Democratic Turn Out

I’ve argued many times that the Republicans have a short term advantage in off-year elections due to being far more motivated to turn out. Larry Sabato points out how the Republicans were more energized to turn out than Democrats:

Turnout played a huge role in the outcomes in both NJ and VA, with Republicans showing up in droves and Democrats going fishing, at least to some degree. In Virginia, one result of absentee Democrats was the lowest voter turnout for a gubernatorial election in the state’s modern two-party history (1969 to 2009). The 2009 turnout of 39.8 percent of the registered voters was the lowest in forty years. Even with all the population growth since 2005, the absolute voter turnout in 2009 (1.97 million) fell below that of four years ago (2.0 million). And the electorate was barely more than half that of 2008 (3.7 million). Astounding.

One reason Democratic turn out was far lower than in2008 is that Obama was not on the ballot, and this will be the case again in 2010. One solution would be to try to nationalize the election, and First Read reports that this is being considered:

In Axelrod’s interview with one of us, he talked about the Democrats’ turnout problem on Tuesday, and he claimed that if they nationalize 2010, they won’t have that problem. Translation: The White House is going to take a page from the 2002 White House playbook, which is to nationalize the midterms and try and do it on your terms. The downside of trying to AVOID nationalizing 2010 is what happened in Virginia — the base doesn’t show up, etc. So if the White House wants to minimize losses in 2010, then it has to get as many of their 2008 voters to the polls. And that means the president has to be front and center. Axelrod made that crystal clear in his interview.

This might help reduce losses, but this will also mean that Obama’s reputation will be far more on the line than it was this year. They won’t be able to excuse losses as events in local elections. Even if this gets out more Democratic voters, this still leaves Republicans with an edge in 2010. Nationalizing the election will motivate even more Republicans as well as Democrats to turn out.

Democrats also face the historical trend for the winning party in a presidential election year to lose in the next Congressional elections. Many recently elected Democrats are also faced with the task of defending seats which have historically been held by Republicans. While long term trends, both in terms of  declining party identity and national demographics, do not look good for the Republicans, short therm they are well positioned for a dead cat bounce next year.

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