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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Are Dems Preparing to Correct Midterm Turnout Gap?

At The Upshot, Nate Cohn explains why “Democrats Are Bad at Midterm Turnout. That Seems Ready to Change“: Cohn writes that “the history of midterm turnout, the recent special elections, the protests, the donations and the early vote all seem consistent with the same story: The Democrats might be fixing their midterm turnout problem.”

In the past, notes Cohn, “Democrats have depended on young and nonwhite voters, two groups that produce low turnout in midterm contests. Nationwide, Republicans were more than 20 percent likelier to vote than Democrats (defined by party vote history and registration) in 2010 and 2014, according to an Upshot analysis of voter file data from the company L2.” More recently, however,

Democrats have fared well in recent special elections, and they have turned out in strong numbers in the four contests where complete turnout numbers are now available: a relatively uncompetitive special election in Iowa’s 45th State Senate district in December, two January contests in Virginia, and Delaware’s 10th State Senate district race in February.

In Delaware, the turnout for Democrats and the unaffiliated matched 2014 levels, while Republican turnout was five percentage points lower. In the end, the partisan composition of the electorate was about the same as in 2016, and Democrats won the race. (For a special election in a state senate race, simply matching previous turnout levels is an impressive feat.)

In Iowa, Democratic turnout was far higher than Republican turnout, improving the Democratic share of the electorate by 14 points since the last midterm election.

The turnout data is harder to interpret in Virginia, where voters do not register with a party. But Republican primary voters outnumbered Democratic primary voters by a somewhat smaller number in both contests than they did in the 2014 elections.

The trend toward higher Democratic turnout appears to be continuing in the April 18 special election for Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, where early voting has recently gotten underway. So far, the party’s turnout is running about twice as high as it did at this point in 2014, while Republican turnout is about half what it was.

In her NBC News post, “Thousands of Would-Be Democratic Candidates Flood States in Trump Backlash,” Alex Seitz-Wald notes,

Democrats typically have trouble recruiting candidates for Statehouse races, but now they’re having trouble keeping up with all the people who want to run.

Candidates are already coming out of the woodwork across the country, thanks to a backlash against President Donald Trump and a newfound recognition on the left of the importance of state legislatures to counter GOP control in Washington, D.C.

…The surge of potential candidates has been so unusual that, for the first time, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee felt the need to coordinate its recruiting efforts with all the groups that work to find candidates. Democratic officials have had to add extra candidate training sessions to keep up with demand and increase enrollment in existing ones.

One major training group, Emerge America, reports an 87% surge in candidate applications over last year.

…When Amanda Litman, a former Hillary Clinton campaign aide, launched Run for Something on Inauguration Day, she was planning to spend a lot of her time hunting for potential candidates…”We thought we would have to struggle to find 100 people who would want to run,” she said in an interview. More than 1,000 people signed up in the first week.

Good signs, all. “A few elections aren’t enough to prove that turnout is really shifting.,” as Cohn notes, but “millions who marched and protested a day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, or the abundant fund-raising for Mr. Ossoff” are also encouraging for Dems. Add to that the fact that “The Democratic turnout disadvantage is smaller — or basically nonexistent — when Republicans hold the White House.”

Further, “Republican turnout has been just 6 percent higher than Democratic turnout in midterm elections when Republicans have held the White House, like in 1982, 1986, 1990, 2002 and 2006.”

Both historical trends and recent developments provide Democrats with reasons to hope for a better turnout of pro-Democratic constituencies. If the national, state and local Democratic parties improve their turnout operations in competitive races, and take advantage of divisions among Republicans, the outcome could be even better.

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