At the beginning of the summer, the White House and Democrats on the Hill promised to highlight issues that were near and dear to the hearts of their core constituencies of single women, minorities, and young people.
To that end, they launched a series of attacks on Republicans: “war on women,” income inequality, exploiting racial tensions in Ferguson, and a promise from the president to take executive action on immigration.
None of those issues have resonated with their targets. The needle has hardly moved and it appears that Senate Democratic incumbents, as well as other Democratic congressional candidates, are going to pay the price for this miscalculation.
Recent polling suggests that the turnout for traditional Democratic groups for midterms will be even lower than it was in 2010 — an ominous sign that the party will suffer another humiliating defeat.
If the numbers hold, it could mean a rout for Democrats similar to the 2010 “shellacking” — President Obama’s description — that swept away their House majority.
“We cannot have 2010 turnout. If we have 2010 turnout among our key constituencies, we’re going to have 2010 all over again. It’s math,” said Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher, who served as a pollster for President Obama’s election campaigns.
Overall voter participation in midterm elections has hovered around 40 percent in recent years, compared to a 56 percent average for presidential years. But turnout levels are more resilient among older, richer and white voters — all of which is good news for Republicans.
According to the nonpartisan Voter Participation Center, nearly 21 million fewer African Americans, Hispanics, unmarried women and young people voted in 2010 compared to 2008. That’s exactly the situation Democrats want to avoid this time around.
Some Democrats think the party hasn’t done enough to pep up the groups that form its main pillars of support. Veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told The Hill last week that Hispanic voters would largely be unmotivated to vote in this year’s elections due to President Obama’s decision to delay an executive action on immigration.
“I think if we’d done something, it would have energized the Latino vote and drawn a clear distinction with the Republicans,” Lake said.
Polling has further shown that young people are generally disengaged with this year’s elections. A Pew Research poll this month found that only five percent of adults ages 18-29 were following the 2014 midterms very closely.
That could spell disaster for Democrats. National exit polls from the last midterm elections in 2010 indicated that voters aged 18-29 favored Democratic candidates over Republicans by 55 percent to 42 percent. Those figures were roughly reversed among voters aged 65 and older, who voted Republican 59 percent to 38 percent.
Tellingly, those voters who were 65 and older accounted for 21 percent of the votes cast in 2010, while only about 12 percent of the total voters came from the 18-29 cohort.
Turnout should be higher in states with high-profile competitive races. Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida who specializes in elections, said that turnout may be low nationally simply because most of the county’s largest states — such as California and Texas — don’t have major competitive races.
Driving the point home is the fact that Dems are pulling ads from races they originally targeted for takeover, and moving money into the campaigns of House incumbents who are looking shakier all the time.
As for the Republicans, they are pouring money into Senate races, looking to put their candidates over the top:
The National Republican Senatorial Committee is increasing television ad buys by $7.4 million in six of the tightest races, raising efforts to regain Senate control in the final weeks before Election Day.
The GOP Senate campaign arm will up ad buys by $1.5 million in Colorado, $1.45 million in Georgia, 1.25 million in Iowa, $1.2 million in New Hampshire and $1.0 million in both South Dakota and Alaska.
“These additional investments are part of our overall strategy to win and build a new Senate Republican majority,” Ron Bonjean, a consultant for the party’s finance arm, said in a statement.
The move comes as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced this week it will drop $1 million into the South Dakota Senate race.
With Senator Roberts looking a little better in Kansas, and other Republican challengers staying close or maintaining a lead, the stage is set for a blowout GOP win. But in addition to battling their opponents, Republicans are fighting complacency . So far, the enthusiasm — what little there is for this race — appears to be on the GOP’s side. That doesn’t always translate into higher turnout, but given the historical advantage Republican constituencies show over Democrats in off-year elections, GOP confidence should be growing just 3 weeks from election day.