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Midterm demographics cont'd

I've been getting some pushback on my earlier post saying that Democrats are in trouble in part because many of the young voters who helped them in 2008 are likely to abandon them in 2010, while the seniors who opposed them in 2008 are going to make up a larger share of the electorate in 2010. And because my readers know how to get my attention, I even got sent this chart:

noirates.jpg

As you can see, the young do vote in midterm elections -- and turnout is actually going up. But though the trend is in the right direction, the midterm numbers are still disappointing: About 22 percent in 2006, whereas they brushed against 50 percent in both the 2004 and 2008 presidentials. Conversely, older voters have turnout rates a bit above 70 percent in presidential elections, above 60 percent in midterm elections. Not only do they vote in much higher numbers, but the drop-off between presidential and midterm elections is much smaller. Combine this with the fact that conservative -- read: older -- voters are more enthusiastic this year, while more liberal -- read: younger -- voters are less enthusiastic, and you see why Democrats are worried.

That said, this is a bad state of affairs. I'd argue that, if anything, it's more important to vote in midterm elections than in presidential elections, as lower turnout means each individual vote is more important, and Congress generally is much more important than people realize. And the left-leaning constituencies that prefer presidential elections to midterm elections need to realize they're setting up a situation in which the politicians they elect disappoint them in part because they need to fend off the conservative voters who dominate midterm elections.

By Ezra Klein  | October 1, 2010; 3:20 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Midterms  
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Comments

The democrats may not have the Tea Party, but the polls are showing that they are more excited to vote in this race then any midterm in decades and most presidential races too. The democratic base might not match GOP levels of fanaticism, but is hardly depressed.

Posted by: theamazingjex | October 1, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Who can "left-leaning" voters vote for? Even in supposedly liberal Silver Spring, the incumbant Democrat, Chris Van Hollen favors giving billions of dollars to millionaires by extending the tax cuts for the wealthy another year. And no one else will win, because candidates are funded by the rich so the candidates of BOTH parties will ALWAYS support the rich. Left-leaning voters have no one to vote for. There is no reason at all for them to vote.

Posted by: cassander | October 1, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if "enthusiasm" is the right word to use in describing turnout by demographic. Older citizens tend to vote in midterms because, well ... because they've been in the habit of voting regularly (and because they have more time on their hands), not because they are necessarily more enthusiastic, or even more Republican leaning. I guess I'm one of those "older" voters now. I haven't missed voting in an election of any type since I was eligible to vote in 1972. For most local and even state elections, I could hardly be called enthusiastic. Maybe dutiful is the word. But I'm sure as heck enthusiastic about voting for Democrats in this midterm. So is my 85-year-old mother.

People are unenthusiatic about voting when they think it doesn't matter. The message that it matters--big time--is starting to come through loud and clear.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | October 1, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and as for being disappointed in Presidents, maybe that has something to do with the President as a candidate vehemently promised to close Guantanamo and end torture. Instead, he has done neither, even arguing strongly in court that those who have been tortured cannot get any compensation. His administration supports torture. Voters who do not support torture have no one to vote for. If they vote for someone who says they will do one thing, they will instantly change their minds in office and voters can do NOTHNING. At best, another candidate will come along also saying they are against torture. And if that new candidate wins, then they also will change once in office. Democracy does not work.

Posted by: cassander | October 1, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

When GDP growth is an anemic 1.6%, its hard to get motivated to vote for hope and change.

And its not easy to vote in college.

Sorry.

Posted by: krazen1211 | October 1, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

" Voters who do not support torture have no one to vote for. If they vote for someone who says they will do one thing, they will instantly change their minds in office and voters can do NOTHNING."

I doubt that many voters really care about torturing KSM.

Posted by: krazen1211 | October 1, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

The idea that older people are significantly more conservative than younger isn't quite true. They are definitely more conservative, but the effect is rather slight on most issues. (On gay marriage, it's HUGE, but that's not because they're old, it's because they were born a long time ago--there's a difference) There's almost no relationship between age an opinions on school spending, welfare programs, other aid to the poor, or border security, and health care opinion depends on the way you ask the question. (All this is from the 2008 American National Election Study)
In fact, today's elderly lean Democratic, which makes sense because they came of age in a time when Democrats were dominant (1930-1970). However, Gen X came of age in the Reagan years, and is more Republican because of it. (of course, partisanship and ideology aren't the same thing)

Posted by: mjarvis | October 1, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Election day should be a national holiday, we should have automatic voter registration in every state when you turn 18, and we should initiate online voting. Get a lot more people to vote.

Posted by: AuthorEditor | October 1, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

AuthorEditor, nothing you said is wrong.

cassander, did we learn nothing from President Bush? Dissaffected though liberals may be with the current crop of Dems, a Republican majority, at least with this group of Republicans, will always be worse from a liberal perspective. Staying home doesn't teach anyone any lessons worth learning. It teaches Dems that win that liberals are not a reliable constituency for their reelection bids. Dems that lose aren't in a position to "go left" in the next election. I'm a big believer in primary challenges as a way to pull the Dem to the left or replace him/her with someone further to the left. Once you get to the general, though, staying home is counterproductive to any interest you have in liberal issues.

Posted by: MosBen | October 1, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

"Even in supposedly liberal Silver Spring, the incumbant Democrat, Chris Van Hollen favors giving billions of dollars to millionaires by extending the tax cuts for the wealthy another year."

How many times does it need to be said?

It isn't the government's money. Tax cuts are not gifts.

Posted by: justin84 | October 1, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

When I was younger, my voting was sporadic. I voted when a candidate sparked my anger over an issue or sparked my enthusiasm over an idea. As I grew older, I realized we get the government we deserve and that my vote did count for something. Older people are more inclined to vote for a variety of reasons, but most of all "civic duty". We have more to lose with bad government, and less distractions to take us away from the pools on voting day. In my early 20's I was looking for the next mid-term or the next party, not the next governor or representative. They say "youth is wasted on the young", but I think as we grow so does our realization of what's really important. If we as voters are apathetic and disinterested in voting, what are we teaching our younger people about the importance of voting?

Posted by: mjohnson1116 | October 1, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

"it's more important to vote in midterm elections than in presidential elections, as lower turnout means each individual vote is more important, and Congress generally is much more important than people realize."

Yes, but you usually have to be old to understand this.

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 1, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

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