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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Transformational Election? Not Likely

This item by TDS contributor and advisory board member Alan Abramowitz, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University, is cross-posted from HuffPost Pollster. (the site formerly known as Pollster.com)

“A week ago today, voters flipped the Obama coalition on its head and voted for Republicans in a mid-term landslide that has the potential to be a transformational election.” –Steve Lombardo

Get a grip, Steve. It wasn’t a landslide and it’s not likely to turn out to be a “transformational election” either. And that “sea of red” that you see all across the country? It’s a little misleading. That’s because land area doesn’t vote. People vote. So while Republican domination of states like Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota makes the electoral map look overwhelmingly red, there aren’t many people in a lot of those red states. Rhode Island has a larger population than any of them and solidly blue California has more people than the 20 least populous states combined.
Now don’t get me wrong–Republicans enjoyed a big victory in this year’s midterm elections. A pickup of 60-plus seats and more than 240 Republicans in the House is nothing to sneeze at even though the GOP ended up falling four seats short of a majority in the Senate.
• Republicans only won the national popular vote for the House by about seven points, which hardly qualifies as a landslide. Democrats won the popular vote for the House by about 10 points in 2008 and nobody was calling that a landslide.
This year’s results were based on a much smaller, older, and whiter set of voters than the 132 million voters who turned out in 2008. More than 40 million fewer Americans voted this year than in 2008 and the nonvoters were disproportionately young, African-American, Latino, and Democrats.
• Despite the strong Republican showing in the House elections, recent polling data indicate that Democrats continue to hold a significant party identification advantage over Republicans in the broader electorate.
Two years from now we can expect voter turnout to increase dramatically, especially among younger voters and minorities. And every year, the nonwhite share of the American voting-age population keeps increasing. If there’s a transformation we can count on, it’s the ongoing demographic shift of the electorate and right now the Republican Party is on the wrong side of that transformation.
Rather than a transformational election, the 2010 midterm is more likely to be viewed in the future as a short-term shift, albeit a large one, based on a combination of the normal tendency of voters to turn against the president’s party in midterm elections, a large number of Democrats in high risk districts due to big gains in the past two elections, and a high level of discontent among voters with the state of the U.S. economy.
If the economy rebounds by 2012 — admittedly a big if — history suggests that President Obama will have an excellent chance of winning a second term in the White House and Democrats may well win back a good many of the seats they just lost in the House.

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