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Omero: Turnout Expectations in NJ & VA


One lesson many wanted to learn about last week's Gubernatorial elections was "the Obama coalition" of young voters and black voters didn't materialize this time around.  Some speculated higher turnout among these voters would prove to be a one-time phenomenon.   Some on the left seem to think the lack of a single-payer health care plan could be to blame for a lack of high turnout among the Dem base.  Whatever the perspective, most commentators began with the assumption that the Democratic campaigns had it within their power to replicate the turnout patterns of the 2008 general election.

With even a casual examination of past turnout data, this seems to be an unbelievably high standard by which to define turnout success.  An odd-year election simply cannot hold a candle to a record turnout presidential year.  Voting groups who turnout less frequently--like minority groups and younger voters--are not going to be solely responsible for the dropoff.   The charts below show turnout since 1978.  In both states, not one time has either odd year or mid-term turnout surpassed presidential year turnout from that cycle.  In fact, only once (in Virginia) does mid-term turnout appear to just surpass presidential turnout from a different cycle.

 

Thumbnail image for Virginia Turnout.jpg 

Thumbnail image for New Jersey Turnout.jpgFurthermore, black and younger voters turnout as a percentage of the 2009 vote is actually not that different from the percentage in previous midterm elections.  Midterm elections don't have the same turnout pattern as presidential elections, whether pre-Obama or post-Obama.  The table below shows the percentage of in the last four elections who are under 29 year old, or African-American.  Unfortunately there are no public 2005 exit polls for us to truly compare apples to apples. 

nj and va table.JPGThis is not to argue that there aren't lessons for Democrats from these elections.  Or that efforts to turnout first-time voters from 2008 are futile, or even that exploring changes in turnout can't be an interesting exercise.  But to lay the drop-off in turnout from 2008 to 2009 squarely on the feet of younger and black voters is both unfair and misguided.

 

 

MAP - US, AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY, PR