Young: The few, the soured, the off-year voters
April 24, 2014
Next November, the Republican Party is banking on the cranky.
Don't laugh. This appears to be a very good wager.
Good enough to hold onto the U.S. House. Good enough, even, to take the Senate.
Democrats don't want to acknowledge that possibility, but it is way beyond real, and for two good reasons:
First, most of the states in which a Senate seat is considered in play are red states: North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, for six.
A blowback against the Affordable Care Act? In these tender hours of its existence, it will be a factor.
In truth, however, if the Senate flips, the biggest factor won't be health care reform. It will be the difference between 63 percent and 42 percent.
That's the difference between the voter turnout in the 2008 election when the nation chose Barack Obama and the turnout two years later when the Republicans took control of the House.
In the last 20 years it's been an almost automatic differential: 20 percent — the difference between the off-year turnout and the turnout in the preceding or subsequent presidential election.
The turnout of eligible voters in 2012 was 59 percent. Count on a turnout this November in the low 40s.
Assume, also, that it will favor the crankiest party.
This year that party is the GOP, having screamed and moaned and held its breath till its gills turned green over something it could not stop: the ACA.
How could one know that 2014 will favor the angriest party? One of the basic truisms of political science is that in a low-turnout election, the negative vote is accentuated.
This is simple to explain. In a low-turnout election, the angriest voter will get to the polls in the face of blizzards and blackouts. The not-angry voter, the one who is generally satisfied, will be more inclined to stay home and watch "Wife Swap."
Consider what happened in Colorado recently. More importantly, consider what the two parties want to do about it.
A few months ago, in response to a package of gun control laws, gun-rights advocates succeeded in recalling two state senators, nearly tipping the balance in the state Senate.
Accentuating the negative, the cranky vote, the recall was the classic low-turnout election. It was made even more so because mail-in ballots weren't used. Votes had to be made in person on Election Day.
The Colorado House just passed a bill to change recall rules to match what is done in general elections — mail-in ballots, absentee ballots, early voting.
Every Democrat voted for that bill. Every Republican voted against.
You see? Banking on the cranky, and on low turnouts.
Understand, this partisan distinction may not always apply. If the Republicans take over the U.S. Senate and make Congress even less productive than it is today, the cranky shoe may be on the other foot in a subsequent off-year election.
For now, whatever the consequence, one vigorous pursuit of Republican policy makers, aside from wishing the ACA away, is to figure out ways to make it harder to vote — voter I.D. laws.
This is, wink, wink, about ballot security. Sure it is. And Old South literacy tests were meant to promote educated voters.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court gave Dixie-fied states cover from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a federal panel observed dispassionately that Texas' voter I.D. law places "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor and racial minorities" who are more likely to vote Democrat.
Vote suppression it is, and it's politically motivated.
Ah, low turnout. Sweet and low. The better, my dear, for the cranky to have their day.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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