The head of the Nevada state assembly's Republican caucus is looking forward to the 2014 elections because "a lot of minorities and a lot of younger people will not turn out" making it "a great year for Republicans." And he's right.
It needs to be said, of course, that just because Assemblymember Pat Hickey is right, doesn't mean he should have said it. As The Washington Post reported, Democrats in the state have used the statement as a signal that the party wants to suppress the minority vote. Expressing enthusiasm for people not voting is a bad look, especially if you're a leader in a political party. And especially especially if you run a political party that is hoping to lure those voters to your cause.
But, again, Republicans are warranted in appreciating off-year elections. Communities of color frequently vote more heavily Democratic. In 2012, white voters went for Romney by 20 percentage points nationally. Latinos, however, voted for Obama by a 50-point margin — and while at the polls likely voted for other Democratic candidates. And turnout among all groups is higher in presidential election years. Below, via the Census, is the national difference between white turnout precentages and black and hispanic turnout percentages since 1978. Only recently has turnout among black voters been comparable to white voters, and only in presidential years.
If you consider a 5-percentage point difference between white and black voters in 2010 subtle, remember that it multiplies the effect of uneven population distribution. In other words, if a state has far more white voters and they turn out far more, the effect is multiplied. We took the 2010 and 2012 turnout data and applied it to an approximation of the people of voting age in Nevada. That gave us a breakdown of what percentage of the voters in each year would be white or non-white.
In short: There's a 6-percentage-point difference in the racial composition of the vote between years. Not all whites vote Republican and not all people of color vote Democratic. But charts like this are why Republicans like 2014s better than 2012s.
Instead of sighing with relief when considering off-year elections based on the data, Hickey might want to consider this trend. It shows the Census Bureau's projection for the percentage of the state's population that will be white over the coming decades.
In 50 years' time, even the data probably won't support the idea that Republicans would fare better in the off-year. From a political perspective, it probably makes sense to stop saying such things sooner rather than later.