"The most important election of our generation"

We’ve probably all heard people claim, “This presidential election is *the most important *election of our generation, America CANNOT afford for the wrong candidate to get elected!”…and then for people to repeat that statement breathlessly, again, 4 years later, almost as if they hadn’t said it 4 years earlier.
So, since this is the Straight Dope, we should see through the hyperbole and be objective. If you had to select one election, which of the previous U.S. presidential elections (let’s go back 10 elections) was THE most important one?

It’s a tough call among the past ones. The reason I’d put 2016 over all of them is that I think we really do have a Republican Party that’s gotten to the point where they’re ready to undo not just the ACA and everything else Obama has accomplished, but most of the Great Society and the New Deal too. To the extent that they care about the political repercussions at all, they’re more worried about how their base will react if they don’t tear it all down, than about the political price they might pay as a party if they do.

So every election until the Dems get a durable Congressional majority will be more crucial than any previous election in my lifetime. That’s just the way it is.

But among the previous elections:

2012 is an obvious contender because if Romney had won, that might’ve also tipped a few Senate races the GOP’s way, and the GOP Congress might’ve already started tearing it all down. Would Romney have signed the voucherization of Medicare? Probably. Would there have still been a filibuster for the Dems to use as a brake? Maybe, maybe not. So 2012 looks a lot like 2016, though not quite as strongly.

The other contender, IMHO, is 2000. Gore wouldn’t have lied us into Iraq; he would have tried to get us on track to respond to climate change much earlier. And once it became clear that the infamous August 6, 2001 PDB was the last in a long drumbeat of warnings about al-Qaeda getting ready to attempt a major attack on the U.S., it’s seemed clear to me that the Gore approach to the Millennium attacks would have resulted in knowledge percolating to the top of the FBI agents’ awareness of Middle Eastern flight school students who weren’t interested in learning to land, because the whole frickin’ FBI would have known that that was exactly the sort of info that might get you a promotion and a medal.

So we’d have been living in a very different world if the 2000 election had gone the other way.

I’m downweighting 1980 simply because that was gonna happen sooner or later. There was a rising conservative tide during those years, and eventually it was going to win the White House. I don’t think 1980 changed history itself; it was simply the point at which that trend became realized.

So as far as the poll’s concerned, I’m torn between 2000 and 2012.

2016’s shaping up to one of the most important since 1968 and certainly the most amusing.

Reagan vs Carter because of the general rightward shift since.

Of these, I’d go with Reagan v Carter. This was the beginning of the “there’s a free lunch and we’re going to eat it” mentality among the right wing. Tax cuts for everybody! Spend on the military like drunken sailors! Take that mistake away and the nation and the world are much better off today.

However, 2016 seems to be an order of magnitude greater. Freedom itself is on the line as Republicans set poised to undo the last 75 years of progress, set ready to stack the Supreme Court so that we will never be able to reverse income inequality. This is the big time and I personally hope I can tell my grandkids that we stopped the monster in its tracks.

Sort of interesting. I feel like people are always saying “this is one of the most important elections ever”. The only exception I can think of is 2000, where a lot of the commentary was on how unimportant the election felt (and voter turnout was the lowest of any Presidential election).

And yet, in retrospect, I agree with other Dopers voting for it as the most important in recent memory.

Out of curiosity, back in 2012, did you say much the same about the 2012 election? Not criticizing at all, just wondering. :wink:

Will Sanders or Clinton undo NAFTA and other free trade deals?

It was big, but the Republican Party has become substantially more radical in the past four years. Romney wasn’t a complete whack-a-doodle and perhaps would have been about as benign as George HW Bush. Of the final six standing this year in the GOP side, I don’t see one that wouldn’t be 10x worse than Romney.

I don’t think they would have the power to void such a thing, I’m sure Sanders would like to do so and Clinton would not. I put NAFTA on the third or fourth tier of things to worry about.

I would say 2016. If a Repub. gets elected they’re going to burn the Constitution by making Christianity the country religion and probably outlaw Islam. They’ll not only defund Planned Parenthood but make getting an abortion illegal. They’ll start the process of deporting all brown people. They’ll make being gay illegal again. If we don’t vote in a Democratic woman this country is going to hell.

My vote is for 2000. The reason being that in order to be the most important, I think it needs two factors. First, it needs to have historic significance in the sense that, for better or worse, things would have likely gone very differently had the other candidate been elected. Second, I think it needs to be contentious.

So, for example, Reagan v Carter would have bee historically significant. For better or worse, I think the country would have taken a very different direction had he gotten re-elected. But, frankly, I don’t think there was all that good of a chance that Carter could have won the election. There was a massive conservative movement, Reagan had all the charisma in the world, etc.

On the opposite hand, Bush Sr v Clinton was reasonably contentious, but I don’t think the next four years would have been all that much different. There could be arguments about the economy being a little better or worse, but there weren’t any major events that I think Bush would have handled all the different, etc.

That’s why I think 2000 is the obvious winner. First, from a historical perspective, 9-11 probably still would have happened, but his response would have been different and the consequences of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and fundamentally changed not our presence on the world stage, but it’s affected domestic policy and even our culture.

Similarly, that election is one of the most contentious in US history, much less the last couple of generations. We all know how complicated it was, so I don’t need to get into that. But combine that with the obvious impact of the office over the following four years, while politics was clearly getting more divisive before that, I really feel like it was THAT election that galvanized both sides and escalated it to the level we’re at today.

Hell, I’d be shocked if in 50 or 100 years from now they aren’t teaching that election in the same way that I remember learning about a few other highly contentious and important elections, like Adams vs Jackson, Lincoln vs Douglas, Wilson vs Taft vs Roosevelt, etc. and it could end up being even more interesting in a longer term historical context, but it’s already in the top 5 (by my estimate), maybe even as high as second behind Lincoln vs Douglas.

EBWOP: Since I’m going to miss the window, using those same two criteria, that’s why I eliminate 2008 and 2012. There was no way Obama (or pretty much any Democrat who might have been nominated) could have lost that election, and while Romney had a better shot than McCain, he still didn’t have all that much of a shot.

I think 2016 is shaping up to be more contentious than any election since 2000, but it’s just far too early in the process to make judgments about what’s going to happen. If it ends up being Trump vs Sanders and it’s a super tight race, and then there’s a few major world events, it could be fairly important. If Hillary gets the nod, trounces the Republican, and nothing particularly significant happens in the next four years, then it’s not all that important at all. I’m loathe to judge the importance of this election without historical context, much less not even knowing who the eventual candidates are.

I don’t know if it’s the teaching, or your memory, but the 1860 election was not just between Lincoln and Douglas.

Reagan vs. Carter because of what it meant at the time. It was an immediate attitude adjustment on the heels of Nixon, Ford and Carter.

Bush vs. Gore was obviously important, but it’s impossible to say what the difference would have been. If we accept that 9/11 would have happened either way, is it then fair to say Gore’s main focus would still have been climate change? Really?

Are we answering based on what was known at the time, or in retrospect? One might make the argument that a president’s biggest lasting legacy is in nominating Supreme Court justices, and so the most important election would be the one that elected the President who nominated the most. But that’s something that couldn’t be known at the time of the election (yeah, yeah, the justices are getting old… Supreme Court justices are always old).

Welll, let’s wait until Republicans (and Democrats for that matter) actually nominate someone before making those types of statements. If the election ends up being Clinton vs. Kasich then I’d say it is not going to be an incredibly important election in comparison to some of the previous. If it’s Sanders vs. Trump vs. Bloomberg then yes that election would be incredibly important.

I will grant you this, you never get tired of your schtick!

This. The 2000 election became supremely important later because of 9/11 and our nation’s reaction to it, but at the time it was more of a snoozer. Either way, it was expected things would continue along more or less as they had for the previous twenty years. And they might have, but fate intervened, sense and sensibility went out the window, and the country took a hard right for a while.

I put 2008 because turning around the Great Recession and arresting the Bush era slide into institutionalized incompetence were some of the biggest problems we’ve faced as a nation since the Second World War. If McCain had continued that trend? shudder

The 2008 election was hugely important. Getting Obama for 8 years was a blessing, and if either election had gone the other way, we’d be in a world of hurt.

2016, while important, (very important) doesn’t rise to that level. Unless Cruz wins, then we’re all fucked.

  1. Gore wouldn’t have felt the need to complete what his father started in Iraq. And the Great Recession may not have happened.

If ANY of them wins, we’re fucked.