The Rising American Electorate: Results from Post-Election Research in New Jersey and Virginia


Greenberg Quinlan Rosner
Women's Voices. Women Vote.

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Executive Summary

On November 3, 2009, Democrats lost the governor’s mansion in two states that Barack Obama won in 2008, New Jersey and Virginia. While it is not unusual for the party in power to lose elections in the off-year, the scale of the losses feels dramatic given the surge of new, progressive voters that came into the electorate in 2008.

While the consensus is that these elections were not referenda on President Obama, a new post-election survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Women’s Voices. Women Vote confirms that it does suggest potential problems for progressives going into the mid-terms. The decline in turnout in Virginia and New Jersey among progressive voters—and in Virginia where the Democratic margins shrank among these voters—suggests that progressives need to make particular outreach efforts heading into 2010.

Since 2003, Women’s Voices. Women’s Vote (WVWV) has pioneered outreach to historically underrepresented groups in the electorate. Starting with unmarried women and expanding to younger voters, African Americans, and Latinos, WVWV has facilitated the registration of nearly 1 million people in these demographic groups. These groups constitute the Rising American Electorate (RAE), fully 52 percent of the vote eligible population and represent the fastest growing groups in the country. They participated in historical proportions in 2008, but in 2009, their involvement dropped and, in the case of Virginia, the margin they gave the Democratic candidate declined as well.

Clearly, progressives will need to pay particular attention to RAE voters if they want to keep them engaged in the political debate and participating in elections. At the same time, WVWV and other civic engagement groups will have to focus on developing successful techniques to keep underrepresented groups in the electorate and participating in the public debate about issues that most affect their lives.

Key Findings

  • The marriage gap—the difference in voter participation and voting behavior between married women and unmarried women—continues to drive electoral outcomes, with unmarried women continuing to represent a huge (26 percent of the voting age population) underdeveloped bloc of voters.
  • Voters in the Rising American Electorate played a primary role in Obama’s 2008 victory, but too many stayed home in 2009.
  • The elections in New Jersey and Virginia were not a referendum on Obama’s performance or even the pace of change in the country.

Methodology

This analysis is based results from two post election surveys commissioned by Women’s Voices. Women Vote, one among 1122 registered voters in New Jersey (730 voted in the 2009 Gubernatorial election, 497 did not) and the other among 1077 registered voters in Virginia (622 voted in the 2009 Gubernatorial election, 500 did not). Interviews were completed from November 3rd to November 5th and these polls carry a margin of error of +/- 2.9 and 3.0 respectively.