Davina Morgan-Witts, BookBrowse editor
By the time election day arrived, my election-habit had reach chronic proportions. In the normal course of events I'm happy to catch up on the news daily at most, and find that the world gets along perfectly well without me following its every movement, but by November 4th this year I was an addict. Not content with picking up the news every day or so, I'd moved to hourly, even minute by minute checks - keeping screens open to key sites and refreshing them feverishly every few minutes, just in case something, anything, had happened.
Coming down from election-fever was surprisingly easy - what helped me through
the detox was an hour or so at
270ToWin.com - the
website known to millions of fellow election-followers; but this time instead of
poring over the 2008 electoral college map, I took a trip down memory lane -
back through history and the USA's 50-something previous elections. As I
clicked through the drop down menu the states changed from red to blue and back
again countless times, before going all sorts of shade of purple and then
disappearing altogether. Political parties came and went, and what they
stood for radically shifted as the issues of the day bounced from historically
monumental to relatively trivial. As the years passed by in the click of a mouse
I was able to put this election cycle into perspective, to see that every time a
generation believes that the status quo is immovable, something comes along to
shift it - that events that seem seismic when living through them will,
eventually, become just another footnote in history for the next generation to
complain about having to study in school.
Join me, if you will, on a whistle-stop tour down memory lane ...
First stop 1980 (anything between now and then is too familiar to most of us to be of interest) and we find Ronald Reagan winning 90% of the electoral college. The Republican party's at the height of its game and almost the entire country has turned red. The key issue of the day is the Iran hostage crisis (poor old Jimmy Carter's Achilles heel), followed by inflation and the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan.
Speed back 12 years and the map takes on a vaguely festive appearance with the 1968 three-party race leading to a blue, red and yellow map. The key issues of the day are the Vietnam War and civil rights (Dr Martin Luther King having been assassinated a few months earlier).
Sixteen years earlier, we arrive in 1952. Eisenhower's convinced all but the Southern states to go red, and the states start to blink out - first to go (that is last to arrive) are Hawaii and Alaska. The issues of the day are the Korean War and reds under the beds.
Back we go another 16 years to 1936. Roosevelt wins by a landslide, turning the country even more blue than it had been four years earlier. The country continues to reel from the effects of the Great Depression, but at least it can once again drown its sorrows in legal alcohol.
The pace is too slow, let's turn up the clock and charge back 28 years to 1908. Arizona and New Mexico have disappeared and the rest of the country splits in half - south blue, north red, with Republican William Taft winning a narrow majority in the wake of the 1907 stock market crash.
Before rushing on back, let's stop for a moment and contemplate the popular vote a century ago: 14 million people voted out of a population of 89 million, versus about 125 million out of 300 million in 2008 - a far lower percentage than today. Why was that? Well, for a start, women didn't get the right to vote until 1920 (the USA was not the first country to accept women's suffrage but we certainly weren't the last - French women got the vote in 1945 and Swiss women didn't get to vote in federal elections until 1973. In Saudi Arabia they're still waiting).
But I digress - back in time we go another 20 years - zappity zap - to 1888. Huge chunks of the western states have disappeared and the country is still split firmly horizontal - blue in the south and red in the north. The key issue of the day is protectionism versus free trade. Protectionist Benjamin Harris (R) loses the popular vote but wins the election.
Four elections back in time and we land in 1864 during the middle of the American Civil War - the eleven southern states comprising the Confederacy are grayed out and all but three northern states, plus California, Nevada and Oregon, vote red to continue Abraham Lincoln's presidency.
The history of the USA is winding down to its opening, but we've still got a few years to go - back another 4 elections to 1848. The most westerly state is Texas and the eastern part of the country has gone a rather attractive combination of blue and purple. Slavery and the Mexican War are the key issues. Whig, Zachary Taylor wins the presidency with 1.4 million votes.
Back to 1824 and the electoral palate presents in mauves and purples as the map makers endeavor to illustrate an election with four candidates, all considered by historians to be Democratic-Republicans, who duke it out for the 350,000 votes cast.
Exhausted but enlightened, we arrive in 1804, a year after the USA signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty ("the letter that bought a continent"), paying $23 million dollars for 829,000 square miles of the USA (from present day Montana to Arkansas).
Just four quick clicks and fifteen years and we're back to 1789, with 11 colonies having ratified the Constitution and George Washington taking the stage as the first President of the United States of America.