Note: I wrote this and published it on November 10th, 2014. After I published it, there was a ton of backlash, including some hate mail. I took it off the website because of the backlash. However, with the recent election results, I decided to repost it because it is quite relevant to the current situation. While this is also about midterm turnout, it is also about Democratic messaging. Unfortunately, we are hearing many of the same arguments today.
Over the last week, Democrats have been trying to figure out why they did so poorly in the midterm elections. You have Howard Dean talking about “what did Democrats stand for”. You have other outlets talking about messaging. The Florida Squeeze has just published an article about a certain number of those in the Florida Democratic Party who say moderation is the key to electoral success. Basically, the opinions are all over the chart.
But midterm after midterm, Democrats always have the same problem…they cannot win white voters. No matter how you look at it, this demographic is the largest voting block in the nation, as well as Florida. Yet, the Democratic Party (primarily nationally) campaigns on issues that have no impact on white voters. As someone who fits this demographic, specifically the middle-aged, straight, white male voter, I ask “what has the Democratic Party done to win my vote”? Yes, that is a hard one to answer.
First, we must look at politics in general. Politics is a big-box game, not a specialty game. The goal of a campaign is to get as many votes as possible, similar to Walmart’s business model of selling as much as possible. Politics is not, however, a niche market game, where picking a specific clientele can assure you electoral success. However, the Democratic business model of winning elections is based off of that niche market approach, which hurts during midterm elections.
In the post-NAFTA era (and I use NAFTA because it was the beginning of the end for the US manufacturing base), Republicans have won every midterm election except 2006, when the Democrats took control of Congress. In that election, Republican turnout was down, which resulted in Democrats having a larger share of the turnout overall, because of the unpopularity of George Bush. Basically, Democrats have to rely on the unpopularity of a Republican nationally in order to push Democratic turnout. However, this is not the case for the Republicans.
Why can the Republicans perform better? Again, they rely on the white vote. And no matter how we slice and dice it, white voters have less drop off between presidential and midterm election years. Take Florida as an example, whites were 67% of the vote in 2012, but 69% in 2014. As for the “youth” vote, 18-24 year olds were down 2% (though many of these are white). Voters from 50-64 increased 4% (who are mainly white as well). Hispanic composition of the vote also dropped by 4% between 2012 and 2014. If Democrats combine these drops together, they have a much larger hill to climb. And remember, Obama barely won the state, which makes the drops in demographic composition even more critical for Democrats.
So, with these drops, what have the Democrats done about it? Well, not much really. Turn on MSNBC and the Democratic press machine is talking about Ferguson, abortion, gay marriage, pro-immigration, and other issues that do not affect the average white, non-racist, non-homophobic and non-sexist, voter (which is a majority in places that matter). When the left fails to talk about issues that impact the largest electoral demographic, Democrats should not be surprised that they are losing midterm elections, where their impact is even larger because of larger dips in turnout with other demographics which are the Democratic “base”.
As far as another so-called “base”, women are not Democratic voters. Exit poll after exit poll shows that Republicans usually perform well among white women. In 2012, white women in Florida supported Romney 58% to 41%. In the 2014 governor’s race, white women supported Rick Scott by 57%, only 1% less than white males. So, running a campaign based on abortion (which is what Mark Udall did, unsuccessfully), will not always win over women voters, particularly those who are white. Also, election study after election study, from Charles Merriam’s examination of non-voting in Chicago in 1924 to research nowadays, shows that men and women of the same household usually vote in similar manners. Also, Republican women (who tend to be pro-life) basically have the same turnout as Democratic women.
As much as we want to talk about “message” and things of this nature, purely basing an election on those who do not turn out to vote is the reason why Democrats perform poorly in midterm election, period. If Democrats don’t give the midterm electorate a reason to vote for them, then why vote for them? Again, as a straight, white male voter, I ask, why should I vote for Democrats?
Does this mean that all is lost for the Democrats in midterm elections, especially if the only time they win is when a it is a referendum on an unpopular president? No, not at all. There are three ways that Democrats can be successful in winning midterm elections.
First, which is the example used in The Florida Squeeze today, is moderation. Democrats can try to moderate their issues and make them appeal more to white people. That is what the Democrats did under the Democratic Leadership Council days. However, it was during these days that Democrats lost control of the House and Senate. Therefore, taking this route might have helped Clinton in a presidential year, but might not be as successful in midterm years. Still, it is a viable option.
Second, Democrats need to turn out groups that are traditionally low turnout voters. With early voting and no longer needing to have an “excuse” for an absentee ballot, Democrats can concentrate their early GOTV efforts in Hispanic and college town neighborhoods. They have the tools to mobilize low turnout voters. However, it seems as if Democrats use these resources more in African American neighborhoods than Hispanic neighborhoods. This might be a flaw in strategy for Democrats as Hispanics have a much larger turnout drop off in midterm elections than African American, who have become steady voters and do not drop off nearly as much as they had twenty or so years ago. Also, African American communities have a much stronger community structure that can turn out the vote. Therefore, shifting early and absentee voting strategies should help, instead of throwing away low turnout groups as a “lost cause” in midterm elections.
Third, Democrats can talk about issues that the white voter will listen to, but still remains true to the Democratic core. Democratic success in the 2000s not only happened because of the unpopularity of George Bush, but Democrats were talking about issues like the minimum wage, where there is general agreement among all groups. But there are other issues that can be used that the Democrats rarely mention. One issue, for example, is relief for student loans. Many of those who are starting to become middle aged are the ones that had to pay an ungodly amount in student loans. As those who went to college before them had little to no student loan debt, that is not the case nowadays. Therefore, the student loan issue is one where Democrats can “take the bull by the horns” and run with it, as the impact of these loans will probably grow exponentially over the next decade. This is an issue that Democrats can get on board with, as well as start to win over white voters.
The current Democratic strategy of trying to only win niche market voters has proven to be a failure, especially when the niche market is smaller. More people eat ice cream in the summer than in the winter. More Hispanics and young voters vote in presidential years than in midterm years. Both of those are just facts. Unfortunately, the level of political correctness in the Democratic Party makes it that they wish to look for alternative excuses for their losses, instead of taking the issue head on.