Ron Brownstein on 2010 vs. 2012

by Reihan Salam

Will 2010 be a false dawn for Republicans? Brownstein makes a strong case:

In midterm elections, the electorate tends to be whiter and older than in presidential elections. ABC polling director Gary Langer has calculated that since 1992 seniors have cast 19 percent of the vote in midterm elections, compared with just 15 percent in presidential years. That difference contributed to the 1994 landslide that swept the GOP into control of both the House and Senate. Seniors had cast just 13 percent of the vote in Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory, but that figure spiked to nearly 19 percent two years later, with voting by the young people who had bolstered Clinton falling off sharply.

If 2010 is the year of the “angry white senior,” as The Cook Political Report has argued, it’s easy to see a strong anti-Obama backlash leading to significant Republican gains in the House. But the composition of the electorate will change in 2012.

But that dynamic also means that Republicans could do very well in 2010 without solving their fundamental demographic challenges. In the 2012 presidential election, the young and minority voters central to Obama’s coalition are likely to return in large numbers. The risk to the GOP is that a strong 2010 showing based on a conservative appeal to apprehensive older whites will discourage it from reconsidering whether its message is too narrow to attract those rapidly growing groups. “It can’t be the same formula in 2012,” Ayres warns.

One wonders how many young voters will return. It’s possible that 2008 saw an unusually high level of youth turnout that won’t be replicated any time soon. If unemployment surpasses 10 percent and stays there for a prolonged period, youth unemployment will presumably be somewhat higher. These voters might not be inclined to actively and energetically support the party in power at that point. To be sure, it’s not clear that Republicans will be able to win them over. A jobs-focused agenda would help. John Harwood suggests that Republicans will emphasize jobs on the campaign trail.

Moreover, even Mr. Obama’s economic team now concedes that unemployment, which they once hoped to keep from exceeding 8 percent, will get worse through the end of the year. One outside economist, Mark Zandi, predicts the economy will shed 750,000 more jobs over the next six months, with unemployment peaking at 10.5 percent in June.

Republicans say the trends will only magnify voters’ doubts about the effectiveness of the administration’s anti-recession policies. “For a lot of people, the ‘whether it’s working or not’ is filtered through jobs,” said a Republican pollster, Bill McInturff.

But what exactly will the G.O.P. do to revitalize the economy? 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.