Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tim Johnson's Retirement: Numbers, Trends, And History

Tim Johnson will announce his retirement this afternoon. Speculation, informed and otherwise, indicates that either his son U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson or former Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin will seek the Democratic nomination to replace him. Former Governor Mike Rounds has announced his candidacy for the Senate; Representative Kristi Noem has also been mentioned as a possible candidate.

I'm not Nate Silver or Nate Cohn, two number crunchers who correctly forecast the 2012 Presidential election while Fox News was getting it all wrong. That being said, the numbers look bad for whomever the Democrats nominate.

In late February, Bob Mercer reported that voter registration numbers show Republicans have nearly a 55,000 voter advantage. There are over 96,000 independents, but it's a safe bet that a sizable plurality if a not a majority of those voters are conservatives who lean Republican.

Further, this Andrew Kohut Washington Post analysis points out:
Americans’ values and beliefs are more divided along partisan lines than at any time in the past 25 years. The values gap between Republicans and Democrats is now greater than the one between men and women, young and old, or any racial or class divides.
Kohut goes on to examine the Republican base:
The party’s base is increasingly dominated by a highly energized bloc of voters with extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues: the size and role of government, foreign policy, social issues, and moral concerns. They stand with the tea party on taxes and spending and with Christian conservatives on key social questions, such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

These staunch conservatives, who emerged with great force in the Obama era, represent 45 percent of the Republican base. According to our 2011 survey, they are demographically and politically distinct from the national electorate. Ninety-two percent are white. They tend to be male, married, Protestant, well off and at least 50 years old. 
According to Kohut, this base has "protected Republican lawmakers from the broader voter backlash that is so apparent in opinion polls" even though the Republican party is at the same place nationally that the Democrats were in in 1973.

In short, South Dakota has more Republicans than Democrats, and Republicans tend to have a  more energetic base than Democrats. This base will give South Dakota Republicans a nearly insurmountable advantage in statewide races in 2014.

Kohut concludes with a brief history lesson:
Of course, the Democrats of the 1970s were able to overcome their obstacles. All it took was Watergate, an oil embargo and a presidential pardon of Nixon for Jimmy Carter to secure a thin victory in 1976.
South Dakota Democrats in 2013 may not be as lucky.

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