Midterm Study Finds GOP Tightens Grip on White, Working-Class Voters

Olsen, however, said both parties still have a hard time connecting with moderate voters, which has resulted in the large power shifts in Congress that have characterized recent elections.

“We have seen in the last five years more frequent Senate shifts in a row than we have seen at any time at least since the beginnings of the New Deal. I mean, it has now become normal to think that each election is going to be a wave. That’s not normal,” Olsen said. “The first party that figures that out and a way to reconcile their base with the middle rather than put them at conflict with one another is the party that’s going to be much happier over the next 10 years than they are right now.”

Joy Reid, host of MSNBC’s The Reid Report, said Democrats focused too much on trying to appeal to minority voters, which, in turn, pushed away the white-working class.

“I think that one of the issues the Democrats face is that indeed they don’t have a coherent economic message that appeals to white, working-class voters,” Reid said. “So what winds up filling the void is the optics of what they’re actually doing, which is heavily pursuing non-white voters and courting them with things like immigration reform, which is off-putting particularly to older white voters.”

Reid also criticized the Democrats for failing to highlight those parts of the economy that have improved under the Obama administration.

“Democrats never messaged on the economy. I can’t think of a single race in this cycle where Democrats messaged positively on the macroeconomic data. Now people’s personal perception of the economy is one thing, but telling the story of the economy is quite another,” she said, “and Democrats just massively failed to do that, and I think that was part of their problem.”

E.J. Dionne Jr., the event’s moderator and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the challenge for the Democrats is to mobilize their base while regaining their appeal among working-class whites.

“If the Democrats forget about the white-working class they can forget about every midterm election forever. But I also think that’s a fundamental problem; they can’t win without them. But I don’t think appealing to the two groups is necessarily contradictory,” Dionne said.

The PRRI poll also shows that 22 percent of Republican voters made up their minds in the final week of the campaign. By contrast, nearly one-third – 31 percent – of Democratic voters say they decided in the final seven days of the campaign.

While 20 percent of Obama supporters did not vote and stayed home, only 14 percent of Romney supporters did the same. In addition, 8 percent of Obama supporters switched their vote in support of Republican candidates.

“A combination of some switching with lower turnout rates added up to a clear Republican advantage [in the midterms],” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive and founder of PRRI.