At Brookings William A. Galston writes about a new Pew Research Center study which indicates that voter turnout may be significantly higher than in recent years. He argues that, despite relatively low enthusiasm for the presidential candidates, the three quarters of the “voters who care a lot about the outcome…will turn out in droves to vote against the candidate they despise.”
Galston explains that, while enthusiasm for tbhe two presidential candidates is low, interest is high, with 80 percent of the poll respondents saying they have thought “quite a lot” about the election. This is the highest share measured in the past quarter century. Another 85 percent are “following the news about the presidential candidates very or fairly closely, also a quarter-century high.” And, 74 percent believe “it “really matters” who wins the election,”up from 63 percent in 2012.
Galston cautions, however, that voters dislike “the tone and substance of this year’s campaign” and there ius a 15 percent increase from 2012 in the number of voters who say the campaign is “too negative.” Further, “A record 41 percent of voters say that neither major party candidate would make a good president. This negative evaluation is more widespread for Republicans (46 percent) than for Democrats (33 percent).”
Galston queries Pew researchers about the seeming contradiction between enthusiasm and interest, and they provided him with data indicating that:
It appears that turnout can be relatively high even when voter satisfaction with the candidates is low, and vice versa. On the other hand, turnout tends to rise and fall in tandem with measures of voter interest and involvement. We would need a serious statistical analysis over a longer period of time to confirm these generalizations. Still, it is plausible that the Pew findings are pointing toward a higher turnout in 2016 than in 2012, perhaps as high as in 2008, although it is hard to be confident of that.
“In this era of high polarization,” concludes Galston, “we have become accustomed to high levels of mutual disapproval between political partisans. This year, disapproval is high within as well as between partisan ranks, setting the stage for what promises to be one of the most negative campaigns that any of us has ever experienced.”
For Democrats, the case for optimism is that voters already feel they know Trump quite well, since he dominates the news nearly every day, while Clinton still has room to re-introduce herself to swing voters who will soon be paying more attention to her ads and the presidential debates. The notion is that many swing voters who have doubts about Clinton will modify their attitudes once they witness her performance in the debates, and her more thoughtful policies and mature temperament will stand in sharp contrast to Trump’s dubious qualifications and comments.
Yet, Trump is skilled at media manipulation, and all too many members of the press are willing to comply. Democrats are going to have to outwork Republicans to insure that Clinton gets a fair hearing and that her impressive qualifications shine through her adversary’s smoke screen.