washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Ronald Brownstein shares some insights in his article “The unusual turnout dynamic that could decide the 2024 election” at CNN Politics: “For decades, Democrats have built their electoral strategies on a common assumption: the higher the turnout, the better their chances of winning. But that familiar equation may no longer apply for President Joe Biden in 2024….A wide array of polls this year shows Biden running best among Americans with the most consistent history of voting, while former President Donald Trump often displays the most strength among people who have been the least likely to vote….These new patterns are creating challenges for each party. Trump’s potential appeal to more irregular voters, particularly younger Black and Latino men, is compelling Democrats to rethink longstanding strategies that focused on mobilizing as many younger and non-White voters as possible without worrying about their partisan allegiance….“What all this means is this election has volatility,” says Daniel Hopkins, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist who has studied the widening partisan divergence between voters with and without a consistent history of turning out. “We used to expect that the marginal non-voter, the next voter who turned out if an election was very engaging, didn’t look different from people who did vote. In this case, the crowd that hasn’t gotten engaged looks very, very different.”

Brownstein explains further, “Merged results from the three most recent national NBC polls, conducted by a bipartisan team of prominent Democratic and Republican pollsters, for instance, found that Biden leads Trump by 4 percentage points among people who voted in both 2020 and 2022. But among those who voted in 2020 but not 2022, Trump led Biden by 12 percentage points. Trump’s lead swelled to 20 percentage points among those who did not vote in either 2020 or 2022. Fully 65% of those who did not vote in either of the past two elections said they disapproved of Biden’s performance in office….Combined results from recent national New York Times/Siena College polls likewise have found Biden narrowly leading among potential 2024 voters who turned out in 2020 while trailing Trump by double digits among those who did not vote in their previous contest….Hopkins has conducted perhaps the most ambitious attempt to quantify the divergence between Americans with and without a history of voting. Earlier this year, he and a colleague worked with NORC at the University of Chicago to survey over 2,400 adults about their preferences in the 2024 race. The poll only surveyed people who were old enough to vote in each of the past three elections — the midterms of 2018 and 2022 and the 2020 presidential race….The results were striking. Among adults who had voted in each of the past three federal elections, Biden led Trump by 11 points, and Biden eked out a narrow advantage among voters who participated in two of the past three races. But, the poll found, Trump led Biden by 12 percentage points among those who voted in just one of the past three elections and by a crushing margin of 18 percentage points among those who came out for none of them….As important, the pattern held across racial lines. In the poll, Trump ran even with Biden among Latinos who voted in two, one or none of the past three elections, while Biden held a nearly 20-point advantage among those who voted in all three. With Black voters, Biden’s lead was just 10 points among those who did not show up for any of the past three elections, but over 80 points among those who participated in all three.”

Brownstein adds, “Using data from Catalist, a leading Democratic voter targeting firm, Michael Podhorzer, the former political director of the AFL-CIO, reached similar conclusions. He found that in 2020 Biden’s margins over Trump were higher among people who voted in the three previous elections of 2018, 2016 and 2014 than those who voted in some or none of them — and that the relationship held across racial lines….Hopkins said the gap between habitual and irregular voters in his latest survey was far greater than the difference he found when he conducted a similar poll early in the 2016 race between Trump and Hillary Clinton. Key to this widening chasm, he believes, may be another dynamic: Adults who are less likely to vote are also less likely to follow political news….“For more infrequent voters, these are often people who pay less attention to politics and whose political barometer is more the question of how is my family doing economically, how does the country seem to be doing,” Hopkins said. “For those voters, Donald Trump…is not especially unusual.” By contrast, Hopkins said, a “sizable sliver” of habitual voters “have a sense that Trump may be qualitatively different than other political candidates with respect to norm violations and January 6.” For less frequent voters, he added, the equation may be as simple as “they don’t love what they see with Joe Biden, and if Donald Trump is the person running against Joe Biden, they want change.”….The NBC polling results buttress that conclusion: It found that among the roughly one-sixth of voters who say they do not follow political news, Trump led Biden by fully 2-to-1….Several analysts caution that while this divergence between high- and low-frequency voters is appearing consistently in polls now, it’s too early to say for certain whether it will persist through Election Day.”

Further, notes Brownstein, “Through the 21st century, as first Millennials and now Generation Z have entered the electorate in large numbers, Democrats have unwaveringly operated on the belief that turning out as many young voters as possible would benefit the party….But that’s a much more uncertain proposition in 2024, as demonstrated by the latest youth poll from the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, probably the most in-depth look at attitudes among young people. In the IOP poll this spring, Biden led Trump by nearly 20 points among young adults (aged 18-29) who said they definitely plan to vote in November; that lead was comparable to Biden’s advantage among all young adults in 2020….But Republicans point out that even if Trump doesn’t win as many of these irregularly voting non-White men as polls show today, he will still benefit if they drift toward third-party candidates or simply choose not to vote. Looking at the Black community, “even if you don’t buy the potential for Trump to flip lots of votes there, it seems there’s considerable risk of a turnout drop-off that will hit Biden’s raw margins out of big cities in the battlegrounds that Democrats usually depend on,” said GOP pollster Patrick Ruffini…. But Trump’s position steadily improved as the likelihood of voting diminished, with the former president leading Biden by 2-to-1 among those who said they probably would not vote….Those who indicated they were less likely to vote tended to be young people without a college degree, non-Whites and the very youngest cohort aged 18-24. John Della Volpe, the Institute of Politics’ polling director, pointed out that those youngest adults probably don’t remember much about Trump’s presidency.” Brownstein concludes, “Democrats can feel confident that at least as many habitual voters are hostile to Trump as committed to him, particularly in most of the battleground states that will decide the election. The decisive variable for 2024 may be how many people beyond that inner core of the most reliable voters show up and whether they break for the former president as decisively as most polls now suggest.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.