It’s all about turnout

So, as if I didn’t have enough great sources of news and analysis to keep up with every day, now the NYT has unleashed the damn Upshot.   Dare I say anything edited by Dave Leonhardt is surely worth my time.  Anyway, nice post from UCLA Political Scientist Lynn Vavreck on “the myth of swing voters.”  I think this chart nicely summarizes things:



And some additional exposition:

Turnout in midterm elections is always down from presidential elections, and Democrats routinely fight to return more of their voters to the polls than the Republicans. More Democrats come from groups, such as young people and Latinos, that typically vote at lower rates in midterm elections than other groups. But this 11-point difference in holding on to 2008 voters is larger than normal. It probably stemmed from a gap in enthusiasm between the parties’ voters in 2010, as survey data indicated.

It may seem hard to believe that the shellacking was more about who turned up than about who changed their minds between 2008 and 2010, but it lines up with a lot of other evidence about voters’ behavior. Most identify with the same political party their entire adult lives, even if they do not formally register with it. They almost always vote for the presidential candidate from that party, and they rarely vote for one party for president and the other one for Congress. And most voters are also much less likely to vote in midterm elections than in presidential contests.

These stable patterns of American politics reveal a clear path for both parties in 2014: Get your 2012 voters to the polls. Of concern to Democrats right now is that Republicans once again have the upper hand on enthusiasm going into November.

The 2014 fight is not over swing voters. It’s for partisans.

I think one of the important points that political scientists (and the wonkier commentators who respect us) have contributed in recent years is just how important the composition of the electorate is and how important the role of voter mobilization– not just voter persuasion– is in campaigns.  And this post really shows just how true this is.  When I’ve been commenting on the 2014 NC Senate race, I pretty much always remark that a huge factor is simply going to be the composition of the electorate.  If it looks like 2010, Kay Hagan is just done.  And, not, it’s not going to look like 2012 or 2008, but just where it falls on the continuum is basically going to determine the outcome of the race– not Kay Hagan convincing swing voters she’s better than Thom Tillis (presumably) or vice versa.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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