Bannock Street Project Worked–Just Not Enough

So in my TPMCafe column dealing with post-election interpretive “myths,” I included as one of them “The Democratic GOTV operation was a failure” because turnout was in fact up in most states with competitive Senate elections. Now comes Nate Cohn with a more sophisticated analysis of turnout patterns, and he reaches the same conclusion:

An analysis of precinct and county-level returns, supported by exit polls and limited voter file data, suggests that the turnout in key Senate battlegrounds was generally more favorable for Democrats than it was in 2010. When it wasn’t, the Democratic turnout still seemed impressive when compared with the states where they did not make significant investments, like Virginia or Maryland.

The Virginia and Maryland comparisons are interesting, of course, because those two states–neither of which was included in the DSCC turnout program–had the most shockingly poor Democratic performances. It seems an unusually large “midterm falloff” for Democratic-prone voters had a lot to do with both fiascos.

But in the Senate “target” states:

What we can say is that Democratic candidates like Kay Hagan, Bruce Braley, Michelle Nunn and Mark Udall lost because they failed to win the support of enough white, older, rural and working-class voters. Under just about any reasonable turnout scenario for an off-year electorate, when voters were older and whiter than in 2012 or will be in 2016, they would have lost.

That’s not the same as saying they would have won in a presidential year, all other things being equal, though I suspect that might have been true for Udall and Hagan. Some more precise examinations of turnout versus performance within various demographic groups will be needed even to make a real guestimate of that, or to determine, more to the point, how much the return to a presidential electorate will “cure” what ails the donkey. But it’s likely the Bannock Street Project was worth the dough, if only as an experiment.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.