- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

Some interesting, pivotal developments in the elections besides who won received little media attention, despite having far-reaching consequences for American politics.
Certainly one of the most significant of them was voter turnout: Republican turnout increased and Democratic turnout declined.
Both parties poured record amounts of resources into their turnout drives. But there already were early signs that the GOP's political base was much more energized, while the Democrats' base was depressed, disinterested and deflated.
"The Republicans clearly out-organized the Democrats," says Curt Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.
Democratic turnout in congressional races was down 1.3 percentage points from 16.4 percent in 1998, while the GOP's turnout was up by 0.5 percentage points to 17.2 percent, Mr. Gans reports.
Overall voter turnout increased. An estimated 78.7 million Americans voted, or 39.3 percent of age-eligible citizens. That's up from the 37.6 percent who voted in the 1998 congressional races.
Is the rise in GOP turnout a trend? It's beginning to look like one.
This was the third consecutive midterm election where Republicans outpolled Democrats in aggregate House votes, Mr. Gans says.
"Based on aggregate House turnout, the Democrats drew fewer voters than in 1998 in every region except the South. When final results are in, the Republicans will likely have gained in the South, New England and the Middle Atlantic states; held their own in the farm and industrial Midwest and lost only in the West," he says.
Nationally, Democratic voter turnout was down 30.8 percent from its 26.4 percent apex in 1966," Mr. Gans wrote in his turnout report last week.
A 0.5 percent rise may not be that impressive, but considering that the 2000 presidential election was decided by about 25,000 votes, the impact can be huge.
In heavily Democratic Minnesota, for example, where turnout was more than 60 percent, Democrats lost a Senate seat to Norm Coleman. The reason: Democratic turnout plunged in the urban areas around Minneapolis and St. Paul, while Republican turnout rose substantially in the surrounding suburban communities to the south and west.
Minnesota's turnout was so heavy in these areas that polling stations were in danger of running out of ballots and voters had to wait one to two hours before casting their ballots. So much for the belief that heavy turnout hurts Republicans.
Other significant election findings: Republicans won a majority of older voters, married people, rural Americans and Protestants who make more than $50,000 a year, according to a postelection survey of 2,647 voters by Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster.
The GOP's improbable victory among senior voters 60 and older, by 51 percent to 46 percent, is especially surprising. Democratic campaign committees sank millions of dollars into TV ads that wrongly accused Republican candidates of plotting to privatize Social Security, falsely charging that President Bush's reform plan would cut benefits for current retirees.
Earlier this year, House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt said the election would be a referendum on Social Security. But in the end, older voters saw the Democrats' vicious ad campaign for what it was: an attempt to scare them into voting Democratic. It failed.
If that doesn't give the White House and the Republicans new courage to press their reform plan in Congress next year, what will? Meantime, the Republicans continued to outpoll the Democrats among men and among whites. And they modestly raised their support among Hispanics, too, a group that Mr. Bush and the GOP have been courting for the past two years.
Democrats, however, continued to dominate among Hispanics, women, blacks and younger single people between the ages of 18 and 29.
But the decline in the Democrats' voter turnout base is not their only problem as they look to the 2004 presidential elections and beyond.
Recent voter surveys show blacks are slowly but surely becoming more discerning in their vote. Many younger professionals are registering as independents, and a small but growing number of younger blacks are being drawn to the Republicans by issues like school choice vouchers and Social Security investment accounts.
The Democrats' prospects in the South are particularly bleak, especially after major gubernatorial losses in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
"Republican registration has been increasing steadily in the South," Mr. Gans reported.
What is the source of the Democrats' troubles? Mr. Gans offers this stinging assessment: "The continuing erosion in Democratic allegiance may also be traced to its lack of a consistent message, its lack of continuing grass-roots organization and its inability to maintain a consistent voice as the party of the average person and of popular governance." In the wake of the GOP's victories, Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe has been studying the voter turnout data, "trying to figure out what happened," says his spokeswoman, Maria Cardona.
What happened is that the voters sent the Democrats a blunt message: Stop the demagoguery, the smear attacks and appeals to fear and give voters positive, hopeful proposals to solve America's problems.
Last week, however, beaten and frustrated Democratic strategists were still scratching their heads over what went wrong and looking desperately for someone who can lead them out of the political wilderness.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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