Thursday, January 17, 2013

Q Day 6: Midterms

It's still question day around here. Why not? Several good ones I wanted to get to. Such as this...

Bajsa asks:
Off year elections are as important as years with Presidential elections. What can Obama do to get his coalition to vote in a mid-term election?
It's a great question, so I wanted to highlight it, but I'm not sure I have much of an answer. So instead I'll give four answers.

One answer is: not much. It's just a basic truth that different demographic groups vote at different rates, and that midterms are lower-interest elections than presidential contests. So you're going to get fewer voters, which in practice means that you'll still get the every-time voters but far fewer of the sometimes voters.

The next answer is: electioneering probably can't do very much, but it almost certainly can make small differences on the margins. Which could be important! So, sure, run the best campaign that they can; the president can probably help the most by involving himself (carefully) in candidate recruitment and, yes, fundraising.

The third answer is: it may be less important than you think. Yes, it's true that midterm electorates are likely to lean more Republican, but we only have to go back to 2006 to find a Democratic landslide in a midterm. The biggest problem for Democrats in 2014 isn't that midterms are bad for Democrats; it's that midterms are bad for the party in the White House.

And the fourth answer is: the biggest thing that Obama can do to help Democrats in the midterms is to be a very popular president. Worked for Bill Clinton in 1998, and George W. Bush in 2002; failure to be a popular president had a lot to do with midterm disasters for Bush's party in 2006, Clinton's in 1994, and Ronald Reagan's in 1982. I suppose that's just obvious, but sometimes obvious is the truth.


  1. Another thing that would help would be to go back to the 50 state strategy and run candidates in every House district. My district among others had no Democratic challenger in 2012. You can't receive the full benefit of an unexpected mid-term wave if you don't have candidates for your party on the ballot.

  2. I see 2014 as more likely to be like 1986 than like any of the other midterms you mentioned--the party in the White House pretty much holds its own in the House (especially since after 2010 and 2012 there aren't very many Republican-leaning districts represented by Democrats) but takes fairly severe losses in the Senate (partly because 2008 was such a heavily Democratic year, just as in 1986 the heavily-Republican Senate Class of 1980 was coming up for re-election).

  3. 2014 is probably too close to pivot like this, but longer term the Democrats should think about what it would take to diversify their coalition. They would probably get a net benefit out of every 1:1 trade from their urban minority coalition to a rural/suburban, less for voter turnout reasons and more to protect themselves against being packed into fewer districts.

    Its no accident that they are way down in seats in legislatures in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan -- states that Democrats routinely win due to racking up the urban voters, but get beat by geographically dispersed votes out in those state's very rural corners enough to lose a majority of State/Federal districts.

  4. (This matters more in midterms, only insofar as you don't get the reward of electing the President at-large.)

  5. Disregarding specific races, the difference between outcomes in presidential years versus midterms is turnout, right? And this will be the test for the Obama campaign apparatus--can they turn enough people out, while spending a fraction of the money? Because these midterms are important--not even so much for Congress as in state houses and state legislatures. That's where the long-term damage is being done.


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