Posted November 4th 2010 at 10:29 am by
in Perspectives on Current Events, The Urban Labs

Nursing a Three Billion Dollar Hangover

Here are some thoughts I am taking away from the past two years and the 2010 election:

KUDOS to the organizations doing the street-level electoral work: The League of Young Voters, who have been holding down great national work for several cycles; Rock the Vote, always making sure young people are represented in the national debate; State Voices, an amazing model of coordinated voter work; and the sample ballot headquarters Vote Sanity!

never a good look


When voters of color and young people vote, Democrats win. To not ensure these specific demographics are continually engaged is a massive oversight on the part of the Democrats. Looking at ways to adapt successful voter models in diverse communities is key (see kudos section).

To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., “Sad is a people who are ignored by one party and taken advantage of by the other.”

Here are a couple of excerpts from a piece by Jonathan Chait in The New Republic that sum up two different cultures struggling for America and why base engagement is critical:

“The non-white share of the electorate fell from 24% in 2008 to 19% in 2010. But the age gap is the real tidal shift. In 2008, Republicans won voters over 65 years old by 8 points, but were crushed among voters under 30 by more than 30 points. The under 30 vote outnumbered the over 65 vote.

In 2010, Democrats still crushed Republicans among the under 30 vote, albeit by just 20 points. But the over 65 vote went Republican by a massive 20 point margin. What’s more, in today’s election, senior citizens constituted more than twice as high a share of the electorate compared to voters under 30. In 2008, the young were 18% of the electorate, and the old were 16% of the electorate. In 2010, the young were 10% of the electorate, and the old were 24% of the electorate.”

Because President Obama rode a wave in 2008 that was unusually dependent on sporadic voters like the young and minorities, who tend not to turn out during midterm elections, he swept in a lot of House candidates who are going to have trouble winning a midterm election with a disproportionately old and white electorate.”

The voters who brought Obama to “The Dance” are not sporadic voters; they are a different type of voter and they have their own culture of voting. People in poverty and those who tend to be the base of the Democratic platform have Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to get through before they can be politically active.

There are many successful models that have created active communities and critical citizens, these models meet the voter where they are and engages them on their terms all year round.  The bottom line is yesterday it was realized: the Democrats have spent the last two years buying drinks for the wrong girl… she was never going to go home with them.

lists stay alive when the relationship stays alive


In 2008, a failed administration and economy, people of color and young voters helped usher in a tsunami of hopeful change this country desperately needed. Two things happened with the victories of 2008 that we should learn from and reflect on.

First, the conservative Americans who had an enthusiasm gap in 2008 realized how different “their” America could become and began circling the wagons.

Second, the enthusiasm of 2008 could not be captured by the infrastructure on the left and there was little relationship with new voters who have no personal tradition of civic engagement.

The administration made a mistake by not actively pursuing a ground strategy while fighting in Congress. The Administration had the best list of who their supporters were and if they had kept that list alive, maybe even asking local organizations to help keep the list alive, they would have kept the voters who put them in office engaged in the bloody struggle policy and the economy have been.

2 responses to “Nursing a Three Billion Dollar Hangover”

  1. Jordi Sanchez-Cuenca says:

    Great post Malia. Thanks for providing such a clear understanding of USA’s election dynamics. Somehow it seems that the Democrats fell in the trap set by the Republicans.

    On what issues do you think young voters feel discontent with Obama’s performace?

  2. malia lazu says:


    thanks so much for your post. I am glad you enjoyed my musings. I think discontent is a symptom of a larger problem with ignored voting blocks, and that is they are a stuck in a cycle of neglect that keeps them disconnected from the process and full of discontent.

    The Obama administration spent hundreds of man hours, tons of political clout and billions of dollars in trying to push through an agenda they thought was the best of hope and change that could get passed… I think what they failed to do was include the voters in the process.

    Reform is not something you do to someone, you need to include that someone in the process. the admin (and political arms like DNC and OFA) did not do enough to keep the hope and change base engaged in the policy making.

    I believe if these voters felt a part of the fight, not just an observer watching a super hero they would have had more fight in this election (and Obama would have had a better health care bill if he catalyzed a ground campaign).

    I could go on, because i feel that this is just one answer to your question, and we could come at it from so many different ways. Right now I am wrestling with the idea of what relationship and community have to do with all of the politics.