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Turnout is Key in 2012 (duh)

[ 41 ] December 28, 2011 |

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.

Comments (41)

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  1. actor212 says:

    One of the interesting dynamics in the GOP battle has been watching the dynamic of candidates with enthusiastic bases (Bachmann, Perry, Cain and now Paul) get swallowed up as soon as they take center stage, where candidates who have been mushy have shown some lasting power (Romney and Gingrich).

    I suspect the little-discussed facet of this is that the 2012 election could be the one where the Republican “lockstep” dynamic shatters: Should Paul pull out and mount a Libertarian bid, for instance, it would catapult Obama back into office the way Clinton used Perot in 1992 (and to a lesser degree, 1996) to win office.

    I really think the tension between the economic royalists and the ideologues has come to a head.

    • c u n d gulag says:

      And the Dominionist Christian wing of the ideologues, who’ve been waiting for their pay-off for over 30 years now since Uncle Ronnie invited them in and gave them a nice place at the table, without the “right” candidate for them, may schism off as well, and have their own “No Gays, But Lots of Guns, and God” 3rd Party candidate.
      Hmmm…
      Bachmann?
      Santorum?
      Perry?

      Time to make dinner!

    • Murc says:

      it would catapult Obama back into office the way Clinton used Perot in 1992

      As far as I know this isn’t actually true. Perot took from Bush and Clinton basically equally at the national level and there were only a handful of insignificant states that would have flipped over if people voting for Perot had had to pick their second choice instead. Absent Perot Clinton STILL wins in ’92.

      • dave brockington says:

        My MA thesis found the same thing — Perot drew from both Bush I and Clinton roughly equally.

      • Barry says:

        IMHO (this is not my original idea), Perot was a big advantage for Clinton because Perot’s primary target was Bush I. This put Bush in a two-way defensive position, and people who might not have been persuaded by Clinton could be persuaded by Perot.

      • actor212 says:

        It wasn’t just the ultimate vote total I was thinking about. I was also thinking about channeling anger at Bush. Perot presented an opportunity for people to think about voting the incumbent out. That the figures skewed equally between drawing from Bush and Clinton tells me that some of the draw from Clinton probably would have shrugged shoulders and voted Bush anyway, for continuity.

        Yea. I have no firm figures to back that up. It’s just a hunch based on ennui. People don’t like change.

  2. Warren Terra says:

    I’m sorry about your personal situation. It sounds terrible, though the romantic in me is perversely cheered by your ability to maintain a relationship under such conditions and across such distances.

    You said this:

    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 impression – and I haven’t really researched this, I’m going on what I recall hearing someplace – is that the Republicans’ shift to PR for this year’s primaries is a mirage. Yes, states holding contests before April cannot be winner-take-all at the statewide level, lest they lose half their delegates (though this hasn’t dissuaded Florida, apparently). But what I heard is that they can still be winner-take-all at the congressional district level, and have indeed opted for this approach. If indeed this is so, essentially no delegates are going to anyone other than one or two frontrunners, and Romney will wrap up the nomination, in effect if not by actual delegates already won, before April rolls around.

    • Murc says:

      You’re broadly correct Warren, with one additional tidbit thrown in that reinforces your point; many states will only be using PR if someone doesn’t get a majority. If there are a bunch of people getting minorities, there are delegate splits. If someone gets 50%+1, they get the whole bag.

  3. I believe firmly that if there had just been a public option to the ACA, those 18-29 year-olds would be sprinting to the polls in numbers greater than 2008.

    Of course, I do spend a lot of time on the internet.

    • Warren Terra says:

      I think the magic bullet would have been overruling a 98-to-nothing vote in the Senate and closing Guantanamo. Also, ending all signing statements.

      • wiley says:

        Had more liberals voted in the midterms those things might have been done. This is a long-term problem with the left— not voting. If you want to win, you have to vote, and keep voting, even when you’re disappointed. This, and doggedly working to fill a lot of lesser offices (and getting Republicans to vote for them) is how the Republican party— batshit as it is— has been so successful, that with a little bit of collusion with the press they have even convinced most of the citizens of this country that they are not liberal, no matter how many liberal ideas they may embrace.

        • Ed says:

          Conservatives do stay home on occasion when there’s a point to be made and their party does not take them for granted.

          The Democrats were punished in the midterms because of the ongoing suffering from the bad economy.

          It might be constructive if we all stopped referring to people over eighteen as “youths.”

      • Barry says:

        I wonder if Obama could have done that – after all, the government’s lawyers could have presented an ah – milktoast non-defense of various lawsuits.

    • That’s amazing, Davis!

      I happen to believe that my individual policy preferences and priorities are, objectively, the smartest electoral strategy that Democratic candidates can pursue, too!

      What are the chances that the two of us would run into each other? And on the internet!

    • Antonio Conselheiro says:

      Obama brought out a lot of new voters, which is the kind of thing the Democrats need. I don’t know what brought them out, but they didn’t seem to be there in 2010, and I don’t know how likely it is that they’ll be in 2012.

      Teixera suggests that Obama identify himself with Occupy, which (considering his actual record) is both disgusting and implausible. There’s a limit to how much smoke and mirrors you can get away with.

      What I fear is that Obama brought a lot of idealistic young voters into politics, and then immediately disillusioned them. The college students I met in the Minnesota caucuses in 2008 seemed devoted but totally clueless.

      As far as I can tell, Obama’s support now is just the Democratic Party loyalists and the people terrified of the Republican crazies. He seems to be counting on the Republicans to run one of the crazies.

      • Hob says:

        “Terrified of the Republican crazies” is overly specific. I’m pretty sure there’s a not insignificant number of people who don’t think George Bush and the Republican Congress of 2001-2007 were crazy, but who are at least dimly aware that those people screwed the pooch on a colossal scale, and that none of the current R’s are even capable of admitting that the pooch-screwing was a bad idea. For those voters, all Obama really has to do is point out some concrete steps he’s taken toward unscrewing the pooch (disappointing though they are) and the clear evidence that the R’s haven’t even been trying. I don’t know if that’s what he’ll do, though, because I can’t read his mind– or however it is that you’ve deduced what he’s “counting on” (is there some reason an incumbent must have a clearly defined campaign strategy before he knows who he’s running against?).

        • Antonio Conselheiro says:

          He’s been pretty firmly unresponsive or even hostile to several Democratic constituencies — liberals, civil libertarians, peace Democrats, labor, and even defenders of Social Security — and he has treated 9% unemployment with benign neglect. He’s counting on democrats both having nowhere else to go, and also being too frightened to stay home.

          He won the Presidency on turnout, the 2010 elections were lost on turnout, and the 2012 election will probably be decided on turnout. But to date Obama has done nothing positive to rally the troops. Quite the opposite. So my guess is that he’s counting on Gingrich or Bachmann to turn out the Democrats. (The recent “populist” speech was the right kind of thing, I suppose, but too little, too late, and in my opinion, fraudulent.)

          Obama doesn’t think that it’s necessary for anyone to really like him. His bipartisanship had alienated a lot of Democrats without converting many Republicans.

          • But to date Obama has done nothing positive to rally the troops. Quite the opposite.

            The troops don’t agree.

            Obama continues to hang tough in his own party; 82 percent of Democrats approve of his job performance overall

            As happened during the Iraq War, I find myself much more impressed by the actual “troops” than by the people on the internet who claim to speak for them.

        • Ed says:

          For those voters, all Obama really has to do is point out some concrete steps he’s taken toward unscrewing the pooch (disappointing though they are) and the clear evidence that the R’s haven’t even been trying.

          He is already doing that. We will also see the customary scare tactics both sides use to try to get their respective bases frothing at the mouth. I don’t know how much difference it will make if the economic outlook is perceived as grim for ordinary voters. Pointing at the legislative laundry list will have a limited effect if people are still not seeing light at the end of the tunnel. And it’ll be quite easy to poke holes in the list.

  4. Turnout can be negatively-driven, too. Kerry’s good turnout among young voters was almost certainly driven more by anti-Bush sentiment than by John Kerry’s raw animal magnetism. (Rowr!)

    Romney would be more of a challenge to Obama than would Gingrich not only because Romney polls better than Gingrich, but because Mittens would inspire fewer people determined to vote against him.

    Compare:

    We have to save the world from Newt Gingrich!

    vs.

    We have to save the world from Mitt Romney! It just doesn’t work, does it?

    • Hob says:

      If you leave it at that, if it’s just about personality, sure. But if(*) Romney says things in the campaign about what he wants to do, and if those things boil down to “I will do the kinds of things Republicans did in the last decade– except for any conservative-but-not-entirely-insane things they did, because Obama does those too”… then it’s not too hard to remind people why that’s scary, assuming the people are not idiots.

      (* I said “if” because if anyone is capable of getting through a whole presidential campaign without making a statement of any kind, Romney is that man. And he might have to do that, because I’m not sure the Republican base will tolerate anything that sounds like a change in course.)

      • Something I’ve noticed, Hob, is that the voting public conflates ideological extremism/moderation with personality all the time.

        This results in some pretty radical people getting a pass because they don’t froth at the mouth and issue calls for violence.

    • mark f says:

      I don’t know why you mock Kerry. I mean, he drove a motorcycle with Jay Leno and said the F-word in Rolling Stone. The kids go wild for that stuff!

  5. James Bishop says:

    It will be very difficult for Obama to draw out the youth this time around since he didn’t bring hope and change as promised. Except for healthcare, his actions are no different than Bush, except sounds better when talking about it. Without having Bush in office to bring in the anti-Bush voters, we can expect Obama to be a one term President.

    • Warren Terra says:

      Except for healthcare and Fin Reg and DADT and NLRB and Network Neutrality and Iraq, he’s just like Bush. And that’s doubtless overlooking many areas, and it’s not giving him any credit for areas where Congress thwarted him (Bush tax cuts for the top income bracket, cap-and-trade, Gitmo, etcetera).

      Obama has not fulfilled his full potential. But anyone who claims he’s just like Bush is a knave or a fool.

      • Murc says:

        Warren, I agree with everything in your post. However, as someone who gave my time, effort, money, and vote to Obama in 2008 (and was within the youth cohort then, though I’m not now), and will only be giving one of those things in 2012, I have a serious question for you:

        What does Obama have to offer those of us for whom our first priority is civil liberties, and who care deeply about things like indefinite detention, targeted killings, the rolling back of executive power, the ongoing evisceration of the 4th amendment, the abuse of the state secrets doctrine, the apprehension and prosecution of the war criminals who walk amongst us daily, and other sundry issues?

        (I will accept ‘better than any Republican’ as a reason to vote for him, but not to do anything else.)

        • rea says:

          Obama have to offer those of us for whom our first priority is civil liberties, and who care deeply about things like indefinite detention, targeted killings, the rolling back of executive power, the ongoing evisceration of the 4th amendment, the abuse of the state secrets doctrine, the apprehension and prosecution of the war criminals who walk amongst us daily, and other sundry issues?

          Obama, like Clinton, is far from ideal on those issues, but to compare them to the Bush/Cheney adminstration, or the likely adminstration of any of the leading Republicans now, is just insane. What the Democratic presidents do on an occasional basis is continuous and systematic when the Republicans are in charge.

          • Murc says:

            This is a fair point, rea, but… I dunno. It seems like the difference is one of degree, rather than kind. That’s not trivial, of course, but still.

            I may be overly sensitive, and people have called me out in other forums for being a firebagger, but I’ve genuinely had moments were I consider the Obama administrations record on civil liberties to be egregious enough that I feel like casting an affirmative vote for them to continue would make me complicit in them in a way I can’t morally accept.

            Those moments always pass, usually when I get my next tidbit of news from the ongoing clown car of crazy that is the Republican Party.

            • Ed says:

              What the Democratic presidents do on an occasional basis is continuous and systematic when the Republicans are in charge.

              I would have agreed with that once. Not so sure any more.

        • What does Obama have to offer those of us for whom our first priority is civil liberties

          Barack Obama and Eric Holder have been fighting the good fight to prevent the use of military detention for terrorism suspects, against a Congress and an American public that overwhelmingly favor the practice. They have taken serious political hits for this stance, but it has resulted in zero (0) terrorism suspects being moved into military detention.

          The reason the Underpants Bomber was arrested by the FBI, tried in federal court, and sentenced to federal prison is the determination of the Obama administration to make that happen. The reason the next Underpants Bomber will be arrested by the FBI, tried in federal court, and sentenced to federal prison is because Obama threatened to veto the NDAA and got the language that would have forced him to use military detention for such suspects removed from the bill.

          You write about Obama’s position, but Obama’s position represents territory he has won by pushing back against fierce resistance.

  6. Nuke Ibrox says:

    All that is well and good, but Celtic topping the Evil Empire takes the muffin for the day, even if Scottish football is still the shite.

    • Robert424 says:

      Vote for Perot and get Clinton. Vote for Nader and get Bush. It should be evident that the two party system is a fraud and our energies are more effective at this time in supporting and help in further defining Occupy Wall Street.

      A brief look at US history shows that most progressive legislation passed as a result of active movements. NOT by either party. in its concern for the vast majority of the American people. The eight hour day, the child labor laws, the withdrawal from Vietnam, Civil rights legislation, Social Security etc. were passed because the 99% made their voices heard OUTSIDE of the TWO PARTY SYSTEM.

      For goodness sake! We at last have a movement. Let us not sell it down the river to the two party system.

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