Turnout Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be
Democratic strategist Mark Mellman points out that, for all the talk about how important efforts to turn the base out in elections is, the results matter only at the margins:
How much difference can turnout really make? Consider the punishing arithmetic. Take a House race that this year would otherwise be 52-48 Democratic. What would turnout efforts have to achieve to overturn the putative victory?
Use white evangelical Protestants as an example. They comprised 23 percent of the national electorate in both 2000 and 2004, so let’s say they are the same proportion of our imaginary Congressional District. Say the 72-hour program was spectacularly — increasing their turnout by 20 percent while every other segment of the electorate held constant. In that case, evangelicals would constitute 26.4 percent of the electorate.
Assume for the sake of argument they continued to give the GOP the same 78 percent of their votes they gave to George Bush in 2004. Such heroic efforts would still result in a Democratic victory. And if white evangelical Protestants only offered 68 percent of their votes to Republicans, all that work would result in less than a 1-point shift in the vote. And that calculation makes the very unlikely assumption that one side enjoys great success while the other does nothing.
Now, of course, in a 50-50 race, turnout makes all the difference in the world. But, generally, both sides are pretty motivated in those contests.