Voter turnout is low. Excitement is minimal. Signs in the yards indicate the truly dyed-in-the-wool partisan folks. So, how do these off-year elections measure in election lore?
They are important. Really important to parties in particular. Now, as a Virginian I do care about who the g-o-v is, but I am sure that outside of VA, NJ, and the NY Mayoral race... no one cares.
Exploring this concept (and depending on who you speak to about this matter), the off-year elections in the states of New Jersey and Virginia can be read as a referendum on the Republican party, as stated in NPR this morning. It should be pointed out that gubernatorial race went against the party in power back to the 1970s, as indicated above.
Now, Larry Sabato says that off-year elections are not a referendum; that exit polls show that despite a swing to the right in the last few election cycles, most voters in these states are generally supportive of Obama in particular.
In off-year elections, supporters of the opposition party and those who are dissatisfied with the status quo in Washington are usually more energized than supporters of the president’s party and those who are satisfied with the status quo. This helps to explain why candidates from the president’s party have lost the last six gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey. But this doesn’t mean that these elections should be viewed as referenda on the performance of the president. Even with the Republican skew of the electorates in Virginia and New Jersey, the exit polls showed that President Obama was fairly popular in both states: 48 percent of the voters in Virginia and 57 percent of the voters in New Jersey approved of his job performance.
Sabato concludes that these two states are no indicator of larger trends to follow. However, I wonder if he would be singing the same tune today? After all, one could argue the referendum is more about who is in control of the GOP: the Old Guard or the Tea Party? If Christie wins in blue NJ, and Cuccinelli loses, does that mean that the TP is not looking like the rallying point for the GOP? Will the shutdown do more damage to Cuccinelli, especially considering the effort of the left to tie Cuccinelli's conservative politics to the shutdown in a state so dependent upon federal spending? It all adds up for some political conjecture, I say.
(If in particular you are interested in reading more about the VA race, Cuccinelli as a conservative, McAuliffe, Sarvis, or the NJ race... read here :)
And if that isn't enough to get you up in the morning, check out the ballot initiatives around the country today.
Photo via Flickr/Ted Eytan