GOP’s Midterm Rout: The Good, The Bad, and The Not So Pretty

by John Giokaris:

In short, while 2014 was an historic night of gains for the Republican Party throughout the country, we should all be cognizant of the difference between presidential electorates and midterm electorates.

midterm-election-republicanIt’s no surprise that voter turnout was lower in a midterm election year. That’s historically been the case for at least the last 175 years. For the last 40 years, midterm election voter turnout has hovered at or below 40% while presidential election voter turnout has consistently hovered above 50%.

The Good

The good news for Republicans is there was plenty to celebrate.

Assuming Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) wins his runoff against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in Louisiana next month, the GOP will have won their largest House majority and second largest Senate majority since 1928 (the GOP had 55 Senate seats after 2004).

Republicans also control more state legislatures throughout the country now than at any other time since the 1920s.

With the exception of a few races (Colorado, Connecticut, and Minnesota), Republicans won nearly every close gubernatorial race on November 4. They successfully held governorships in states that go blue in presidential years like Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wisconsin, and also picked up governorships in traditional Democratic strongholds like Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

In other words, the results showed the GOP had a near universal sweep in 2014.

The Bad

It’s worth mentioning that early estimates of voter turnout were pretty low. Michael McDonald of the Vital Statistics of American Politics estimates the 2014 voter turnout at 36.3%. If that holds true, that would tie near historic lows in the post-1950 era (1998: 36.4%, 1990: 36.5%, 1986: 36.4%).

Midterm Election TurnoutThat’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the additional 20% of voters who participate in presidential elections felt uninspired to do so this year or maybe didn’t think they were informed enough to make a good decision, then that was their choice.

But it should also tell conservatives – particularly staunch ideologues – that we’re dealing with a completely different electorate in presidential election years. Why so many casual voters care more about an office far more removed from their every day lives than their state’s own governorship, for example, is a discussion we won’t get into here. But I’d highly recommend an excellent book on the topic by George Mason University constitutional law professor F.H. Buckley called The One and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America which explores the monarchist culture of America, largely driven by the media’s infatuation with the White House.

But make no mistake, fully one-third (33.3%) of 2012’s presidential electorate did not participate in the midterm elections this year, which brings us to…

The Ugly

Without 33.3% of 2012 voters participating in 2014, the GOP did significantly better among President Barack Obama’s bread and butter demographics: ethnic minorities, millennials, and women. But the GOP still lost the majority of those groups in all but the deepest red states.

The same thing happened in 2010, unsurprisingly.

Of the Latino-American voters who participated in the 2014 elections, Republicans won about a third of their votes according to the New York Times – better than the 27% they earned in 2012.

A point I’ve stressed for years is that making inroads into these communities is not based on how conservative one is, despite what the ideologues want to believe. It depends on outreach and hard campaign work.

In states with significant Latino populations, like Colorado and Texas, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and state Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-Texas) campaigned aggressively in Latino neighborhoods with a message of job creation and smaller government.

Incumbent Latino Republicans in blue states like Governors Susana Martinez (R-N.M.) and Brian Sandoval (R-Nev.) easily coasted to re-election with commanding leads of the popular vote.

This is something former President George W. Bush understood coming from a state like Texas. When campaigning for governor, Bush spent years maintaining a consistent presence and relationship with the state’s Latino-American communities. Many people forget that by projecting that model on the national scale when running for president, Bush not only went out of his way to hire bilingual campaign organizers in all the battleground states, but that in doing so, he earned nearly half (44%) of the nation’s Latino-American vote by 2004.

That’s unheard of for Republican candidates.

It’s also worth mentioning that wealthy Illinois Republican businessman Bruce Rauner – who was getting “Romneyed” by Chicago Machine Democrats all year long in brutal campaign attacks ads – not only became the first Republican candidate in that state to open a campaign office in the predominantly African-American Chicago Southside neighborhood in 20 years, but also consistently campaigned aggressively in black communities, earning endorsements from African-American pastors like Rev. James Meeks and Rev. Corey Brooks. They all helped contribute to the first GOP gubernatorial win in Illinois in 12 years.

Bottom line: outreach makes the difference. Many ideologues who sit in a radio booth and talk all day for a living seem to be of the opinion that being as far right as possible will bring all the voters flocking to you. That’s not the case. You’re going to have to go to them to earn their vote.

Women broke Democrat 51%-47% in 2014, which is a more accurate reflection of high information voters who consistently participate every two years. Women care about important issues like jobs, the economy, the role of government, education, and healthcare too. Limiting them solely to “women’s rights” issues that only seem to revolve around their reproductive organs (abortion, birth control, contraceptives, etc.) seems insulting to me, as even Sandra Fluke found out in a state as blue as California. But we’ll see how much mileage Democrats can still get on that amongst casual voters who only vote in presidential years, particularly in 2016 with the first potential female candidate.

Youth voter turnout is steadily increasing from its traditionally historic lows up to around 50% now – and they are slowly balancing further to the right. In 2008, millennials broke Democrat 2 to 1. In 2010, it was 58%-42%. In 2012, it was 60%-40%. In 2014, it was 54%-43%.

So perhaps I was mistaken to put these developments under “The Ugly.” A more accurate description for Republicans would be, “The Better.” But a cautiously optimistic warning for the GOP would be to remember that presidential electorates have a far larger turnout than midterm ones. If they follow the campaign model examples set by many exceptional candidates in 2014, particularly in blue and purple states, they may be able to finally win their second popular vote in presidential elections since 1988.

John Giokaris is a Senior Staff Writer at Illinois Mirror and full-time student at The John Marshall Law School.

2 Comments

  1. Matt MacBradaigh says:

    Great article & analysis, John! It’s refreshing to read your work again. Kudos!

  2. A Highly Suspicious Poll Worker in Ohio says:

    “Bottom line: outreach makes the difference. Many ideologues who sit in a radio booth and talk all day for a living seem to be of the opinion that being as far right as possible will bring all the voters flocking to you. That’s not the case. You’re going to have to go to them to earn their vote.”

    It’s not the radio prognosticators you have to worry about. You have to worry about Republican governors and legislators, who first gerrymandered GOP seats into impregnable fortresses of Whites Only Clubs, and are currently now kicking as many minorities (and worse, poor people) off the voting rolls as possible. Your strategy of voter outreach isn’t nearly as proven as good ol’ fashioned apartheid tactics. If you doubt me, look at the death grip white voters have on the racially balanced states in the South.

    “It’s also worth mentioning that wealthy Illinois Republican businessman Bruce Rauner – who was getting ‘Romneyed’ by Chicago Machine Democrats all year long in brutal campaign attacks ads – not only became the first Republican candidate in that state to open a campaign office in the predominantly African-American Chicago Southside neighborhood in 20 years, but also consistently campaigned aggressively in black communities, earning endorsements from African-American pastors like Rev. James Meeks and Rev. Corey Brooks.”

    This is extremely presumptuous in light of what Rev. Meeks said about his endorsement of Rauner:

    “We have had a Democratic-controlled senate and a Democratic-controlled house and a Democratic governor for 12 years and not one thing has changed for black people because the Democratic Party does not have to put us as a priority.”

    So, what, the Republicans are going to make blacks and other minorities a priority? Is that what you’re saying? Or is this piece just another trite inside-baseball “Here’s how best to trick people into voting for us” analyses? Because if it is then Rev. Meeks (and anyone else who voted in this or any other election) is wasting their time and breath, and might prefer that you keep their names out of your mouth.

    “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the additional 20% of voters who participate in presidential elections felt uninspired to do so this year or maybe didn’t think they were informed enough to make a good decision, then that was their choice.”

    Or maybe they felt that elections are generally irrelevant? Usually a very unhealthy sign for a democracy when the vast majority of voters prefer not to participate. Ignoring this palpable reality calls into question exactly what you’re getting out of politics other than an excuse to ignore what’s actually going on in this country.

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