2010 Results Depend On Which Groups Vote
JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jennifer in Washington.
Republicans and Democrats have just a few frantic hours left to get out the vote for tomorrow's midterm elections. By all accounts, those who show up to cast ballots will be a far different mix than the electorate of two years ago.
Polls suggest a big drop in enthusiasm among the young, African-Americans and Latinos, all key constituencies for President Obama. Meanwhile, more women may vote for the GOP for the first time in nearly three decades.
Later on the Opinion Page, former CIA operative Robert Baer on the growing terror threat in Yemen. But first: What's motivating you to vote, or not, this year? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later, we're going to speak with two people paying close attention to the African-American and Latino vote, but first an overall look at the electorate. Joining us from his home in Winter Park, Florida, is Peter Brown. He's the assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute. Welcome.
Mr. PETER BROWN (Assistant Director, Quinnipiac Polling Institute): Good afternoon.
LUDDEN: So Peter Brown, what is different about this midterm election?
Mr. BROWN: Well, normally midterm elections are different than presidential elections because the mix of voters is different. Historically, the electorate in an off-year election like this one is older and whiter than the electorate that tends to show up in a presidential election.
Now building on that foundation, this itself is an unusual year in that there's clearly a difference in partisanship among those who are likely to vote. Republicans and conservatives are much more energized to vote, largely by their opposition to the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress than are Democrats.
And so what we're seeing in all these polls of likely voters is the mix is greater of people who are conservative or Republican and tend to vote that way than we would have seen four years ago and certainly two years ago.
LUDDEN: So you're saying even older and even whiter than one would expect in a midterm.
Mr. BROWN: Normally. That is correct.
LUDDEN: And we read so much about, you know, anger and people talking about how angry they are or upset they are at the government. Is that a big motivating factor as you see it?
Mr. BROWN: Yes, it is. And because the Democrats hold both the White House and Congress, they're viewed as the government, and that's with (unintelligible) people who are angry at Washington are mostly angry at the Democrats because they perceive them as being the party that's running Washington.
LUDDEN: Although there was something interesting in another poll. The New York Times and CBS did a survey recently, and they found that most people, as you're saying, want to throw the bums out. But less than 10 percent in that poll blamed the current administration for the bad economy, and most were optimistic about President Obama's next two years.
I mean, as a pollster, how do you square, you know, sometimes seemingly contradictory views?
Mr. BROWN: Well, I am a bit surprised, but no that - I'm sure the poll is accurate in terms of what they found. What I'd suggest is that's really bad news for the Obama administration because the Democrats are going to suffer fairly large defeats tomorrow in all likelihood, and if voters are doing that and don't hold the president and his team responsible for the economy, and the economy doesn't get any better, then that means that they haven't hit rock bottom in that way, if you understand what I'm getting at.
LUDDEN: Sure. The slide could be going could continue.
Now, the Tea Party has kind of come from nowhere to be what seems to be a really big factor in these midterm elections. Do you have any sense how big is it, how influential might it be tomorrow?
Mr. BROWN: At Quinnipiac, we've asked in several polls, in states and nationally, whether people considered themselves part of the Tea Party Movement. And we get different answers but generally, somewhere between 12 and 20 percent of the electorate say they consider themselves part of the Tea Party Movement.
That's not that big a percentage. It's certainly a big chunk, but it's not the overwhelming numbers that perhaps some think.
But these people are mostly Republican. They mostly agree with the Republicans. Many of them have voted Republican in the past. The question about the Tea Party Movement is whether the enthusiasm they are generating among their people will translate into higher Republican turnout at the polls. The question isn't whether these people in the past have agreed with the Republicans. The question is whether they've voted with the Republicans.
LUDDEN: And so you don't have a sense of how many of them have voted before, who might be newcomers to the political process.
Mr. BROWN: It's hard to document because obviously the electorate changes every two years based on the playing field and what's going on in the country.
Again, this imbalance towards people who are opposed to the president and Congress is the mirror image of what the political environment was four years ago when the Democrats took control of the House.
LUDDEN: Speaking of mirror image, there seems to be a flip going on with women in the electorate. Some recent surveys show a majority leaning toward the GOP, which would be the first time that's happened since this has been tracked in 1982. What do you see happening there?
Mr. BROWN: Well, those polls reflect, again, the composition of the electorate. The likely-voter electorate is composed of people, and half of those people, or roughly, are women who are unhappy with what's going on in Washington.
And yes, there tends to be a gender gap, and one of the things that happens in big Republican years is that women tend to be split more evenly between the two parties, and men are very heavily Republican.
LUDDEN: Now, there are also some female Republican candidates out there that we're hearing about who seem to have a good shot. Is that influencing things?
Mr. BROWN: To some degree. Some of the Republican women will get elected. Some won't. But again, it is my guess that what you're seeing in terms of the gender support for Republicans has less to do with the gender of their candidates than the fact that these are people who are these women are unhappy with what's going on in Washington.
And if you're unhappy with what's going on in Washington, you tend to vote Republican this year.
LUDDEN: Okay, we have an email from Ryan(ph) in Gainesville, Florida, who says: The Tea Party is getting me out to vote - in opposition, that is.
Why are you going to vote or not? Call us at 800-989-8255. And we have one caller here, Wesley(ph) in Fresno, California. Go right ahead.
WESLEY (Caller): Hey, good morning. Good to be on the show.
Mr. BROWN: Good morning.
LUDDEN: Go right ahead, Wesley.
WESLEY: Oh, so the reason - the motivation behind my voting this year because I feel like there's a lack of enthusiasm from my peers, I'm a 21-year-old college student going to school over here at Fresno State, and I feel like building off the momentum that President Obama created a couple years ago, I feel like we need to kind of reinvigorate the youth.
And, I mean, I'm also voting for her because I feel like, as a minority, as a black, gay student who's only 21, I feel like there's not a big presence for us in this year's election, and I really wish there was a bigger there were more candidates who are willing to step up to the plate and talk about the tough subjects like Don't Ask, Don't Tell and other forms of discrimination, and I'm also voting for that, too.
LUDDEN: All right, Peter Brown, young people were crucial in 2008 for electing President Obama. They are traditionally lower to turn out in midterms. And we're hearing her from Wesley some disappointment there. What do you see happening?
Mr. BROWN: Well, I think that's right. Remember, this is an older and whiter electorate, and that means therefore, there will be fewer young people compared to two years and fewer African-Americans and fewer Hispanics. That's what we know about off-year elections, and again, this year looks to be an off-year election in which we will see that exacerbated perhaps.
Wesley's comments about how he his friends don't seem as excited reflects that view among the young.
LUDDEN: All right, Wesley, thanks for the call.
WESLEY: Absolutely. Have a good one.
LUDDEN: All right. Let's hear now from April(ph) in Asheville, North Carolina. Go right ahead.
APRIL (Caller): Yes, I'm a 56-year-old white, Democratic woman, and I never intended not to vote. However, I had a lot of involvement with the last election, with the presidential election, and frankly I was worn out. So I wonder if there's a demographic like me that has been perhaps more laid back and not quite as involved as of late but that has never intended not to vote.
I mean, I will be voting, and I will be voting Democratic, you know, because there's no way that I'm going to let some of the people that I think are really extreme on the right side come in.
So do you have a sense that there is a demographic like me, that sort of perhaps worn out, Democratic voter that is going to get out there but who's not really been that active just because they got kind of tired?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BROWN: Well, I mean, again, if people are excited about voting, they're going to go out and vote. And the group that's more excited about voting this year tends to be more conservative and more Republican. You can argue that perhaps portions of the Democratic base are exhausted from two years ago, but whether they don't vote for that reason, or perhaps they're disillusioned with the president, it doesn't matter.
APRIL: Yeah, I guess I'm saying I'm exhausted, but you can bet I'm going to still vote.
Mr. BROWN: Right, but the data indicates that you may not be as typical as you were two years...
APRIL: All right. Thank you.
LUDDEN: Thank you, April. Peter Brown, we are seeing an intense, high-profile, get-out-the-vote effort in the past week. We've had President Obama crisscrossing the country to support candidates, Republican House Leader John Boehner. Any of that likely to boost turnout by much? I mean, is that already taken into account in these polls?
Mr. BROWN: Well, my guess is there aren't if you and I were to go walk into a shopping mall in suburban St. Louis, we wouldn't find three people who knew who John Boehner was.
Mr. BROWN: But Barack Obama's a different story. And clearly, the president of the United States, visiting an area, has an effect. In some cases, it might not be a positive effect.
What Quinnipiac found in some of its polls is that more voters said that if the president comes in to campaign for a candidate, would they vote for that be more likely or less likely to vote for that candidate, and more said they would be less likely. But again, that's because the likely voter sample is a very conservative/Republican sample this year.
But Mr. Obama's visits have a benefit for the Democratic Party in that they tended to excite Democratic voters. And the Democrats need to do that because the excitement has been on the Republican side.
It's much easier to get excited about something you're angry at than to get excited about something that is the status quo.
LUDDEN: We have just a minute left here, but I'd like to ask, you know: Is there something that you think is maybe particularly hard to read, despite all the, you know, all the studying you've done and all? Is there something that just might surprise you, you wonder, when you see the exit polls tomorrow night or wake up on Wednesday? What would it be?
Mr. BROWN: Well, I'm not sure if it's surprised. I mean, I would be surprised, for instance, if the Republicans take the Senate. I don't think they're going to do that. I think what we'll see is a pretty big Republican wave. I think they'll take control of the House of Representatives. I don't think they'll take the Senate.
There may be some surprises. The two interesting races to watch for your listeners: The Ohio governor's race and the Florida governor's race. Those are very important races because of those states' impact on both redistricting...
LUDDEN: All right.
Mr. BROWN: ...in the 2012 election, and both are, in Quinnipiac polls out this morning, dead heats.
LUDDEN: All right. Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Thank you so much.
Mr. BROWN: No problem. Have a good day.
LUDDEN: We're talking about who's likely to vote tomorrow and not and why it matters. Call us at 800-989-8255. We want to hear from African-American and Latinos - key constituencies. I'm Jennifer Ludden. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
LUDDEN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden.
The fact is, most Americans probably won't vote tomorrow. Only about 40 percent of eligible voters usually come out for midterm elections. And one hint of who might win tomorrow, of those who plan not to vote, far more are Democrats: 54 percent compared with 30 percent for Republicans. That's the enthusiasm gap we've been hearing about.
We're talking today about who's voting, who's not and why it matters. Joining us now is NPR correspondent Corey Dade. He follows national issues at npr.org, and he's been looking into a number of races where African-American turnout could tilt the income. He joins us from the studios of Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta, and Corey, I understand it's actually your day off. So an extra thank you for being here.
COREY DADE: My pleasure, Jennifer.
LUDDEN: We've been taking calls from people, asking if they plan to vote or not. Now we'd especially like to hear from African-American voters and, in just a moment, Latinos. Are you going to vote tomorrow? If so, what's driving you to do so? And if not, why not? 800-989-8255. The email is email@example.com.
Corey Dade, in 2008, when Barack Obama was on the ticket, African-American turnout topped the rate of white turnout for the first time. Does that seem at all likely to happen again tomorrow?
DADE: Not at all, Jennifer. What we'll see - I think for starters, whether it's the news media or the public, there's too much focus in comparing 2008 to this year. There is never a proper comparison or a useful comparison between presidential election years and midterms.
And in this case, they're looking at turnout. Historically, turnout for African-Americans, in particular for midterm elections, falls down considerably to the point where if it was 65 percent in 2008, nationwide, African-American turnout may fall to between 35 and 40 percent.
LUDDEN: So I guess the question is: How would that compare to the last midterm in 2006?
DADE: Exactly. And percentagewise, that would be in keeping with 2006's turnout. I think the difference - one of the key differences this year compared with 2006 is that the African-American electorate overall is, by many accounts, from analysts and pollsters, is strategically positioned to have a larger potential impact on races outside of their immediate districts.
Historically, African-Americans who live in heavily minority districts often see their votes count most, so to speak, with their local elected officials, with their members of Congress, et cetera, who are running, there representing their immediate communities.
But this year, in key states, you have governor's races, Senate races that are so close that in those states where you have double-digit percentages of black voters, these black voters could provide the decisive outcome.
LUDDEN: Hmm. So give us some examples. What are some districts to follow?
DADE: Well, as far as districts, let's look at states first.
DADE: In Ohio, for example, the Ohio has a dead-heat governor's race, of course, and you have an incumbent there who's struggling. And so you have roughly 10 percent of the 10 percent of Ohio is made up of the black voting-age population. Ten percent could well be enough to influence this outcome.
I would say that it's not likely that you can blame or credit African-Americans for the result come Wednesday, but they will certainly be a factor.
In Florida, as Peter Brown just mentioned, African-Americans represent a strong percentage of the vote there, upwards of as far as black voting-age population, upwards of 18 to 20 percent.
And then you look at places like California, where you have a close governor's race. You certainly have, in places like Maryland, where you have a governor's race that was trending close, under 10 percent, but now the common wisdom, as it were, is that the Democrat, O'Malley, will keep his seat.
So also, if you look through the South, congressional races, even some governor's races, you'll see some more competitive races, whether it's Alabama, we're talking South Carolina, North Carolina, various congressional and Senate races and even gubernatorial races there, where you have large populations of African-Americans. By that, I mean, on the Democratic side of the electorate.
In some cases, like in South Carolina and Mississippi and elsewhere, African-American voters can make up as much as half of a Democratic turnout.
LUDDEN: All right. Well, let's go to a voter on the line here from Charlotte, North Carolina. Hi, Mac(ph).
MAC (Caller): Good afternoon, how are you?
MAC: Wonderful. I'm voting and every African-American that I've talked to are going to vote because the media has taken us for granted and has indicated that we will not be voting. So all African-Americans that I know will be voting or have voted in the early voting.
LUDDEN: All right. So you've already voted there, Mac.
MAC: I have, indeed.
LUDDEN: So Corey Dade, could all the pollsters be wrong here?
DADE: There's always room for pollsters to be wrong.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DADE: Especially when African-Americans are concerned. And Jennifer, I think it's important to note here: It's always difficult to gauge black political activity based on polling in part because pollsters rely on making phone calls to households with landline phones.
And African-Americans, particularly young ones under 30, maybe even under 35, many of them don't have landline phones. So if you're going to try to really take the pulse of African-American voting habits, polls aren't always going to get it. There are certain specialized polls that do a better job, but on the main, the African-American turnout can be a surprise.
This gentleman, this caller just talked about having already voted during North Carolina's early voting phase. That is actually a hopeful sign for Democrats. What they've seen in pockets of the country, the early voting phase has actually turned in a strong turnout among Democratic voters. So that could be a potential leg up in some of these more competitive districts.
LUDDEN: All right. Well, Mac...
MAC: That brings up the point that I would like to make.
LUDDEN: Sure, quickly please.
MAC: The media's prediction has a tendency, I think in this race, to discourage a lot of people from voting, and I just don't think that's fair. And I think that the media needs to come up with another process in terms of predicting their voting, who's going to vote. But when you predict who's going to vote and who won't vote, it has a tendency to discourage a lot of people from voting.
LUDDEN: All right, Mac, we appreciate the call. Thank you so much.
MAC: Thank you.
LUDDEN: We are also joined by Arturo Vargas. He's the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. And he's in our studios at NPR West. Welcome to you.
Mr. ARTURO VARGAS (Executive Director, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials): Good morning.
LUDDEN: Arturo Vargas, polls suggest Latinos will largely sit out this election, but you see it otherwise.
Mr. VARGAS: Right. I challenge that notion. In fact, we believe that Latino voters are riled, ready and restless to participate in this election.
I think we will see a continued trend in record Latino turnout. We have to compare 2010 to '06. In '06, 5.5 million Latinos voted. We project 6.5 million Latinos will vote this year. That's a 17 percent increase, about a million more Latinos voting in 2010.
LUDDEN: And now this may not just be a factor of enthusiasm. Tell me, it's - Hispanics are the largest-growing sector of the electorate. Is that right?
Mr. VARGAS: They're the fastest and largest-growing segment of both the population and the electorate. And as Peter Brown in the earlier segment mentioned, anger is motivating many voters, and that certainly is happening in the Latino community, because...
LUDDEN: Anger about what?
Mr. VARGAS: Well, anger about an increasing anti-immigrant, anti-Latino sentiment in the country that's being exploited both by campaigns and candidates, whether it's hate crimes of violence in the Northeast or the kinds of campaign tactics we've seen Sharron Angle and Senator Vitter in Nevada and in Louisiana undertake, the kind of rhetoric we've heard here in California over immigration. And of course, SB-1070 in Arizona, all of these have come together to create an electorate that is particularly angry.
I would compare, like others have, 2010 to '94 but not just because you have a conservative wave but because of how immigration has been used to scapegoat immigrants and Latinos.
In 1994 in California, we had Proposition 187. Governor Pete Wilson rode that to a re-election. I think we're seeing parallels of that. But what came of that election was an energized electorate. We changed California politics. I think there's a potential to change politics as well in states like Nevada, Arizona, Texas and other states.
LUDDEN: All right, Latino voters, let us hear from you, 800-989-8255. We have a caller on the line now, Paul(ph) in Randallstown, Maryland. Hi there.
PAUL (Caller): Hi, how are you?
LUDDEN: Good. You are African-American. Is that right?
PAUL: Yes, I am.
LUDDEN: So are you going to vote or not?
PAUL: I'm definitely planning on voting tomorrow.
LUDDEN: And what's motivating you to get out there?
PAUL: Well, there's three things that motivate me. One, I always vote, and I think it is my responsibility to vote. Two, I know just from having common sense that the agenda that Obama has needs to be completed and could not be completed in the time that he's been in office and definitely needs a more Democratic Congress to even, I guess, get close to goals. And three because of just the outright racism that I've been seeing expressed in the last two years just makes me even more steeled to vote this time.
LUDDEN: All right, Paul(ph), thank you for that call. And we have an email from Will(ph) as well. As a Latino, I am motivated to vote in opposition to the Tea Party. They are very extreme on their views on immigration, as you were saying there, Arturo Vargas.
Mr. Vargas, is this a geographic issue? In 2008, there were at least four states that were credited with really - Latinos were the key there. They delivered those states to President Obama. When you look at the map of the states here, where does the Latino vote matter most?
Mr. VARGAS: Well, that's right. I think the Latino vote will matter in a number of states. Nationally, we'll be from six to seven percent of the electorate. We will be 18 percent of the electorate in Arizona, 20 percent in California, 13 percent in Colorado, 11 percent in Florida, 34 percent in New Mexico, 19 percent in Texas. All of these states have key statewide elections. And as we demonstrated in '08, Latino voters have the capacity to make a difference in a statewide election.
LUDDEN: All right. Let's get another voice in here. Robert(ph) in Fort Myers, Florida. Go right ahead.
ROBERT (Caller): Hi. I am a registered Republican, but I do identify with the Tea Party more. If I will be voting - I'm actually outside the polling center right now. I'm going to vote early.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ROBERT: And I am voting because I just am shocked that a commander in chief speaks openly about wealth transfer. I mean, to be something that you would do quietly or think that, but nowadays, it's almost, it's okay. And I just - it's that kind of mentality and the culture of entitlement that's getting us in trouble.
And I think that moderate Democrats are realizing that you can only muzzle the mill horse, because it's the rich that move this country forward. If you don't make 35,000 a year, you're a net negative. And I just realize that we've got to empower the producers of society, and I think that the Tea Party and the Republicans have that vision, and hopefully, they can maintain tighter controls on spending and stop enabling the poor. And they're actually making the poor's plight worse by saying you're not good enough to fix your own problems. We have to help you.
LUDDEN: All right, so the economy getting you out there. Robert, thanks so much for the call.
LUDDEN: David(ph) is in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Hi, David.
DAVID (Caller): Hi. I guess I have one single - well, I have two points, but the first one - and most importantly - is that I can't vote for a candidate whose agenda in their advertisements is completely negative, which means that, for all intents and purposes, I haven't seen here in Massachusetts - I haven't seen anything or anyone that I can vote for because what I'm really doing is voting against somebody else. And if our government is going to be made up of the lesser of two evils, then I'm not proud of that government.
LUDDEN: So you're upset with the whole tone of the campaign?
DAVID: Well, yeah, I'm upset with the whole tone of government right now, which says - that guy is a bigger jerk than I am, and that's why you should vote for me.
LUDDEN: All right, David, thank you for the call.
DAVID: Thank you.
LUDDEN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Corey Dade, we have heard a lot about negative campaigning. You know, a lot of the Tea Party candidates have traded accusations back and forth in various districts. You reported as well on quite an aggressive courting of the black vote using what you call openly racial invective.
DADE: That's right, Jennifer. We've seen it. It's not that it's unusual - excuse me, not that it's new. It's just that it's a little bit unusual this year in that it's so unveiled coming directly from elected officials and state parties. Usually, you have third-party organizations that may support Democratic candidates who will launch these kinds of ads or use this kind of rhetoric, so that it doesn't get traced immediately back to the party itself.
But it's often happening in districts where you have a heavily African-American population, where they may be less engaged as we've been talking about in coming out in this year's elections. And so what you see is a lot of African-American-elected officials, in particular, who are reminding their constituents of the sort of sense of ownership that African-American voters have from 2008 and helping to elect Barack Obama.
I think it's also important to note that it's not just so much African-Americans, and what we're not seeing so much is that message kind of expanded. It's not just African-Americans who have a sense of ownership here for Obama's presidency, but Obama is the first president in, certainly in modern political history who was elected on a coalition of voters that didn't draw heavily from the largest crop of the electorate.
So when you talk about that coalition, it's not only African-Americans but Latinos, women and young people, and even among the young population, voters from 18 to 24 in age, among that group, African-Americans outnumbered every other group in that age group in turning out.
LUDDEN: All right.
DADE: And so I think that they're trying to use that sense of ownership to get them out. And they're, quote, unquote, putting - pulling the race card with really little apology and theyre justifying it by saying that, well, you know, the Tea Party and the conservative Republicans started it.
LUDDEN: All right.
DADE: They've been using...
LUDDEN: I'm going to cut you off there, Corey, to sneak in one last quick vote. Hi, Monica(ph) - in Norfolk, Virginia - if you could ask your question or make your comment really briefly.
MONICA (Caller): Hi. I just I, me being a Hispanic Republican, I truly found that it's very important to vote this year. I believe we need to have a balance of power in our government. One party cannot control our whole entire country and all the decisions that this country needs to make. And I just got really sick and tired of this divisive government that we have.
Obama, I think, has brought more people to hate each other. And as a Hispanic, I am also very tired of the way the media paints us all. We are not all the same. Hispanics in California are very different than Hispanics in Florida...
LUDDEN: All right.
MONICA: ...Hispanics in New York. We're all different.
LUDDEN: Monica, I've got to...
MONICA: We're (Unintelligible).
LUDDEN: I got to let you go because we're running out of time. But, Arturo Vargas, very quickly, there are some Hispanic Republican candidates out there looking to have quite a good shot tomorrow. Is that changing things?
Mr. VARGAS: That's right. I think that also can serve to energize some Hispanic Republican voters, whether it's in Florida, Nevada or New Mexico. I think we'll see an increase in Republican office holders. But another thing that's occurring in this election that's an indication of how strong the Latino vote may be is that there is a movement to suppress the Latino vote, to discourage Latinos from voting. So...
LUDDEN: All right...
Mr. VARGAS: ...I think we got to keep an eye out for that as well.
LUDDEN: Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and Corey Dade, a national correspondent for NPR. Thank you both.
DADE: Thank you.
Mr. VARGAS: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.