GOTV and the Obama Electorate

While the general consensus of observers outside the wingnutosphere is that the shape of the two parties’ coalitions are beginning to strikingly resemble those who voted in 2008 (which does not rule out a Romney victory, since a shift of a few percentage points would have closed the Obama-McCain gap), it is generally conceded by Democrats that one part of the Obama Coalition, young voters, remains under-engaged and unlikely to turn out at 2008 levels. There are also doubts about the size of the Hispanic vote, which might be affected disproportionately by voter-suppression efforts as well.

The youth vote dropoff might not matter, or might matter a lot, notes TNR’s Nate Cohn today:

Today, just 64 percent of 18-29 year olds say they will definitely vote, compared to 78 percent in October and November of 2008. If youth turnout fell by 18 percent, that would cost Obama a net one million votes nationally, or about one percent, provided that young voters support the president by a 63-37 margin. These turnout concerns aren’t especially significant if Obama can solidify a 5 point lead, but it could make a difference if the election becomes extremely close.

But lagging turnout indicators do not reflect GOTV efforts, whose whole purpose, of course, is to get marginal voters to the polls. And those are concentrated very, very heavily in the battleground states, leading to the suspicion that the under-30 and Hispanic turnout numbers nationally do not necessarily reflect what might happen in Ohio or Florida or Colorado or Iowa.

Indeed, says Cohn, that could be one explanation for the slightly better performance of Obama in the battleground states than in national surveys. The CW is that excessive focus on the battlegrounds is a horse-race media conceit that ignores the vastly more important nature of national trends. But with Democratic GOTV and Republican paid media efforts being concentrated on the battlegrounds to an epic extent, this election could become an exception. Certainly the composition of early voters could provide an important clue of the ultimate shape of the electorate.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.