Turnout Must Be the Democrats’ Election Strategy

The Daily Escape:

St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, LA – December 2019 iPhone photo by Wrongo

So, what’s the Democrats’ 2020 campaign strategy? As usual, they can’t decide. Should they run to the center, again following a “Blue Dog” strategy that will sound a lot like Republican-lite? Should they go big, calling for structural change that expands health care and grows the middle class? Or should they simply run against Trump?

Which of these, or which combination of these strategies, are winners?

Ask any pundit, and they will say that Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania by appealing to white, working class voters who abandoned the Democrats based on Trump’s economic populist messaging. This makes all Dem strategists say the Democratic presidential nominee must run as a centrist.

That was true in Ohio in 2016, where Trump managed to win 50% of the votes. In the others, he won with pluralities. Trump “won” Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan with 47.22%, 48.18%, and 47.5% of the vote, respectively. Why? Because five times the normal number in those states cast their ballots for someone other than Trump or Clinton. In this polarized era, the average vote that goes to a protest ballot is about 1.5%. In 2016, in Wisconsin, 6.2% of voters cast protest ballots.

Most of those third party voters should have been Democratic voters—they were disproportionately young, diverse and college educated—but the Clinton camp made no effort to activate them in the general election.

Instead, Hillary Clinton ran her campaign by trying to appeal to Republicans and the few Republican-leaning independents appalled by Trump. She chose a bland white man, Tim Kaine, as VP. Her messaging and ads were policy-lite. And in the end, most of those voters stuck with the GOP.

Rachel Bitecofer, a 42-year-old professor at Christopher Newport University Virginia, says that there are no swing voters, and that it’s useless to design a campaign to appeal to them. Crazy, right? We should take her seriously because she nailed, almost to the number, the size of the Democrats’ 2018 win in the House.

Bitecofer’s theory is that today’s elections are rarely shaped by voters changing their minds, but rather by shifts in who decides to vote. She says the real “swing” doesn’t come from voters who choose between two parties, but from people who choose to vote, or not. The actual percentage of swing voters in any given national election according to her analysis, is closer to 7% than the 20% most of the media thinks are out there.

Bitecofer’s view of the electorate is driven by Alan Abramowitz’s concept of “negative partisanship,” the idea that voters are more motivated to defeat the other side than any particular policy goals. Abramowitz says that American politics has become like bitter sports rivalries, where the parties hang together mainly out of sheer hatred of the other team, rather than a shared sense of purpose. Republicans might not love the president, but they absolutely loathe his Democratic adversaries.

Bitecofer says that negative partisanship makes the outcome of our elections highly predictable.

For what it’s worth, Bitecofer’s model has a yet-unnamed Democrat winning 278 electoral votes with 68 electoral votes still rated toss-up. From Bitecofer:

“In short, the 2020 presidential election is shaping up as a battle of the bases, and the Democrats’ base is simply bigger. When their demographic advantage combines with an enthusiasm advantage and heightened party loyalty fueled by negative partisanship, they hold a significant structural advantage. Turnout in 2018 was about 12 points higher than 2014 turnout and higher than any midterm in decades…. It is not infeasible that turnout in 2020 will exceed 65%.”

This means that Democrats have to harness the anger of Democrats, and that is more important than using policy to energize them, and then TURN THEM OUT.

Wrongo isn’t sure what to think about this. Intuitively, the “bitter sports rivalry” makes sense. But at the 30,000-foot level, hers may just be another plea for driving higher turnout.

As Bitecofer sees it, we shouldn’t be thinking about the Democratic or Republican “base.” Rather, there are Democratic and Republican coalitions, the first made of people of color, college-educated whites and people in metropolitan areas; the second, mostly noncollege whites, with a smattering of religious-minded voters, financiers and people in business, largely in rural and exurban counties.

She may be right accidentally, rather than because her model is great. But focusing voters’ anger at Trump is better than saying that “Trump voters are stupid” (or racist, or deplorable)and  seems smart.

Huge turnout is key. Voter turnout in 2016 was around 50%. If that can be increased by 10-15%, all things become possible for the Democrats.


Poll Says 100 million Won’t Vote in Midterms

The Daily Escape:

Mac-Mac Falls, Pilgrim’s Rest, South Africa – 2006 photo by Wrongo

Millions of Americans fail to vote in every election. Yet, despite the historic importance of the 2018 midterms, more than 100 million are unlikely to show up at the polls this November, according to a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll. Here is a graphic illustration from USA Today:

Source: Frank Pompa/USA Today

This tells us that many more citizens will be nonvoters in this year’s crucial midterm elections than are likely to be voters. In the 2014 midterm, only about one-third of eligible voters actually voted. We also saw in the 2016 Presidential election that only 55% of voting age citizens cast ballots. That was the lowest turnout in a presidential election since 1996, when 53.5% of voting-age citizens actually voted.

The new Suffolk poll gives us a good sense of the turnout challenge for this November. Here’s what the non-voters say:

  • They have given up on the political parties and a system that they say is beyond reform or repair.
  • They say that the country’s most important problems include: political gridlock, the economy, health care, education and immigration. Those subjects were mentioned more frequently than guns, terrorism, or taxes.
  • They lean left in their political choices. If they were to vote for president, they would favor a Democratic candidate over Trump, 35% to 26%, with the remaining being undecided or choosing “third party” or “other.”
  • In a contradiction, the respondents indicated that they lean right in their political philosophy. More than 29% called themselves conservative, 36% said moderate and 17% said liberal.
  • About three-quarters of respondents say religion plays an important role in their lives — and three-quarters also said the federal government also plays an important role.

55% of the nonvoters and unlikely voters said they viewed Trump unfavorably. A third said they backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, while 28% said they had supported Trump. About 30% said they didn’t vote.

The 2018 midterm prospects for both parties hinge on boosting turnout. How turnout increases, and where it will come from is up in the air, but it will have to include people who do not always vote.

Given the state of American education, it’s no wonder that some non-voters aren’t familiar with the concept of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. If you don’t vote because you think your vote doesn’t matter, then your vote won’t matter because you didn’t bother to vote.

But, some of the early special elections this year suggest a pattern of unusually high turnout among those without a history of regularly voting.

A final thought: When you don’t vote, your intent might be to say “none of the above,” but your impact is “any of the above“. If we want a better country, then we must be better citizens.

That means participating in government and above all, voting.

Do whatever you can to help drive turnout in November.

(The Suffolk survey polled 800 adults between April 2 and 18, using live interviewers to reach both landlines and cellphones. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.47 %.)


Democrats: Where the White Voters At?

Yesterday, we examined the fact that the poorest Americans are the least likely to vote, so they cede the policy agenda to those who do support the weakening of America’s social safety net, and who use low voter turnout as a key election strategy.

Do the Democrats have a strategy to counter the election strategy of the GOP? If they do it isn’t evident.

Dems think that they have a permanent Electoral College presidential majority, and that changing American demographics will help them build majorities in both houses of Congress by the mid-2040’s. They are apparently willing to wait for demographics to become destiny: The numbers of white working-class voters will dip to just 30% of all voters by 2020 and 44% of white voters.

This is a dramatic decline from 1988, when white working-class voters were 54% of all voters and 64% of white voters.

But, in the last three presidential elections, the Democratic candidate lost among white working-class (non-college) voters by an average of 22 points, and by 26 points in 2012 (62%-36%). Despite Mr. Obama winning two terms, his “Obama coalition” will not insure a Democratic majority in Congress, or even provide with certainty the election of a Democratic president again in 2016.

In fact, PPP, a Democrat-leaning polling firm with a great record for accuracy, says this about 2016:

Early general election contests are shaping up to be very competitive with Hillary Clinton polling within 2 points of 5 out of 6 Republicans that we tested against her. The only GOP hopeful to actually lead Clinton is Marco Rubio at 45/43. Rubio is also the only candidate in the field with a positive favorability rating among the overall electorate, at 39/37.

Pew found that those who are most unlikely to vote are demographically distinct from likely voters:

• 34% of nonvoters are younger than 30 years old
• 43% of nonvoters are Hispanic, African American, or other racial and ethnic minorities
• 46% of nonvoters have family incomes less than $30,000 per year, while only 19% of likely voters are from low-income families
• 72% of likely voters have completed at least some college, while 54% of non-voters did not attend college

On the subject of the white working class voter, The Democratic Strategist produced an analysis about the subject, “Roundtable on Progressives and the White Working Class”, which asked the question: “What do you think is the most important single step progressives and Democrats can take to regain support among white working class Americans?”

One thing stood out in their deliberations: It was clear from surveys that white working-class voters support public action to address chronic joblessness, income disparities, and unequal education and social opportunities. They cited the study on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty conducted by the Center for American Progress, which found that more than two-thirds of white non-college voters supported 11 out of 11 policies to fight poverty, including:

• An increase in the minimum wage
• Subsidized child care
• Expanded Earned Income Tax Credit
• A national jobs program to combat unemployment

Support among this cohort topped 80% for universal pre-k, expanded Pell grants for low-income families, and affordable child care, and was basically on par with the views of African Americans and Latinos.

That indicates that there is a path for Democrats to gain a larger share of white working class voters, but The Democratic establishment does not have a serious plan that shows white non-college voters that they see the real problems facing Americans the same way.

Here is a modest program to improve Democrats’ chances with white working class voters:

1. The old guard Democratic leaders must go: Why would any Democratic candidate want to brand themselves with a party leadership that tells them to run content-free campaigns?
2. They should look at the political landscape: People are discontented, in part, because incomes haven’t risen in 15 years. What have Democrats done in response? Virtually nothing.
3. Democratic politicians need to listen to constituents. Democrats will never appeal to the majority of working Americans by primarily making more promises to enact new civil rights rules, or environmental laws. They have to deal with incomes.

The economic struggles of the white working class, combined with a feeling of powerlessness, have undoubtedly made them susceptible to right-wing rhetoric, a major coup for Republicans. The key to Democrats winning over this demographic is more about calls for straightforward job creation, wage increases, and benefits for working-aged families, and less about ploys that superficially connect to them.

We should remember that “low income white” is not a synonym for “Republican.”