Home / Dave Brockington / It’s The Turnout, Stupid

It’s The Turnout, Stupid


As I feared, breathless, fatally flawed analysis follows the election results in NJ, VA, and to a lesser extent, NY-23.

Most of this article is remarkably sound, but the first paragraph sets the wrong tone:

The Republican victories in the races for New Jersey and Virginia governors put the party in a stronger position to turn back the political wave President Obama unleashed last year, setting the stage for Republicans to raise money, recruit candidates and ride the excitement of an energized base as the party heads into next year’s midterm elections.

It’s difficult to argue that the Republicans are not in a stronger position in general, but as I argued yesterday, these elections had precious little to do with either Obama or national politics. The Democrats lost those two gubernatorial elections because they were either unpopular, ran lame campaigns, or both. It wasn’t a newly energized base that swung the races; rather it was a combination of independents breaking R and a good chunk of the “Obama coalition” staying home.

Which we knew they would all along. Minorities, the young, the less wealthy, new voters do tend to stay home in odd years (and while I anticipate an uptick in turnout amongst these groups in 2010, it won’t come near the level of 2008). These were the demographic categories that largely put Obama (way) over the top in 2008.

This, of course, is simply bollocks:

CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger says that the projected GOP win in the Virginia gubernatorial race – and exit polls showing independents voting overwhelmingly for Republican Bob McDonnell – could be a problem for the president.

“This is a signal to this White House they have some problems right now – particularly on the economy and on the deficit,” she said.

The White House did have a problem in Virginia: they knew that the Democrats had a mediocre candidate, which is specifically why they didn’t invest too much time there. While this will be played up as a “signal” to the White House, it simply isn’t. As several sources are reporting, the electorate that turned out in Virginia last night went 51%-43% for John McCain; in 2008 Virginia went 53%-46% for Obama.

The same was largely true in New Jersey. While the exit poll data do not appear to have asked vote choice in 2008, Obama’s approval rating amongst those who voted in 2009 in NJ is 57%: yet 27% of those approving of Obama’s job performance voted against Corzine.

In some ways, I think that there is more good than bad in these results for the Democrats. In New Jersey, for example, the 18-29 age cohort voted for Corzine by a fairly decent majority of 57% — the only cohort to give him a majority (granted that cohort only represented 9% of the electorate, which is not terribly surprising given what I’ve been suggesting the past two days). While this did not hold in Virginia, of those that did turn out, the younger cohorts were more supportive of Deeds than the older cohorts. It would appear that a greater percentage of the “Obama coalition” did turn out in New Jersey whereas in Virginia they were more likely to stay home, which is a further nail in the coffin of those who argue that Obama has no pulling power. He campaigned heavily (for a sitting President) in New Jersey, and basically ignored Virginia.

And then there’s NY-23. While it has been argued that NY-23 voted for Obama, therefore is not as Republican (or at least as Conservative) as conventional wisdom suggests, I suspect that the same patterns of turnout applied there as well as in NJ and VA. This one is the only one of the three that perhaps touched on national issues (though I’ll stick to my original analysis that it was going to swing on local politics all along) as it ended up being a confrontation between a moderate Democrat and a Palinesque Republican. That the wingnut lost in a traditionally Republican district in an election where turnout patterns would strongly favor the Republicans if they ever do suggests that the ‘return to core conservative values’ model of reform in the Republican Party is not a winner, at least in non wingnut constituencies, and that perhaps 2009 was more about the Republicans than the Democrats / Obama all along.

UPDATE: and of course, leave it to the Brits to get it hilariously wrong:

Major Republican victories in two states last night left the fate of President Obama’s signature health reforms in doubt and Democrats licking their wounds a year before the 2010 mid-term elections.

. . .

A year ago, Mr Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to carry Virginia in a presidential race. This time voters expressed concern about major Obama initiatives on energy and stimulus spending as well as healthcare. Exit polls showed that independents broke heavily for Mr McDonnell.

. . .

“This reflects a sea change in the electorate,” said Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.


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