By Kirk Clay
3 Things You May Not Know About Voters of Color in New Jersey, Virginia, and Florida
What does Governors Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Rick Scott all have in common? They’re all from states rocked by scandal? No. They’re all from states that President Obama won twice? Nope. Medicaid expansion is a hot button issue in all of their states? Maybe, but that’s not all. If you name the variables that will have the biggest impact this election year, the voter turnout rate for Voters of Color (VOC) could be at the top of the list but the amount of resources spent campaigning is close behind.
Paradigm: For the past few election cycles, conservative institutions and their Tea Party counterparts have leaned on their standard campaign issue – repeal Obamacare. The thinking is that if Republican politicians and conservative institutions pump millions of dollars in deterring Americans from participation in the ACA – including Medicaid expansion — then they will win. However, recent bellwether elections have undermined this long-held cliché and there is evidence based data that points to a backlash brewing.
Background: A significant number of voters believe “sabotage” is the driving motive for the GOP’s obstruction and it has become an exemplifying issue for the modern Republican party. As a result, the Republican brand is damaged in a number of states refusing buckets of money in opposition to Obamacare. Even in a blue state like New Jersey, there are Tea Party calls for Christie to “rethink his position.” To be clear, this well financed push against Medicaid expansion gives insight to a broader set of electoral trends and exposes the symptoms of “Shutdown Syndrome.”
Case: In states like Virginia, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers Medicaid coverage to people who earn up to 138% of the poverty line. This includes childless adults and large portions of the Latinos, African American, and Asian American communities. In short, the federal Treasury will pick up the state’s tab for a number of new clients in the program’s “beginning” years. After that, they will cover a healthy portion of the program for a significant number of years later.
The Fundamentals: In Virginia, Republican Gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli ran for election on a platform that included an “anti- Medicaid expansion” policy. His campaign was bolstered by organizations like Americans for Prosperity and the US Chamber of Commerce — that spent millions of dollars in political advertising to discourage ACA sign-ups. More notably, this advertising was on air in hotly contested media markets like “toss-up” Congressional District VA-2 and State Senate District Six.
The results? Cuccinelli lost to a national DNC leader who never held an elected office, the Republicans lost Senate District 6 — flipping Virginia’s State Senate from Red to Blue, and Republican Congressman Scott Rigell is now in the toughest race of his career.
As the fundamentals of the mid-term elections begin to take shape, there are a few data points to consider:
- There was an unexpectedly strong VOC turnout for the 2013 election cycle — with people of color making up 28% of Virginia’s electorate.
- Virginia Gubernatorial candidate Cuccinelli, State Senate candidate Colman, and GOP Presidential candidate Romney all carried Virginia’s independent voters by double-digits and still lost.
- President Obama’s approval is above the critical 46% level in states like Virginia, Florida, and New Jersey — demonstrating his political resilience.
- The Democrats have regained their lead on the Congressional generic ballot (40%-38%) – more evidence that voters prefer politicians that show the ability to take a problem head-on and fix it.
So what’s happening on the ground? Districts of influence – areas with enough diversity to impact the election – are becoming more than just a firewall against anti-Obamacare advertising. Note that State Senate Candidate Lynwood Lewis was out spent by Republican Wayne Colman $395,632 to 598,982 and the airwaves were saturated with Anti-Obamacare advertising. However, Lewis invested in VOC and was able to offset a decline in support from independent voters. This was a vital component of his strategy and could prove decisive in 2014.
Example: Virginia’s CD-2 is 7% Latino, 21% African American, and 5% Asian with over 52,000 youth between the ages of 18-25 – President Obama won this district with 50% of the vote in 2012. Similar to Virginia’s Senate District 6, this seat is based in Norfolk which is 53% People of Color. Remember, Governor Bob McDonnell won this area with 54% of the vote in 2009 then President Obama won with 72% of the vote in 2012. The centerpiece of Lewis’ winning strategy was to invest in high performing VOC precincts like 213 (Taylor Elementary School) where President Obama received 65% of the precinct’s vote in 2012.
As the campaign season begins, it’s important to keep in mind that most voters are not all that interested in why things haven’t worked. Why should they? Every morning they get up looking for solutions to kitchen table problems — not excuses. Their goal is to get results for their family which means they will support policies and candidates that help to make ends meet. Imagine how many more insured Americans we would have if Congress did the same? The truth is that voters have little patience for “bumper sticker” solutions and this November they’ll be looking for someone to make things better.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC