Why don’t Democrats win in Arizona? Answer: Not enough Democratic voters

Crossposted at DemocraticDiva.com

canvassingPhoto: IPrecinct.us

Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns & Money wants Democrats to stop trying to woo old white people who hate them:

So what’s up? I think there are a few really important points. Democrats need to just stop trying to appeal to old white people. White men voted for the GOP 64-34. It is a loser strategy. This demographic overwhelmingly votes GOP. Alison Grimes, who ran an utterly pathetic and embarrassing campaign, refusing to say whether she voted for President Obama is the prototype of how not to do it. No one is going to believe you. Heard a bunch about the North Carolina race last night and all the discussion about how Ebola, ISIS, and immigration dominated voters’ agenda. When I hear those three things in this context, I hear three words: racism, racism, and racism. And the Supreme Court supporting racist policies to restrict blacks from voting by eviscerating the Voting Rights Act allowed racists to indeed restrict black voting in meaningful ways that may well have swung North Carolina to the execrable Thom Tillis. Developing entire political campaigns to swing a few of these voters to the Democrats isn’t going to work–as we saw quite clearly last night.

Instead, Democrats need to give Latinos, African-Americans, and the young a reason to vote…

…That means that Democrats have to rethink their midterm election strategy is a very real way. It’s one thing when there’s a presidential campaign. But the politics of midterm elections means that the same types of political calculations don’t work. How do you do that? You make your party about actual issues that young people and people of color care about. You support legalizing marijuana and prison reform. You support a vigorous government jobs program. You embrace immigration all the way, demonizing those who oppose a path to citizenship and the decriminalization of undocumented immigrants as racists. You make a $15 national minimum wage central to your campaign strategy. You have to call for student debt forgiveness. You have to make your party the party of the poor and the non-white, and not just in the passive way. If the racists and the plutocrats don’t like that, well, they weren’t going to vote for you anyway

I’m actually skeptical that young people will ever be interested in midterms. I didn’t start voting in them regularly until I was well in my thirties, which is the time most people do. There’s no historical precedent for it and no amount of scolding or cajoling seems to even get midterms on young people’s radars. That said, Loomis’ advice is good in general and ought to be heeded in Arizona, where Democrats do shitty in Presidential years, even though our demographics would suggest we shouldn’t. To understand why that might be, take a look at our state’s latest voter registration figures:

Democrats 936,417
Republicans 1,114,713
Other 1,157,811

Republicans begin with a nearly 180K voter advantage over Democrats. That means they need to attract far fewer “other” voters to win elections and the opposite is true for Democrats. As the number of non-affiliated voters has risen and Democratic ones have dwindled over the years I’ve been assured that this is no problem because Democrats will reach out to those “independent” voters with a strong message on education and the economy and how we’re the more sane and reasonable ones and…zzzzzz…yeah, you can see how well this is working out.

Another problem with being complacent about the low number of Democratic voters is that candidates who think they are close or behind in their races tend to develop a frantic “every man for himself” approach at Get Out The Vote (GOTV) time, where they are trying to get votes everywhere they can, including from a lot of non-Democratic voters. This could mean they are getting votes for themselves at the expense of other Democratic candidates if those voters are splitting their ballots, as non-partisan voters are more likely to do. This vote-splitting is not, contrary to the insistence of Serious Pundits, necessarily borne of careful consideration of the merits of each candidate and it is not without troubling implications to Democrats:

Whether you’re a man or a woman doesn’t matter much in this context; neither does your age or race. While you’re more likely to be a ticket-splitter if you are a moderate or independent, the single best predictor of cross-party voting is still how much you know about politics: the less you know, the more you vote for two parties.

To measure political awareness I used a short quiz. The questions ranged from easy to difficult and asked people to choose the current job or office held by a somewhat prominent government official from a set of five choices. The questions, which were fielded in December of 2011, asked a representative sample of 45,000 people about legislative, executive and judicial branch leaders like Eric Cantor, Nancy Pelosi, John Roberts, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Joseph Biden. Most people (88 percent) knew what job Mr. Biden had, but many fewer (54 percent) knew that Mr. Cantor was a member of the House of Representatives. The least well-known person was Chief Justice Roberts, whom only 12 percent correctly identified.

Consider an otherwise average voter who is a self-described moderate and independent. At low levels of knowledge, this voter splits his or her ticket a third of the time (34 percent). At an average level of knowledge, the rate decreases to 18 percent of the time, and at the highest levels, these voters rarely split their tickets (10 percent). That’s a 24-point difference, which is a shift of nearly the same size as the one observable in the different political environments of Wyoming and West Virginia.

I combined the questions to form a scale of general political knowledge or awareness. In the bottom third, 12 percent of voters cast split tickets between president and Senate in 2012; this share decreased to 8 percent for those in the middle third of knowledge. Among voters with the highest levels of political information, only 4 percent split their votes…

…Despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, it is tempting to think that something as important as control of the Senate lies in the hands of voters who carefully pick and choose which candidates to vote for in each race on the ballot, but this seems unlikely. It is more likely that split-ticket voters are buffeted by idiosyncratic factors, like incumbency status, recent campaign advertising, and the tone and share of news coverage candidates receive.

So that Terry Goddard volunteer getting out the vote for Goddard from a low-efficacy non-Democratic voter may also be unwittingly getting out a vote for Doug Ducey and Mark Brnovich, based on the attack ads that voter has seen about Fred DuVal and Felecia Rotellini. The disparities in results in this year’s statewide races indicate that there was some ballot-splitting, though not enough to make a difference in any race save perhaps David Garcia’s for Superintendent of Public Instruction, which may flip to him as outstanding ballots are counted. In other races it probably does make a difference and getting votes out for Republicans at all simply increases their dominance and the influence of sleazy political operatives.

This goes back to what Loomis said about appealing to Democratic constituencies with proposals that will help them. And then taking them to the people who need to be registered as Democrats and kept informed. More Democratic voters in Arizona should be the number one priority of liberals who want to see a real change in this state.

7 responses to “Why don’t Democrats win in Arizona? Answer: Not enough Democratic voters

  1. captain*arizona

    No more rich old white men representing the democratic party! duval’s igo trip probably cost david garcia. Young hispanics not rich old white men are the democratic partys future. We should spend all are time and money getting hispanics registered and voting. We need a young militant hispanic running for mayor of phoenix and city council. Sorry all of you rich old white farts waiting to put your grinning face on campaign signs as you run for office your time is past no more igo trips for you.

    • What about the Michael Nowakowski – Laura Pastor Phoenix City Council race back in 2008? Both Latino and neither one could have been over 45 at the time, from what information I’m finding.

  2. “…I hear three words: racism, racism, and racism…”

    Of course you do. Most hardcore Democrats have a play book from which they work, and not much has changed in that playbook 50 years. You tried something new this year (dark money) and it failed, so now you go back to the old playbook and drag out the old canards.

    Your plan to grow more Democrats won’t mean much if you can’t find something relevant to inspire them.

    • What in the world are you talking about? Project much?

      • You’re too wrapped up in it to see it, aren’t you? That’s too funny!

        • Really? Don’t be condescending and smug. It’s very unappealing. Go check facts once in awhile and get back.

          • It is hard not to be that way when you plead ignorance about the “playbook” I refer to when say the Democrats, in general, are falling back to the old canards of the GOP is racist, the GOP hates women, the GOP hates the poor, etc. It is a fact that as I read this blog and other left wing blogs that I read this common refrain. The article that was originally posted and the comments that accompanied it were just a re-hash of everything that has been said for years and years now. It is being offered up as the solution to the fiasco of 2014. There is nothing new, fresh or insightful about it. I don’t think it is going to work anymore. Hatred is tiring and consumes your life.

            As to the snarky tone of my last comment, I am sorry for that. You did not deserve it.