Whether due to successful voter suppression, apathy, or a failure on the part of the Democratic Party to motivate their base, Republicans cleaned house this election cycle. Yet, does that mean that the citizens of the United States support the policies and actions of the GOP? Not quite.
This time around, only 36.3 percent of the electorate voted, according to preliminary data from the United States Election Project — that means almost two out of three stayed home. It’s also the worst turnout since 1942.
Voter suppression has been used by the Republican Party as a ballot tactic in 2014. Under the guise of fighting the nonexistent scourge of voter fraud, Republicans have worked to restrict early voting, require photo ID (which amounts to an illegal poll tax), and taken other steps to disenfranchise groups of voters that tend to vote Democratic.
Along with disenfranchisement, many voters feel apathetic and powerless with regard to politics. And that’s not entirely without cause. According to a study by researchers at Princeton Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, constituents don’t have much power anymore. When politicians have to be on the phone with campaign funding sources for half of their time in office, they tend to over-represent the people funding their campaigns. Unfortunately, staying home and not voting isn’t battling the corruption that has poisoned our democratic process. It’s capitulating to it.
Midterm elections usually have lower turnout than presidential elections, as evidenced by the graph below. That makes midterms less of an election where you need to convince people why you should be elected, and more of an election where you motivate the activist base to get them out to the polls. By refusing to stand by the president and running from Obamacare, Democratic candidates tried to take a moderate route, whereas Republicans appealed directly to their staunchly conservative base. Which strategy looks to have worked?
A few states had more than 50 percent turn out to vote. Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, and Wisconsin all had between 50 and 60 percent of the electorate cast votes. Others, like Indiana, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah had less than 30 percent turn out.
Democrats need to directly appeal to constituent groups if they plan to reverse the low-turnout trend that has resulted in major losses in 2010 and 2014. As David Shultz writing for Al Jazeera puts it,
Four years ago, only 41 percent of those eligible voted in the midterm elections, giving the Republican Party a landside victory. Young people, people of color and women failed to vote in the percentages that helped Barack Obama win in 2008… Political scientists such as Michael Lewis-Beck have documented that people of color, the poor and those under 30 — groups that usually support Democrats — are especially unlikely to vote.
Failing to motivate the youth base hit Democrats especially hard. Only 13 percent of those that showed up to vote were under 30, and they were outvoted almost two to one by Republican seniors — people that will probably be dead in a literal sense before the decisions from this congress finish impacting the country. In 2010, young voters voted 57 percent in favor of Democrats, which was nine points higher than the overall electorate. In 2012, Obama would have lost the election without young voters, and they favored Democrats for the House of Representatives by a massive 21 percent. Democrats should have campaigned hard on student loan reform and healthcare to appeal to the youth vote, but they failed to do so.
Somewhat unfortunately, the next election cycle will be a major presidential election, so there probably won’t be any difficulty in making people opinionated and getting them out to vote. The reason that’s unfortunate? It won’t be until 2018 that Democrats face another midterm election, and if 2010/2014 are any indication, they won’t have learned anything from this experience.