Goodness me – the millennials are sick of politics (thanks, Ron Fournier; you just earned yourself a slot on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”). A long articleby Sasha Issenberg is getting attention, detailing the ways in which midterm elections have broken for the GOP since 2004. Barack Obama was, of course, wrong. According to Issenberg, there are two Americas:
There is the America that votes in presidential elections, which has helped Democrats win the popular vote in five out of the last six cycles and supports the view that Hillary Clinton can continue that streak should she run. Then there is the America that votes more regularly, casting ballots in both presidential and midterm years, which led to the Republican wave in 2010 and gives its party’s leaders reason to be so sanguine about their odds this time around.
There are about 127 million people in that first category, and among their number is the ascendant coalition—young and diverse, urban and mobile—that now gives Democrats a huge advantage in presidential races. But only 78 million of those people, or about 40 percent of the country’s voting-age population, belong to the group that goes to the polls every two years, and those regular voters carry a considerably more conservative cast. (The number of unregistered voters is almost as large.)
Over the past four years, the consequences of this schism have made themselves clear. A Democratic president is handed a progressive mandate by a convincing electoral-college victory. But he has his agenda unilaterally obstructed by a Republican House empowered by the right-leaning midterm electorate—an electorate that also disadvantages Democratic Senate candidates and sustains Republican governorships and state legislative majorities. Indeed, Democrats are facing an inverse of the four-decade span in the late twentieth century when the party controlled the House of Representatives and largely dominated the Senate but suffered through three two-term Republican presidencies. The bad news for Democrats is that the imbalance could take a generation to work itself out naturally.
How long is a generation? Well, sit down and wait, says Issenberg:
Since Obama’s first appearance on a presidential ballot, the population of Americans over the age of 55 has increased by nearly 13 million. By 2022, it will have increased by another nine million. People tend to grow more conservative as they age, but as a cohort, Generation X—whose oldest members will soon reach their fifties—is appreciably more conservative than the Millennials who follow them. “When the Millennials are fifty-five, they’re going to vote more Democratic,” Lake says, not exactly cautioning patience. “That’s thirty years away.”
But the Obama campaign had an advantage: it took advantage of research showing that millinos of dollars in ads had little discernible effect on voters. What worked? “A conversation on a doorstep between a potential voter and a well-trained volunteer,” Issenberg writes. Also: direct mail campaigns, oddly, of the kind pioneered in the late seventies by Brent Bozell and his ilk on behalf of what political commentators called the New Right. Donors and activists need to be persuaded of their efficacy, the article urges. “Passion,” the descriptor often stuck on Republicans during midterm elections, didn’t produce a Romney administration in January 2013.
his is why it’s not intensity scores on polls but rather the bustle of field offices and the sums on fund-raising reports that are the best guide to the Democrats’ midterm prospects. When those indicators sag, says Mike Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s political director and chair of the Analyst Institute’s board, “the effects are cascading.” For a party populated with Unreliable voters, the midterm imperative is clear: Raise the dollars and secure the volunteer commitments. Then go and turn out those who are already on your side but won’t show up without a friendly nudge.
We’ve got less than seven months.