As November nears and the midterm campaigning grows more intense, Republicans hold two advantages in their Senate push – the map and enthusiasm in crucial communities.
The Republicans need a net gain of six seats to recapture the Senate and the 2014 battlegrounds represent a near perfect mix of communities for the party, full of exurbs, evangelicals and rural whites that tilt the table sharply in the GOP’s favor. And people in those places are all relatively enthusiastic about voting in November.
For Democrats the electoral map has become simple: It’s all about cities and big suburbs. Those things are in short supply in the states that matter in 2014 and enthusiasm in those places looks lower as Election Day approaches.
The differences become clear when you compare the 2014 senate battlegrounds to the 2012 presidential slate using the 15 county types from the American Communities Project at the American University School of Public Affairs.
The 2012 battlegrounds: Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida and Nevada. The 2014 states: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.
Looking at those state there are far fewer people in Big Cities and Urban Suburbs that are the Democrats electoral bread butter in 2014, and there are increases in Exurbs, Evangelical Hubs, Military Posts and Working Class Country counties that are big parts of the GOP base.
When you total those numbers up, in the 2012 more than one-third of the battleground state population, 36%, lived in Big Cities or Urban Suburbs. In 2014, only about one-fifth, 22%, live in those kinds of places.
The numbers are reversed in the counties that tend to be good for Republicans.
In 2012, only a fifth, 20%, of the battleground state population lived in the Exurbs, Evangelical Hubs, Military Posts and Working Class Country counties. In 2014, 36% of the population lives in those communities.
Use the map below to see how those counties are distributed around the country. You can click to zoom into the battlegrounds. Note all the Exurban yellow in Georgia and the Evangelical purple and Working Class dark blue in Kentucky and Arkansas.
There are a few bright spots in the 2014 battleground map for Democrats. There are more people in communities the ACP calls the African American South and College Towns. But even that good news is not all good for Democrats. Those are communities full of college students and African Americans, who tend to turnout less in midterm elections.
And the map looks better in some states than in others. In Michigan and North Carolina, where the Big Cities and Urban Suburbs hold more than 30% of the population, polls suggest the Democratic candidate appears to hold a slight lead.
But beyond simple demographics the Democrats problems look magnified by lower enthusiasm in the places that matter most to them – the Big Cities and Urban Suburbs – at least nationally.
To get a sense of any enthusiasm gap, we used the ACP types to analyze a recent Pew Research Center poll question: Compared to previous congressional elections, are you more enthusiastic about voting than usual, or less enthusiastic?
In the chart above, the top four community types for 2014 enthusiasm, went for Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.
And, maybe more noteworthy, the two communities that are the most reliably Democratic in their voting habits, the Big Cities and Urban Suburbs, have the lowest levels of enthusiasm about November. You might think of them as the land of the disheartened Obama voter – as we noted in the Wall Street Journal on Monday.
When you add it all up you have more people and more enthusiasm for the GOP this fall than in 2012. For the Democrats you have the opposite.
To be clear, these maps and tables do not “prove” anything about 2014. The election is still weeks away, midterm elections are often more about local issues and candidates than the national picture and much has been written about how difficult it is to get a read on what is motivating voters this year.
But when you look at the battleground map and voter interest/enthusiasm, the GOP seems to be holding a few very important advantages where senate control in concerned.