The AJC’s Political Insider has posted an item about voter turnout in last November’s election by race, noting that African Americans made up 28 percent of the electorate. The post cites Democratic consultant Jim Coonan, who, looking at the turnout figures as well as some data from Gallup that also came out Monday, concludes that
the underlying partisanship of the electorate says that Democrats are very competitive in Georgia.
And yet, Georgia Democrats got clobbered. That our base is turning out and voters are evenly split in their underlying partisanship and yet we are still getting clobbered tells us just how bad a job our Party has been doing at persuading swing voters that our platform and our programs actually work for them.
With all due respect to Coonan, I think Democratic optimism about is unwarranted based on the numbers. A few thoughts why:
1. The fact that Gallup’s party-identification polling from 2010 shows Republicans with an edge of just 43 percent to 41.4 percent over Democrats among Georgians doesn’t impress me much.
The implication that swing voters are open to being persuaded by Democrats is conceivable. But if Dems’ chances were even decent, wouldn’t you have expected at least one Democrat running statewide to have come within nine percentage points of the Republican candidate? Yet, none did — and the margin of defeat was in double digits for every Democrat besides attorney general nominee Ken Hodges.
In fact, the actual election results suggest that Democrats persuaded fewer than one in six independents (by “independents,” I mean the 15.6 percent of voters who told Gallup they didn’t favor or lean toward either of the two major parties). In my view, that means those independent voters may simply be less apt to reveal their strong Republican preference than to vote for a Democrat.
The idea that Georgia is “competitive,” as Gallup labeled the state, just doesn’t mesh with election results that included a sweep of statewide offices (again, by at least 10 percentage points in each case); a net pickup of one congressional seat, to put the state’s delegation at 8-5; and Republican majorities approaching two-thirds in each chamber of the General Assembly.
2. One has to keep in mind that Georgia Democrats emptied the bench, such as it was, in this election. An ex-governor came back to run for his old office. Two popular black politicians left statewide offices they’d won easily in the past and were creamed in their respective races (former Attorney General Thurbert Baker to ex-Gov. Roy Barnes in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, former Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond to incumbent U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson in the general election).
And still, this crop produced the severe losses already described. Which Democrat could run statewide in 2014 (there won’t be any such races in 2012) and win, or even run more competitively than the 2010 slate ran?
3. The turnout among black voters strikes me as a cause for concern for Democrats, not optimism.
Yes, African Americans continue to gain ground as a share of the total electorate. Yes, they continue to gain ground in terms of voter turnout — their 50 percent turnout in 2010 was better than the previous three midterm elections, and nearly as good as their turnout in the 1996 presidential election. It was just six percentage points behind white-voter turnout, a smaller gap than in most of the last eight election cycles.
And yet, the Democrats — in Coonan’s own words — got clobbered. I suppose one could look at the steady climb in black-voter participation as a sign that Democrats might not need to make as many inroads among whites and other independents to get over the hump. But that may also be politically dangerous thinking for the Democratic Party.
As I’ve written before, this kind of dominance by one party is not particularly healthy — neither for the dominant party, at least in the long run, nor for voters. Without a credible alternative to the majority party, voters have a hard time holding said majority accountable for its actions.
So, I don’t know that the turnout figures represent terribly good news for Georgians. But neither do I think they can be spun any other way.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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