In a video message to Organizing for America's 13 million members today, President Obama announced that targeting people who voted for the first time in 2008 would be the top tactical priority for OFA 2010. This makes perfect sense. Compared to Gore and Kerry, young voters and first-time voters where President Obama's top demographic groups. Obama's margin among those two groups surpassed Gore's by over 30%:
Young voters and first-time voters are absolutely Obama's base. McCain actually won voters age 40 and over, and Obama only won non-first-time voters by 2%. Compared to other recent Democratic coalitions, Obama relied far more heavily upon young voters and first-time voters.
Long-term data from the census bureau indicates that the turnout gap between Americans above and below the age of 45 widens significantly in mid-term elections. For example, over the last nine Presidential elections, Americans aged 45-64 turned out, on average, at a rate 12.7% higher than Americans aged 25-44. However, in mid-term elections, the average gap over the last nine cycles has been 17.1%.
In 2008, Democrats did better among young voters than in any other election in since 1964. President Obama won voters under 45 by a 57%-41% margin. This means that the "natural" lower turnout among young voters in midterm elections will hurt Democrats more than in any midterm since 1964.
Any coalition based so heavily on younger voters, as is Barack Obama's, will almost inevitably suffer a major setback in midterm elections. Shifting 10% of the electorate (which happened from 2004 to 2006) from the under-45 age group (which Obama won by 16%) to the over-45 age group (which Obama lost by 2%), results in a national popular vote shift of 2% of the popular vote to Republicans.
When young voters and unlikely voters form such a central pillar of a presidential electoral coalition, then that coalition is going to face huge problems in midterm elections. While it is absolutely the correct move for Organizing for America to try and get those voters back to the polls in 2010, they are unfortunately faced with an almost impossible task. Overall turnout drops by more than 33% from presidential elections to midterm elections, and by much more than that among young voters. No GOTV operation, however strong, can reverse trends on that massive scale. Whatever efforts OFA ends up making will only limit the amount of damage Democrats will suffer by basing their coalition on younger voters and irregular voters.