Democrats’ midterm demographic problem

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Supreme Court’s N.C. Voter ID decision highlights Democrats’ midterm demographic struggles
  • 10 million fewer unmarried women showed up in 2010 vs. 2008
  • Non-white voters underrepresented in midterms by 60 percent
  • Young voters are the worst drop off of any group
  • Democratic base voters dropped off 14 percentage points as a share of the electorate between the last midterm and presidential elections

Supreme Court wades into voter ID and early voting rules: For the second time in a week, the Supreme Court sided with state voter restrictions, this time in North Carolina, with a key race that could decide control of the Senate. USA Today: “The justices reversed a federal appeals court’s decision that would have allowed same-day registration and counted votes cast mistakenly in the wrong precincts. Those were among several other procedures eliminated by the state Legislature last year in what critics called the most restrictive voting law in the nation.” This comes a week after the Supreme Court ruled against voting rights groups in Ohio, curtailing early voting days, reducing evening hours and eliminating Sunday voting, when many churches with predominantly black congregants run “souls to the polls” voting programs. “In both cases, decided without explanation, the majority of justices may have reasoned that state laws involving voting procedures should not be changed so close to an election,” USA Today adds. The Supreme Court could rule by Friday on Wisconsin’s new Voter ID law.

Democrats’ midterm demographic problem: These cases can have consequences for the midterms because of how slim the margins are expected to be in many places and because of the drop off seen in midterms among Democratic base groups. Historically, about 30 percent fewer people turn out for midterm elections than presidential — 40 percent vs. 56 percent on average. Midterm voters tend to be more engaged, older, whiter, and wealthier than the population at-large or in presidential elections. In what is already a playing field tilted toward Republicans, the demography gives the GOP yet another edge. Base Democratic voters – women, African Americans, Latinos, young voters – are among the least likely to vote in midterm elections. That trend is likely to continue, as polls have shown many of those voters are the least interested in this election.

Unmarried vs. married women: As important as women are overall to Democrats’ chances, women don’t vote as a monolith. More specifically, Democrats need unmarried women, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic, to turn out. (Married women, on the other hand, tend to vote Republican.) The problem for Democrats is unmarried women tend to show up in smaller numbers than in presidential elections. They wind up being about 2 percent less of the electorate in midterms than presidentials. While that drop off may seem small, it meant 10 million fewer voters between 2008 and 2010. That’s one-in-three unmarried women, who opted to stay home.

Non-white drop off: Non-white minorities make up 37 percent of the U.S. population, up from 25 percent in 2000. Yet African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and others continue to be underrepresented in the voting booths – and this trend is even worse in midterms. In 2008 and 2012, they made up 27 and 28 percent of the electorate. But in 2006 and 2010, they were just 22 and 23 percent. That means non-white voters are underrepresented in midterms by up to 60 percent. Like with unmarried women, 4-5 percentage point dropoffs represent millions of votes that usually go overwhelmingly Democratic.

The problem with young voters: Voter participation drop off between midterms and presidential elections is most acute with young voters (18 to 29). In presidential elections, they consistently make up between 17-19 percent of the electorate. In the last two presidential elections, they voted 60- 66 percent Democratic. But in midterms, they make up just 10- 12 percent of the electorate. Adding it all up, between 2012 and 2010, young voters were off 7 percentage points, non-white voters 5, and unmarried women 2. That means Democratic base voters made 14 percentage points LESS in the last midterm than presidential election. That’s A LOT of ground for Democrats to make up. It’s why Democrats are spending way more than Republicans on the ground game in this election.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson became the first president to attend a World Series game. Who was the first president to throw out a first pitch at a major league baseball game? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to RBDIII (@RBDIII) for guessing Wednesday’s trivia: What war did Franklin Pierce fight in before becoming president? The answer was: The Mexican-American War.


  • The Washington Post reports that White House aides knew about Secret Service agents’ involvement with prostitutes in Colombia back in 2012. The White House denied any involvement when the scandal broke two years ago. In response to the Post’s story, a White House spokesperson told Morning Line, “These allegations were vetted previously and found to be without merit and … a principal character in the piece lied to the US Senate.”

  • President Obama will hold an event Wednesday in Los Angeles to discuss the economy. Later the president will attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the home of actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

  • Voter engagement in this election is lower than the last two midterm elections, according to Gallup. Just a third of voters (33 percent) say they have given at least “some” thought to this election, lower than the 46 percent and 42 percent who said so in 2010 and 2006.

  • In what’s never a good sign for a campaign, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has replaced her campaign manager with her former chief of staff.

  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has committed $1 million in the South Dakota Senate race, in a last ditch effort to hold on to the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.

  • Senate Republicans are contemplating another government shutdown over Obamacare during Congress’s lame duck session after the election. House Speaker John Boehner’s people have no comment on the matter.

  • There was a heavy focus on Senate makeup, when Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, debated his Independent challenger Greg Orman Wednesday night. Roberts warned voters “a vote for Greg Orman is a vote to hand over the future of Kansas to [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid and [President Barack] Obama.”

  • Democratic operatives are pivoting to a new strategy to rally their base. Help elect Democrats this year, so Hillary Clinton can have a friendlier Congress if she wins the presidency in 2016.

  • A county judge accepted marriage license requests from 19 gay couples in South Carolina Wednesday. The couples will be allowed to marry Thursday morning, unless the state Supreme Court decides to block the county judge, at the request of South Carolina’s attorney general.

  • Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy accepted a request from Idaho officials to temporarily block a ruling from a federal appeals court that declared the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.

  • The latest CNN/ORC poll shows Republican Dan Sullivan leading incumbent Sen. Mark Begich 50 to 44.

  • Even a poll conducted by the state Democratic Party shows Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor in a statistical tie with Rep. Tom Cotton.

  • Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords voices a new ad in support of her former staffer Rep. Ron Barber.

  • New York Magazine reports that NBC wanted to hire The Daily Show host Jon Stewart, before they ultimately opted for their own Chuck Todd.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Rachel Wellford at rwellford-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: