Exit polls reveal the surprising source of the Republican midterm surge.
The Republican sweep of the battleground Senate seats left conservatives both elated and shocked. No one had predicted the enormity of the Democratic rout that left pundits and politicians scrambling for explanations. However, an analysis of exit polls from around the country reveals the answer.
Practical Politicking compared CNN exit polls from 2014 to three previous elections: the 2008 and 2012 presidential races, as well as the 2010 midterm election in which the Tea Party revolution reached its zenith, with the GOP recapturing the House. Our findings explain why the Republican Party performed so well this year compared to those previous elections, and also provide insights about the upcoming presidential election of 2016.
“Older, whiter and richer” is somewhat true.
It has been said that the midterm electorate was “older, whiter and richer” than the 2012 electorate that returned President Obama to the White House for a second term. This explanation, often made by liberal pundits such as those at Think Progress, ignores the fact that President Obama almost split the vote of people who earned more than $100,000 with Mitt Romney (44-54 percent). In 2008, Obama tied this segment 49-49 with John McCain. Democrats have done well with the wealthy in the recent past. This year the Democrats lost this group by 16 points, which was less than their 18-point deficit from 2010.
Voting statistics show that the old stereotype about young people trending liberal and becoming more conservative as they grow older is true. Nevertheless, President Obama did well among older voters, losing the demographic by only eight points in both 2008 and 2012. The Republicans did better among older voters in 2010 when they won seniors by 21 points as opposed to this year’s 16 points.
Likewise, President Obama lost white voters by 12 points in 2008 and 20 points in 2012. This year’s margin (22 points) was not markedly different from 2012, and was almost identical to 2010 (23 points). It is also interesting to note that the share of white voters actually declined this year from 2010 by two points.
The “older, whiter and richer” explanation is therefore true, as far as it goes. While it underscores the well-established fact that the electorate in a midterm election is almost totally different from the voters who come out to vote for a president, it falls short of convincingly explaining this year’s Democratic debacle. Nevertheless, this myth, like that of 2012’s “missing Republicans,” seems destined to live as a salve to soothe liberal disappointment while channeling anger toward whites and rich people; two common Democratic bogeymen.
No gender bender
There was also no appreciable shift in gender voting patterns. Women traditionally favor the Democrats, and that was true this year as well. Democrats won 51 percent of the female vote, less than the 55 percent of 2012, but more than 2010 when Republicans won women by one point. The peak was in 2008 when 56 percent of women voted for Barack Obama.
Obama won men in 2008 by one point, but the Democrats lost the male vote in the other three elections. Fifty-five percent of men voted Republican in 2010, 52 percent did the same in 2012, and this year a whopping 57 percent of men voted for GOP candidates, while only 41 percent voted for Democrats. Although men seemed to be responding to a perceived Democratic “war on men,” the bottom line is very similar to 2010, so it’s not enough to explain this year’s landslide either.
“Look to the cookie.”
The key to understanding the shift in the electorate from 2010 to 2014 is with the racial demographics of voters. It is true that the electorate was whiter than 2012, but that is only part of the story. As Jerry Seinfeld said, we must “look to the cookie” of race relations for the true answer.
The following table shows the percentage of each demographic group voting Republican:
The following table shows the percentage of each demographic group as a percentage of the electorate:
When we look closely at all the data, we find that the “white” part of the “old, white and rich” explanation is not true in several important ways. There were more white voters than in 2012, but as noted earlier, the share of white voters declined from 2010 to 2014. The share of black voters increased one point between the midterm elections, but was one point lower than in 2012 and 2008. Black voters didn’t stay home, but came out as a greater share of the electorate than in the previous midterm election.
The liberal pundits totally fail to take into account that this year saw Republicans do much better among minority voters than in any election of the Obama era. Republican candidates faired marginally better this year than four years ago in the last midterm and dramatically better than the pathetic performances of both John McCain and Mitt Romney. It was this improved performance with nonwhite voters that put the GOP contenders over the top.
What does the 2014 GOP victory mean for 2016?
The lesson for 2016 is that the coalition of minorities, women, and young people that elected Obama both times won’t necessarily turn out to elect other Democrats. While these groups all voted Democrat this year, the margins were far narrower than in 2008 when Obama was seen as a hip, new, “post-partisan” politician and hope was in the air. Six years later, many minorities and young people are still jobless and the “war on women” has worn thin.
This year also saw the election of several new minority Republicans. Tim Scott is the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction. Mia Love is the first ever black Republican woman in the House. As more and more minorities “come out” as conservatives, it will be easier for others to do so in the future.
Likely Democratic contenders for 2016 such as Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren lack Barack Obama’s minority connections as well as his hipness and charisma. If Republican solutions resonate with voters over the next two years, the next wave of candidates may find that even more minority members are willing to pull the lever for a Republican.