that would match the Democrats’ current run if Clinton wins in November.
Jackson and his Democratic successors mostly controlled American politics before the Civil War, but it took them eight elections, between 1828 and 1856, to win the presidential popular vote six times. It also took Democrats eight elections, from 1932 until 1960, to win the popular vote six times with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy.
With the leadership of candidates from William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt to Herbert Hoover, Republicans achieved similar successful runs from 1896 to 1924 and 1900 to 1928. And while the GOP won the Electoral College for seven of the eight elections from 1860 to 1888, they actually carried the popular vote only five times during that period. (In both 1876 and 1888, Republicans won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote.) Republicans also won the presidential popular vote five times in six elections from 1968 to 1988, but lost the campaigns immediately before and after that, leaving them with a five of seven record over that span.
In some ways today’s Democrats have fallen short of those precedents. In their five popular-vote victories since 1992, Democrats have captured an absolute vote majority only in President Obama’s two wins. With Libertarian and Green Party candidates showing appeal, even if Clinton prevails, she might not reach 50 percent of the popular vote either. In earlier dominant runs, the winning parties captured presidential majorities more often. And importantly, Democrats haven’t controlled Congress nearly as consistently as these other parties usually did during their White House streaks.
Despite those caveats, a Clinton popular-vote victory would still mark an unprecedented span of partisan advantage across seven presidential elections.
And like earlier dominant parties, Democrats have built their presidential edge since 1992 by consolidating support from growing groups in the electorate: in this case, minorities, Millennials, and whites who are college-educated, secular, or single (especially women). This “coalition of transformation” is knit together primarily by its social values—a shared embrace of the demographic and cultural changes reshaping America.