It’s more than just the base

by | Mar 17, 2014 | 2014 Elections, Editor's Blog, NC Politics | 12 comments

There’s a story line running through the Democratic narrative about the 2014 election. In 2010, the story goes, the base stayed home and the Democrats suffered their worst loss in a century. So, this year, Democrats need to focus on getting their base to the polls. If they can do that, they can win in November.

But that’s not what happened in 2010. In the last mid-term election, the base did show up. It was the middle that Democrats lost.

In 2010, African-American turnout increased significantly (12%) over their turnout in the 2006 midterm. In addition, they made up 20% of the overall electorate. While that was down from 22% in 2008 and 23% in 2012, it was not enough to alter the broader outcome of the election.

However, if Democrats held only 80% of white Democrats in 2010, they only won 30% of white unaffiliated voters. And that’s the Democrats bigger problem. To win in 2014 and prevent another 2010, they need to win a larger segment of more moderate white voters.

While a large turnout of base voters will help Kay Hagan in her Senate race, the only partisan statewide contest, it won’t do much help Democrats in the gerrymandered Congressional and legislative districts. Republicans packed most of the Democratic base into very few districts. So running up the base may ensure healthier margins in those already solidly Democratic districts, but to win, Democrats need to appeal to moderate white voters.

That’s not to say Democrats can ignore their base in 2014 but turning out base voters is about half enthusiasm and half operations. In North Carolina, the Moral Monday Movement, missteps by the McCrory administration, cuts to education and other issues are keeping Democratic enthusiasm up. The more expensive and complicated part of the equation is putting together a field operation that can identify and then drive, both figuratively and literally, less motivated base voters to the polls.

Winning elections in North Carolina, as in most states, is not an either-or proposition. It’s both turnout your base and persuade the middle. Democrats have the message and formula for turning out their base, but they need the money and talent to put together their field operation. To win the middle, though, they need a message that won’t offend the base but will still appeal to moderate white voters. Without it, they can’t win.


  1. Eilene

    First time I’ve actually agreed with geek! I see his point, usually, even when I don’t really agree, but this one is dead on. We almost need a moderate party. This two system thing is so out of hand, but you can’t get 2% of the voters in this state to ever vote for an independent, green, whatever, so it won’t ever happen, here, or nationally. What was that guy’s name that ran against Bev and Pat a few years back? A professor of economics, I believe, from Duke, had by far the best answers in the debate (the one he was invited to…) and he garnered 1.something percent of the vote? I think Kay is one of the worst democrat senators I’ve seen in a long time. I hate that I have to vote for her.

  2. geek49203

    “To win the middle, though, they need a message that won’t offend the base but will still appeal to moderate white voters. Without it, they can’t win.”

    Another Kum Bah Freeking Yah moment! Next Mr. Mills and I will be buying each other beers and swapping tall tales! See, I told you that conservatives/GOPs and liberals/Dems can have stuff in common!

    For both sides, here is a primer:

    “The Middle” is NOT “the middle class” economically. Any response here that confuses the two will be worthless. We’re talking about “the middle” in terms of non-aligned voters.

    “The Middle” seem to have a limited capacity to give a damn. You know, to worry. Unlike activists on either / all side(s), they don’t “get off” on protesting much. It’s not that they’re not smart, or caring people — they just choose not to worry about much beyond home and wallet.

    And yes, I maintain that protesters “Get off” on protesting. It’s a rush for them, something that fills a need akin to a drug rush for an addict. It seems to me that the same people show up for protests no matter what is being protested, and really feel no sense of happiness should the matter ever be resolved in their way (did we see massive joyful rallies when the USSR fell? When nuke disarmament treaties signed?) Those folk might be “your people” but that’s not “the middle.”

    “The middle” isn’t a rabid union member. And quite frankly, my sense is that they don’t like unions, or union activists. While the latest rants from the SEIU and AFLCIO and whatever-passes-for-teachers-unions-in-NC might excite their base, the message really turns off “the middle”. Yes, I know that these folks show up, willing to work (a few want to bash heads), no matter how much the DC Dem crowd has dissed them in the past 5 years, but don’t expect them to respond to union chants.

    Ditto for the pronouncements of the environmentalists and the civil rights factions. That’s not to say that they don’t like clean air and water, or don’t have a keen sense of “fair”. It just that they don’t care about some animal they’ve never heard of before, and figure that “sh*t happens” to people of ever race.

    Oh, and “the middle” doesn’t care that much about any of the favorite conservative rants. They don’t really care much about what is in text books, TEA, etc.

    So what appeals to the disinterested middle?

    1. Stuff has got to work. Seriously. Think “pragmatism”. They don’t care which talking point is said the loudest, they just want stuff to work.

    This is where the Dems are in real trouble (no, this is NOT a partisan jab). The problem with reforms that move into uncharted ground — whether it’s ACA or outlawing tenure or whatever — is that they usually don’t work, at least not initially (and arguably, ever for most of ’em). And let’s face it — the progressive/liberal people are always itching to change/reform/implement something, right?

    This “middle” will give you a bit of time, and a bit of money, but they MUST see things working. Think “food stamp fiasco” as something they’d care about. They want health care to work. They want traffic to flow — This impacted heavily here in Morrisville, when the mayor was thought to be working on banning guns instead of getting traffic fixed.

    Remember Obama in 2008, and Reagan in 1980? Both came at a time when “the middle” had a sense that things weren’t working, and both promised to make them work. See my point?

    2. Education — this is an extension to “has got to work”. Quite frankly, both sides have made a living out of telling voters that the system is broken, and they will fix it. This isn’t a new thing — I’ve been told that this goes back (at least) to the 1950’s, and probably the 1850’s. I’m not sure that educators’ proclaiming that things are broken, in a gambit for more money (and let’s face it, that is ALWAYS their solution, right?) is helpful when it comes to “the middle.”

    3. Pocket book — Both Reagan and Obama were elected at a time when “the middle” was feeling economic stress. Nixon’s impeachment happened during an economic downturn, sealing his doom, while Clinton’s happened during an economic upturn. The only 2 major Obama accomplishments — ACA and “The Stimulus” — were sold as benefiting the middle. To the extent that ACA has been tied to job weakness, wage weakness, etc the Dems are in deep trouble with this group, just as Dubya (and the GOP, and McCain) were tied to the 2008 crashes.

    • Thomas Ricks

      How about staying out of my bedroom? I’m pretty sure “the middle” cares about that.

      I’m also pretty sure “the middle” knows that if a conservative is speaking a conservative is lying.

      Liberals lie sometimes. Conservatives make it a lifestyle.

      • geek49203

        Thomas — read my comment about “They don’t care”. And you saying I’m lying in that post? I’m calling you out. And like liberals never lie? (Before you start, I’ve been in liberal organizational meetings…..)

    • KC O'Dea

      This is the most lucid comment I’ve read on here, which means the author will be shredded I suspect. Such as (political) life…

      • Thomas Mills

        I wouldn’t worry about Geek, KC. He can hold his own.

      • geek49203

        Thom — coffee when you’re ready. I’m unemployed due to ACA (and yes, I can prove it) but I do have liberal / Dem friends who think I’m okay.

  3. heather stewart

    The base cares about jobs, schools and clean water. So does, or should, the center, and everyone else in this state.

    Tom Mills, why are you posting this at all? We are Democrats, we all need to vote for Kay Hagan, and for Democrats running for the NCGA. We need to GOTV center and base both.

  4. Chris Telesca

    So tell us – what is the message that will appeal to moderate white voters and not offend the base?

    I think that some of us in the base would have liked to have seen Kay Hagan at the Feb SEC meeting and Sanford Hunt Frye Dinner. Kay was AWOL on Saturday, but she was in Charlotte the night before. Would it have killed her to stay another day and press the flesh and help rally the troops? That would have sent a strong message to the base.

    Instead, we were treated to all her surrogates (including another US Senator) telling us we had to re-elect her. While the staffers who were working hard to hand the “keys” to Goodwin House to the Hagan campaign were not doing other work (building AND administering the Party) that even VA Gov Terry McAuliffe recognizes are things a state party should be doing.

    What kind of message does that send to the troops – that we aren’t worth her putting in an appearance for?

    • geek49203

      This is vintage Kay. Kay’s staff in DC has provided horrible constituent services too. The body language is that she enjoys voting (as she’s told to vote, but that’s pretty common in the Senate) and having the title, but has no appetite to actually deal with people and their issues.

      I’m a party of one on this, but I think this is where Kay’s in deepest trouble. It’s one thing to have DC hurt you, but still another for your rep to DC to ignore you. And that transcends party, liberal/conservative, etc.

      • Thomas Ricks

        It would be ideal if someone who was willing to serve NC was willing to primary Kay, but honestly, with a conservative, you only know you’re going to lose. Since every word they speak is a lie; you just don’t know if they’re really a social conservative, a fiscal conservative or both…but you do know that if your income is less than 1 million, they don’t care about you.

        • geek49203

          Well, from personal experience, gotta tell you that unless you can deliver $1 million or more to the campaign, nether party cares about you. Here’s a hint — do you think that the poor, oppressed, minority, working class, etc is invited to the parties unless they come with cash? Do think for a minute that a Dem politician would vote for a bill that cut their funding ’cause it was the right thing to do? Seriously? Either party?

Related Posts


Get the latest posts from PoliticsNC delivered right to your inbox!

You have Successfully Subscribed!