2022, And The 2010 Myth

Why Did Democrats Lose 2010?

Why did Democrats get smashed in the 2010 Midterms?

If you believe the narrative that most people believe, it was a stunning rebuke of an unpopular President, but in reality, it wasn't about that. House Democrats lost a whole lot of seats that John McCain had handily carried in 2008, the most instructive seat being the three Tennessee seats Democrats lost that year, and lost another set of seats because their voters didn't show up. In those three McCain-won Tennessee seats, all that happened was a rapid decline in ticket-splitting, as the three districts - all McCain +15 or better - all came home to something closer to Presidential partisanship. What happened in the rest of the country was turnout.

The most striking example of this has to be Detroit, where we have two House districts that neighbour each other - the majority-Black 13th and the majority-white suburban 11th. In 2010, both seats had turnout declines as compared with the total votes cast in 2008, but it wasn't nearly equal. In the 13th, 54% of their 2008 vote haul came through, but in the 11th, 65% did. At the time, the 11th was a Republican seat - voting for their GOP incumbent by 5% even in the 2008 Obama Michigan landslide, and outrunning the state's House Popular Vote by 14% that year. The GOP had the turnout advantage, because their areas turned out, and Democratic ones didn't.

We see this in 2014 as well, where Cory Gardner and Rick Scott got smaller %s of the white vote in winning their states than Mitt Romney did in losing those states two years before, but because Black and Hispanic turnout tanked, that was enough to win. We know, from some of Lak's work, that about half of the 2014 disaster was caused by the increased prominence of the suburbs - or, more precisely, that if you took the Biden margins by race and education and applied them to the 2014 electorate, about half of the swing is gone. What was the other half? The fact that the share of the electorate that was non-white fell through the fucking floor, and while we don't have what I would consider reliable 2010 estimates of the electorate, the Detroit data heavily suggests that turnout was again the problem.

So what does it mean? It means that the trick to winning in 2022 is holding the suburbs, and not having shit turnout amongst Democratic-supporting minorities. In 2014, the one R-leaning year we have reasonable electorate estimates for, the non-white electorate share was 19%. The next lowest? 24%. This is, very clearly, the battlefield of 2022, but also clearly illustrates why Democrats got beat so badly in 2010 and 2014. It wasn't about some surge of Obama supporting Democrats going to the GOP because of an active desire to see a split government, but it was because the GOP got their voters out and Democrats didn't. Why did the GOP get their voters out? Because in 2010, they still won the suburbs, home to the highest concentration of educated, well-off whites in the country, the voters most likely to vote in a midterm. Now? They lose those voters.

Why do they lose those voters? Well, it's about Trump, and he's no longer in office, so obviously those voters will go home to the GOP. right? No, because the same shit that's happening in suburban Dallas and suburban Atlanta is happening in suburban Melbourne, suburban Toronto, and the formerly strongly Tory outer ring of London. It can't be about Trump if it's happening in three other countries, none of which have Donald Trump in them. Why did the Canadian Tories go from winning suburban, educated Milton by 5% in 2015 to losing it by 15% four years later? Why did Putney, in outer London, swing 10% left in 2019 despite the nation moving 10% right? Why did the Australian right tank in the richest parts of Sydney and Melbourne, suffering huge 2PP swings against them in all of Wentworth (as compared to 2016), Warringah, and Kooyong? Oh yeah, it ain't about Trump.

The GOP won in 2010 and 2014 because they won the suburbs and Black and Hispanic turnout tanked. It wasn't about some collective decision taken by a nation looking for divided government, but by math, and turnout. Given Democrats are overwhelmingly likely to hold the suburbs - and they are, given the global trends and the fact the GOP are still the party of both Trump and Trumpism - then the GOP's prayers need to come through in the form of shit minority turnout. This was, in many ways, the GOP bet in the Georgia runoffs, where the turnout trends helped Democrats because the GOP's rural white electorate wasn't going to turn out in the same numbers, and the now-Democratic suburbs were coming out, and still doing so for Democrats. The GOP hope was that, like in the 08 runoff, Black turnout would fall, and ideally fall more than their white turnout. Instead, Black turnout stayed very close to 2020 levels, and now Democrats have two Senate seats they weren't expected by anyone to hold after November 3rd. Obviously, none of this is a certainty about 2022, but it does give a feeling that the rote nonsense of much of the commentariat is, well, just that.

Remember when Georgia had always voted more Republican in a subsequent runoff than they had at the original general election, and that was used to say Ossoff and Warnock were dead on arrival? Remember when the rule was the only way first term Presidents lost office in the post-war era were when they faced stiff primary challengers and credible third party challengers, as Dan Pfeiffer said on Pod Save America in 2019? Remember when every smart Democrat in 2016 said that Hillary was smart for making offensive plays in Georgia and Arizona, which accomplished the sum of fuck and all? What we think we know is often informed by history, and based on what the history said, all of those claims were defensible at the time, but they were all wrong. Trump was a history-defying candidate, and we are living in times that love to change the calculus. Polarization is up, social trust is down, partisanship is at levels unseen in modern times … but, of course, some large number of Democrats will split their tickets and elect a Republican member of Congress? Oh, but that’s what happened in the past, so it’ll happen again, surely. Except it’s not what happened in either 2010 or 2014. The 2010 Myth suggests that 2022 is on the march to inevitable doom for Democrats. Fortunately for the party, it suffers from the slight flaw of being untrue.