Democratic Pollster: Don't Blame Young Voters for Midterm Debacle

Democratic Pollster: Don't Blame Young Voters for Midterm Debacle

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EDITOR's NOTE: In an exclusive interview, The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour’s host, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, talks with Stefan Hankin, director of Lincoln Park Strategies, one of the Democratic Party’s  leading voter-polling and analysis groups

EOH: Stefan, who did and who didn’t vote? Who were “Droppers’ and who were "Switchers"?

This research was commissioned by a group called Third Way, which is a moderate think tank in Washington, D.C. We found some incredibly interesting things.

With the Droppers, the general thinking is that it was just young people and minorities that stayed home, and they’ll come back in 2012. We don’t have to worry about that. What we found is that is not the case. About 40 percent of Droppers fell into the category I would call disappointed liberal voters. These were voters who didn’t really feel like Democrats and President Obama did enough, so they stayed home in protest. But the Droppers are much more complicated than that. They divide out almost evenly among people who consider themselves liberals, moderates and conservatives, and 42 percent of these Droppers consider themselves Democrats, versus 40 percent who consider themselves independents.

We are seeing that a good portion of the Droppers are feeling like the Democrats aren’t in line with their ideals and values, and that’s why they stayed home. They were younger, as a whole, then our Switchers, but not by much. [Just] 13 percent of Droppers were under the age of 30. The thinking that the younger people stayed home is not the case, and if Democrats continue to think that and we would get these younger folks out again in two years, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.

EOH: The popular theory is that it was the moderate Democrats in the political center who didn’t show up. Could that mean that the Obama administration might be more likely to compromise and conciliate on issues that liberals and progressives are asking the president to stand firm on?

We really have two problems. One is a math problem, and one is a brand problem. For the math, when you look at exit polls and polls like Gallop that do daily polling and track people’s attitudes, we see that about 20 percent of the country considers themselves liberal, verses about 40 percent who consider themselves conservative. We saw the conservative number bump up to the low 40s for the first time since the 1970s. The liberal number has been holding fairly steady since the 1970s—sometimes it goes into the high teens and sometimes up to about 22 percent. Especially for presidential numbers, Republicans really need to pick up an additional 8 percent to get themselves to 50 percent and Democrats need to pick up about 30 percent.

The moderate, middle-of-the-road voters are infinitely more important to Democrats than they are to Republicans, if we consider conservatives as more base Republicans and liberals as more base Democrats. It is something that we have been dealing with for a while, but something that needs to be kept in mind as we move forward as a party and looking to 2012.

EOH: What does this mean for 2011 and more particularly 2012 in terms of the Democrats again capturing their momentum?

When you look at some of these bills that were passed—health care as an example—for all intents and purposes this was a Republican plan from the 1990s. [There were] some tweaks to it, but it was about the same as what Bob Dole came up with in the late 1990s. Now, all of a sudden, President Obama and Democrats put this forward and this is now socialized medicine and we’re one step away from Communism.

I don’t necessarily point to specific policies as being the big problem, but really the inability to sell those policies. And that goes back to seeing the party as more liberal. We did see a majority of Switchers and a large number of Droppers who think that Democrats tried to have government do too much. With that perception, we’re going to have a lot of trouble over the next two years to do a lot in a proactive manner without this coming back and really causing trouble if we are not smart about how we are marketing this.

EOH: Have you gotten any feedback from President Obama or anyone in the administration about what the numbers show?

I haven’t heard anything from the White House. I wouldn’t say that’s surprising, but we are getting [an] open reception from folks on Capitol Hill and other people in and around D.C. As we pointed out, this study was picked up in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Politico. It is being talked about, and we are seeing discussion among Democrats as to what is the winning strategy over the next two years, what’s going to put us in the best position to win in 2012.

Our view of these numbers is that a move to the center—changing the perception and being seen as more in line with these Switchers and Droppers—would be the key to success in 2012. If we [move] hard to the left and really try to out liberal ourselves, in a way, I think we’re looking at a minority party for years to come.

EOH: This survey and your analysis have huge implications as to which way the Obama administration and the Democratic Party should choose to go. I feel that those who style themselves progressives and pure liberal Democrats were horrified when they saw what Lincoln Park Strategies came up with.

Any liberal Democrats listening to this show, standing on the edge of a ledge, step back because it’s not that bad. The Republicans won a chance. They did not win a mandate with these voters. Just 10 percent voted for Republicans for “Republican Ideas.” This was really an anti-Democratic vote for the Switchers. We have close to three-quarters of the Droppers saying that they are very likely to support President Obama in 2012, and half of our Switchers say that they are very likely to support the President again in 2012. This is not lost.

When we asked [the Switchers] if they would be more likely to support the president in 2012 if he came up with a credible plan to reduce our deficit, which is a very important issue for these voters, an overwhelming majority said yes. With a couple of the right policies, and a much better sales job coming out of the White House from Democratic leaders, we can get these voters back.