Each year, we pundits wake up early on Election Day and tiptoe downstairs to the laptop like it's Christmas, anticipating all the hot story lines we'll find under the tree. Then we remember that the sadistic process won't allow us any real presents till like 8 p.m.
We are left with the only one topic we can knowingly discuss throughout the day, the boring equivalent of a hand-knit sweater gifted to us from senile Aunt Mabel: voter turnout.
Well, it's going to be low. Screechy do-gooders whining "the end of democracy is upon us" low. And one rarely explained and little-understood reason is clustering.
Clustering is what we call it when people who look, think, earn and spend alike live together in companionable, boring harmony. In urban centers like New York City and San Francisco (and the cores of Buffalo or Atlanta), the cluster is hyper-liberal and Prius-y. Out in rural lands, the clustering is whiter and more conservative and Dodge Ram-y.
Nationally, statewide and locally, this is a big deal and it's going to look like an even bigger deal when we parse the results of this off-year, nonpresidential election.
Clustering can be a huge reason people don't bother to vote. And it can very much dilute how much a person's vote counts. Which makes people less likely to vote. Rinse and repeat.
In 2012, Republicans took a majority in the House of Representatives seats, 242-193. But Democrats actually won the House popular vote, the total votes cast nationally, by about 1.5 million. Blame clustering.
Liberals cluster more than conservatives. Less than 10 percent of House races are truly competitive, but the Democrat's safe seats are less competitive than the Republican safe seats. In 2012, the average margin of victory for Republicans House members was 28.6 percent, while the average win margin for Democratic House members was 35.7 percent. My response to those figures is A) Holy freakin' moley, we are doomed and B) Democrats waste a lot more clustered votes than Republicans.
That's because urban safe districts can go as much as 90 percent Democrat (try to find a Republican in Brooklyn, I dare you) but the Republican safe seats, largely in the 11 states that were formerly part of the Confederate States of America, have significant black, generally Democrat-voting populations and often only poll 60 percent or 65 percent Republican. That's a safe win, but not a landslide.
As we cluster more and more, turnout may become more and more depressed. If everyone in your town, county and state agrees with you, there's not much urgency to vote in those elections.
In New York, some upstaters may stay home, confident their local Republicans will be easy winners. But even more New York City residents, who see an easy win for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and every Democratic candidate, see no reason to head to the polls.
The political junkies will care about the referendums and how many votes Cuomo and his Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, get on each individual ballot line: In the trenches, that matters, as does the potentially significant showing of Green Party and leftie standard-bearer, Howie Hawkins.
But most folks aren't in the trenches. Most folks care about politics the way my wife cares about pro football: Only the really big games are worthy of attention, and nacho platters.
If your candidate has no chance of winning, it's likely you won't vote. If your candidate has no chance of losing, it's likely you won't vote.
So the more we cluster, the less we'll vote, over time.