Those who don't vote are a plus for Corbett

Posted: April 17, 2014

BELEAGUERED incumbent Republican Gov. Corbett hasn't, for some time now, had much to sing about.

He's repeatedly ID'd as America's most vulnerable sitting governor.

His polling numbers are consistently abysmal.

And his communications efforts are almost always defensive - and I mean defensive like at the Alamo.

But there might be a welcome tune in the piano hanging by a wire over his re-election prospects.

And that tune, according to a new analysis of Pennsylvania voter turnout, could turn out to be music to Corbett's ears.

The Voter Participation Center, a D.C.-based nonpartisan, nonprofit research group, and national Democratic pollster Celinda Lake say the right mix of people not voting is a real plus for Corbett and might decide this year's election.

Citing off-year election turnout patterns, the center and Lake say nearly 900,000 unmarried women, minority and younger eligible voters could stay home.

That bloc votes Democratic. Women dominate it. And drop-offs happen here.

The 2012 election, a presidential year, drew 5.7 million voters. Pa.'s 2010 general election, a gubernatorial year, drew 4 million.

Drop-off this year, "either from failure to register or failure to turn out at the polls is a significant issue" facing the state, the analysis says.

And Lake says Democrats fear this drop could be "as bad as the record drop-off in 2010."

She says Pennsylvania is among the states most likely to lose votes from unmarried women, and that "the younger the voter, the greater the drop-off."

Why?

Because inside almost every poll - state or national - is profound dissatisfaction with the economy and government. And that leads to eligible voters staying home or new voters not registering.

"We're seeing polls showing a high number of people saying, 'I'm not going to turn out to vote,' " Lake says.

State data show Democratic registration, for example, down more than 300,000 from 2010. Republican registration is only down 31,000.

And since Democrats today have nearly twice as many registered voters age 18 to 24 (321,711) as Republicans do, the youth vote could hurt rather than help the Democratic candidate in the fall.

Also, Democratic-rich Philadelphia tends to eschew gubernatorial elections that don't have Ed Rendell on the ballot. And 44 percent of that youth vote is in Philly and its collar counties.

But the bloc in question is mostly single, divorced or widowed women, many with low education/low income levels, many with children dependent on the social safety net.

Dana Brown is director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics and an assistant professor of political science at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.

"These groups notoriously do not come out in midterm elections," she says.

When I note two of four Democratic primary candidates are women (Katie McGinty, Allyson Schwartz), Brown says, "A woman on the fall ballot might pick up interest, but I can't imagine it would be radical. . . . People have behavior and what's the best predictor of behavior? Past behavior."

Daily News pollster Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College agrees with trends cited by Lake and the Voter Participation Center and adds, "There isn't any doubt Corbett benefits from a low-turnout election."

This is why, Madonna notes, Democratic candidates already are speaking directly to the voter bloc in question by pushing issues such as Medicaid expansion and education funding.

I'd note that in TV ads Rob McCord pushes public education; Tom Wolf talks about the gender pay gap; McGinty promises middle-class college scholarships; and Schwartz speaks of breaking through the "old boys club."

Clearly, Democrats such as Lake offer their assessment as a call to action.

But if such assessments turn into facts, the most vulnerable incumbent governor in America could end up whistling past the political graveyard.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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