RELEASE: Deep Voter Pessimism and Lack of Economic Agenda from Democrats, Not Just Structural Obstacles, Drove GOP Gains in 2014
Washington, D.C. — The 2014 elections mark the third consecutive midterm in which voters opposed the party controlling the White House and flipped partisan control of a branch of Congress. But Republicans were successful elsewhere too, in state legislative and gubernatorial races around the country, and a new column from Center for American Progress experts Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin identifies a reason: pessimism. Americans are losing faith in government institutions and are still fearful about the economy, which helps explain a wave election in which voters were not enthusiastic about the Republicans who won.
Many voters this year do not see the growing economy as helping them, as they have yet to experience improvement in their own jobs, wages, or benefits. While they took that frustration out on the president’s party, they also took matters into their own hands, passing minimum-wage initiatives in five states, including four red ones.
“The path forward for Democrats seems straight,” said Ruy Teixeira, CAP Senior Fellow and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. “In order to maximize support among core constituencies and reach further into the Republican hold on white voters, they must develop and promote a sharp vision of economic equality and greater opportunity for those left out of the recovery.”
Exit polling shows that a far different set of voters showed up in 2014 than did two years ago and that the Democrats were once again penalized by cratering support among the white working class:
- About 13 percent of the electorate was ages 18 to 29, down from 19 percent in 2012. This 6-percentage-point drop-off was identical to the drop-off in young voter representation from the 2008 to 2010 elections.
- The 2014 electorate was 75 percent white and 25 percent minority, while minorities made up 28 percent of voters in 2012. This decline is identical to the 3-point drop-off in minority representation between the 2008 and 2010 elections. The minority drop-offs in both the 2010 and 2014 elections are larger than any drop-off recorded by the exit polls going back to the 1976–1978 period.
- The most significant shift against the Democrats occurred among white, non-college—or working-class—voters. Congressional Democrats lost this group by a whopping 30 points in 2014—34 percent to 64 percent—essentially identical to their 2010 performance of 33 percent to 63 percent.
These trends were key to the scope and magnitude of the GOP’s 2014 election victory. But the road forward for the GOP is clouded. Facing significant demographic and geographic challenges in 2016, a repeat of the extremely conservative, negative midterm campaign will not suffice. The party must do more to attract nonwhite, younger, and more urban-based voters.
“Voters will rightly demand that the Republicans put forth some positive agendas for economic growth, jobs and wages, health care, and education,” said John Halpin, CAP Senior Fellow. “Yet it is unclear whether the internal ideological disputes within the party can be overcome over the next two years to put forth a new face of the party.”
Read the report here.
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