Friday, September 4, 2020

Turnout Wasn't Going to Save the Democrats--and It Won't Save Trump Either

My co-author on the States of Change project and research director of the Voter Study Group, Rob Griffin, has a terrific new article out about turnout and Trump's chances. Short version: no, it is very unlikely that he'll be saved by a tsunami of white noncollege turnout. A sharp shift in his direction among white noncollege voters--now that's another matter.

"Turnout-centric strategies have become the go-to move for underdog campaigns: Despite the polls, the argument goes, our candidate has a chance if a particular group turns out in droves. During the Democratic primary race, for example, supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) claimed that an unprecedented wave of young and working-class voters would sweep their man to victory — a deluge that did not materialize. In fact, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution’s John Hudak, the share of voters under 30 actually dropped in 11 of the 12 early primary and caucus states....

[H]istory tells us that it is unusual to see a substantial increase in turnout for just one specific group. Voters live in shared political environments that shape perceptions about an election’s importance. As such, it’s more common to see turnouts among different groups rise and fall together.

Take the 2016 election. While the turnout rate of White voters without college degrees did go up by about three percentage points compared with 2012 — and this group disproportionately supported Trump — the increase was not far from the two-percentage-point rise among Hispanic, Asian and White college-educated voters. That’s according to an analysis by me and my former colleagues at the Center for American Progress, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, that synthesized county-level election results as well as data from the American Communities Survey and the Current Population Survey.....

In addition to all that, the theories underpinning turnout-based strategies tend to make an illogical leap. Yes, there are fewer swing voters these days — but that doesn’t mean they no longer matter.

Again, the 2016 presidential election makes this clear. Scholarly analysis of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study suggests that millions of people who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 switched in 2016 — including 6 million who voted for Trump and 2.3 million who supported a third-party candidate. These two groups were far larger than the 4.4 million Obama voters who didn’t cast ballots in 2016. Additional analysis by Nate Cohn of the New York Times posited that unexpected changes in turnout were, at best, only a modest driver of Trump’s success. In reality, voters who swung toward Trump after supporting Obama played a critical role in the president’s Electoral College win.

Not only do swing voters exist — they were pivotal....

We certainly see evidence that swing voters will matter in 2020, too. According to data from Democracy Fund + ULCA Nationscape, a weekly online survey that I help to manage, 9 percent of registered voters who say they voted for Trump in 2016 now say they intend to vote for Biden. Conversely, 3 percent of those who reported voting for Clinton in 2016 now say they intend to vote for Trump. (These estimates come from an analysis of 6,323 interviews conducted between Aug. 13 and Aug. 19.)

None of this is to say that turnout doesn’t matter. It certainly does. But victory for candidates often lies in the artful combination of turnout and persuasion. If Trump wins in November, it’s much more likely that he’ll have done so by strategically increasing turnout and winning over persuadable voters than by radically increasing turnout alone."

Turnout among all groups tends to rise and fall together.

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