An Analysis of Wave Off-Year Exit Polls — Comparing 1994, 2006, and 2010


This post was written by Glen Bolger and Dave Wilson.
Over the past five mid-terms, there have been more wave elections (1994, 2006, 2010) than elections with limited swing (1998, 2002). We thought it would be enlightening to look at the national House exit polls from those three wave elections for similarities and differences.
The 2010 national exit polls show an electorate that has changed little in partisan make-up, but that has shifted more conservative since 2006. Compared to the 1994 electorate, the 2010 electorate is a net five points more Republican and a net twelve points more conservative to moderate/liberal.
In 1994, the Democrats had a five point partisan identification advantage (34% Republican/39% Democratic). This margin had shrunk to two points in 2006 (36% GOP/38% Dem) and was dead even at 36% GOP/36% Dem on Election Day 2010.
In each wave year, partisans have continued to vote strongly for their respective parties, while the major shifts are seen among Independents. In the 1994 Republican wave, Independents (26% of the electorate) voted 55% GOP-45% Dem in races for the U.S. House of Representatives. This was reversed in 2006, when Independents (again 26% of the electorate) voted 39% GOP-57% Dem. This year, Independents (now 28% of the electorate) voted 55% GOP-39% Dem. The swing of Independents towards the Republicans is a continuation of what was seen in the Virginia and New Jersey Governor campaigns of 2009, as well as the Massachusetts Senate special election in early 2010.

One of the biggest shifts in the electorate has been in ideology. In 2010, conservatives made up a plurality of the electorate (41%), while moderates made up 39%, and liberals 20%. In both 1994 and 2006, moderates made up 47% of the electorate, while conservatives made up 35% of the electorate in 1994 and just 32% in 2006.

This up-tick in the number of conservative voters is amplified by a solidifying to vote for Republican candidates. In both 1994 and 2006, conservatives voted for the Republican candidates for U.S. House by 58 points. However, in 2010 conservatives voted for Republicans 84% GOP-14% Dem, a margin of 70 points – twelve points higher than in the wave years of 1994 and 2006.

The suburbs are another area where Republicans made serious improvement in 2010. Republicans won the suburbs 55% GOP-42% Dem, surpassing 1994 levels of 54% GOP-46% Dem and performing better among suburban voters than Democrats did in their wave election year of 2006 (48% GOP-50% Dem).

Republican support also coalesced among seniors in 2010. Republican House candidates won seniors by 18 points in 2010 (58% GOP-40% Dem), while these voters were polarized in 2006 (49% GOP-49% Dem). Seniors also grew as a portion of the electorate – from 19% in 2006 to 23% in 2010.

Little has changed in the ethnic makeup of the electorate since 2006, when whites made up 79% of the electorate, while African Americans were 10%, and Latinos 8%. The 2010 electorate was 78% white, 10% African American, and 8% Latino. Latinos have increased their portion of the electorate by five percent (5%) since 1994, while African Americans have not grown as a portion of the electorate since 1994, representing 10% of the electorate in 1994, 2006, and 2010.

By ethnicity, Republicans made nearly all of their gains from 2006 and surpassed 1994 levels among whites, as whites broke 60% GOP-38% Dem in 2010, compared to 51% GOP-47% Dem in 2006 and 56% GOP-44% Dem in 1994. African Americans have supported the Democratic candidate at nearly identical levels across all three years – 9% GOP-90% Dem in 2010, 10% GOP-89% Dem in 2006, and 11% GOP-89% Dem in 1994. Latinos had just a slight bump in Republican support over 2006, as they voted 33% GOP-65% Dem in 2010, compared to 30% GOP-69% Dem in 2006, a net seven point change.

Here is a must have table comparing 1994, 2006, and 2010 exit polls:

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