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Turnout Not Main Factor in NJ, VA

Mark Mellman has a post up at The Hill, "Lessons from Elections '09," which makes an interesting point about turnout in last week's election, that "President Obama did a relatively better job rallying the African-American community for Jon Corzine in 2009 than he did for himself in 2008." Mellman, president of The Mellman Group (political consultants) explains that "African-Americans constituted a greater share of the New Jersey electorate this November than last," and adds:

Turnout was not the culprit in Virginia, either. In Alexandria, turnout was down by fewer than 1,000 voters, compared to 2005. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) won it by 50 points then; Creigh Deeds by far less — 32 points — this year. Arlington witnessed an uptick in participation, but the percentage of the vote won by the Democrat plunged...In short, these Democrats lost not because they failed to turn out voters, but rather because they had too few voters to turn out.

Hard to avoid the conclusion that we had flawed candidates in those states. next year, however, could be a very different story, says Mellman. "...By then the environment is likely to be meaningfully altered."

TDS contributor Chris Bowers concurrs -- to a point. But he elaborates with some skepticism in his OpenLeft post, "Which is the bigger problem, lower Democratic turnout or voter shift toward Republicans?"

Over at Pollster.com, Charles Franklin looks at the data in New Jersey and Virginia. He concludes that a shift of Democratic-voters toward Republicans was a bigger factor in the Democratic defeats in those states than was the lower turnout among (mostly young) Democrats.

Franklin's conclusions are not entirely convincing, because it is difficult to separate the two variables from each other. For example, the large shift among Independents toward Republicans was partially caused by lower turnout among young, Democratic-leaning Independents. The pro-Republican shift among Independents was not just caused by Independents switching their vote from Democrats to Republicans.

However, even if it is not possible to definitely prove whether lower Democratic turnout or voter shift to Republicans is the main problem facing Democrats, even attempting such a determination may present a false choice. First, both of these problems exist, and so addressing only one is always only a partial strategy. Second, there may well be ways to appeal to both disillusioned voters and to swing voters at the same time.

Bowers cites a range of other factors and concludes, "the best strategies will reject an either / or of exciting the base and appealing to swing voters as an unnecessary false choice."