Posted: Jan. 20, 2015
WORST TURNOUT EVER
By Celia Cohen
Ken Simpler should probably credit about 200,000 Democratic voters for making him the Republican state treasurer.
They did him a big favor. They stayed home on Election Day.
Their civic disengagement all but obliterated the structural advantage that belongs to the Democrats in statewide voting here in Delaware.
Such is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from a new statistical report released last week by the state election commissioner's office, detailing the Election Day turnout in 2014.
It shows that in a really abominable year for voter participation, the Democrats were even more abysmal than the Republicans. As for the other voters who register so they have nothing to do with the two major parties, just forget about them. It seems they were similarly inclined to have nothing to do with the election, either.
This skewed and shrunken turnout gave aid and comfort to the Republicans, who went into the campaign season with the modest, but realistic goal of stopping their political freefall by making Ken Simpler the first new Republican elected in 20 years and by re-electing Tom Wagner, the auditor who was the only officeholder they still had.
It let Simpler win. Also Wagner. That, and not having Wagner's house in Dover show up on the list for sheriff sale for missed mortgage payments until after the election.
The Democrats did re-elect Chris Coons as senator and John Carney as congressman, as well as transplant Matt Denn to attorney general from lieutenant governor. They also kept control of the legislature, although they lost three seats to the Republicans.
In sum, the Republicans made a comeback from virtual irrelevancy, and the Democrats had nobody to blame but their own kind.
"Democrats lost, because the turnout was so low. Let's face it, we did not have the most exciting of candidates, not that you wanted to get off your couch and vote for," said Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker.
Now to the numbers. Statewide turnout among all voters was 37 percent. This was the worst since record-keeping began 60 years ago in 1955.
The Democrats turned out a mere 36 percent of their voters, the Republicans were at 45 percent, and the others at 29 percent.
Here as elsewhere around the country, it was the Republican electoral coalition that bucked political ambivalence to come out to vote, a self-selected constituency that was older, whiter and more conservative.
It should not have been much of a surprise. The election fell in a non-presidential year, when turnout is customarily lower, and it was also the "Six-Year Itch," midway through a president's second term, when the president's party almost always sustains losses.
Barack Obama and the Democrats got what was coming to them, particularly with Obama's approval rating at the time at a dismal 41 percent.
Despite a concerted get-out-the-vote effort here by Democratic Party officials, their voters essentially gave the election away. The Democrats had 305,000 voters on the registration rolls, but only 110,000 of them went to the polls. What should have been a virtually insurmountable 125,000-voter advantage over the Republicans dwindled to a manageable 28,000-voter edge on Election Day.
In Delaware politics, the farther south it gets, the more conservative it is, and in the election, the farther south it got, the better the turnout was.
The turnout upstate in Wilmington, where 70 percent of the voters are Democrats, was a dreadful 29 percent, while downstate in Sussex County, it was 44 percent.
Among the 41 representative districts, the four in which at least half of the residents are from minority populations were low turnout districts, all of them in and around the city.
It was 22 percent in the 2nd, represented by Stephanie Bolden, a Democrat, and in the 3rd, represented by Helene Keeley, a Democrat, and only slightly better at 32 percent in the 16th, represented by J.J. Johnson, a Democrat, and 33 percent in the 1st, represented by Charles Potter, a Democrat.
The highest turnout, so to speak, occurred in Sussex County in three coastal representative districts, where it was 50 percent in the 14th, represented by Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker, 51 percent in the 20th, represented by Steve Smyk, a Republican, and 49 percent in the 38th, represented by Ron Gray, a Republican.
Schwartzkopf considers it the nature of the districts. "It doesn't surprise me these three districts had high turnout, compared to everybody else," he said.
"We are highly populated with retirees from other areas. They are very active politically. They were from D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York, all the major metropolitan areas, a lot of Democrats from New Jersey. I think they brought that with them."
The Democrats were not served by youth, either. The younger the voters, the more likely they were to take a pass on the election, except for a blip in the youngest voters, the eager first-timers under 21.
The moral of the 2014 election is, it was not really a good year here for the Republicans, but it was really a bad year for the Democrats.