American Renewal and the
Politics of the New Middle
E.J. Dionne Jr.
AMONG THE MANY poll findings explaining the results of the 2010 elections, three were particularly illuminating. First, the age composition of the electorate changed radically. In 2008, 18 percent of voters were under 30, and 16 percent were over 65.1 In 2010, only 12 percent were under 30, while 21 percent were over 65.2 Not surprisingly, 2010’s older electorate was more conservative. Second, Democrats lost enormous ground among white workingclass voters. In 2010, Democrats lost white working-class voters by 30 points.3 In 2006 and 2008, they had lost these voters by only 10 points.4 Third, Republicans won control of the House of Representatives because many voters who didn’t really like the GOP voted for its candidates anyway. According to the networks’ exit polls, 53 percent of November voters had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party; yet 23 percent of this group nonetheless voted for Republican House candidates.5 These are the quintessential disaffected voters, and they may be the key swing voters of 2012.
Combined, these numbers reveal a country and an electorate that was not so much angry as dispirited. True, anger on the Right drove conservative turnout to very high levels. But in core Democratic constituencies and in the middle of the electorate, disappointment more than rage drove decisions, including decisions to stay home.
That disappointment was the mirror image of the hopefulness that inspired Barack Obama’s movement in 2008. Even if Obama and the 111th