The Vanishing Obama Voters

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If you compare the exit polls from last night and the midterm election in 2006 there was clearly a surge in the angry, old fogey vote. Senior citizens carved out a 23 percent share of the electorate, up four points from four years ago.

The well-heeled also turned out, with voters from households earning $100,000 or more making up 26 percent of voters (also a four point jump). And ideological voters reigned supreme: Self-identified conservatives represented 41 percent of voters last night, up 9 points over the previous mid-term.

But in comparing these two sets of exit data, what's most striking isn't the change in the mid-term electorate -- it's how unchanged this pool of voters actually is: Whites made up 78 percent of voters last night (compared to 79 in 2006). African Americans' share of the electorate stood steady at 10 percent. Ditto for Hispanics at 8 percent. The share of the electorate under 30 actually dipped a point from four years ago to 11 percent.

In short, it's as though the game-changing 2008 campaign never happened. Two years ago, Obama's fearsome, Internet-meets-shoe-leather turnout machine forged a radical new electorate, one in which voters under 30 actually outnumbered senior citizens, and in which nearly one in seven voters was black. At the time, this shift in the electorate was understood to be seismic. Durable. And as Obama took office, his presidency was expected to sustain the involvement of his 2008 coalition through an ongoing Democratic field operation, a permanent campaign unlike anything the political world had ever seen.

That didn't happen. There are many reasons for the "shellacking" Democrats took last night. But the decline and fall of Organizing for America (nee Obama for America), and the subsequent reversion of the electorate to the midterm norm, may be sorriest of all. The fact that young voters, who made up 18 percent of the electorate in 2008, stayed home for this election is especially disheartening -- because those who did make it to the polls broke 57 to 40 for Democrats.

Where did things go wrong? On Monday, the New York Times explored the disillusionment of the Millennial set with Obama and his party. And back in February, I explained how OFA went off course in this feature I wrote for the magazine.