Despite apocalyptic claims of systemic voter suppression, upwards of 120 million Americans were able to navigate traffic, traverse bad weather, find their polling places, stand in line without fainting, elbow their way past United Nations nosybodies and MoveOn.org mobsters, press their trembling fingers onto computer screens without getting shocked, and -- gasp -- competently cast their votes without tearfully begging for do-overs.
The projected turnout is up 15 million from the record set four years ago. With more than half the popular vote, President Bush has topped Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan's popular vote tallies. He will earn the distinction of being the presidential candidate who has earned more votes than any other in the nation's entire history. "W." stands for "Wow!"
All this and yet, the plaintive Democratic wail until at least Thanksgiving will be: "If only more people had voted . . . "
This isn't just sore-loser-ism. It's delusion-ism.
How many times did you hear pollsters, pundits, journalists and Democratic mouthpieces (sorry for the redundancy) say that "turnout will be key" to a Kerry/Edwards victory? Let's review.
When it became clear that this week's election would have record turnout, it was widely assumed in the mainstream media that John Kerry would benefit. Pollster John Zogby prognosticated: "If there's a big turnout, especially of young voters, you may be looking at a Kerry victory." An outfit called the National Committee for an Effective Congress opined: "Presidential election [turnout] is expected to be nearly 50 percent, and higher turnout benefits Democrats." Marring an otherwise stellar record of predictions, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics in Charlottesville, Va., observed: "That many new people are not showing up to say 'Good job, Mr. President.'"
It has long been conventional wisdom that nonvoters tend to be liberal, and that getting more people to the polls would be better for Democrats than for Republicans. As social scientists Gerald Wright and Jeanette Morehouse noted, the basis for this logic goes back at least to the formation of the New Deal coalition, where the Democratic Party was able to achieve majority status nationally by expanding its former base in the South to include the poor, unemployed and urban ethnic voters. The implicit assumption has been that modern nonvoters, like their New Deal counterparts, remain disproportionately poor, non-white and predisposed to vote for the Democrats.
Serious academic research on nonvoters, however, has provided resoundingly little hard evidence in support of this outdated conventional media/pundit/hack view. When nonvoters are asked how they would have voted if they had gotten to the polls, their answers are a mixed bag. In 2000, for example, nonvoters were no more likely to approve of Democrats than voters. Analysis of the partisan effects of voter turnout after passage of the Motor Voter law showed that Democratic benefits were not statistically significant.
And now, we have Election 2004 -- which should put the high turnout-helps-Democrats myth to rest once and for all. Take Missouri, where voter registration was up 10 percent from 2000. President Bush won by a whopping 8-point margin. Take Florida, where black and Hispanic turnout was higher than expected -- and where President Bush won by a convincing 5-point margin.
Or, on a related note, consider the fizzled youth vote: Fewer than one in 10 voters were 18 to 24, roughly the same proportion of the electorate as in 2000. The MTV vote windfall for Democrats failed to materialize even after Herculean efforts by Ramen noodle-wielding Michael Moore, Bush-bashing Eminem, scare-mongering Cameron Diaz, fist-pumping P. Diddy and "Vote or Die!"-vamping Christina Aguilera. (Interestingly, exit polls showed that "morals" was one of the top issues among the youth vote. Go figure that one out, Paris and Leonardo.)
Desperately clinging to the disabused notion that those at the bottom of the electoral barrel would have broken universally for Kerry, Democrats in denial will now blame computers, the Swift Boat Veterans, the rain, the heat, surfing conditions, sinister bus schedules and conspiratorial bloggers for helping to "suppress" elusive nonvoters.
"If only more people had voted," the turnout hallucinators will moan. Be careful what you wish for.
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