Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Who will vote on Tuesday? It's more important than usual.

Something remarkable has happened in this election year -- or something remarkable has happened to polling in this election year. We won't know if this is a real phenomenon or something having to do with measurement until all the votes are counted.

In the final Post-ABC News Poll, Republicans lead Democrats by 49 percent to 45 percent in the generic vote for House races among those most likely to cast ballots. But among all registered voters, Democrats lead by 49 to 44 percent. This is, as far as I can tell, an unprecedented gap between the entire potential electorate and those who, as determined by pollsters, intend to go out and cast ballots. Just four years ago, in the 2006 midterm elections, the final Post-ABC poll found a far smaller gap between registered and likely voters, and both measures pointed in the same direction. Democrats led by 53 to 43 percent among all registered voters and by 51 to 45 percent among likely voters.

Nor is the Post-ABC poll the only survey to find such a large gap between registered and likely voters this year. In its final survey, the Pew Research center found that Republicans have a five-point lead among likely voters but that Democrats lead by two points among all registered voters. Pew posted an excellent chart, reproduced below, showing results going back to the 1994 midterms. The chart makes clear the unusual nature of this year's gap between registered and likely voters.

Pew Chart.jpg

If this election proves closer than any of the current prognostications suggests it will be, pollsters will have to go back and take a look at the flaws in their likely voter models. If the Republicans win -- especially in the House races -- by the margins so many seem to expect, we might be looking at a new electoral system in which electorates in presidential years are substantially different from electorates in the midterms. The big difference is that young voters, who tend to vote more in presidential years, are now a major part of the Democratic electorate. (They voted 60 percent for Democrats in the 2006 House races and gave about two-thirds of their votes to President Obama in 2008.)When they vote in large numbers, Democrats seem to do well. When they stay home, an older electorate swings Republican. As Pew noted in its report on its final poll:

While 16 percent of all registered voters are under age 30, this age group makes up only 8 percent of likely voters due to their lower levels of interest and commitment to voting. Similarly, lower income Americans, who tend to favor the Democrats, make up a smaller share of the likely electorate due to their lower engagement levels.

Democrats, particularly Obama, will also have to do a lot of thinking about the party's failure to do more to mobilize the young (often called the Millennial Generation). This problem has been obvious for a long time, and I confess it's been an obsession of mine.

Writing about a Pew study of the young last February, I argued that "Democrats face disaster this fall and real problems in 2012 if the Millennials become disaffected from politics and if the Republicans continue to erode the Democrats' generational edge." Politicians, I said, "have a bad habit in midterm elections: They concentrate on older folks, assuming younger voters will stay home on Election Day. This may be rational most of the time, but it is a foolish bet for Democrats and liberals this year. The young helped them rise to power and can just as easily usher them to early retirements. Obama cannot afford to break their hearts."

In October of 2009, I asked: "Will the young and hopeful abandon the political playing field to older voters who are angry? That is the quiet crisis confronting President Obama and the Democrats. Left unattended, it could become a formidable obstacle for them in next year's midterm elections."

We'll see if that happens on Tuesday. Perhaps the likely voter screens are wrong and young voters will surprise the pollsters. Or the Democrats will have to go back and ask themselves if there was more they could have done to keep younger voters engaged. And the country will have to ask if it should be drawing excessively broad conclusions about the entire country from a midterm election in which older voters are vastly overrepresented compared with members of the rising generation.

By E.J. Dionne  | November 1, 2010; 12:14 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: NBC News/WSJ poll: Obama must 'change' direction
Next: Will Harvard grads win in the year of anti-elitism?

Comments

RealClearPolitics present multiple survey results. The scatter between all, registered, and likely puts in doubt the results of any particular survey group and certainly the +/- accuracy quotes.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | November 1, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

EJ - you could have written this piece much more succinctly just by saying that you believe when democrats win races it makes an important point, but when republicans win it doesn't really mean anything. See, did that in one paragraph.

Posted by: termiteavenger | November 1, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

So, all we need to do to win is vote.

Excellent!

I wouldn't miss it anymore than I would have missed voting for President Obama.


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

Young people, including Obama supporters, do not have land lines. Their only phones are cell phones. Pollsters don't call cell phone, so doesn't that fact throw a monkey wrench into the current polls?

Posted by: jpawlik1 | November 1, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Young people, including Obama supporters, do not have land lines. Their only phones are cell phones. Pollsters don't call cell phone, so doesn't that fact throw a monkey wrench into the current polls?

Posted by: jpawlik1 | November 1, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Mr Dionne; all,

tommorrow is JUDGEMENT DAY for the DIMocRAT extremists & they will be DUMPED by "those ignorant hillbillies, trailer trash & nobodies from flyover country".
(Princess Pelosi said that ====> MORE FOOL, SHE!)

face it, by 2012, there won't be a DIMocRATS Party that will even be worth belonging to as "the grand coalition" is splintered beyond repair & will soon be irrelevant to the political process as the Whigs are. =====> LARGE numbers of former "yellow dog democrats", union "rank & file" members, "workers" & many millions of Independents have joined THE TEA PARTY & because of the arrogant stupidity, class bigotry & FOOLishness of the "DIMocRAT leadership" AND they will not be returning, ever.

frankly, the DIMs might as well "go on vacation" on 11/02/10, for the good that they will accomplish by voting.

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: texasnative46 | November 1, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I've decided I'm going to permanently discontinue voting. For three months I've watched the diatribes by all sides PROVING that everyone else is a crook.
I've voted since I was deemed legal, but I now realize not a damn one of those votes counted. I even had a C.O. tell me who I had to vote for when I was in Korea - and he watched me. Won't vote Republican? - you go to the front.
I'm 77 years old and no longer believe the United States has one honest and forthright person that wants to lead this country, except for profit. Not a single one! It's ALL about money, and who can get the most $$$ by screwing the citizens, and being bought by industries and other interests.
We've had all kinds of so-called leaders, but who can you say they truly led? Not one president led troops in any of the many wars we've lost. (we have not won a war since 1945!) And very few 'leaders' have even served in the military, yet the Pentagon rules. They call the shots. They WANT WARS! It's good for thier business.
As for my family and friends, I'm going to encourage them to stay away from the polls, and arm themselves with truthes for the future wars of the liars for thier votes.
I beleive a law is forthcoming that will mandate that every person votes, and a C.O. will be looking over your shoulder to make sure you do it right.

Posted by: xmilcop | November 2, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

The Repukeliscum have entirely been coopted by corpowhores. Corpowhores have money, but citizens vote. We will see if the standard question "How stupid are you? Stupid enough to vote for your own destruction by the Repukeliscum Party?" holds true this time.

I was going door-to-door in a trailer park. All these people lived in double-wides and some voted Repukeliscum. The Democrats need to make a decision - support working people or go for the corporate bucks. If we try to out-corpowhore the Repukeliscum, we will be destroyed.

If on the other hand, we appeal to the young, the disaffected and the great mass of Americans, we can be the party of the future. Because the Repukeliscum assault on the middle class is accelerating. They will be doing more to destroy it. Will the middle class voter notice? Will the Democrats help the Repukeliscum?

One note: One survey of voters had 13% of the respondents from 18-39. 13%. Reader, do you believe that the electorate this election will be composed of 87% of persons aged 40 and above?

I do not.

Unpredictable stuff will happen today.

Posted by: snortz_the_cat | November 2, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Dionne,

I think we're also in a very exceptional time generationally considering the employment numbers. The 'young', by that I mean mid-20s and lower, are vastly overrepresented in the ranks of the unemployed. In addiiton, the Great Recession yanked out the retirement savings from the Baby Boomers, who aren't retiring in as large numbers as normal, exacerbating the unemployment for the young. So both factors create pissed-off generations that witnessed a good portion of their life savings being siphoned off to banks and executives, while their children are unemployed and having difficulty establishing their independence. Bad, bad, bad. The Democrats have done an incredible job managing this trainwreck, but it's still a trainwreck we can't just walk away from.

Perhaps more Republican authority in the house will make them be a little saner, but for both generations, I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: Jaycal | November 2, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Sure enough Baghdad Bob. You've got absolutely no credibility so I guess spitting into the wind of history offers no issues for you.

Enjoy your afternoon tea...bagging EJ. I suspect it is not your first or last.

Posted by: NelsonMuntz | November 2, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Sure enough Baghdad Bob. You've got absolutely no credibility so I guess spitting into the wind of history offers no issues for you.

Enjoy your afternoon tea...bagging EJ. I suspect it is not your first or last.

Posted by: NelsonMuntz | November 2, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Sure enough Baghdad Bob. You've got absolutely no credibility so I guess spitting into the wind of history offers no issues for you.

Enjoy your afternoon tea...bagging EJ. I suspect it is not your first or last.

Posted by: NelsonMuntz | November 2, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Sure enough Baghdad Bob. You've got absolutely no credibility so I guess spitting into the wind of history offers no issues for you.

Enjoy your afternoon tea...bagging EJ. I suspect it is not your first or last.

Posted by: NelsonMuntz | November 2, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Has a political party ever won a midterm even though the unemploymnt figures have so dramatically increased in the two year period during which it controlled the government?

As for the polling, it's mildly interesting.

To me, though, all Democrats are in serious trouble -- primarily for two reasons: widespread unemployment; a perception that Obama and the White House are corrupt. Politically, the pharma deal was harmful.

Posted by: teoandchive1 | November 2, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company