Anger, demographics shape GOP 'blue state' success

AP News
Posted: Nov 05, 2014 5:54 PM
Anger, demographics shape GOP 'blue state' success

WASHINGTON (AP) — At the end, Kansans did what Kansans do on Election Day: They voted Republican.

But the GOP's midterm triumph can't be explained away as just a good night for Republicans in the rural and Southern states they tend to dominate. In battleground states, in states with changing electorates and in states that are solidly Democratic, voters who were mostly white and often older said they were upset with both President Obama and Republicans in Congress.

Forced to choose, they sided with the GOP.

That trend in this year's low-turnout election helped the Republican Party exceed its own already high expectations. It scored victories beyond the red states of Kansas, Georgia and Arkansas, sweeping into the more Democratic-friendly territory of Iowa, Maryland, and Colorado, too.

Political operatives on both sides were still trying to figure out exactly how it happened on Wednesday. But a closer look at the electorate offers some clues about how the GOP seized the Senate majority, expanded its House control and broadened its advantage in governors' seats across the nation.

Nationally, 6 in 10 voters were dissatisfied or angry with the Obama administration, while 6 in 10 separately said the same of Republicans in Congress, according to exit polls conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research.

Julie English, a 54-year-old office manager from a Denver suburb, was among those who felt a deep dissatisfaction with the direction of the country.

She took out her frustration on Democrats, voting for all of Colorado's Republican candidates, including Cory Gardner, who defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in a state that President Barack Obama won twice.

"What the Republican candidates were saying is more the direction I want the country to go," she said.

Voters dissatisfied with both parties fueled the GOP's success: Nearly two-thirds supported Republican candidates. It did not matter to these voters that the nation's unemployment rate hit a six-year low last month. Those who were dissatisfied or angry with both Obama and GOP leaders felt overwhelmingly that the economy was getting worse or that it was already bad and stagnating.

"Overall, GDP growth is a good thing," said Republican strategist Vin Weber. "But incomes have been stagnant for a long, long time."

Republicans were particularly pleased with their performance in eight states typically considered battlegrounds or Democratic-leaning in presidential years: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In those states, nearly 6 in 10 disapproved of President Obama — except in Michigan, where 50 percent disapproved. Three-quarters were worried about the direction of the nation's economy, a figure slightly lower in Colorado.

Majorities of voters across all eight states expressed generally unfavorable views of each party, including 52 percent who see the Democrats negatively and 54 percent who see the Republicans negatively. Virginia voters were most likely to say they had a negative impression of both parties; 21 percent of those who voted Tuesday said they viewed both negatively there, and they broke heavily for Republican candidate Ed Gillespie in a Senate race that was unexpectedly close.

National turnout was far smaller than in the average presidential election. Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida, estimates that about 37 percent of eligible voters cast ballots this year. If that projection holds, it would be the lowest turnout since 1942, when Americans were busy fighting World War II.

Overall, the demographic makeup of people who voted in 2014 appears similar to those who voted in 2010 and previous midterms. There's no evidence that Obama or this year's slate of Democratic candidates succeeded in attracting more black voters, young people or women to the polls.

Exit polls suggest that black voters made up about 1 in 8 voters nationally, similar to the last midterm in 2010. Young people were also just over a tenth of the electorate.

Republican pollsters knew that the GOP would benefit from a smaller and less diverse electorate, but didn't predict the extent to which some Democratic allies would stay home on Election Day.

"The composition of the electorate was fundamentally different than anyone predicted," said Gene Ulm, a pollster at Public Opinion Strategies, a firm that worked for Republican candidates or super PACs in Maine, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Kentucky, among other states.

But while Ulm attributed the GOP's dominance nationwide to a shift in turnout, even states that featured strong showings from Democratic-leaning groups didn't guarantee Democrats' success.

Women made up 53 percent of voters in North Carolina, about the same as in 2008, and they broke for defeated Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan by virtually the same margin as in her 2008 victory. Further, black voters made up 21 percent of the electorate in North Carolina, similar to the 19 percent they comprised in 2008, yet Hagan still lost.

In Iowa, unmarried women made up 19 percent of the electorate. That's about the same as in 2012, yet they were far less likely to back Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley than Obama in 2012, helping Republican Joni Ernst to win by nearly 10 points.

Still, some Republican strategists warned that the GOP has work to do with minority voters and women if it hopes to repeat its success in 2016, when a far larger and more diverse group of voters participate.

"I don't necessarily think that we've solved that problem," Weber said.


AP writers Connie Cass and Emily Swanson contributed to this report.



Exit poll methodology information: