The 2014 Midterm Elections: Why the GOP can be the majority in both House and Senate.
Recent history tells voter turnout is always smaller in midterm elections than in presidential years, and it is often, though not always, friendlier to Republicans in midterms. So how much will that trend continue in 2014?
Thomas F. Schaller is a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, examined that phenomenon over at Larry Sabato’s site:
In the dozen presidential cycles from 1964 to 2008, turnout shares of the voting-age population ranged from a high of 69.3% (1964) to a low of 54.2% (1996), with an average of 60.2%; in the dozen midterm cycles between 1966 and 2010, turnout averaged 46.2% and ranged between 55.4% (1966) and 41.8% (2010). The average drop-off effect was 14%. . . .
What, if anything, can Democrats do to drive up turnout in non-presidential cycles?
“There is little to nothing Democrats can do to mitigate the drop-off of turnout among their core constituencies that regularly happens — like a clock — when moving from presidential to midterm elections. Indeed, the primary way to stimulate midterm voters who do vote to support Democrats will not be present in 2014: a poorly performing Republican president that Democrats can rally against (e.g., Bush 2006 or Nixon 1974),” George Mason University’s Michael McDonald, one of the nation’s foremost experts on electoral turnout, explained to me via email. “The first step for Democrats is to prevent 2014 from becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy by recruiting quality candidates to run.” McDonald says Democrats will have to look to new strategies, including social media applications. “But, I caution that social media will likely not solve the Democrats’ problems since it failed to prevent the historic Republican landslide in 2010.”
I then asked Sasha Issenberg, author of The Victory Lab, a critically-acclaimed book about the rising sophistication of electoral field campaign strategies and techniques, how Democrats, who presently enjoy a field mobilization advantage, might “presidentialize” midterm elections. “In the last decade, Democrats have gotten much better at using field experiments to understand the mechanics of mobilization and data to target their efforts to parts of the electorate where they can have the greatest impact. There is a persistent difference between midterm and presidential elections, though: activist engagement, especially among the volunteers who do the work of mobilization,” Issenberg said. “So we may be missing a step here. The primary challenge for Democrats may not be how to mobilize blacks and Hispanics to vote in off-year elections the way they do in presidential cycles, but how to motivate them to volunteer at those levels — because it’s that activity that we know will turn their neighbors out to vote.”
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