Older White Voters Will Haunt Democrats All Year

Florida’s special election this week was only the beginning.

MIAMI BEACH - OCTOBER 29: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink (R) is greeted during a Women's Early Vote Rally the Miami Beach city hall October 29, 2010 in Miami Beach, Florida. Sink is facing off against Republican challenger Rick Scott for the Florida governor's seat. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
National Journal
Scott Bland
March 13, 2014, 4:47 p.m.

If the makeup of the dis­trict is any in­dic­at­or, Demo­crats’ loss in the Flor­ida spe­cial con­gres­sion­al elec­tion this week may be a clear in­dic­at­or of the party’s struggles with older white voters.

And un­less something drastic changes between now and Novem­ber, those voters — and their an­im­os­ity to­ward Pres­id­ent Obama and Obama­care — will con­tin­ue to haunt Demo­crats in Sen­ate races throughout the coun­try in 2014.

Geoff Gar­in, a poll­ster for Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate Alex Sink, said the pres­id­ent and the health care law trans­late in­to turnout among Re­pub­lic­an voters — and that turnout was ul­ti­mately what won the Flor­ida spe­cial.

“The Af­ford­able Care Act was a mo­tiv­at­ing is­sue for Re­pub­lic­ans to turn out and vote, and less so for Demo­crats,” Gar­in said.

Whites over 45 years old ac­count for about 29 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans, but they make up al­most half — 44 per­cent — of the pop­u­la­tion in Flor­ida’s 13th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict. Con­sid­er­ing that young­er and minor­ity voters are the ones most likely to drop out of the elect­or­ate in non-pres­id­en­tial elec­tions, older whites un­doubtedly dom­in­ated the low-turnout spe­cial elec­tion. (More than 150,000 voters who cast bal­lots there in the 2012 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion did not turn out Tues­day.)

In ad­di­tion, older whites, who gave 61 per­cent of their votes to Mitt Rom­ney in 2012, are the demo­graph­ic group most hos­tile to Obama and his sig­na­ture health care law, which form the basis of most polit­ic­al at­tacks against Demo­crats. For ex­ample, fully 75 per­cent of all GOP TV spots in the Flor­ida spe­cial men­tioned Obama­care, ac­cord­ing to the ad-track­ing firm Kantar Me­dia.

Midterm-elec­tion turnout among young people and minor­it­ies isn’t as bad as it can be in spe­cial elec­tions, but it’s def­in­itely not as good as it is in pres­id­en­tial years. And Demo­crats are about to wage battle for con­trol of the Sen­ate in red states where whites over 45 make up lar­ger shares of the pop­u­la­tion and may dom­in­ate big­ger shares of the elect­or­ate.

For ex­ample, in Montana, where ap­poin­ted Demo­crat­ic Sen. John Walsh is de­fend­ing his new seat, 41 per­cent of res­id­ents are whites over 45 years old, ac­cord­ing to census es­tim­ates. In Arkan­sas, an­oth­er en­dangered Demo­crat­ic seat, it’s 34 per­cent. In West Vir­gin­ia and South Dakota, it’s 43 and 38 per­cent, re­spect­ively. (Re­mem­ber, the na­tion­al av­er­age is 29 per­cent.) North Car­o­lina, the red-state Sen­ate race most demo­graph­ic­ally fa­vor­able to Demo­crats, is at 30 per­cent, while Alaska and Louisi­ana are at 26 per­cent.

Moreover, even in pres­id­en­tial years, whites over 45 make up a much lar­ger share of voters than they do of the pop­u­la­tion as a whole. In all sev­en states cited above, that group out­per­formed its pop­u­la­tion share by at least 10 per­cent­age points in 2008, the last time these Sen­ate seats were on the bal­lot. For ex­ample, whites over 45 made up 51 per­cent of Montana voters that year, but only 41 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

In the ab­sence of exit polling, we don’t have em­pir­ic­al evid­ence on what older white voters did in Flor­ida’s 13th Dis­trict. But there are sev­er­al telling an­ec­dot­al cues, in­clud­ing private Demo­crat­ic polling in­dic­at­ing that Sink lost older voters. She man­aged to keep the mar­gins close, but “close” was not good enough to win.

As Elec­tion Day drew near, Re­pub­lic­ans slightly widened their ad­vant­age among ab­sent­ee bal­lot re­turns, and on the day it­self, they com­pleted the task. Weeks be­fore the race con­cluded, former Pinel­las County GOP Chair­man Tony Di­Mat­teo told Na­tion­al Journ­al that the dis­trict’s older pop­u­la­tion ten­ded to vote later.

Some Re­pub­lic­an mes­saging on Obama­care fo­cused on cuts to the Medi­care Ad­vant­age pro­gram, which is pop­u­lar among seni­ors in the dis­trict. Sink also tar­geted older voters, hit­ting Re­pub­lic­an Dav­id Jolly as a So­cial Se­cur­ity-cut­ter, a long­time Demo­crat­ic mes­sage that is also in play in the Arkan­sas Sen­ate race. But in the end, it failed to gain enough trac­tion.

Now, with Demo­crats fa­cing large pop­u­la­tions of older whites in Sen­ate battle­ground states, much of the talk has shif­ted to the im­port­ance of get-out-the-vote ef­forts this fall. If Flor­ida’s res­ults were an alarm bell, it was ap­par­ently heard.

“The takeaway from the spe­cial in Flor­ida is that Demo­crats will need to in­vest heav­ily in a na­tion­al field pro­gram in or­der to win in Novem­ber,” said Matt Canter, a spokes­man for the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee.

Stephanie Czekalinski contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
CHARM OFFENSIVE
Pence Is Trump’s Man on Capitol Hill
44 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"Spurred by VP pick Mike Pence, a former congressman with close ties to many lawmakers, the Trump campaign in recent weeks has stepped up its courtship of wary Capitol Hill Republicans. And the efforts appear to be bearing fruit." Central to the charm offensive: invitations to more than a dozen "Senate and House members into his family’s private box for some power-schmoozing with him and his kids" during the Republican National Convention.

Source:
PAUL RYAN: STOP IT
Trump Encourages More Spying by Russia
48 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump essentially encouraged more Russian espionage against Democrats in a press conference this morning. "Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” That prompted Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan to say: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election.”

Source:
ONE MORE INVESTIGATION
IRS Investigating Clinton Foundation
2 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Investigations are never far from the Clintons, and here's another: At the behest of "dozens" of Republican lawmakers, the IRS is opening a fraud investigation into the Clinton Foundation."The move signals a shift from the IRS's announcement last year that it would not look into allegations of financial irregularities at the well-connected charity."

Source:
INFIGHTING AMONG COMMISSIONERS TO BLAME
Report Details Terrible Morale at FEC
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Bickering commissioners, ineffective managers and lousy internal communication rank among the top reasons why the Federal Election Commission" has some of the worst morale in the federal government. That's the conclusion of an inspector general's report, which put "the most blame on the FEC’s six commissioners: three Democratic appointees and three Republican appointees who have regularly criticized one another and frequently (but not exclusively) deadlocked on high-profile political issues before them."

Source:
TRADE DEALS BACK IN THE NEWS
UAW President: Clinton Promised to Renegotiate NAFTA
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

On Tuesday, Dennis Williams, the president of the United Auto Workers, said that Hillary Clinton has told him that she will renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement if elected president. Trade deals, especially NAFTA, have played a prominent role in the campaign, with Clinton receiving heat both from her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders and GOP nominee Donald Trump. The Clinton campaign did not comment on Williams's comments, though that didn't stop the Trump campaign from weighing in. Hillary Clinton "will never renegotiate Bill Clinton's NAFTA," said Stephen Miller, senior policy adviser to Trump.

Source:
×