Articles and Analysis


Brownstein: A Party Transformed

Topics: 2008 , Exit Polls , John Kerry , National Journal , Pollsters

Before going back into the deep weeds of Ohio and Texas, I want to pass along a link to the long article by my National Journal colleague Ron Brownstein. He did an extensive dive into the primary exit polls to paint a picture of the "new Democratic coalition" being forged by race for the Democratic nomination:

From New Hampshire to California, and from Arizona to Wisconsin, exit polls from this year's contests show the Democratic coalition evolving in clear and consistent ways since the 2004 primaries that nominated John Kerry. The party is growing younger, more affluent, more liberal, and more heavily tilted toward women, Latinos, and African-Americans.

In the 18 states for which exit polls are available from both 2004 and 2008, the share of the Democratic vote cast by young people has risen, often by substantial margins. Voters earning at least $100,000 annually have also increased their representation in every state for which comparisons are available -- again, usually by big margins. Women's share of the vote has grown in 17 of the 18 states (although generally by smaller increments). In 12 of the states, Latinos have cast a larger percentage of votes, as have the voters who consider themselves liberals. African-Americans have boosted their share in 11 of the 18 states.

This story is well worth the click.

Brownstein's thesis gets at one challenge of primary polling this season that my discussions of the demographics of Texas and Ohio only hinted at. The challenge is about more than getting race, ethnicity, gender and age right. Polls have also had to cope with a surge in better educated, higher income voters in Democratic primaries. Click on the link in Brownstein's story labeled "A Shifting Landscape" (in the right column, just below the cover image) and notice the large and consistent increase in $100K+ voters.

One thing that surprised me a bit is how many Texas and Ohio pollsters fail to include any measure of the education or income level in their surveys. How can you diagnose how well your sample represents the primary electorate if you have no measure of socio-economic status?



Sorry, Mark, we're too bizzy fighting amongst ourselves to notice.


Remember, it was Will Rogers who said ... wait, I don't have to pull that old line out again, do I?



still no one has scored the pollsters on recent predictions. a graph would be great. who's been the most reliable forecaster to date?



It will be interesting to see if these trends stick...if they do, it will spell doom for the DLC and its continuing project to make the Democratic Party more like Tennessee.



I have an issue with how they're wording the liberal part. They make it seem like liberals are now more likely to join the Democratic party than before. However, unlike race and gender, ideology is self-defined and what I suspect is going on here is that more and more people are considering themselves liberal, not that more and more liberals are joining the Democratic party.



Re socio-economic class, it was raised early on in a piece on this site just after the NH primary -- a piece headlined about gender, but it was so much more than that re not just class but age and more. I have referred back to it often since and referred others to it, too, to try to understand what we are seeing this primary season. Kudos.


I once appeared with Brownstein on NPR, and he struck me then as a pretty smart guy. I don't think this short excerpt gives his analysis full justice, so I encourage people to click through. A couple thoughts:

Part of the increase in the Democratic primary's share of the youth and persons of color is due to the fact that these groups traditionally do not participate at as high rates as the other groups. If turnout increases, it has to come disproportinately from these groups. I think, then, that this analysis is partially confounded by turnout effects.

The American National Election Study has easily accessible tables of partisanship by age cohort which provides evidence of generational effects in partisanship. Self-identified Republicans increased among voters entering the electorate during Reagan's presidency and have decreased in recent elections. If, over their life-cycle, voters entering the electorate now remain with the Democratic Party, we may look back at 2006 or 2008 as being a realigning election that remakes the party coalitions. However, while polling by Pew, Gallup, and Public Opinion Strategies all show a recent decline in Republican identification, for a real realignment to happen, a Democratic president would have to implement policies that "seal the deal" with voters. The current election only provides the possibiliy of remaking the party coalitions. Democrats would have to follow through with action, if voters give them that chance.


Daniel T:

I really HATE garbage articles like the one by Brownstein. It does analysis *backwards*. Rather than coming up with a theory and testing to see if its true, it takes a mish-mash of data and tries to find a theory that explains the data. Not only does this leave us with the issue of causation, we can't even know the reason why any possible correlation exists.

"The party is growing younger, more affluent, more liberal, and more heavily tilted toward women, Latinos, and African-Americans."

So the heck what? How can we possibly know if this is anything more than the collection of random data points? Using labels such as "wine track" gets us no where and merely uses jargon to obscure the lack of thinking.

I think I will go tear out my hair now. It's about an effective an action as reading such a stupid article.



LOL. Seems like pollsters are picking up that more people are voting and voting Democratic rather than the Democrats are becoming more of the party of their core.

Not all due to Obama either. Voting was up in 2006 too. And when Hillary loses, she still gets more voters than McCain does.


Marriage and raising children are still forces which move people to the more conservative side of things. As young people delay marriage and children longer than earlier generations, it is not surprising that they remain liberal longer.

In contrast, moving to a new location tends to encourage folks to vote more leftward, for reasons that are speculated on but still unknown. We are also in a society which moves more often, tending to make it more liberal.


Nick Panagakis:

Regarding: A Party Transformed

I wish reporters would stop using poll demographics to characterize changes in the composition of Dems and GOPs.

These are primary voters, most of whom consider themselves Dems or GOPs but many do not. It's a stretch to call this a party transformed.

Re: the Shifting Landscape table. It would have been more meaningful to do such a table for GOP primary voters too. How has the composition of GOP primary voters changed since 2004? Was there a corresponding decline in women voters, an increase in male voters, etc, etc? GOP primary turnout did not increase nearly as much.

More importantly for November, what was the change in non Dems, non GOPs voting in each primary by state?

One reason for the Latino increase in the Dem primary is that they are the fastest growing demo group in the nation. (BTW. I checked with Lenski. Use of Spanish language questionnaires by state was the same as in 2006 and 2004. He adds that campaigns targeted Latinos, more Latinos became eligible to vote, and the immigration issue brought them to the polls.)

Comparisons of changes in voter composition in both primaries would have been more useful.



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