Cuccinelli’s chances depend on turnout

Ken CuccinelliOr, rather, decisions are made by those who show up.

My latest op-ed, title above, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot Wednesday. It isn’t news to those of us who follow politics closely that there is a steep drop off in the number of voters who participate in Virginia’s off-year elections from those who participate in the national elections a year earlier. The numbers are easy to find, as they are on the State Board of Elections website.

Larger numbers don’t, by themselves, explain Virginia’s 35-year history of electing the president from one party and the next year, a governor from another party. The theory that larger numbers benefit Democrats just don’t hold water; the pattern persists even in years where the was a Republican president and a Democratic governor.

I think the composition of the electorate is the key, and for that, we have to rely on exit polls. Virginia exit poll data for 2008 and 2012 can be found here. I also found exit poll data for 2009, which allowed me to compare that electorate to the one in 2008. (If there is older exit poll data for previous gubernatorial elections, I’d love to be pointed to it.) What jumped out at me was the drop off in voters under the age of 45.

These voters accounted for 51% of the electorate in 2008, but only 25% in 2009. The biggest drop off was of those aged 18-19: they accounted for 21% of the 2008 electorate but only 10% of the 2009 electorate. In recent years, voters under 30 tend to identify more with the Democratic Party.

Yesterday, audio of the 2012 Campaign Decision Makers Conference at Harvard was released. Early reports out of this conference were that Republicans were in awe of how the Obama campaign did business. While Slate’s writeup covers a number of things, one jumped out at me:

Of Barack Obama’s now 33 million Facebook fans globally, they are friends with 98 percent of the U.S.-based Facebook population

That makes for one heck of a GOTV operation. 90% of 18-29 year-olds sleep with their smartphone. Most get their news from friends and family on Facebook.

Given the trends, engaging younger voters this election cycle could very well lead to a break in Virginia’s voting pattern.

Otherwise, get used to saying “Governor Cuccinelli.”

My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot on Wednesdays (unless something comes up, in which case it’s Thursdays). You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot.