Midterm Falloff Defined With Precision

Leave it to Ron Brownstein to come up with the most precise and efficient way to explain the phenomenon–generally called “the midterm falloff problem for Democrats”–that I’ve talked about so often in this space (basically because half the political writers in America still don’t quite get it):

[W]hile the voting falloff between presidential-year and midterm elections has remained constant, its impact has been vastly magnified by a racial and generational realignment that has remade each party’s base of support since the 1980s. In presidential and congressional races alike, Democrats today fare best among minorities, Millennials, and white voters (especially women) who are single or college-educated. Even in a country rapidly growing more diverse, Republicans still rely almost entirely on whites, running best among those who are older, blue-collar, married, rural, and male. In other words, Democrats have become increasingly reliant on precisely the groups most likely to sit out midterms, while Republicans score best among those most likely to show up.

The consequences of these shifts are so profound that political analysts increasingly talk about two American electorates: the one that picks presidents (and has awarded Democrats the popular vote in five of the past six presidential races) and the one that determines midterms (which have usually favored Republicans since 1994).

In other words, the racial and generational difference in participation between presidential-year and midterm elections is long-standing; it’s the more recent divergence in preferences that has resulted in the GOP’s midterm advantage.

Brownstein’s also impressive concise on the many factors that make this particular midterm particularly difficult for Democrats:

[I]n a year like this, when the midterm electorate’s customary whiter and grayer complexion converges with low approval ratings for a Democratic president and a Senate battlefield centered on red states, Democrats understandably feel as if they are caught between colliding storm systems.

Thank you, Ron.

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.