2014 GOP Election Success: Some Clouds in the Silver Lining?

January 23, 2015

Bob Moore Takes a Closer Look at the 2014 Election Results and Challenges for the GOP in 2016

The November election results have been seen as a huge victory for the Republican Party and well they should be.  The GOP picked up nine seats in the U.S. Senate and another 13 seats in the U.S. House, giving Republicans control of the Senate and the largest majority in the House of Representatives since the 1940s.  Furthermore, Republicans now control 31 governorships and 69 out of 99 statewide legislative chambers.  It’s hard to find any clouds in that silver lining.  But it’s a pollster’s job to look into the numbers and dig a little deeper.  So we did.

Back in 2010 there was some disappointment with the outcome of the off-year elections because of the initial hope that the GOP could gain control of the U.S. Senate.  A large sweep of seats in the U.S. House gave Republicans control there but they came up several seats short in the Senate.   In 2014 however, not only did the GOP pick up even more House seats than in 2010 but they had a huge night on the other side of the Hill, netting nine new Republican Senators and bringing their total to 54, a huge success by any measurement and above what most prognosticators had predicted.

So, did Republicans do better with various voter groups in 2014 than they did in 2010?  Have they addressed gender, age and ethnicity problems over the last four years?  Was the electorate much more Republican than in 2010?  No, no and no.  In fact, according to exit poll data the GOP made no headway with many of these groups and in net numbers went backwards.  Actually, one very significant advantage for Republicans in 2014 was the electoral success of 2010 and their ability to control much of the redistricting efforts across the country.  This certainly had a very positive impact on GOP campaigns for the U.S. House and for legislative races around the country.  And the fact that voter turnout in 2014 was at its lowest level since 1942 undoubtedly helped the party out of power as well.

But still, the GOP did not improve its electoral support overall when compared to 2010.  Here’s how Republicans did on net GOP support for Congress among some of the key voter groups in both years:

Net GOP Support for Congress
(Edison Research Exit Polls)

One element of turnout that did appear to help Republicans in 2014 was that men made up a larger portion of the electorate (49%) than they had in 2010 (48%) or in 2012 (47%).  These differences are not large and certainly there is a margin of error in exit polling but there is no denying that Republicans do significantly better with men than they do with women and when men make up a larger segment of the electorate Republicans fortunes do improve.

Nonetheless, in looking to 2016 Republicans still have a lot of work to do.  When we look at 2010 and 2014 compared to 2008 and 2012 the numbers not only appear to favor Democrats in turnout models but also in how various demographic groups vote.  In 2014 Republicans had a one-point edge over Democrats in turnout (the GOP made up 36% of the electorate in 2014 while Democrats made up 35%).  This is almost identical to 2010 when Republicans and Democrats both made up 35% of the electorate.  But in 2012 Democrats held a six-point turnout edge over Republicans (38% to 32%).

Election Turnout Partisanship
(Edison Research Exit Polls)

Certainly the mood of the country and individual candidates can have an impact on turnout and vote behavior in Presidential years but younger voters, non-whites, women and lower income voters – all groups that are generally less favorable toward GOP candidates – do turn out in higher numbers in Presidential years as a portion of the electorate than in off-year elections.  That’s really not news for most people who follow politics but the way many of these groups actually vote in Presidential years versus off-year elections is worth noting.  In 2010 Republicans lost Hispanics by 22 points and in 2014 by 26 points.  But in 2008 John McCain lost Hispanics by 36 points and Mitt Romney lost them by 44 points in 2012.  Republicans’ biggest problem with Hispanic voters in recent Presidential elections appears to be not so much that they were a larger portion of the electorate (10% of the electorate in 2012 versus 8% in 2010 and 2014) but rather that the net loss among Hispanics went from -22 points in 2010 for our overall Congressional candidates to -44 points in 2012 for the Republican Presidential candidate.

This, of course, is partly a factor of which Hispanic voters are showing up for which elections.  Younger voters, including millennials, make up a bigger part of the Hispanic vote in Presidential years and Republicans have not yet found a way to appeal to younger voters, whether Hispanic or not.  Indeed, voters age 18-29 made up 13% of the electorate in 2014 and the GOP lost them by 11 points.  In 2012 they made up 19% of the electorate and the GOP lost them by 23 points.   The GOP is facing a double whammy on turnout and vote behavior in Presidential years.

Election Turnout Demography
(Edison Research Exit Polls)

So what’s a party to do?  Well, candidates do make a difference as can be seen in a breakdown of U.S. Senate races in 2010 and 2014.  If we look at the last two off-year elections and look at all the Senate races where the GOP was perceived to have a legitimate shot at winning we see that successful campaigns were those where the candidates were able to neutralize Democrat advantages with women.   The average support among women for winning GOP Senate candidates in 2010 was +1 and in 2014 just -3.  But in the 2010 and 2014 Senate races that were initially seen as potentially competitive but where the GOP candidate fell short, the average support among women was -17 in 2010 and -18 in 2014.  With an average double digit net support advantage among men, anytime a Republican can break even with women is bad news for their Democrat opponent.  And that is an audience the GOP must do a better job appealing to.

To be sure, there are differences by gender among white voters.  White women voted for Mitt Romney 56% to 42% and GOP candidates in 2010 and 2014 had similar support among white women.  But white men have averaged a +29 net support for Republican candidates over the last three election cycles, and it doesn’t much matter if we look at Presidential elections or off-year elections, the GOP simply does extremely well with white men.

Expanding the universe of potential voters does not mean winning a majority among Hispanics or African Americans or women or other non-traditional GOP voters.  But it does mean cutting into Democrat support with those voters and appealing to them on issues in ways they see as non-threatening, inclusive and, most importantly, pertinent to their lives and well-being – especially their economic well-being.

When you get outside of partisans, most voters don’t vote a philosophy, they vote for the candidate who will most likely impact their daily lives in a positive way.  Sometimes that means lower taxes, oftentimes it means creating jobs and economic opportunities but it can also mean protecting Social Security, advocating for education or addressing serious flaws in the health care system.  Republicans appeal best to voters when they can demonstrate how their programs will make voters’ lives better.  That is especially true with emerging voter groups like Hispanics and Asians.

The 2014 elections demonstrate that the GOP has not yet made inroads into these groups in ways that the changing demographic makeup of the electorate requires.  Some individual candidates have found ways to reach them but the story of the 2014 elections, despite all the successes for the GOP around the country, is that the party as a whole has not yet found a way to appeal to the demographic groups that more and more often are determining the outcome of national elections, especially in Presidential years.  To remain a relevant party it must.

Moore Information is a full-service public opinion research company headquartered in Portland, Oregon with offices in the Washington, D.C. area and Missoula, MT. Moore Information specializes in opinion research and strategic advice for political campaigns, ballot measures, corporations, non-profits and government agencies nationwide. Moore Information offers a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research solutions, employing the latest research methodologies and techniques.


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