Lynn Vavrick writing for the New York Times:
Although the president’s party almost always loses seats in midterm elections, the size of the 2010 “shellacking,” to borrow President Obama’s description, created the impression that many voters had changed their minds about the president, his policy goals or his ability to get the country back on the right track between 2008 and 2010.We all know that 2010 was not the result of some massive shift towards Republicans, but because Democrats, especially Democratic moderates and independents, stayed home. If we turn out, we win. Because there are more of us than there are of them. Plain and simple.
But only a small percentage of voters actually switched sides between 2008 and 2010. Moreover, there were almost as many John McCain voters who voted for a Democratic House candidate in 2010 as there were Obama voters who shifted the other way. That may be a surprise to some, but it comes from one of the largest longitudinal study of voters, YouGov’s Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project (C.C.A.P.), for which YouGov interviewed 45,000 people at multiple points during 2011 and 2012.
The results clearly show that voters in 2010 did not abandon the Democrats for the other side, but they did forsake the party in another important way: Many stayed home.
It may seem hard to believe that the shellacking was more about who turned up than about who changed their minds between 2008 and 2010, but it lines up with a lot of other evidence about voters’ behavior. Most identify with the same political party their entire adult lives, even if they do not formally register with it. They almost always vote for the presidential candidate from that party, and they rarely vote for one party for president and the other one for Congress. And most voters are also much less likely to vote in midterm elections than in presidential contests.There is something else we all here have known for years: there is no point in going after swing voters because there just aren't that many of them. Instead, there is much bigger payoff in motivating and turning out the base of your party, because those folks are much more likely to vote reliably for their party if motivated. The overwhelming majority of the electorate is in this category.
These stable patterns of American politics reveal a clear path for both parties in 2014: Get your 2012 voters to the polls. Of concern to Democrats right now is that Republicans once again have the upper hand on enthusiasm going into November.
The 2014 fight is not over swing voters. It’s for partisans.
Often, political pundits tend to lump together the following voting groups: Independents, Swing Voters, Moderates, and Ticket Splitters. They are all considered one big mush of the 'Middle' to which all political campaigns must show fealty. We've demonstrated often enough on these pages that this is wrong.
Independents do exist in vast numbers, but these folks are not truly independent in the strictest sense of the word. They have definite partisan views on policy issues that cause them to prefer one party over the other. What they do not like is a party label. They may vote Democrat or Republican, consistently, but will call themselves independent. They do not swing back and forth between the parties. Instead, they almost always to do one of two things: 1. Vote for the party they prefer; or 2. Not vote at all. There are just as many of them who are liberals as conservatives, and about a third are moderates.
Moderates also exist in large numbers, but these folks are almost overwhelmingly Democrats. As we've often pointed out, the Democratic Party is about evenly split between ideological liberals and ideological moderates. These are folks who have weak party identification. There are some studies which indicate that this group is becoming increasingly liberal since the economic crisis of 2008. But there is no question that the Democratic Party, in terms of its elected officials, is dominated by the moderate wing. Moderates vote, in consistently high numbers, for Democrats. There are no Republican moderates. The Republican Party has a conservative right wing, and an ultra batshit crazy wing. That party is now engaged in an internal fight between the hard right, and what are basically Dominionists, white supremacists, anarchists, and paranoid nutcases.
Swing Voters, or people who seriously have no idea what they think or believe, are so few in number and scattered so widely that there is hardly any point in paying the slightest attention to them except in the most razor thin electoral contests. They are just as likely to vote on a candidates haircut as they are anything seen in a political ad. Ideologically they are all over the place, but policy and ideology are not the heavy coursework of voting for these folks. There is no point in any campaign taking them seriously. They are much more likely not to vote than be persuadable by anything any campaign could do. It is a waste of resources to pursue them, especially if it means taking positions that demotivates base voters.
Ticket Splitters are hard to explain as not enough research on them has been done to my knowledge. I have no idea why people do this, but I am really interested in seeing some in depth study of what causes a voter to split tickets. I could guess that corruption might by one, or perhaps the candidate is personally offensive in some way. But I haven't seen any thorough research on the topic.
I doubt this will change anything in the minds of aging Beltway pundits who, stuck in 1980, think some middle aged white guy in the Midwest is and should be the MVP voter of both parties because of his coveted status as a 'swing voter.' 1980 was almost 40 years ago. Two whole new generations have come into the electorate since then, and two others are on their way out for good.