At the ballot box, there are two different electorates — and the difference between them makes a big difference for policy outcomes.
“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,” says Ron Brownstein, writing in the Atlantic about the difference between presidential-year electorates and midterm electorates like the one politicians face in two weeks.
Brownstein describes the distorting effect this has on policies at the federal level and, especially, the state level, where most governors are on a midterm cycle. Midterm electorates are older, whiter, and wealthier than Americans as a whole.
This is one of the most important things to understand about American politics. It’s like a football game in which every other quarter is fought between one end zone and the opposite 40-yard-line.
In the short term, Republicans are looking to use this smaller electorate to win a Senate majority and pad their margins in the House and at the state level. Democrats are trying to counter it with aggressive ground campaigns to make “unlikely voters” into actual voters.
Conservatives know that this dynamic is working in their favor. You’d think that doing better the fewer people vote would be a depressing or at least an embarrassing thing, but a lot of voices on the right are just plain bragging about it. They seem to want a lot of their fellow Americans to self-deport from political participation.
There’s a tendency to talk about the right to vote as if it’s a perk for flying first-class — to have too many people get it cheapens it, watering it down for the people who really deserve it. And as Josh Marshall and Ed Kilgore both noted in these pages, the idea that there’s something inherently corrupt in widespread access to voting — for lower-income voters, younger voters and especially single women — runs deep on the right.