Myth Busting

MYTH BUSTING….You’re probably all a little tired of exit poll wonkery by now, but here’s one more anyway. In an earlier post I showed that the Democratic win was a broad-based victory, not one based on appealing to any particular demographic group, but several demographic myths have turned out to be hardier than I expected. So let’s take a minute to bust a few of them.

First, though, a technical note. I have a feeling that some of the myths making the rounds might be based on comparing the 2006 House exit polls to the 2004 presidential exit polls. This is fine if you’re specifically trying to compare, say, Sherrod Brown’s performance to John Kerry’s in Pickaway County, but in general you should be comparing nationwide House results to nationwide House results. Here they are:

Now, on with the myths. And remember, the key question for each of these groups is whether they swung in favor of the Democrats by more than the overall national swing of 5 percentage points. If all they did was follow the national trend, there’s no story.

Myth #1: It was the youth vote that pushed Democrats over the top.

Nope. In 2004 Dems won 55% of the youth vote. This year they won 60%. That’s a swing of 5 points, exactly the same as the overall nationwide swing in favor of Democrats.

In fact, it’s actually worse than that: the number of young voters (age 18-29) decreased from 16% of the electorate in 2004 to 12% of the electorate in 2006. This means that in 2004 they amounted to 8.8% of the total Dem vote, compared to 7.2% in 2006. The youth vote was a fizzle.

UPDATE: It still doesn’t appear that the youth vote was an overwhelming factor in the 2006 election, but the picture may be a little more complicated than it seems from a simple comparison with 2004. Steve Benen has more details here. Also worth noting is that young people have been moving steadily into the Democratic camp for the past decade, as you may recall from this data posted back in October.

Myth #2: Democrats won a third of the white evangelical vote.

I have no idea where this one came from. In 2004 Dems won 25% of the white evangelical vote. This year Dems won 28%. That’s a swing of 3 points, which is actually a bit less than the overall Democratic swing. Turnout was about the same both years.

Bottom line: Nothing happened here.

Myth #3: Democrats won by running conservative candidates.

A few high-profile Democratic candidates had conservative views on certain issues (Casey on abortion, Tester on guns), but overall the newly-elected Dems look a lot like the current Democratic caucus.

And the exit polls back this up. In 2004, Democrats got 17% of the vote from self-described conservatives. This year it was 20%. As with evangelicals, this is less than the overall nationwide swing. Conservatives are still solidly supporting the Republican Party.