The 2012 election was just three months ago and President Obama was inaugurated just last month, but it’s already time to start planning for 2014. That process starts with an honest look at where you are. (More)

Planning for 2014, Part I: Where Are You?

This week Morning Feature invites you to start planning for the 2014 elections. Today we begin with an honest assessment of your group’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Tomorrow we’ll look at setting specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, timely goals for success in 2014. Saturday we’ll conclude with getting from where you are to where you want to be.

Note: This series assumes you are working with a grassroots group such as a local Democratic Executive Committee or club, Organizing for Action, Democracy for America, or a labor or issue-oriented group. If you are not a member of any local political organization, I encourage you to join one. The challenges and plans of the Purple County Democratic Executive Committee, as presented in this series, are hypothetical. Any resemblance to any real organization is purely coincidental.

“That could’ve gone … better.”

“I have good news,” Charlene told her precinct leaders. “President Obama won Purple County, by one-tenth of one percent: a margin of two hundred seven votes out of two hundred thousand cast. Great work on that.”

She waited for the applause and high-fives to settle, then continued. “But I’m sure you know the rest. Our local Democratic candidates lost the U.S. House, state house, county commission, and school board races. Their Republican opponents outspent them by an average of ten to one. Fact is, our only local Democrat to win ran unopposed. So that could’ve gone … better.”

Applause and high-fives gave way to grumbling. Charlene let it go on for a minute or two, then tapped her mug on the table. She held up two posters. One listed the state and local races held in 2012, all but one in red. The other had the state and local races to be held in 2014, all in blue. “How do we get from here … to there?”

Hypothetically true

Purple County is hypothetical, but it reflects an all-too-common pattern in 2012. President Obama won reelection handily, but Republicans held the U.S. House. They did so, in part, because Republicans swept state and local races in 2010, giving them control of the redistricting process after the census. GOP candidates also won many state and local races last November, even in states President Obama carried at the top of the ballot.

While it feels good to say “President Barack Obama,” many of the most important policies that affect us every day are implemented by state or local government. Just this week, for example, Republicans in Michigan introduced a bill to require trans-vaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, while Republicans in Virginia enacted even tighter voter ID laws. From education to health care to better local infrastructure, Republicans in state and local government can and do block progress and try to turn back the calendar to their imagined Good Old Days.

Thirty-eight states will elect governors in 2014. Two-thirds are likely to be Republicans seeking reelection, including Rick Perry (TX), Rick Snyder (MI), Rick Scott (FL), Scott Walker (WI), and John Kasich (OH). And every state except New Jersey will elect state legislators in 2014. Add in 33 U.S. Senate races, the U.S. House, and the county and local races in many states, and the 2014 elections will offer Democrats a chance to build progressive government up and down the ballot … or see Republicans continue to block too much of that progress.

“What did we do well … or poorly?”

Vicki raised her hand and stood when Charlene nodded to her. “I think to figure out how to get from 2012 to 2014, we need to take an honest look at ourselves. What did we do well … or poorly?”

“That’s an excellent question,” Charlene said. “We need to give ourselves a SWOT.”

“A what?” Tom asked.

Charlene held up the next poster. “We need to look at our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. S-W-O-T. I wrote up a few here.”

  • Strengths – Phone-banking (over 30,000 calls in 2012). Volunteer recruiting (60 first-time volunteers in 2012). Enthusiasm (88% member activity in 2012).
  • Weaknesses – Fundraising (our candidates outspent 10:1). Registration (GOP has 8,000 advantage). Publicity (GOP candidates had more local media stories). Follow-through (some volunteers were never contacted).
  • Opportunities – Absentee turnout (almost equaled GOP in 2012, from 12,000 down in 2010). Open seats (6 state/local GOPers are term-limited).
  • Threats – Midterm turnout (average Democratic turnout only 39% in 2002, 2006, 2010). New laws (must retrain for voter registration, voter ID).

Charlene opened a marker. “Does anyone want to add to these lists?”

Your list may vary, but….

Obviously, your group won’t have exactly the same strengths and weakness as our hypothetical Purple County Democratic Executive Committee. But the Daily Beast‘s Michael Tomasky writes that midterm turnout should be on your list:

Think about this. Turnout was sky high in 2008. It wasn’t as high this time, but by the time they count all the provisionals and absentees, and accounting for the somewhat lower turnout in the storm-ravages areas, it won’t really be off by that much. In general, presidential-year turnout is now near 60 percent.

And off-year turnout is down around 40 percent. The 20 percent who leave the system are almost entirely Democrats. This has been true all my life. It’s basically because old people always vote, and I guess old white people vote more than other old people, and old white people tend to be Republican. So even when white American isn’t enraged as it was in 2010, midterms often benefit Republicans.

The Washington Monthly‘s Ed Kilgore emphasizes the same point:

As Rich Yeselson mentioned in his post earlier today, and as I’ve harped on now and then for several years, the biggest single under-discussed aspect of contemporary national politics is the consistent disparity in turnout patterns between presidential and non-presidential elections, which at the moment happen to align almost perfectly with party preferences.

By that I mean that midterms always, always produce an electorate that is older and whiter than presidential cycles. In 2006, the electorate was 79% white, with African-Americans composing 10% of the electorate and Latinos 8%. In 2010, the numbers were almost identical. In 2006, voters under 30 were 12%, while those over 65 were 19%. In 2010, under-30s were 11%, over-60s were 21%. Meanwhile, in 2008, whites were 74%, African-Americans were 13%, Hispanics were 9%. In 2012 whites were 72%, African-Americans were 13%, Latinos were 10% (Asians, BTW, were up from 2% to 3%). In 2008, under-30s were 18%, and actually increased to 19% in 2012. In 2008, over-65s were 16%, exactly where they were in 2012.

To get past the dilemma of a modestly progressive federal government blocked by radically conservative state and local governments, Democratic candidates must win in midterm election years. Tomorrow we’ll watch Charlene and the Purple County DEC set some goals to accomplish that.

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Happy Thursday!