How Democrats Can Change the Political Map

While most of the media is completely focused on the 2016 presidential election, Paul Glastris notes that the current edition of the Washington Monthly is looking “over-the horizon” at an impending concern.

In the realm of politics, the biggest under-examined issue right now—next to the possibility that the Republican presidential nominee actually wins in November, a subject for another day—is what happens if the Democratic nominee wins but the GOP retains control of at least the House. The answer, most probably, is more gridlock, more public cynicism about government, and little progress on the great issues facing the country, from a declining middle class to aging infrastructure to rising retirement costs.

The reason for this (quite likely) scenario is a political dynamic rooted in changing demographics. The voters who provided Barack Obama with decisive wins in 2008 and 2012—young people, unmarried women, minorities—typically don’t cast ballots in midterm elections at anywhere near the rate they do in presidential years. Meanwhile, the Republican base, though in relative decline, is made up of groups—older white Americans, married couples—who typically vote in every election.

We’ve now had several cycles of this seesawing turnout pattern (Democrats haven’t won a majority of midterm voters since 2006). Add to that the GOP’s control of redistricting in 2010 and the self-sorting of Democratic voters into compact geographic areas, and voila, you get the situation we’re in now. Republicans haven’t won a majority of voters in five of the last six presidential elections. Yet they’ve built up what seems like an impregnable majority in Congress.

To address this problem, Democrats have two options:

1. Reach out to existing midterm voters, and/or
2. Increase the turnout of people of color, women and young voters at midterm elections.

While both are important, this issue of the Washington Monthly focuses on a strategy that has been demonstrated to increase registered voter turnout in midterms by 10-15 percent – universal vote by mail.

In his Editor’s Note, Glastris says that: We Can Change America’s Political Map by Letting Voters Mail it In.” You’ll want to read the case he makes.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .