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« That Other May Day Protest | WILLisms.com | Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 54. »

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 323 -- Voter Turnout.

Voting With Their... Hands-

Reading through newspapers and magazines these days, there are a lot of bold predictions from both the right and left asserting that Republicans will lose control of one or both chambers of Congress.

Well, maybe. Likely not, though. Ultimately, the power of incumbency, the "all politics is local" truism (combined with the fact that people overwhelmingly like their local members of Congress), and the circumstances of the particular races up for grabs are all far more important than low national poll numbers (which are pretty darn low for Democrats, as well).

The only way Democrats are going to pull off enough local upsets to tip the national balance this November is if disgruntled Republican voters stay home. Again, while people are upset about immigration, gas prices, high spending, and a variety of other national issues, Americans generally believe their own Representatives and Senators are doing a good job. Moreover, it's still six months away from election day, and there's plenty of opportunity for world and national events, good or bad, to wash away the common wisdom of today. For example, with the economy continuing to charge forward at full-steam, eventually it has to sink in that we're not in or near a recession.

Thus, while so many elite media folks seem to be so certain that a major GOP defeat in November is both inevitable and desireable, everyone ought to just hold their horses a bit.

The prognosticators have been very off the past few cycles, especially about this time of year. In April/May 2004, Kerry was riding high-- in the media and in the polls-- on the wave of his recent nomination, and the conventional wisdom left Bush for dead. In April/May 2002, conventional wisdom held that midterm elections are always bad for the President's party, the weak economy would be bad for Republicans, and Democrats were still angry and ready to avenge the "stolen" 2000 election. In April/May 2000, the economy was too awesome, Bill Clinton was too popular, George W. Bush carried too much of his father's "read my lips" baggage among Republicans, and Al Gore was too great a debater and campaigner, for Bush to win.

Well, media predictions of hundreds of local elections, using a few faulty national polls, are the epitome of wishful thinking. Even issues that are hurting Republicans nationally right now, namely immigration and gas prices, are issues that could end up helping individual Republican members of Congress in November.

At any rate, passion about the immigration issue, fears about Nancy Pelosi, Charlie Rangel, et al. running the show, concerns about higher taxes, and any number of other issues could get Republicans to the polls in November.

It is my belief that high turnout in November will be a good sign for Republicans, rather than a sign of an angry electorate rising up against the establishment. Low turnout, meanwhile, will likely (but not necessarily) mean bad news for the GOP.

But what is "high turnout" or "low turnout," anyway?

Courtesy of professor Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, let's explore some historical trends in turnout:

On average, the turnout declines 15 percentage points from a presidential election to the succeeding congressional midterm election. This relationship is remarkably stable. For the years shown in the graph, the greatest decline was 18 percent (from 1972 to 1974) and the smallest decline was 12 percent (from 2000 to 2002). Given the strong and consistent historical pattern, turnout in the 2006 midterm elections should be in the range of 46 percent of the voting age population. But wait...this would mark a massive turnaround from the average 37 percent turnout in the last eight midterm congressional elections.

So, yeah, the "high" turnout in 2004 may have been manufactured by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, but who is to say that it's too late to cook something up in 2006, as well?

Indeed, looking at the past few decades, high and low turnout runs in cycles. If presidential turnout is higher, midterm turnout is higher. If presidential turnout is lower, midterm turnout is lower:


My guess is that turnout will be slightly above 40%, in the 40-42% range, lower than the presidential turnout would predict, but higher than the recent midterm averages. Regardless, Republicans in Washington are on the clock. They need to find a few issues that will unite and excite the party faithful. Bonus points for an issue that simultaneously divides and embarrasses Democrats.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Areas For Conservative Ones.

Posted by Will Franklin · 2 May 2006 04:45 PM


GOP may lose at most 1-2 seats in the senate, up to 7 in the House, but if they get their act somewhat together, they could actually gain 1-2 senate seats and hold their house lead.
I see very little change period of losing either House of Congress, even if the election were today.

Posted by: jp at May 2, 2006 05:23 PM


The problem with voter turnout in the mid-term elections is that people are only voting when they need to. For instance, Do you think Nancy Pelosi's constituents are going to turn out in mass in a blue state to vote simply as a sign to President Bush that folks in Cali hate the war? Huge turnout will happen in the bluest of districts or the reddest of districts?

So these national polls are meaningless unless in a particular district and in a particular race the incumbent has had his district stray significantly in their support of that person's positions on Iraq, immigration, the economy, etc. I have to vote because Sen. Kyle in Arizona is in a tight race. But if I were in Utah or Idaho, why bother? The Republican Incumbent is going to win because despite national polls on Bush, this election is not a referrendum on Bush, but rather whether you support Rep. ABC's position on whatever.

I love my Congressman, Trent Franks. Love Kyle. Tolerate but vote for McCain. They will win easily despite my vote, save Kyle who you never know about. And right now, I don't see many Democratic challengers in swing districts that are suburban and moderate and up for grabs being any more capable of distancing themselves from Pelosi, Kennedy, Clinton, and Reid than of Republicans of distancing themselves from Bush.

The reason the Democrats cannot capitalize nationally on Bush's low approval ratings is that while we as a nation are not fond of Bush, the alternative is worse. There are no voters up for grabs here. There are no centrists in this fight and at the end of the day, values, the economy, the WOT, Bush's leadership, and lower taxes are going to win out over the alternative message of... well... sorry, what was their message again?

Folks don't like Iraq, but by a sizable majority, they don't want to pull out immediately either. IT was a mistake, but we don't want to surrender. So unless there is a huge French surrender monkey vote that I am missing, status quo wins out. 2008 is murky and depends mostly on the economy. And right now, it is looking pretty glass half full.

Posted by: Justin B at May 3, 2006 05:31 AM

I Love Arizona...!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 3, 2006 11:26 AM