Friday, November 07, 2014

Why Dems Lose Midterms

The preliminary numbers are in, and voter turnout was at a record low nationwide.

Conventional wisdom says that each party, Republican and Democrat, can count on roughly 45% of the vote, no matter what. The last ten percent is what you need to win an election.

First, I think the percentages have expanded a bit. I think Dems and Republicans can regularly count, other things being equal, on about 47, maybe 48% in every election.

So if 100% of the voting population (let's call it 200,000,000 just to make this easy) shows up, Republicans and Democrats can count on....carry the one...94,000,000 votes each. The battle for power then takes place over 12,000,000 votes.

If 50% of the population votes, the battle is over 6 million. If 40%, then 5 million, and so on.

As I said, that's conventional wisdom and with other things being equal. And those may hold true, given recent evidence, in Presidential elections.

After all, Democrats have won the past three Presidential vacancies on popular vote, with Al Gore capturing more votes than President Bush in 2000. Mind you, only 50-60% of the eligible population has bothered voting in those elections, as well as 1996, 2004, and 2012.

So you'd think midterms would just be Presidential elections writ small: in a 40% population, the battle should be over 5 million votes and races should be pretty close. But it's not.

You see, the drop off in population is assumed to be equal for both sides: the excuses transcend party affiliation -- too busy, family commitments, it's just the "local races".

That's pretty simplistic thinking, however. For one thing, Republicans tends to skew older, which means more are retired and living off Social Security with plenty of time on their hands. They aren't struggling to make a mortgage payment or to get the kids to and from school on time. Voting is, in fact, a small vacation from the day-to-day drudgery of listening to right wing talk radio all day.

In 2010, the voting demographics were such that roughly 65% of the voters were over 45. In 2014, that rate was also 65%. But in 2012, the rate was down to 54%, with young adult voters, between 29 and 45, grasping a 3-5% larger share of the vote. Young voters, 18-29, saw a spike in 2012 to almost 20%, up from the low teens in off-years.

Let's crunch numbers just a bit more: the percentage of older voters who voted Democratic versus Republican was essentially unchanged from 2010 to 2014. Republicans actually lost voters below 45 (about a percent net drop), particularly voters with families and children who may be supporting elderly know, the ones voting Republican?

What does all this mean? Simply put, it means that despite the Democrats excellent GOTV messaging and efforts, despite the social media presence that Democrats have, Republicans were simply able to move more voters to the polls from their base than Democrats were.

This suggests to me that conventional wisdom falls apart in midterm elections, that it's not about persuading uncommitted voters but in persuading your base to get riled up enough to vote.

Yes, riled up. This is the key to Republican victory and yes, it's a goddamn cynical way to run a campaign, but think about it for a moment.

The last six years has been about tarring and feathering Barack Obama, minimizing his accomplishments while maximizing any potential "scandals" into full blown crises.

Birth certificate. Benghazi. ISIS. Ebola. The Grand Deal on the budget blowing up and creating the shutdown (yes, that's on Boehner, but facts don't matter here, only perception), Sandy Hook and the subsequent ineffectiveness to pass gun control legislation somehow proving simultaneously that Tyrant Obama was coming for your guns but was still a weak leader (again, facts and perceptions don't match), the IRS "scandal" (again, Republicans tasked the IRS with the investigation, then triggered the trap), the NSA tapping phones.

And of course, Obamacare coming to take your Medicare away.

I want you to think about Yelp for a moment. Or YouTube. Or even your local paper. Who comments most on these sites? Who writes those Letters to the Editor?

Angry people. More correctly, frightened people.

Fear and anger motivate people more than persuasion and coaxing. The Democrats are starting to see that -- think about all those DNC emails you had streaming into your mailbox constantly, pleading for funds because OMG! We're going out of business! -- but we don't play that game particularly well.

It's hard to play a game of fear when you have the solutions in place already.

Too, this game is going to start showing diminishing returns for Republicans as well: angry white people are dying off, which is why you're seeing them make real attempts to reach out to minorities like Mia Love, literally a token attempt to make nice with the African American community. And women.

(Side note: did you ever imagine these five words appearing side by side in a sentence? "Black woman Republican from Utah"?)

They've done this before, of course, trotting out their "diversity platform" at the 2012 national convention, only to have the cameras turn to a predominantly...ok, ALL white audience. It sees like they rounded up every dark face in the hall, including janitors and ticket takers, and stood them up in front of the John Birch Society.

But I digress: it should be chilling to the DNC, the DCCC and the DSCC that Mia Love won her election this time around (it was her second try). She's young, attractive and precisely the kind of figurehead Republicans need to bring some youth to the party. She's in Utah, which will negate some of her opportunities to appear on camera regularly but she'll be pushed hard by the party to bring a fresh face to the image.

We may not have a lock on minority youth going forward, one of our base stanchions.

Democrats have four years to come up with a better plan than "We don't apologize for the amazing things we've accomplished, but please don't punish us for them!" The DCCC and DSCC in particular have to come up with leadership that's going to investigate thoroughly how to motivate our base, because our base disappears on us in between Presidential elections.

I think we're safe in 2016 so long as our candidate is a good one, a woman preferably (women really let us down in 2014) because that would energize the base the way Barack Obama did in 2008 (and in truth, Hillary would have, too). There's a lot of energy out there for a woman President and we ought to take advantage of that. We'll pick up a lot of Republican Senate seats that were captured in the 2010 midterms (see? There it is again) by Republicans who drove angry voters to the polls.

Senators like Ayotte (NH), Rubio (FL) and Toomey (PA) are in the sights, of course, as well as Kirk (IL) and Johnson (WI) who may end up getting beaten by Russ Feingold in a rematch. Even John McCain's seat is in play as the Latino population of Arizona has reached a point where they will be players in voting. There are 12 seats the Republicans are vulnerable in right now, and they have to defend an additional 13. Democrats only hold ten or so seats in that cycle, so they have cash to burn.

It's 2018 that becomes a challenge, mostly because (and its early, I know) Dems have an awful lot of seats in play -- 20 -- five of which could be deemed toss ups right now along with two Republican seats. Many of those seats were won in Obama's re-election landslide.

So how to get Democrats to the polls? There's the rub.

That issue could conceivably take care of itself over the next two years. Republicans have a knack for overdoing things -- remember privatizing Social Security? Bush's political capital? -- and driving our voters to the polls for us, and 2014 saw the election of a fresh crop of batshit insane Republicans, some of whom are even now Senators (a body that for the most part had remained immune to the Teabaggers, save Ted Cruz and maybe Rand Paul).

But that's not going to last until 2018, particularly if 2016 absolves Republicans of owning the mess they will create until then.

We don't do anger well. And we don't have bogeymen. Republicans have those people -- altho they seem to be open to making them our people now. Or they have those other people. Or terrorists. Or liberals. We don't do fear well either.

We do hypocrisy well but that doesn't drive people to get out and vote unless its such undeniable hypocrisy that you can't ignore it. That was 2006. Republicans were going to lose seats anyway as always happens in the midterms for the party in the White House, but they lost them in such massive fashion you'd think Dems would rule forever. That was in large part because of scandal after scandal after scandal bringing down Republicans left and right.

One thing I think might work is, rather than running from our record, getting out there and drumming it like a rented bass drum. We do good work, and one complaint that seems to stick in the electorate is "Both sides do it!"

Both sides work for the corporatocracy (partly true but reversible for the Dems). Both sides are corrupt (definitely true). Both sides try to hurt the little guy.

Demonstrably false but if we don't talk about the issues, about the work on the issues, Democrats will continue to lose the narrative.