I don’t have anything fundamental to add to my admittedly too lengthy recap of Tuesday’s results, but a look at the exit polls of some of the night’s most important races did reveal some interesting pieces of information. So here are, in no particular order, a few additional nuggets to help explain what happened on Tuesday night.
Virginia’s turnout differential really was as pronounced as Democrats feared
Over the summer, pollsters like PPP and SUSA found that a majority of likely voters had voted for John McCain in 2009 whereas Obama had won the state by 6% in 2008. That was a sign of trouble for Democrats, and Tuesday’s exit poll confirms that these projections were accurate: 51% of voters said they’d voted for McCain, while only 43% responded Obama. (So we’re clear: These aren’t voters’ presidential preference today but the person for whom they actually did vote last year.)
This huge discrepancy between the composition of last year’s electorate and this year’s electorate does not entirely explain McDonnell’s victory, but it does account for it to a great degree: Based on exit poll results among Obama voters (they went for Deeds 88% to 12%) and McCain voters (they went for McDonnell 95% to 5%), we can easily calculate that, had the electorate’s composition had been the same as in 2008, McDonnell would have only won 51% to 49%.
It’s up to Democrats to ensure the 2010 electorate looks more than 2008’s than 2009’s. That means motivating African-Americans, who made up only 16% of voters compared to 20% last year, and 18-29 year olds, who made up a shockingly low 10% compared to 22% last year.
Measuring New Jersey’s turnout discrepancy
A big surprise in New Jersey’s exit poll, which finds that Tuesday’s electorate had a bigger share of African-American (14%) than that of 2008 (12%). Given reports that part of Corzine’s loss is due to insufficient turnout in minority-heavy counties like Hudson, this is an unexpected finding.
On the other hand, the exit poll clearly points to a big turnout gap at the level of age (9% of Tuesday’s voters were under 29, compared to 17% in 2008) and at the level of voters’ partisan affiliation: While Democrats had a 16% edge over Republicans in 2008, now 41% of the electorate was Democratic and 31% was Republican.
Airing too many attacks can backfire
Corzine used his fortune to swamp Christie under a barrage of attack ads. While that undoubtedly helped fuel his comeback starting in early September, it also might led to a saturation that undermine the governor’s credibility: A very high 73% say that Corzine attacked Christie unfairly, versus 62% who say the same about the Republican. Virginia’s exit poll tells us the same thing, since 65% of voters said Deeds attacked McDonnell unfairly while only 51% thought the reverse; that helps explain the ineffectiveness of the Democrats’ master thesis attack.
Of course, we don’t need to look at exit polls to know Deeds’s focus on McDonnell’s master’s thesis did not get him anywhere; quite the contrary, it made him waste his time when he should have found other ways to motivate the Democratic base. But the exit poll does contain a piece of information that perfectly symbolizes the utter failure of this campaign argument: McDonnell narrowly won among full-time working women, the very constituency Deeds accused him of demeaning in a series of advertisement.
New York City was racially divided
We often see voting patterns that are highly polarized along racial lines, but I am not sure I had ever seen results like that of New York City’s mayoral election. What’s shocking isn’t so much the difference between white and black voters but the difference between blacks and white Democrats. While the former massively voted Bill Thompson (76% to 23%), as did Hispanics (55% to 43%), white Democrats were just as decisive in choosing Mike Bloomberg, who was running on the GOP line (59% to 38%).
Looking back at the 2008 presidential race, the only example I can find of such extreme racial polarization that white Democrats wouldn’t cast a ballot for their party’s nominee is Alabama: On his way to winning 88% of the white vote, McCain got 51% of white Democrats to vote for him, versus 47% who voted for Obama. In South Carolina, on the other hand, Obama got 80% among white Democrats (McCain won 73% of the overall white vote).
Why did the Democratic establishment not treat Thompson seriously despite the signs that were pointing to a potential backlash ever since September? Given how rare it is for white Democrats not to support their party’s candidate, these exit polls certainly suggest that Thompson’s race played a role in his failure to be taken as a legitimate contender. The refrain we’ve been hearing from Democratic officials since Election Day - ‘if only Weiner had run’ - makes this issue all the more urgent to confront, since there’s no obvious reason to me to think that a U.S. representative would have been a brilliant candidate whereas a city comptroller is only a token one.
In New York, a backlash over term-limits and campaign spending
In the quest for explanations for New York City’s tight vote, two obvious reasons emerged within minutes of the results: Voters were angry that Bloomberg was even running for a third-term, and they were found his campaign spending grotesque enough that many were willing to oust him for it.
The exit poll confirms that both factors impacted the results: A full 45% say that Bloomberg’s decision to lift term limits made them less likely to vote for him, and 76% of those chose Thompson. (9% say it made them more likely to vote for Bloomberg, which goes without saying since they wouldn’t have been able to vote for him if he hadn’t changed the law.) Also 42% of voters say that Bloomberg’s campaign spending was an important factor in their choice; Thompson handily won among that group.