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Turnout is Key in 2012 (duh)

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First, I’ve been absent (and sporadic when not wholly absent) for the past three months or so.  The dominant issue in my life (aside from my 5/4 teaching load) has been the in/ability for my wife and her nine year old daughter to relocate to England with me (or even relocate so much as 60 miles away from where they currently live, just outside of Portland, Oregon, until said daughter turns 18); this has been ongoing since the early summer, and reached a unfavorable crescendo of sorts between late September and early November.  I won’t be discussing it here in detail any time soon as the next court date is set for late February, but I have used it as a timely case study in my American politics class in England, as it is an example of the tension between Constitutional and State law.

On Boxing Day, Ruy Teixeira published a decent piece in TNR telling us largely what we already know — the youth vote is key to Obama’s chances in 2012 — and offers a couple policy / campaign prescriptions that could assist in his re-election.

We know that the decline in mobilization of the youth vote certainly did not help the prospects of the Democrats in 2010, much as the low turnout aided in the “surprising” elections of 2009.  I’ve been using data from the 2010 mid-terms to illustrate my “turnout matters” lecture.  While we can’t divine too much from aggregate numbers, in 2008 Obama garnered 65.2 million votes to McCain’s 52.2 million; in 2010, Democratic House candidates received 36.2 million to the Republicans 42.7 million.  It’s both an article of faith and demonstrable empirical reality that smaller electorates favor more conservative candidates as the overall decline in turnout does not affect constituent SES components equally.

Exit polling data from 2010 supports this position (although the vagaries of exit polling validity should be taken into account here): when asked for whom a respondent voted for President in 2008, it was a draw at 45% to 45%; in 2008 Obama won by 7.2%.  The 18-29 year-old cohort was 18% of the total electorate in 2008, yet only 11% in 2010.  In 2008, that cohort broke 3 to 1 for Obama.

While the Republican nomination is up in the air and has evolved into a two-way fight between Romney and Gingrich, and it’s possible that it could take several months to resolve, especially with the Republicans adopting a form of PR for the nomination fight this year, my hunch is that it will be Romney in the end (assuming a non-brokered convention).  My thinking for this is that Gingrich, like all of the “Not Romney” candidates over the past few months, has peaked too soon; Romney has superior organization, and while the primary electorate for that party has a strong batshit crazy caucus, one would think that the Republicans in the aggregate would prefer to nominate someone who could win rather than their own McGovern.  Romney will look good finishing second to Ron Paul in Iowa, wins New Hampshire, and parleys that into a better than two to three week old polling data from South Carolina and Florida would currently indicate.

If it’s Romney, it will be close.  Current aggregates on RCP have Obama up 2.5% in a head-to-head against Romney; 8.9% over Gingrich.  This is the biggest lead against Romney that I can recall since September; we cover the state of the nomination in my American politics class once a week.  At polling this close, mobilization will matter.

A paper recently released by Study of the American Electorate at American University (which I can’t seem to locate) suggests that the 18-29 cohort will participate at a rate lower than 2008.  We all expect this, and I’d like to see the study to examine the methodology and the estimated erosion in turnout from this critical cohort.  Indeed, Teixeira reports a Pew study that this cohort favors Obama over Romney 61-37.  While Teixeira is broadly correct in his prescriptions for Obama’s securing similar lopsided support from this cohort in 2012, what he doesn’t discuss is mobilizing this cohort.  Being overwhelmingly supported by a cohort is meaningless if they don’t vote.  Stating the obvious, if they participate at 2010 rates, Obama’s job is that much more difficult.

If any of the above makes little sense in places, it’s because this was written while simultaneously listening to this: Celtic 1-0 Rangers.

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