Tag Archives: 2014 Midterm Elections

Midterm Turnout: A Baseline


There’s an old expression that half of America decides who rules.  That’s true – at least during presidential election years.  But what about midterm elections?  Obviously fewer people vote in non-presidential years, but what’s the baseline for these elections?  And why do voters stay home?  Also why have midterm voters gone against the party of the president they recently elected in 40 of 43 election years?

According to data from the Pew Center, turnout in the most recent midterm election (2010) was 36.9 percent – meaning a little over a third of America’s voting age population cast ballots.  In 2006, it was 36.8 percent.  In 2002, it was 37 percent.

By contrast, 53.7 percent of the voting age population showed up for the 2012 election – compared to 57.1 percent in 2008 and 55.7 percent in 2004.

That’s a fairly consistent “turnout gap” of 18-20 percentage points between “on” and “off” presidential years.

Was it always this way?  No.  Through the first half-century of the American Republic, turnout in midterm elections was actually higher.  That changed in the mid-nineteenth century, though, as the popular vote expanded and party organizations placed more emphasis on control of the White House. Since the 1840s, turnout in presidential years has always eclipsed turnout in midterms – with the party in the White House losing seats in the midterms in every election cycle except 1934, 1998 and 2002.

Market Research Foundation will be following the 2014 midterms with an eye on not only how many voters turn out, but which voters turned out – and what motivated them to cast their ballots.

We know Democrats are especially concerned about the lack of interest in the 2014 election among young voters – who favored their candidates by a 55 to 42 percent margin in the last midterm (according to exit polling).  The problem for Democrats?  Only thirty-six percent of 18-29 year old voters (with bachelor’s degrees) cast ballots in 2010 – down from 71 percent in 2008.  If young voters stay home again this year – as early polling suggests they will – we could see another seismic shift along the lines of 2006 and 2010.


Beyond Partisan Identification


Earlier this year Market Research Foundation (MRF) studied partisan identification in South Carolina – one of the key early-voting states in the quadrennial presidential primary elections.  According to our study the Palmetto State – while reliably Republican in terms of the politicians it elects – is home to a large and independent-minded segment of the electorate that does not particularly relate to either of the two major parties.

This month a new study by Norman Analytics – prepared for MRF – discusses party identification at the national level as the 2014 election heads into its homestretch.  It found a similar independent streak – one that could play a pivotal role come November 4.

“Conventional wisdom tells us that Americans are more politically divided than they have ever been,” the study’s authors note. “In reality, most Americans fall somewhere between the two highly publicized extremes and are increasingly abandoning traditional political party labels even if they share an ideology with Republicans or Democrats.”

The Norman Analytics-MRF study – which surveyed 1,508 Americans between September 9-17 – explored participants’ self-identification by partisan affiliation and ideology.  It further explored specific issues matrices – economic, health care/ education and moral –  to determine how each matrix influenced voting patterns.

In addition to discovering a broad swath of pure partisan independents – 45 percent (a number consistent with Gallup partisan ID polling) – the survey identified a decided rightward lean on economic policy.  Republicans and Independents obviously contributed mightily to this lean, but the days of Democrats touting their “big government” allegiance appear to be drawing to an end.

“Self-Identified Democrats are more likely to support liberal economic policies, but even in this group very few unilaterally support specific liberal economic policies,” the study found.

In fact 31 percent of Democrats broke with their party on the issue of government spending – easily the leading “defection” issue (followed by immigration at 21 percent).  On the flip side, thirty-three percent of Republicans were likely to break from their party’s ranks on the issue of gay marriage.

Needless to say these fractures within the traditional party monoliths – along with the swelling ranks of pure independents – provide a fertile landscape for candidates of both parties.  Obviously the conservative economic lean is a potential boon for GOP candidates, but this data makes clear it will only provide an advantage to the extent Republican campaigns are able to target turnout strategies along ideological lines.

The American public is economically conservative in a time when economic issues reign supreme giving the Republican Party an edge in electoral politics,” the authors noted.  “Although at first glance it appears there is a higher incidence of Democrats in the population, self-identified members of the Democratic Party are more likely to be unenthusiastic or partial defectors from the party platform. After accounting for underlying policy preferences Republicans and Democrats start out with roughly equal size bases and Republicans may actually have a slight advantage.” 

But does this base advantage matter for the GOP if its turnout effort is missing the mark?

“Republican campaigns that engage in aggressive turnout efforts while simultaneously highlighting liberal economic stances of their opponents are very likely to be successful,” the authors conclude, adding that successful campaigns will get voters to “support individual candidates rather than the Republican Party or its entire platform.”

In other words touting the Republican brand may not always be the best way for Republicans to gain ground in the current electoral environment.

To read the study in its entirety, click on the link below …


“Victory Lab” Author Discusses Democrats 2014 Chess Moves

Last week I wrote a column on this website assessing Republican over-ebullience in advance of the 2014 midterm elections. I based my analysis on Market Research Foundation (MRF) research done in Virginia during the 2013 gubernatorial election – another race which portended high GOP and independent turnout and depressed Democratic intensity.

That’s not what happened, though.

In Virginia, Democrats engaged in a concerted effort to boost African-American turnout above 2009 levels – when the black vote represented 16 percent of the electorate. They succeeded – matching the 2012 presidential election mark of 20 percent. Black voters comprised 37 percent of Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s vote total – choosing him by a 9-to-1 margin, according to exit polling.

MRF’s research showed how the black vote was boosted dramatically in Richmond City, Norfolk, Newport News, Petersburg and other Democratic strongholds – giving McAuliffe his margin of victory. This research also unearthed equally effective Democratic techniques (usually involving negative attacks) which successfully suppressed GOP turnout in reliably Republican regions. Additionally, the GOP missed many opportunities to effectively capitalize on local issues with potential ideological symmetry – an increasingly fertile ground for picking up new votes.

I concluded that these same tactics – mass African-American mobilization combined with suppression of the GOP vote via negative attacks – will be employed in 2014 on a much broader scale. And possibly with similar perception-defying results.

This contention was lent fresh expression in a New Republic piece published this week. Written by Sasha Issenberg – author of The Victory Lab – the article is entitled “How The Democrats Can Avoid Going Down This November.”

Issenberg’s sprawling piece delves into the scientific advances Democrats have made on the turnout front, including detailed lists of their voters who turn out for presidential races but not midterms. According to Issenberg, party strategists not only have these voters’ names but also “guidance on where, how, and when they can be reached,” which evidently includes “predictive models to anticipate which voters are most likely to actually open and read their mail.”

“The midterm imperative is clear: Raise the dollars and secure the volunteer commitments,” Issenberg writes. “Then go and turn out those who are already on your side but won’t show up without a friendly nudge.”

Issenberg also delves into how Democratic agenda items are being used to blunt GOP turnout – not drive up its own numbers, as the legacy media have led us to believe. Take the minimum wage – an issue MRF has written about previously.

“Obama and his party’s candidates talk about the minimum wage in the hope that working-class whites skeptical of Democrats on other matters will become more ambivalent about voting Republican,” Issenberg notes.

A renewed focus on women’s issues falls under the same category: It’s not about turning out Democratic voters, it’s about keeping GOP voters at home.

No matter what the legacy media says, Issenberg’s reveal of the Democrats’ 2014 game plan – combined with MRF’s 2013 work in Virginia – should give Republican strategists pause as they assess their midterm prospects.

“The New Science Of Democratic Survival”

(The following excerpt appeared in the April 27, 2014 editions of New Republic in a story written by reporter Sasha Issenberg).

In late February, Barack Obama stood before a room of his party’s governors at a Washington fund-raiser and offered a new explanation for the Republican rout that claimed the jobs of more than 750 Democratic officeholders around the country in 2010. At the time, the president had described the outcome, simply and indelibly, as a “shellacking,” but here he ventured a deeper analysis. “We know how to win national elections,” he told the crowd. “But all too often it’s during these midterms where we end up getting ourselves into trouble, because I guess we don’t think it’s sexy enough.”

Beyond the narcissism implied—the suggestion that any ballot without his name on it lacks a certain magnetism—Obama was onto something. Current conventional wisdom holds that Democrats’ prospects this November are grim. After the obligatory acknowledgment that the party in the White House almost always loses ground in off-year elections, the most commonly cited reasons are situational—the botched Obamacare rollout, a zealous conservative base, the fact that these midterms follow a redistricting process largely controlled by Republicans, the preponderance of competitive Senate races in states that lean red. And yet Obama’s diagnosis of Democrats’ midterm woes comes closer to the truth. The party is suffering from a chronic condition, not a short-term malaise.In fact, the very phenomenon that sustained Obama’s own victories is the one that may doom his party in midterm elections for the rest of his life. The dynamic so cripples Democrats’ off-year performance that in 2018, a President Jeb Bush or Rand Paul could see Republicans actually pick up seats.

A decade ago, Obama memorably rebutted the trope that the United States could be neatly cleaved into a red and a blue America that pits coastal liberals against inland traditionalists. But in one very measurable and consequential sense, there are two Americas. There is the America that votes in presidential elections, which has helped Democrats win the popular vote in five out of the last six cycles and supports the view that Hillary Clinton can continue that streak should she run. Then there is the America that votes more regularly, casting ballots in both presidential and midterm years, which led to the Republican wave in 2010 and gives its party’s leaders reason to be so sanguine about their odds this time around.

(To continue reading, CLICK HERE …)

Don’t Believe The Spin: 2014 Elections Are Far From Settled

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.