As the final ballots are being counted, it appears that the total turnout for the 2014 General Election will be a little over 1.5 million votes. The turnout percentage of 47.1% is higher than our estimate from last week, but still lower than any other General Election with the exception of 1998. In fact, nearly 225,000 fewer voters turned out for this election than the Gubernatorial Cycle in 2010.
Early Ballot returns showed a significant gap in the age of the returns. In fact, nearly 79% of the early ballots returned before Election Day were over the age of 50. The returns will get younger when all is said and done, but clearly younger voters stayed away. Now, more than a year ago, we had predicted that somewhere between 1.8 and 1.9 million people would show up. That was based on a competitive gubernatorial race (check), competitive congressional races (check), and the uptick in participation in 2010. As it turns out, it wasn't meant to be. So, why did younger voters stay home? People are trying to point to a single culprit, but the fact is, there are several:
In the final two weeks of the election, you would have been hard pressed to find a single candidate campaign that was running a positive television ad. Even the commercials that were meant to soften up a candidate often contained a comparison or an attack on their opponent. This was definitely one of the most negative cycles in recent history which sends younger and undecided voters running for the hills.
On the national media side, you had everyone predicting a major Republican wave which definitely removes the motivation to participate from other parties and unaffiliated voters. The local media, while it did try to devote some attention to policy related issues, most of the candidates did not oblige them here, so story after story tended to focus on the horse race rather than on substance. We're not really blaming the media here for not covering issues, the candidates simply didn't get them much substance to cover. If you were in the lead, there was little to no motivation to go to the media because everyone knew that you are basically going to end up donating half of any story to your opponent.
Campaigns and Elections hit on this one yesterday. Campaign emails have been a part of the landscape for many years. However, this was the first year where the majority of the emails felt desperate and gimmicky. Daily begging for cash with outlandish headlines and lower case subject lines tuned voters out and lead to less engagement and even less focus on the issues. The Ducey campaign definitely does deserve credit for conducting a priorities survey email, but it is a single bright spot in a sea of aggressive emails, particularly from the congressional candidates.
President Obama officially became the Chuck Norris/Bill Brasky of American politics. At this point, there is no claim about Obama that hasn't already been made. You name it, it's Obama's fault. The President was the centerpiece of most attacks on Democrats. Instead of younger voters flocking to defend their president, they stayed home.
Most voters never thought they would be so happy to see Christmas ads in November. You couldn't watch any major show or the news without wall to wall campaign ads. Ominous music and grainy pictures filled our TVs — building and negating credibility over each commercial break. After awhile, it definitely becomes noise. The more political commercials are lumped together, the less convincing they become.
Diane Douglas lost Maricopa, Pima, and Coconino Counties and still managed to win statewide office. Yuma County, Yavapai County, Mojave County and the rest are a force to reckon with. While they are often taken for granted, it only accentuates the need for campaigns to focus on the whole of the state and not just the metro areas.
A record amount of money was spent Arizona. The media liked to spend a lot of time talking about it and who might be behind it (often using “poured” in the headline for whatever reason). However, the media did very little to cover what the dark money was actually saying. There are a lot of people saying that Dark Money is the biggest reason why democrats lost, but we're not 100% convinced. Most voters could not tell the difference between the ads and direct mail done by the candidate vs. what was done by dark money. This added to the general “lumping” of political ads which had an overall cooling effect on participation. Candidates definitely benefitted from dark money, but it was less about the content of the attacks and more about the negativity it brought to the election.
Unless something is done about it, dark money is here to stay. It will likely be an even bigger player in the upcoming presidential cycle. Turnout is supposed to be higher in these years, will someone be able to motivate the younger voters to return to the polls or is this negativity that drives down turnout the new normal?
The irrational thing about the negativity of this cycle is that we still live in the greatest Country the world has ever seen, but by the tenor of the media, you would think we were living in some third world country.
Certainly, the next cycle will be driven by an aspirational agenda of the next occupant to occupy the White House. If it doesn't, our political process might actually join the ranks of other third world countries.