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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Needed: Ideas to Increase Midterm Voter Turnout

Philly Trib Washington correspondent Charles D. Ellison cuts to the quest the Democratic Party’s best thinkers should be focused on in his article “Voter turnout still headache for Democrats.” Ellison writes,

Voters who typically support Democratic candidates, in fact, are nearly 60 percent of the “drop-off” voting population, according to the Pew Center, as opposed to less than 40 percent who are Republican supporting voters… On average, Republican voters are 20 percent more likely to participate in a midterm election than Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters.

Such numbers do not bode well for Democrats heading into crucial competitive elections, including high-profile test run cycles this November in places such as Virginia, New Jersey and Philadelphia and major potential comeback Congressional midterms in 2018.

High voter turnout for Democrats will be key, particularly, in 2018 as the party not only seeks to retake lost ground in both the U.S. House and Senate, but also must regain power in numerous state legislatures and Governors mansions. For Democrats, the next two years are key in terms of rebalancing scales in their favor and effectively diminishing the power of the Trump administration and its base.

Making matters more difficult, Ellison notes that Dems have a tough image problem: “Badly enough for Democrats, a summer Washington Post/ABC poll found most Americans believed Democrats “just stand against Trump” as opposed to “stand[ing] for something,” 52 percent to 37 percent. Only 35 percent of registered voters believed the party stands for something.” This despite the fact that Democrats have provided the leadership that secured virtualy all of the reforms that have benefitted Americans over the last half-century.

With repect to the declining voter participation of the nation’s strongest pro-Democratic constituency, African-American voters, Ellison notes,

…Observers are concerned that Democratic Party rank and file are discounting the crucial need to re-energize a weary Black electorate that doesn’t turnout as much as older white voters do during House and Senate midterm cycles. That electorate will also be key in helping Democrats win back gubernatorial seats and state legislatures. Yet, there’s no evidence of a concerted plan to mobilize Black voters in 2017 — despite their needed presence in the Virginia governor’s and General Assembly races — and in 2018.

There are also worries that the Black electorate is fatigued from a constant barrage of controversies and policy attacks, from reversals on affirmative action, the Affordable Care Act, military surplus to police departments and the new Justice Department’s refusal to pursue voting rights cases and police reform…Strategists worry that environment is rapidly eroding any remaining Black electoral faith in the political process, which could lead to massive drop-off voting.

The Pew Center research, in fact, shows Black voters account for nearly 20 percent of all drop off voters in looking at 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections. There are a myriad of reasons for that: from the systemic impact of voter suppression to the emotional “tap out” or lack of enthusiasm which was prevalent among Black millennial voters (a segment that constitutes 35 percent of the Black electorate population).

But it’s not just African-American voters whose participation declines in midterm elections; it’s pretty much all pro-Democratic Demographic groups. What can be done about it? In recent years a number of writers have addressed the challenge of increasing turnout in both midterm and presidential elections in articles in various media, including:

How can we increase voter participation?” by Liz Sablich at Brookings.

5 Ways To Fix America’s Dismal Voter Turnout Problem” by Kira Letner at ThinkProgress.

How to increase voter participation in low-turnout communities: Research brief” by Melissa R. Michaelson at Journalists Resource.

How to Increase US Voter Turnout” by Nancy Meyer at Daily Kos.

The Best Ways to Increase Voter Registration, and Voting” by John A. Tures at HuffPo.

Increasing Voter Turnout for 2018 and Beyond” by Tina Rosenberg at the New York Times.

This Might Be the Best Idea for Turning Out More Voters in U.S. Elections” by Thomas MacMillan at New York Magazine.

4 ways to boost the dismal turnout in local elections” by Keith Wagstaff at The Week.

How Can We Increase Voter Turnout” at FairVote.

Increasing Voter Turnout: What, If Anything, Can Be Done?” by Kelly Born at Stanford Social Innovation Review.

7 Ideas From Other Countries That Could Improve U.S. Elections” by Kate Samuelson at Time.

Simple Ways to Increase Voter Turnout” by Lee Drutman at Pacific Standard.

Ways to Increase the Youth Vote” by Goethe Behr at uspresidentialelectionnews.com.

Want to increase voter turnout? Here’s how” by Thad Kousser at The L.A. Times.

There is a lot of repetition in the above articles, and many of these ideas depend on Democrats having  working majorities in both the House and Senate, as well as state legislatures, to secure the noted reforms — which is quite a stretch at this point.

All of these and other ideas will require that Democrats provide better and more diverse candidates. There is some evidence that Democrats are doing better in this regard in this election cycle, as indicated by the swelling number of Democrats already running for office in 2018.

The challenge is made more difficult by Trump’s ability to manipulate the media and distract coverage from popular policy reforms, which remain the strongest advantage of Democrats. New ideas to facilitate meeting this challenge are more than welcome.

2 comments on “Needed: Ideas to Increase Midterm Voter Turnout


    There is only ONE way to increase voter turnout and that is to reject the BS Centrist model and fully pursue true policies which benefit working class Americans. Embrace expanding SS, fighting to protect Medicare/Medicaid, higher wages, good jobs and America First! People have woken up to to the FACT that my political Party which I have supported, donated money to, door knocked for, and phone banked for since 1973 has gone the way of the whore Corporate Centrist New Dem/Blue Dog sell out give lip service to working class issues then allow a handful of Wall Street Corporate Democrats to vote like or with Republicans and people realize it and are fed up with it. Surely, after Trump’s election that should be obvious! I refuse to give ONE more dime to the DNC, DCCC, or DSCC and will give money directly to true Progressive Democrats and win or lose at least my conscience will be clear!

  2. Jack Olson on

    I read all of the linked articles. Here is a list of their proposals: Make Election Day a holiday. Repeal voter ID laws. Allow online registration and online voting. Hire better poll workers. Make more phone calls. Walk precincts. Send spam. Teach voting in high school. Register voters at medical clinics. Vote by mail. Register all motorists to vote. Let voters vote on local budgets. Show people whether their neighbors voted. Abolish the Electoral College. Count votes by proportional representation. Register people whether they want it or not. Allow Election Day registration. Have shorter campaign seasons. Allow none of the above voting. Allow voter ranking of candidates. Make voting mandatory. Hold Election Day on the weekend. Expand early voting. Here is my suggestion: Instead of making voting easier, make it more worthwhile.


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