Wall Street JournalThe Demographics Behind the Democrats' 2014 Troubles
The party is losing support among whites, millennials and independents.
By Andrew Kohut
March 30, 2014 6:55 p.m. ET
Early national polling is supporting the prevailing view in Washington that Democrats are in trouble in the 2014 midterm elections. While Democrats are more popular than the GOP among the general public, the party faces a number of challenges in November.
First, there's an enthusiasm gap. Typically, but not always, Republicans vote at higher rates than Democrats in congressional elections. And at this early stage, that seems likely to happen again, perhaps at an even greater rate than usual. One telling indicator came in December, when the Pew Research Center found that Republicans are much more optimistic about their party's electoral prospects than Democrats are. Fully 55% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters expect the GOP to do better in 2014 than the party has in recent elections, while only 43% of Democrats expressed such confidence.
Recent national surveys of registered voters by the Pew Research Center, the Washington Post/ABC News and the New York Times/CBS News show congressional voting intentions about even. But if these polls were narrowed to likely voters, they might find a strong GOP lead. It could be a replay of 2010, when Pew's final congressional poll of registered voters showed a one-point Democratic lead, but among likely voters Republicans held a six-point advantage, which was about their margin of victory when they retook the House.
Another challenge for Democrats is winning independents, who typically decide election outcomes. Democrats trail Republicans among independents by 38% to 44%, according to Pew's February survey. Democrats also lost the independent vote in the 2012 presidential election, 45% to 50%, according to national exit polls. In other words, President Obama owed his re-election victory to his base. This is an important indication of how lagging Democratic engagement could sway 2014.
A third challenge is the white vote. While winning whites is not as essential as it once was, they will still make up close to 80% of this year's midterm electorate. Democrats have consistently lost the white vote in recent decades, even in the 2006 congressional landslide. The early polls in 2014 don't show a changing tide. The Pew Research Center's February poll showed the GOP with a 53% to 38% advantage in congressional voting intentions among white registered voters.
Then there are the millennials. While support for Democratic candidates among African-Americans and Latinos remains high, young people are less enthusiastic. The Pew center's in-depth surveys of those ages 18-34 indicate that this generation, a voting bloc so important to Mr. Obama's two victories, is growing more disillusioned with the president. Millennial self-identification as Democrats has edged down to 50% from a high of 58% in 2009. Pew also found Mr. Obama's job approval among millennials has fallen to 49% in early 2014, down from 70% in the honeymoon months of 2009, his highest rating among any generation. Read more ...