How Democrats Plan to Address the Midterm Blues
GOTV is key, messaging not so much.
How big is the midterm penalty for Democrats? Eric McGhee tells us in handy chart form. Given President Obama's current approval rating, his model says Democrats would have a 75 percent chance of holding the Senate if this were a presidential election year. But in a midterm, Dems have only a 10 percent chance:
Ed Kilgore writes about this a lot, and warns Democrats not to get too mired in fruitless efforts to attack the "enthusiasm gap." After all, the kind of people affected by enthusiasm are the kind of people who are likely to vote anyway. A loud populist message might thrill them, but it won't do much to affect turnout among minorities and the young, who typically have more tenuous connections to politics. Instead, Democrats should focus on old-fashioned efforts to get out the vote. Or, more accurately, brand new rocket science efforts to get out the vote:
There’s plenty of evidence that turnout can be more reliably affected by direct efforts to identify favorable concentrations of voters and simply get them to the polls, with or without a great deal of “messaging” or for that matter enthusiasm (no one takes your temperature before you cast a ballot). Such get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts are the meat-and-potatoes of American politics, even if they invariably get little attention from horse-race pundits. Neighborhood-intensive “knock-and-drag” GOTV campaigns used to be a Democratic speciality thanks to the superior concentration of Democratic (especially minority) voters, though geographical polarization has created more and more equally ripe Republican areas.
....If that’s accurate, then the most important news for Democrats going into November is that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is planning to spend $60 million on data-driven GOTV efforts specially focused on reducing the “midterm falloff” factor. The extraordinary success of Terry McAuliffe’s 2013 Virginia gubernatorial campaign in boosting African-American turnout for an off-year election will likely be a model.
Messaging matters. But in midterm elections, shoe leather matters more, even if it's mostly digital shoe leather these days.