“Coattails” are tails on a coat; in political terms, someone who “rides on an elected official’s coattails” is someone who gains from another person’s gain. For example, if the top of the political ticket wins in a landslide, others lower down on the ticker might also win—riding or grabbing on the “coattails” to victory.
“Coat-tail” has been used in U.S. election language since at least 1848. “Presidential coat-tails” has been cited in print since at least 1872.
Wikipedia: Coattail effect
The coattail effect is the tendency for a popular political party leader to attract votes for other candidates of the same party in an election. For example, in the United States, the party of a victorious presidential candidate will often win many seats in Congress as well; these congressmen are voted into office “on the coattails” of the president.
This theory is prevalent at all levels of government. A popular statewide candidate for governor or senator can attract support for down ballot races of their party as well.
This is prevalent in the United Kingdom especially in a general election. People have a tendency to vote on the basis of a political party instead of the MP for their area.
This also refers to the phenomenon that members of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives are more likely to be voted for on a year of the presidential election than a midterm.
Presidential coattails is a term that refers to the ability of a Presidential candidate to bring out supporters who then vote for his party’s candidates for other offices. In effect, the other candidates are said to ride on his coattails. In the 19th century voters cast their ballots by taking a ticket provided by a party worker and putting it in the ballot box. The party-column ballot listed all candidates of the party in a single column and allowed the voter to mark off the party box at the top, which encouraged straight-party voting and the coattails effect. Straight-party voting was the norm, and winners in Presidential elections often had long coattails. They almost always began their term with majorities in the House and Senate.
The Free Dictionary
1. The loose back part of a coat that hangs below the waist.
2. coattails The skirts of a formal or dress coat.
on the coattails of
1. As a result of the success of another: elected to office on the coattails of a popular governor.
2. Immediately following or as a direct result of: resigned on the coattails of the scandal.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
The tail of a coat. to sit, etc., on one’s own coat-tail: ‘to live, or to do any thing, at one’s personal expense’ (Jamieson). Sc. to drag his coat-tails, so that some one may tread on them (attributed to Irishmen at Donnybrook Fair): to put himself purposely in a position in which some one may intentionally or unintentionally afford a pretext for a quarrel; to provoke attack so as to get up a row. to climb on, hang (on) to, ride (on), etc., (a person’s) coat-tails, to attach oneself to another, usually thereby gaining some undeserved benefit (orig. U.S.).
1848 Lincoln in Congr. Globe App. 1042 Has he no acquaintance with the ample military coat tail of General Jackson? Does he not know that his own party have run the last five Presidential races under that coat tail?
1949 Citizen-Jrnl. (Columbus, Ohio) 16 Dec., That straight-ticket voting has enabled many a mediocre candidate to ride into office on the coat-tails of an able, popular man at the top.
18 November 1848, Trenton (NJ) State Gazette, pg. 1:
Since the election, the following letter from General Taylor has seen the light for the first time. We honor him for the manly contempt with which he treats the Sken Smiths and Levins who sought shelter under his coat tail, in the hope of thus advancing their individual fortunes.
1 October 1852, Norfolk (MA) Democrat, pg. 2:
He cannot live without office, or the hope of office, and seeing all chance gone for any support from the Democrats he had only to turn Whig, or become a fierce “national” with the expectation of fastening on to Moses Norris’s coat tails when the elevation of Frank Pierce shall give an upward movement to the univerwsal Locofoco party of the Granite State.
25 November 1872, New Orleans (LA) Picayune, “The New Cabinet” (From the St. Louis Republican), pg. 2:
Let him dismiss to the enjoyment of private life the half dozen nobodies who have been lifted from obscurity by the presidential coat-tails, and fill their places with unimpeachable material.
Saifre’s Political Dictionary
By William Safire
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
coattails Political carrying power; the ability to attract and hold support, not only for oneself but for other members of a ticket; for a weak candidate on a ticket, somebody to grimly hang onto.
Congressman Abraham Lincoln popularized the phrase in a speeach in the House on July 27, 1848, after the metaphor had been introduced by Alfred Iverson of Georgia:
But the gentleman from Georgia further says, we have deserted all our principles, and taken shelter under Genera Taylor’s military coat tail. ... (Pg. 133—ed.) Has he no acquaintance with the ample military coat tail of General Jackson? Does he not know that his own party have run the last five Presidential races under that coat tail, and that they are now running the sixth, under the same cover? ... Mr. Speaker, old horses and military coat tails, or tails of any sort, are not figures of speech, such as I would be the first to introduce into discussions here, but…
The military connotation soon fell by the wayside and coattails came to mean an inducement to straight-ticket voting.
New York City • Government/Law/Military/Religion /Health • Friday, January 14, 2011 • Permalink