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Why the Democrats’ playbook didn’t work in 2014

How did Republicans deliver their big win on election night? How did Democrats miss their goals on promoting issues and mobilizing voters? Gwen Ifill talks to Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report for a post-election analysis of the voting demographics.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, let’s dig a little deeper to see how what the candidates did and didn’t do, to influence the voters they were trying to persuade.

    For that, we turn again to our friends Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    We had a late night together last night.

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    We did.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg Political Report:

    Yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I want to start by asking you guys, as you look through all the detritus of last night and try to sort out what actually happened, one of the things that we saw in a couple of different states was Democrats playing by a playbook that worked for them before.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And that was appealing to women voters. How did that work for them this time?

  • AMY WALTER:

    Well, you know, we still saw a gender gap, so Republicans winning over men by double digits, Democrats winning over women by single digits. So it still exists.

    The problem for Democrats among women voters was that they made up a smaller percent of the electorate than they do in a presidential year. And in some of those states, like Colorado, where they made the issue of women’s health, women’s productive health really the main focus, they weren’t able to actually change the makeup of the electorate.

    In fact, in Colorado, less than half of the electorate was made up of women. I think it was 48 percent, which was down from even 2010.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Yes. In 2012, women constituted 53 percent of the electorate, and this time, it was only 51 percent. I looked at Iowa and North Carolina. The drop-off was actually a little bigger, three points. So…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There were women involved in the Senate races.

  • AMY WALTER:

    That’s right.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Yes. So, you know, it really — just what we were saying, Gwen, it matters who votes. And that’s the single most important thing.

    There was some — there is some evidence in a couple places Republicans improved among certain subcategories, some single women. But, generally, absolutely, there’s still a gender gap.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Another thing Democrats were missing was part of their base, which is people who make less than $50,000 a year. We can take a look at that.

    In 2012, that was 41 percent of the vote. In 2014, it was 36 percent of the vote. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it made a lot of difference in lot of places.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Well, you know, when you talked to Democrats early in this election, they knew two things. One, they needed to change the makeup of the electorate. If it looked like a midterm electorate, they were going to lose. They needed to expand the electorate.

    And they also wanted to make the issue about the economy and talking about — to those sorts of voters about the same things that President Obama did in 2012, making those contrasts between what Republicans stood for, what Democrat stood for.

    But they weren’t ever really able to make that. The president sort of tried to do that, talking about the minimum wage, talking about pay equity. Nothing got through Congress. And then national issues got in the way as well. We talked a lot more about Ebola and ISIS and Ferguson than we did about the economy. And it showed in those numbers.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Let me just add that when you look in the exits in terms of how people felt about the economy, they thought that it is worse than they did a couple years ago and that it is getting worse, it will be worse in the future.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Which isn’t objectively so, but…

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    It doesn’t matter.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It doesn’t matter.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    What matters is how they think.

    So kind of the Democrats had two problems. They had a falloff in their lower socioeconomic voters, but they also had this perception that the economy is getting worse.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Right.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, there was another playbook, a piece of the playbook which Democrats tried to use against Republicans, and it was kind of going after the rich guys, like they did with Mitt Romney.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Right.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Right.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let’s take a look at a piece of an ad that aired in Georgia against David Perdue, who eventually won in his race, Republican.

  • BRENDA MILLER, North Carolina:

    When Pillowtex closed down, it was pretty much devastating. I don’t think David Perdue understands what happens to the people. They were running as fast as they could with as much money as they could get out of the company, and just pretty much left us there hanging.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Not only did David Perdue win in Georgia, but Rick Scott won in Florida, another rich guy who put I think $13 million into his own campaign. And Rauner also won in…

  • AMY WALTER:

    Illinois.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    … in Illinois.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    He put $26 million into his campaign.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Yes.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Right.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, that didn’t really stick, that kind of…

  • AMY WALTER:

    No.

    And, I mean, they were the same attacks against all three of those from the Democrats. These guys are looking for the rich guys. They are outsourcing jobs. Part of the reason it didn’t work goes right back to what Stu was saying, which was voters just don’t believe that Democrats are doing a better job on the economy either.

    And so when you’re saying to contrast between what these guys have done and then what you’re going to get for having a Democrat in that job, there wasn’t the belief that Democrats were going to make it better.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Two other points.

    First of all, the Romney example was in a presidential campaign with a presidential nominee, all eyes on him.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    And this is a very different kind of campaign. This is kind of large — part of the larger mix of the midterm election.

    The other thing is, this is a classic case of Democrats attempting localize. Had they been able to localize, they would have been able to make the election about these guys, their wealth and their behavior as businessmen. They couldn’t localize. The national mood was too strong.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    One more point we want to make about the Democratic base. We talked a lot last night about the Obama coalition and how it seemed to shrink.

    Last night, single women and minorities, who we always expect to see part of that coalition, didn’t show up in the same kinds of numbers they did in 2012, did they, Amy?

  • AMY WALTER:

    No.

    And when I looked at just the approval ratings among those voters in those states we talked about so much last night, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, you saw that it wasn’t just a drop-off in their interest in the race, but the drop-off in their approval rating of the president significantly from 2012. They just — not only did they not turn out because they didn’t feel good about their current situation, but they didn’t feel good about the president.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And they didn’t show up.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    No, they didn’t.

    I made a quick list, Gwen, of the groups and how this election was different. This electorate was more male, it was older, it was less liberal, it was more Republican, it was wealthier. And they thought the country was headed more off on the wrong track and the wrong direction than a couple years ago, and that explains the votes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And in the end, voters do get to be the ones who make the decision.

  • AMY WALTER:

    That’s right.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Stu Rothenberg, Amy Walter, thank you both very much.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Sure.

     

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