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Turnout Woes Provided Final Nail in Democrats' Coffin

November 3, 2010

As Election Day approached, it was clear that Democrats were facing the perfect storm of a dismal economy, a media-driven backlash movement and President Obama's quixotic - and counterproductive - quest for bipartisanship. But even with the loss of independent voters, the Democrats mid-term beat down could have less severe had their base come to the polls.
To be sure, Democrats were punished by independents, who exit polls showed backing the GOP by 56% to 38%. That compared to an 8-point Democratic edge just two years ago. But despite promising early signs on Tuesday, their base did not come to vote. And in states like Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida, that cost Democrats dearly.
Tuesday's electorate was much older and whiter than that which propelled Obama to the White House in 2008. As the Guardian summed up the disaster:

1. The 2008 electorate was 74% white, plus 13% black and 9% Latino. The 2010 numbers were 78, 10 and 8. So it was a considerably whiter electorate.
2. In 2008, 18-to-29-year-olds made up 18% and those 65-plus made up 16%. Young people actually outvoted old people. This year, the young cohort was down to 11%, and the seniors were up to a whopping 23% of the electorate. That's a 24-point flip.
3. The liberal-moderate-conservative numbers in 2008 were 22%, 44% and 34%. Those numbers for yesterday were 20%, 39% and 41%. A big conservative jump, but in all likelihood because liberals didn't vote in big numbers.

And as Ted Strickland, Joe Sestak and Alexi Giannoulias (among others) would attest, that proved fatal Rust Belt states won by Barack Obama two years ago.
MSNBC's Chuck Todd explained in key battleground states, Democratic turnout lagged even the levels of the last midterm elections in 2006:

The Midwest -- particularly Indiana and Wisconsin -- was a problem for Democrats, even with Sestak's and Strickland's close defeats. Per the exits, Republicans won the region, 53%-44%, a reversal from 2008, when Dems won the region, 54%-44%. And Florida feels a lot redder than it did after '08.
Obama's campaign appearances in Illinois and Pennsylvania certainly helped Alexi Giannoulias and Sestak keep their races close. Giannoulias crushed Mark Kirk in Chicago, while Sestak lapped Pat Toomey in Philly. Where these Democrats didn't fare as well, at least relative to '08, was in the Chicago/Philly suburbs. But while Obama helped keep those races close, midterm turnout was down for the Dems from 2006 -- 126,000 less in Pennsylvania, 273,000 less in Missouri, and 330,000 less in Ohio.

Those fiascos more than offset the only bright spots for Democrats. Keeping California blue, preserving Harry Reid's Senate leadership or even the 68% to 30% advantage among Hispanics are no consolation.
No doubt, Tuesday was going to bad for Democrats. But it didn't have to be this bad.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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