Michael Tomasky

11.08.12

The Obama Coalition in the Off Years

If I weren't married to this infernal line of work, boy, do I have good ideas from time to time for badly needed nonprofit outfits. Here's one of my better ones, which just struck me yesterday.

Some rich liberals need to fund a public-education group that will work full-time to make sure the liberal blocs and constituencies come out and vote in off-year elections. Think about this. Turnout was sky high in 2008. It wasn't as high this time, but by the time they count all the provisionals and absentees, and accoutning for the somewhat lower turnout in the storm-ravages areas, it won't really be off by that much. In general, presidential-year turnout is now near 60 percent.

And off-year turnout is down around 40 percent. The 20 percent who leave the system are almost entirely Democrats. This has been true all my life. It's basically because old people always vote, and I guess old white people vote more than other old people, and old white people tend to be Republican. So even when white American isn't enraged as it was in 2010, midterms often benefit Republicans.

Yes, there are exceptions...2006, most notably, and 1998, although that was sui generis, because swing voters were mad about impeachment. And when the economy is bad, the incumbent president gets it in the nose, whichever party he is. But in general, the off-year electorate is far more Republican-leaning than the presidential electorate.

As long as this is true, the country's progressive coalition will spend forever taking one step forward in presidential years, and one step back in off years. But imagine if the Obama coalition had voted, even in decent numbers, in 2010. The Democrats might still well have the House.

If liberal blocs can be conditioned in a generation's time to vote in every federal election, well, combine that with what we know to be the coming demographic changes, and the electoral pressure on Republicans would be constant and enormous. The Republican white voting pool has limits, so the GOP would have to compete even harder for brown and black votes, which would pull our politics even more to the left.

A long-term project along these lines would be $20 million (or whatever) very well spent for some rich liberal who cares about changing the country.