By Bill Wilson
In recent weeks the media has been flooded with stories predicting a Republican sweep in the 2014 mid-term elections. Every prognosticator, soothsayer, and aspiring pollster has written about the impending doom for Democrats. And, while it may be comforting to read for those who are repulsed by the Obama Administration and their never-ending stream of regulations and disregard of the law to suit their own ends, it may be a bit too soon to start the celebration.
Simply put, most of the polling is based on a turnout model that resembles the 2010 mid-term elections. And, to some extent, this may be justified. Many Democrat-leaning groups are tired and upset. Obamacare is a dismal failure no matter how much gloss NBC tries to put on it. The amateurish foreign policy of the current regime is truly scary to everyone. And Obama’s most loyal followers are mired in high unemployment, reduced welfare spending instead of sky-rocketing increases, and a general sense of being ignored.
So, conventional wisdom would dictate high GOP turnout, low Democrat turnout, and an angry – almost hostile – independent turnout. This, naturally, would translate into massive GOP wins come November. But these same conditions existed in Virginia just six months ago, although at a lower intensity level. The “turnout models” all projected a strong GOP mood. What happened to tip the scales to the Democrat and could it happen again in 2014?
The answer, as bone-chilling as it may be to the Republican cheering squad – is an unequivocal “Yes.” Consider a few facts from Virginia. In the eleven jurisdictions with the highest concentrations of African-American voters, overall turnout in 2013 increased significantly. In these counties and cities, there is no question as to the margin of victory – it will always be heavily Democratic. The only question is as to the overall turnout figure.
So, Richmond City saw its turnout increase from 38.2 percent in 2009 to 45.3 percent in 2013. The GOP lost the governor’s mansion by 56,000 votes. But they lost Richmond City by 33,000 votes. The story is the same in Norfolk, Newport News, Petersburg, and in the other jurisdictions with high black vote.
All together, the Democrat ticket won the 11 jurisdictions by a plurality of 228,000 votes and just barely hung on to win by a mere 56,000 votes.
While the Democrat bastions were turning out in huge numbers, the Republican areas were voting at exactly the “model” of 2009. Most of the GOP counties voted at the same level, give or take a point or two. And, the GOP was still winning “their counties” by 60 percent or more of the vote. It was just that not as many people turned out.
My favorite, and clearest cut, example is Lee County in the far southwest corner of the Commonwealth. The GOP won in 2013 with 73 percent of the vote and had a margin of 2,327 votes. But just a year earlier, Mitt Romney won the county by 71 percent of the vote and a margin of 4,254. In 2013, only 31 percent of the registered voters in Lee County turned out. Had they voted at the state average of 45 percent, it would have meant another 1,000 net votes for the GOP ticket. Now, multiply this result in little, far-away Lee County by the 45 jurisdictions that the GOP won but where turnout was either the same of less than it had been in 2009 and it becomes readily apparent what happened.
The GOP was working on the assumption that turnout would be what it has always been in governor election-years. And, in Republican areas it was. But in Democrat strongholds, it was not; it was radically increased. Nobody saw what was being done. Nobody at the time claimed to comprehend what the Democratic operatives were doing. In fact, there were a number of stories about how difficult it was for the grassroots operatives to motivate African-American voters and the resistance they faced. One must now assume that these stories were well-placed disinformation designed to lull the GOP into a false sense of turnout-security.
One other element of the Democrat campaign must be noted – their active and aggressive effort to suppress the GOP vote. One could argue that their entire “war against women” theme was nothing more than an attempt to make women feel uncomfortable expressing their views in support of the GOP ticket.
It is now well known that married women voted for the Republicans. What is not as well known is that if you only consider Asian and white single women, the GOP did well too. Once ethnicity is taken into account, the gender gap evaporates. Where the “single women” were lost was among African-Americans and to a lesser extent Hispanics. It is far more likely these voters were motivated by considerations other then the hyped-up, made-up “war against women.”
Other suppression efforts were visible in the GOP-rich coal counties, in Republican areas like Virginia Beach City, and in the entire thrust of the Democrat campaign. It is a well-known political truism that negative advertising reduces overall turnout. From the very beginning, the McAuliffe campaign was one negative slur after another.
So the entire Democrat strategy, field tested in Virginia, can be summed up neatly: Suppress GOP leaning voters through negativity and nastiness while doing whatever is necessary to turn out high percentages of identified Democratic vote, especially African-Americans. Since there is apparently no need to convince the black vote on which lever to pull, all that is required is getting them to the polls.
Viewed in this context, Republicans should be more reserved in their predictions. And, the free-media should ignore the propagandists who want to, again, lull the GOP into a sense of false security. The legacy-media will do what they are told, it is all they know to do. But those who want to see a different outcome should not help them.
Any candidate or consultant that looks to the last mid-term election as guidance on turnout and tactics will regret it. The terms and parameters of the “permanent campaign” dictate a total re-evaluation.
Bill Wilson is the chairman of the Market Research Foundation, a non-partisan, research and education foundation that seeks better understanding of public opinion and factors motivating that opinion.