In midterm elections, the closest thing to a nationwide popular vote is the tally for the House of Representatives. It is the only office contested in all 50 states (although to be sure, in a few districts one candidate runs unopposed and no vote is taken). The party whose House candidates have won the most votes nationally usually win the most seats, although 2012 was a conspicuous exception. The aggregate vote for Democratic House candidates two years ago exceeded the tally for GOP candidates by more than 1 million votes, although Republicans won far more seats. Congressional landslides are often created when one party’s vote surges from the previous midterm election, while the other party’s vote stays flat or even goes down. That happened when the Republicans won control of Congress in 1994 and 2010, and when Democrats briefly regained a House majority in 2006. In all three cases, the nationwide vote for the winning party spiked upward by more than 8 million House votes from the previous midterm, while the losing party lost votes.

Source: The Rhodes–Cook Letter, October, 2014

Document Outline
Democrats, Voter Turnout, and the 2014 Midterm Elections

Democrats, Voter Turnout, and the 2014 Midterm Elections

Complicating the task for Democrats this year is that midterm election turnouts are smaller, older and whiter than their presidential year counterparts. Roughly 130 million Americans voted in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012, compared to about 90 million in the midterm election of 2010.

According to national exit polling, barely half of (53%) of voters in 2008 were age 45 and over, com–pared to nearly two thirds (64%) of similar age in 2010. And in 2008, 74% of the presidential voters were white, falling to 72% in 2012. In the 2010 midterm, though, whites cast 77% of the congressional ballots.

Yet even while the demographic composition of the electorate is basically the same from one mid–term election to another, the partisan outcome can vary widely. Except on the rare occasions when there is an extremely popular president in a time of crisis, the normal rule of thumb is that the presidential party is on the defensive in a midterm election while the “out” party is on the offensive.

That was the case in the midterm election of 2006, when Republican George W. Bush was in the White House and there was a pro–Democratic turnout that helped Democrats win control of both the Senate and the House. And it was the case again in 2010, when Democrat Barack Obama was president, and a pro–Republican turnout gave the House back to the GOP.

In the latter midterm, the vote of self–described independents was far more Republican than four years earlier, as was the white vote and that of older voters. Yet there was also a sharp drop in participation by self–described moderates from 2006 to 2010 (from 47% to 38% of the voting electorate) and a dramatic rise in self–described conservatives (from 32% to 42%).

In order to stand a chance at holding the Senate this fall, Democrats need a turnout with more moderates (as well as liberals) and fewer conservatives. To that end, they are making a concerted effort to increase the turnout this year of pro–Democratic youth and minorities who usually comprise a much smaller share of the vote in midterms than they do in presidential elections.

But it is a daunting challenge for Democrats in an election year where their candidates are linked to an unpopular president, who deservedly or not, is drawing blame for many of the problems that are occurring nationally and internationally on his watch.

(Much of the material for this text was taken from blogs written by the author in October for the “Capital Journal Think Tank” in the on–line edition of the Wall Street Journal.)

User tip: While Voting & Elections Collections offers a wealth of election returns, it also provides a number of queries that allow users to view the data in new ways. The “Compare Data” button on the homepage reveals a number of these queries. One particularly useful tool allows users to track changes in party control for all House districts during a particular time range. Another allows users to see what party controlled the House before and after an election.

Document Citation
Cook, R. (2014). House midterm voting trends.
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