Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Analysis Shows Democrats' Failure in 2014 Mid-Term Election Was Not Due to Failure to Turn Out Its Voters

Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics has authored an excellent article in which he takes the 2014 mid-term election and adjusts them so that the turnout demographically in 2014 matches those who turned out in 2012.  Trende found that Democrats were not doomed by their voters not turning out
but rather their voters voting against President Obama, and voting for Republicans:
A congealing conventional wisdom surrounding the 2014 elections is that Democrats had a long night because of an unfavorable Senate map and because Democratic constituencies failed to show up. One storyline growing out of this is that once Democrats can enjoy a “presidential electorate” rather than a “midterm electorate,” their fortunes will turn, and Democrats will run well.

This isn’t entirely correct.  The major factors driving the different results between 2012 and 2014 were not demographic.  The major difference was that in 2012 Barack Obama was a moderately popular president.  In 2014, he is an unpopular president.  If this does not change between now and 2016, demographic shifts alone will not save the Democratic nominee.

We can illustrate this best by borrowing a page from Harry Enten, and seeing what would have happened if the 2014 electorate had instead more closely resembled the 2012 electorate. That is to say, let’s keep whites voting 60-38 for Republicans, Hispanics voting 62-36 for Democrats, and so forth, as they all did in 2014, but alter their shares of the electorate to resemble 2012 (72 percent white, 10 percent Hispanic, and so forth) rather than 2014 (75 percent white, 8 percent Hispanic, and so forth). This allows us to isolate the effects of demographic change between 2012 and 2014.

The results are underwhelming: If the 2014 electorate had resembled the 2012 electorate in terms of race, the Republican vote share would shrink by just 1.97 percentage points.  In other words, in a 2012 electorate, Republicans would have won the popular vote for the House by 4.5 points, rather than 6.5 points.  That’s not nothing, as they say, but it still only explains a relatively small share of the difference between the 2012 and 2014 results. Put differently, if Obama had put up the same vote shares among racial groups in 2012 as Democrats ultimately did in 2014, he’d have lost.

Maybe a better way to see the differences is to look beyond demographic splits and instead compare the ideologies of the two electorates.  But if the 2014 electorate had consisted of the same proportions of liberals, moderates, and conservatives as the 2012 electorate, the Republican margin would have contracted by just three points.

No matter how you slice it, demographic changes in the midterm electorate account for a relatively small portion of the Democrats’ problems in 2014.  The real difference between 2012 and 2014 isn’t changes in the demographic makeup of the electorate.  It is changes in the way that demographic groups voted. This, in turn, has everything to do with the president’s job approval rating.

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