A new DCORPS study, “Turnout and the New American Majority” (PDF) sheds fresh light on the opportunity and challenge presented to progressives by three key groups of the ‘Rising American Electorate’ (RAE), unmarried women, people of color and youth. Subtitled “A Year-Long Project Tracking Voter Participation and Vote Preference Among the Rising American Electorate,” the study includes a survey commissioned by Women’s Voices. Women Vote, conducted between 1/7 and 1/12 designed to track engagement of RAE voters.
DCORPS notes that declining turnout among key segments of the U.S. electorate suggests “a looming problem heading into the 2010 elections” because “turnout collapsed” among RAE groups in the 2009 elections in NJ, VA and the 2010 MA special. In addition, “much of the polling in the summer and into the fall last year, as well as early polling in 2010, suggests a disproportionate problem among these specific voting blocs.”
RAE voters account for a majority of the voting-age population in the U.S. “Because they do not vote at the same levels as other voters, their voices are not always heard by policy-makers.” But the authors conclude that “popular assumptions about dismal turnout among these voters are wrong. It is not inevitable, and it is not tied primarily to the economy. It can change with the right programs and due attention.” Other key findings include:
· As others in the participation community have been warning, turnout among these groups is at risk; this comes after record turnout in the 2008 election.
· It is a mistake to assume that this is all about the economy and disappointment with the slow pace of recovery. Those in the Rising American Electorate least likely to vote are the most optimistic about economic turnaround. Moreover, regression analysis suggests little, if any, predictive value in economic perceptions on enthusiasm for voting.
· This is important because it suggests that turnout is not captive to economic performance. The programs that worked to increase turnout in 2008 and 2006 can still increase turnout among these voters in 2010.
· Democrats face another problem, too; declining levels of support, particularly among youth and unmarried women. The economy likely plays a more significant role in vote preference than in turnout.
· What is key for both parties is getting the economic narrative right. This means speaking to this issue in their terms and focusing on tangible relief efforts they can see and touch, like unemployment benefits and health care reform. But it also means speaking to their hope and desire for change, which has not died since the 2008 election cycle. If anything, these voters want more change, not less.
While the interests of the RAE groups clearly fit within the Democratic Party, the worst thing would be for Dems to assume they will show up in adequate numbers to prevent a rout in November. If we want to hold the House and Senate, motivating and turning out the RAE must be a top priority.