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Democrats lost big because young voters stayed home

I basically agree with Kevin Drum's take on the overall election results: Most of the losses were predicted by structural factors, but not all of them. Democrats lost at least 15 more seats than the basic model would've predicted, and though you can try and explain that away (they were holding seats because of a demographically unique election in 2008, or the model doesn't account for extreme economic conditions), it's not really worth doing: Democrats lost a lot of seats. Even more than the economic conditions would've predicted.

The question, of course, is why. And the basic answer is that Republican groups came out to vote and Democratic groups didn't. The exit polls tell the story:

image (3).png

The gender breakdown didn't change much. And nor did the racial breakdown. But the age of the electorate changed dramatically: Seniors went from 16 percent in 2008 to 23 percent in 2010, while voters between 18 and 29 fell from 18 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2009. Seniors, of course, are the most conservative voters -- they were the only age group to back John McCain in 2008. And young voters are the most liberal. They were the only age group that favored Democrats yesterday.

There's going to be a lot of soul-searching among Democrats after this election. Most of it will be about whether they should've been more liberal or more conservative, more ambitious or more modest, more confident or more empathic. But perhaps the most important question isn't what they could've done to make more Americans like them, but what they could've done to get more young voters to the polls.

By Ezra Klein  | November 3, 2010; 10:48 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Midterms  
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Comments

It shouldn't be so surprising that the youth vote was significantly diminished. Obama's presidential campaign made promises on which it was impossible to deliver. Obama promised change and a post-partisan atmosphere; instead there was quite a lot of gridlock and acrimony. (As you yourself have noted several times, the remarkable amount that did get accomplished is a story that has gone largely unnoticed.) Where the responsibility lies for this is hard for me to say. Certainly, you have to believe that Obama and the Democrats failed to manage this part of the political landscape. However, the Republicans' policy of obstruction was very effective in generating disillusionment among younger voters. Whether that was part of their strategy, I can't say; but it certainly worked.

Posted by: TopeinCO | November 3, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I know one example does not make for a trend, but I do think that the African-American participation declining from 12% to 10% was enough to claim the seat of at least one incumbent, Bob Etheridge (NC-02). Etheridge lost to Tea Party candidate Renee Elmers by 2,100 votes. Based on 183,000 votes cast and an assumption that Etheridge gets 90% of the African-American vote, a 10% versus 12% figure is a difference of 3,300 votes.

Local pundits claim that Etheridge's healthcare vote doomed him. Sure, people were motivated by their hatred of Obamacare. However, I think if the Democrats fought for a more robust healthcare plan, more minorities and young voters would've come out, and Etheridge would have won.

Overall, a drop in the percentage of groups who were most supportive of healthcare reform is what did Democrats in. Democrats who learn the lesson that they went too far will have learned the wrong lesson.

Posted by: toastie | November 3, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Can you run the numbers of this electorate with the results of 2008? ie, if this were the composition of the electorate two years ago, does McCain win?

Posted by: _SP_ | November 3, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I would argue that Democrats lost big because Democrats are horrible at communication. The only reason Obama got young people and minorities to the polls was because of his big, shiny, message-filled campaign. The GOP is an amazingly organized message machine, and until Dems can spread the message half as well, they'll continue to suffer, unless/until Republicans screw up things so badly that there's no other choice... i.e. 2006 & 2008.

Posted by: christinemccorkle | November 3, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

"But perhaps the most important question isn't what they could've done to make more Americans like them, but what they could've done to get more young voters to the polls."

The economy still sucks after two years of Democratic rule. We've lost nearly a half million jobs since the recession ended in June '09.

They tried hope and change, found out it didn't work, and that was that.

Posted by: justin84 | November 3, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

friggin' kids.

christinemccorkle is on the mark. For the GOP, demagoguery is good, demagoguery works.

Posted by: bdballard | November 3, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

In an ideal (or close to ideal) world, the Democrats respond to this in a similar way as Matt Yglesias suggests elected officials respond to scandals: Don't quit. Of course that won't happen.

Posted by: scalderwood | November 3, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Just a quick thought: why are you comparing 2010 (a midterm) to 2008 (a high turnout presidential election)? Isn't that an apples to oranges comparison?

For instance, you mention that 18-29 year olds fell from 18% of the eletorate in 2008 to 11% in 2010. However, according to CNN exit polls, in the 2006 midterms the 18-29 segment only made up 12% of the electorate, which is almost exactly the same as 2010 ( on the other hand, the 65+ crowd went from 19% in 2006 to 23% in 2010). I'm not sure how comparable the exit polls are on the basis of methodology etc., but that may be something to look into. Maybe chart the percentages for the last 10-20 years?

Source: http://edition.cnn.com/ELECTION/2006/pages/results/states/US/H/00/epolls.0.html

Posted by: brm2010 | November 3, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Why in the world would young people who voted for Obama in 2008, and have not been able to get jobs for the best two years. because of Obama's policy which has closed down this economy and their future.

Posted by: letscheck | November 3, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure what Ezra doesn't want to talk about is the shift from Democrat to Republican WITHIN similar demographics.

So they can spin that it's based on lower turnout, different demographics....but I forget which channel it was I saw this morning, but one of them was showing the massive shift 2008 vs 2010 to the GOP within similar demographic slices.

In other words, more people 50+ and older voted GOP in 2010 than in 2008; more independents voted GOP 2010 than in 2008; more right-handed white males with middle-parted haircuts voted for the GOP....you get the point.

Posted by: dbw1 | November 3, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

College age voters were never a reliable source of votes in the first place. It's harder now to get this generation to vote because they got so many distractions or as they like to call it "better things to do." They voted for Obama in 2008 because it sounded like the president was going to engage them in the decision making process. That didn't happen. The Obama fever has waned since the election. As for why college students don't vote, there are many reasons. I found a poll on this question, http://my-take.com/poll/What-is-the-main-reason-that-only-a-low-percentage-of-college-students-vote . College students don't see how the older generations are making the rules that they have to live by. They don't care enough to vote and frankly the dems didn't make them care.

Posted by: ElsieW1n | November 3, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I don't think this speaks as much about things the democrats didn't do as much as it does about the antiquated voting system. Voting is a lot more like going to the post office than sending and email and older people are more comfortable than young people with the latter.

Young people between the ages of 18-29 move around a lot. A lot of them are in college in different towns from where they are registered to vote. On top of transience, we are a generation that likes doing everything on the computer or phone and voting is just not an efficient use of time, especially if you are not near your polling place.

Posted by: megankeenan | November 3, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

ha...my first comment should have said "former" instead of "latter"

Posted by: megankeenan | November 3, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

"They tried hope and change, found out it didn't work, and that was that."

Nah. We already know that you're dumb and verbose, but the same rules apply as 1994: campaigning politicians promise more from unified government than they can deliver, and voters take them at their word

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | November 3, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

President Obama should have been more progressive. Passing the health care bill is monumental, I agree, but while he had both the senate and the house he should have used it to his advantage. The Dems should have passed a public option. That would have gained them more votes in the midterm. Also, the stimulus should have been a lot bigger. It should have catapulted our infrastructure and manufacturing into this century. Major overhaul, sweeping change would have brought the kind of energy we saw in the Yes We Can days.

Posted by: ania8 | November 3, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

"Why in the world would young people who voted for Obama in 2008, and have not been able to get jobs for the best two years. because of Obama's policy which has closed down this economy and their future."

Right on the mark. I'd think for students graduating from college with five- or even six-figure college loan debt, the sputtering economy with its poor job prospects would be very discouraging (don't drag out the chart showing the unemployment rate for college grads vs. non-college grads again given some are working at the gas station or Burger King). But at least they have health insurance through their parent's coverage, if their parents are fortunate to still have jobs and if their parent's employer provides health insurance, right?

Posted by: tuber | November 3, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

It's really disappointing when young voters don't turn out, as they clearly have the most to win/lose longterm. Maybe they need to be reminded that at age 18 they could be drafted by the powers that be (this is what ultimately pushed the voting age down from 21; drafting 18 year old men to go to Vietnam when those same young men didn't have the right to vote at the time). Alternatively, maybe we should raise the voting age to 27, since young adults up to age 26 are now considered dependent children for the purposes of healthcare legislation ;)

Posted by: Beagle1 | November 3, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

"Nah. We already know that you're dumb and verbose, but the same rules apply as 1994: campaigning politicians promise more from unified government than they can deliver, and voters take them at their word"

pseudonymousinnc,

Why do you call me dumb when we clearly both agree that the Dems overpromised and underdelivered? I'd understand if you at least had a different position, but it's bizzare when its the same.

Posted by: justin84 | November 3, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

"It's really disappointing when young voters don't turn out, as they clearly have the most to win/lose longterm."

We clearly don't like our choices and don't have tens of thousands worth of annual largess at stake like the older folks.

"Maybe they need to be reminded that at age 18 they could be drafted by the powers that be (this is what ultimately pushed the voting age down from 21; drafting 18 year old men to go to Vietnam when those same young men didn't have the right to vote at the time)."

Sure, but a draft could come from either Democrats or Republicans, and the third parties stand no chance of winning. At any rate, a draft would be highly unpopular and is for that reason unlikely.

At any rate, the young liberals didn't get the results they had hoped for from the Democrats, and they don't trust the Republicans to do a better job this time around. Can you really blame them for not voting?

Posted by: justin84 | November 3, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

The real problem is not that the kids didn't vote; the problem is that the oldsters voted in large numbers, and they voted straight Republican. Why? These are people either already receiving Social Security and Medicare, or soon will be at that age. And they voted for the same Republicans whose lethal policies brought us to the brink of Depression; the same politicians who made no secret of the fact they intend to cut or privatise Social Security, and cut or eliminate Medicare and Medicaid. Not only do they not care about the millions of fellow Americans who are jobless, homeless, or at a minimum are without healthcare, but they voted to expose their own personal security programs to the knife. It is obvious they were the victims of misinformation. Who is the person or group responsible, and how did they carry out such a humongous misinformation program? I think we had better find out rather quickly, and see that the remnants of our responsible national government do what is necessary to restore truth and honesty to the information and education programs in the nation.

Posted by: catfish5437 | November 3, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

@letscheck: "Why in the world would young people who voted for Obama in 2008, and have not been able to get jobs for the best two years. because of Obama's policy which has closed down this economy and their future."

It's stuff like that that gets passed off, that millions seem to get persuaded by in their lazy dimness, that makes me think we're doomed. The economy's in the tank 'cause we're in the midst of a balance sheet recession, bonehead! -which began before Obama got elected. They usually take a long time to recover from. Obama has been met by nothing but obstruction, blatant obstruction by the Republican Congress-members. Politically, probably due to naivete, maybe personal timidity, he has been unable to cope with this. Most of the legislation he has championed has been badly watered down, rendered partially ineffective. However, all of the policies he's promoted have been at least arguably sound, unlike some of those of his predecessor who ran a huge deficit during an economic upswing, a choice for which there is no economic argument.

Posted by: jonboinAR | November 3, 2010 11:07 PM | Report abuse

It's not just that younger voters didn't show up, it's that older voters came out - scared to death of the black sharia socialist nazi menace - and voted as well.

Posted by: putnamp | November 4, 2010 12:15 AM | Report abuse

Stories about college students being turned away from polls are coming out.

Posted by: writerebey | November 4, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

College students couldn't vote:
http://www.woi-tv.com/Global/story.asp?S=13442476
http://www.statenews.com/index.php/article/2010/11/registration_confusion_prevents_voting
http://pittnews.com/newsstory/election-worker-50-to-100-students-couldnt-vote/
http://www.dailycal.org/article/111069/registration_confusion_at_polls_disheartens_studen

Posted by: writerebey | November 4, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

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