Which is the bigger problem, lower Democratic turnout or voter shift toward Republicans?

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 13:54


The two major problems that Democrats face in the 2010 elections are:
  1. Voters who supported Democrats in 2008, but who are shifting toward Republicans (or other parties) in 2010;

  2. Voters who supported Democrats in 2008, but who will not vote in 2010.
Determining which of these problems is most severe will help determine Democratic strategy in not only the 2010 elections, but in the legislative season leading up to those elections.  Should Democrats appeal more to a progress-leaning base unimpressed by Democratic accomplishments so far, or should they turn toward a conservative-leaning swing vote that is slowly finding Republicans more appealing?

Over at Pollster.com, Charles Franklin looks at the data in New Jersey and Virginia.  He concludes that a shift of Democratic-voters toward Republicans was a bigger factor in the Democratic defeats in those states than was the lower turnout among (mostly young) Democrats.

Franklin's conclusions are not entirely convincing, because it is difficult to separate the two variables from each other.  For example, the large shift among Independents toward Republicans was partially caused by lower turnout among young, Democratic-leaning Independents.  The pro-Republican shift among Independents was not just caused by Independents switching their vote from Democrats to Republicans.

However, even if it is not possible to definitely prove whether lower Democratic turnout or voter shift to Republicans is the main problem facing Democrats, even attempting such a determination may present a false choice.  First, both of these problems exist, and so addressing only one is always only a partial strategy.  Second, there may well be ways to appeal to both disillusioned voters and to swing voters at the same time.

Too often political analysts look at the electorate in the same way that they look at winning a majority of votes for a piece of legislation in Congress.  There is an underlying belief that appealing to progressives will lose conservative voters, and vice versa.  However, that is not necessarily the case among voters, for whom delivering on promises, objective economic conditions, and the apparent cultural orientation of politicians are often just as important as abstract ideological considerations.

Obviously, improved economic conditions will be one way to simultaneously appeal to disillusioned voters and to swing voters.  There might be other ways as well, including an improved national image in the rest of the world, or even success in major 2010 international sporting events (Olympics and World Cup).  Clamping down hard on corruption within your own party couldn't hurt, either.  Whatever the best paths might turn out to be, the best strategies will reject an either / or of exciting the base and appealing to swing voters as an unnecessary false choice.

Chris Bowers :: Which is the bigger problem, lower Democratic turnout or voter shift toward Republicans?

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Lower turnout (4.00 / 1)
among young people and minorities is EASILY the bigger problem. The voter shift that happened is a concern because it does suggest that if unemployment is greater than 9% next fall,  and Obama and Co. aren't doing anything drastically different, then we may see similar results.

However, the reason why the low turnout is a bigger problem, imo, is because the voters who didn't show up are the voters who changed the electorate structurally, in 2008. That changed electorate is the ticket to, for lack of a better term, a "permanent democratic majority." If we get these voters to turnout next fall, then the mostly white electorate that showed up last Tuesday will simply be a snapshot electorate and thus inconsequential.  


It goes without saying (4.00 / 2)
that the low turnout, as opposed to the voter shift, has less to do with the economy and more to do with diminished enthusiasm. Obama told these voters in 2008 that they should stop feeling cynical about politics because he was different, and then he went on this year to make them as cynical as ever. He needs to show them last year mattered and was indeed different.  

[ Parent ]
Might the enthusiasm gap just be apathy? (4.00 / 1)
Obama told these voters in 2008 that they should stop feeling cynical about politics because he was different, and then he went on this year to make them as cynical as ever.

While that statement accurately describes us here on Open Left, I don't know if we can project that same conclusion on to your average, everyday I-only-bother-to-vote-in-presidential-races voter, of which many of last year's new "inspired" voters are.

Let's face it, voter participation goes down from presidential races to midterms, and an odd-year election is just the worst.

My speculation is that a lot of the new voters who actually got off their asses to vote in 2008 did so not (just) because they were previously "cynical"; it's because they normally don't care about politics.  But Obama wasn't your typical wrinkly old white man and he gave some cool speeches, plus all their bar buddies and crushes were going to vote for him, so they did too.

I doubt these kinds of voters failed to turn out this year because they obsessively follow politics like we do and were howling in outrage that the public option isn't going to use Medicare-based rates.  My guess is that a lot of these people didn't even know there was an election to begin with.  And those that did didn't care.  Others here have posted anecdotal evidence to the effect of people thinking that once they cast their ballot for Obama they had "done their part" and didn't need to ever bother going to a polling place again.


[ Parent ]
Froomkin's analysis completely contradicts... (4.00 / 1)
...what PPP found in their polling of the two states.  And PPP was spot on in those elections.

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!


Obama voters will not vote in 2010 (4.00 / 2)
I agree lower turnout is the pressing problem and that any structural change in voting patterns depend on youth and minorities showing up. However I doubt that the Obama voters will show up in 2010 and that the dems ought to prepare for that eventuality.

People voted for change and they voted for a candidate who looked and acted different. Deeds and Corzine are the same old same old, as are most of the members of the Senate and House who will be on the ballot in 2010.

Anybody who thinks that the young or people of color will show up in droves for old rich white men have another thing coming. And it won't have anything to do with healthcare or cap and trade or card check. The war(s) will either be a negative or a wash.

Simple prediction: minorities and youth will not turn out again in such large numbers until 2012.

 


Certainly not if progressives (0.00 / 0)
keep insisting that there's no difference between Obama and Republicans. Why would anyone go vote for someone who was being portrayed as a democratic failure?

Smart criticism will both highlight the flaws with the Obama administration, and at the same time put Obama into a larger context where the differences between the options are clear. I find a lot of Open Left criticism (especially on weekends) focuses strictly on the first of these issues. If this becomes a pattern among progressives, then well yeah, expect huge Republican gains in 2010, along with one or two new progressive reps. Oh joy.  


[ Parent ]
Yes: let's put that stuff on hiatus for 2010 (0.00 / 0)
we need a heroic GOTV effort for 2010.

We can go back to our usual foolishness in 2012.


[ Parent ]
effin right! (0.00 / 0)
Smart criticism will both highlight the flaws with the Obama administration, and at the same time put Obama into a larger context where the differences between the options are clear.

I totally agree.


[ Parent ]
Previous Presidential Vote (4.00 / 1)
On one of the talk shows over the weekend, someone said that people who voted in the Virginia election preferred McCain by (if I remember correctly) 6%.  Given Obama actually won that state, it is clear that turnout was the problem.  However, I can't find a link for this.  Does anyone have a link to an exit poll that includes who they voted for president the year before?  That alone will answer the question.

Check PPP's site for their VA polls... (4.00 / 1)
...they are the ones who asked that question.

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!


[ Parent ]
It Doesn't Matter Which Is the "Bigger Problem!" (4.00 / 3)
Democrats are NOT going to attract conservative leaning Independents or Independents who voted against Republicans in 2008 because of Bush fatigue, but who now are "worried about the deficit." To get America turned around we need deficit spending. Period.

If Independents are listening to right-wing propaganda they are UNWINNABLE by any means!

Democrats have to focus on ACCOMPLISHING SOMETHING TANGIBLE to help the average people. If they don't then nothing will matter. They'll be crushed. If they do, they have something to run on -- whether fiscal conservatives throw a hissy-fit or not.

Congressional Democrats seem utterly unable to grasp this simple reality. They have to do what they CAN do and not bloviate helplessly about people who don't like them and won't vote for them because they don't like "big government."

Compromising with Conservatives and Republicans and appealing to "moderates" won't help them at all because Republicans will never be satisfied. It's like trying to compromise with Hitler. He wants to rule the world. What's to talk about? How quickly you intend to surrender?

They want to return to total power and go back to tax cuts for the top 1% combined with endless war contracts for their cronies like Haliburton and "de-regulation" so their campaign contributors among the Fortune 500 will be happy.

That's it. There's no "wiggle-room" there.

Republicans are going to paint Democrats as "tax and spender big-government socialists" no matter WHAT they do. So, they might as well do the MAXIMUM they can and to hell with the critics. They bought the ride when they assumed the majority. And running away from their responsibility to make government work will not get them re-elected.


Do-Nothings Lose (4.00 / 2)
Agree, Dems will lose by maintaining current status quo.  Their only move going forward will be change to help the average voter.  And the voters are paying much more attention than normal.  HCR which forces voters to buy increasing expense health care is a loser.  Economic bail outs of TBTF companies which immediately make record profits and hand out record bonuses while more voters lose jobs, homes, 401Ks, and pensions, is a loser.


[ Parent ]
We can walk and chew gum at the same time (0.00 / 0)
We can advocate for a safety net while working with libertarians on issues we agree

1. Empire

2. Civil liberties

3. Ending banker rule

4. Ending the war on drugs.

Obama isn't even trying to reach out to them:

with the dollar collapsing, the economy will not turn around.

All Bernanke did was press rewind;

that should SCARE you!


[ Parent ]
Can't we have some left-wing "propaganda"? (4.00 / 2)
Democrats are NOT going to attract conservative leaning Independents or Independents who voted against Republicans in 2008 because of Bush fatigue, but who now are "worried about the deficit." To get America turned around we need deficit spending. Period.

If Independents are listening to right-wing propaganda they are UNWINNABLE by any means!

It drives me nuts how liberals never seem to be able to fight back in the debate of ideas.  Conservatives are bombarding the very idea of active government and liberals can't even be bothered to put in a single good word for it.

We tend to be so busy bogged down in the details of legislation that we neglect to explain why, and what for.


[ Parent ]
It's not either/or. It is both/and. (4.00 / 1)


D's vs. R's (4.00 / 1)
It does seem like Republicans and the right in general usually emphasizes base mobilization (such as in the 2004 election) and Democrats emphasize appealing to swing voters.  Karl Rove has pften spoken to this strategic emphasis.  I think its been a striking strategic difference that goes all the way back to Goldwater in 1964.  Does anyone disagree?  If so, why?

Didn't Reagan pick off a lot of Democratic voters in 1980 and 1984? (4.00 / 1)
Then again, those races were not close by any means.

My guess is that, if you're right, the difference is because Democrats are still paralyzed by that oft-cited and even more oft-misunderstood poll saying that 40% of the country are conservatives but only 20% are "liberals".  They think the whole damn country is against them so the only way they can have a shot at winning is by moving to the center, which of course is controlled and defined by the Right.


[ Parent ]
There are any number of issues (4.00 / 1)
where independents are more like Democrats than Republicans, which could reach out to non-Democrats and energize Democrats. Few of them involve moving the middle.  Efforts to ensure broad economic security and opportunity are the best example.  (This also has the potential to act as a wedge for Republicans.  DADT repeal would also be a great wedge issue against Republicans.)

What this would mean, however, is jettisoning neoliberalism, and ending efforts to put finding middle ground with Republicans in Congress.  

However, that is not necessarily the case among voters, for whom delivering on promises, objective economic conditions, and the apparent cultural orientation of politicians are often just as important as abstract ideological considerations.

It's not just that regular voters don't have "abstract ideological considerations," as it is that they don't fit on a single, elite ideological dimension.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


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