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November 06, 2013 11:42 AM What Do the Exits Show About Off-Year Turnout?

By Ed Kilgore

An initial glance at the exit polls for Virginia and New Jersey shows some interesting variations in the demographic shape of the electorate.

In New Jersey the 2013 electorate looked an awful lot like it did in 2009, and quite different from its composition in 2012. The racial breakdown was 73% white, 14% African-American and 9% Latino in 2009, and 72% white, 15% African-American and 9% Latino in 2013. By contrast, it was 67% white, 18% African-American and 10% Latino in 2012. You see a similar pattern with the vote by age: in 2009, voters over 50 represented 55% of the vote while those under 30 were 10%. Yesterday voters over 50 were 59% of the vote while those under 30 were 10%. In 2012, over-50s were 49% while under-30s were 16%.

So New Jersey followed the expected pattern of an off year election producing a significantly older and whiter electorate than in a presidential year. Christie would have won with either electorate, but he did have a stiff wind behind him this year.

The age breakdowns in Virginia follow the same pattern. Over-50s were 54% in 2009 and in 2013, but only 43% in 2012. Under-30s were 10% in 2009 and 13% in 2013, but rose to 19% in 2012.

But the racial breakdowns broke the mold a bit: in 2009, the Virginia electorate was 78% white and 16% African-American (with 5% Latino or Asian). In 2012 it was 70% white and 20% African-American (with 8% Latino or Asian). And yesterday it was 72% white, 20% African-American (with 5% Latino or Asian). It’s unclear whether the McAuliffe campaign did an unusually good job of turning out the African-American vote, or something else was going on, but it is clear it was a key factor in his victory, since the additional 4% of the electorate that were African-American as compared to 2009 represented close to 90,000 votes. He won by just over 54,000.

Unfortunately, there was no exit polling in either state in 2010, so we can’t compare the composition of the electorates in off-year, presidential and midterm contests and make some conjectures about 2014. But I’d say Democratic candidates and parties looking forward to another relatively low-turnout cycle should take a close look at Virginia.

One other thing: there’s been a lot of talk (some of it from me) in recent months of signs that Democrats were making gains among the older voters who are so key to Republican success. In the one competitive statewide election yesterday, in Virginia, Cuccinelli won voters over 50 by a bit over 4%, over-performing his overall percentage by about 7%. In 2009, Bob McDonnell actually did better overall than among voters over 50. So it’s hard to see any D trend among older voters in yesterday’s results.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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