Telling Midterm Voters What’s At Stake

Every time we hear that Democratic-leaning voters are less “enthusiastic” about voting this year than Republicans, various possible explanations immediately come to mind. Maybe they unhappy with Obama on one of the various subjects where he’s received intra-party or intra-progressive criticism. Maybe they’re “wrong-track” voters disgruntled with politics and government generally, or with the economy. Maybe they’ve recently moved and don’t feel qualified to select candidates in their new communities. Maybe voting is very inconvenient for them.

But via Greg Sargent, pollster Celinda Lake suggests another problem: voters who really have no idea what the stakes are in this particular non-presidential election.

Lake conducted two focus groups of people from Detroit and its suburbs. One was made up of single white women under 55 and married white women under 35 (millenials). The second was all African American women. These are the same voters who are expected to drop off in many red state Senate contests, too.

“We were exploring what would motivate them to turn out to vote,” Lake tells me. “One of the things that came up is that these drop-off voters had no idea that control of the Senate was even up for grabs and were even very confused about who controlled it. These voters are very representative of drop-off voters in a lot of states.”

Lake says the focus groups — and follow-up polling Lake conducted — determined that one message that motivates these voters is that the outcome of the Senate election in their state could decide Senate control. However, that alone isn’t enough to motivate these voters. They also need to be told why it should matter to them which party controls the Senate, Lake adds.

That’s not a simple message, when you think about it, at least for low-information voters who cannot be expected to be focused on issues of Senate control and where it’s determined, much less immediately grasp what a GOP Senate could mean next year and down the road. So it requires multiple mutually reinforcing and highly targeted messages, and a lot of repetition. And that means money and scale.

That, sports fans, is ultimately how the Bannock Street Project and similar high-profile turnout efforts will be judged: how many times wheels are reinvented with very busy and sometimes discouraged and cynical people.

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.