Turnout Trumps Spending

Florida Voter Turnout

Turnout Trumps Spending
| Published April 22, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff

Spending on political campaigns counts for a lot, but it is not the alpha and omega of politics. Voter turnout counts more.

Turnout was ultimately the decisive factor in many Federal elections in 2012, and it came down to a handful of counties in Ohio and Florida, where the campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney concentrated vast firepower toward get-out-the-vote campaigns.

Obama’s superior techno-savvy legions carried the day despite big spending by Republicans and by a variety of groups who supported Romney, or opposed Obama. Still, in the last few election cycles, Democrats have outgunned Republicans when it comes to turnout.

But Bloomberg reports that Democrats may be reaching a ceiling in terms of get-out-the-vote campaigns, and some Democrats have turned their attention from complaints about voter suppression—an intensely hard-fought issue especially in the swing states like Florida—and are looking instead toward how to make deeper penetrations into states not normally associated with the term Blue. This could mean all over the South, but especially in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. Though they are outside the comfort zone of Democratic organizers, these states may become critical between now and 2016.  High voter turnout in these states could change the outcome of several key House and Senate races this year, and may play an important role for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Democrats will also have to work harder in the Panhandle of Florida, traditionally heavily Republican in counties like Walton, Bay and Escambia.  Florida has been razor close in the last four presidential elections, and voter turnout in the Sunshine State was an important factor for President Obama in 2012. 

As has often been the case since the early 1970s, younger voters have the lowest turnout. In recent elections, voters age 18 to 24 had an average turnout of about 21%. This was despite massive, well-funded and well-tuned marketing campaigns by Democrats to raise the level of participation by younger voters, widely viewed by both Democrats and Republicans as being more inclined toward Obama in the last two presidential elections.

The deeper concern for Democrats is the erosion of African-American voters in the midterm elections this fall. Typically, Senate and House races in off-year (non-presidential election years) produce lower turnouts, but white voters tend to turn out in higher numbers than blacks in those same elections. Some Democratic strategists think that white turnout this November could reach close to 80%, where black turnout could slip without Barack Obama at the top of the ticket to anchor enthusiasm and support.

In recent years, African-Americans tend to vote Democratic by nearly 90%; white Americans voted Republican by a margin of two thirds. Latinos break roughly two-to-one in favor of Democratic candidates.

Recent Supreme Court decisions regarding campaign fundraising could mean that both parties benefit from a windfall of cash from prominent supporters, but Democrats fear that the GOP will be the bigger beneficiary of the unlimited fundraising. Also worrisome for some Democratic strategists are those recent low approval ratings for President Obama, the result largely of a struggling economy and other factors. Historically, low approval or job performance numbers for a sitting president tends to adversely affect midterm elections for his party.

As usual, Florida will be one of the key battlegrounds in November, with several critical Congressional races being widely watched by political observers nationwide. And analysts on both sides of the political aisle are watching closely every move and gesture by both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, each of whom are viewed as potential GOP candidates in 2016.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Bush Vs Clinton: Déjà vu All Over Again; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 11, 2014.

The GOP Challenge: Find the White Knight; Thursday Review; April 19, 2014.