As we are about to hit the unofficial final sprint to the finish in what feels like an infinite 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton and fellow Democrats look to be in great shape. Hillary appears headed for an Electoral College landslide victory. The Democrats are heavily favored to take back the Senate (although not by a filibuster proof majority). Just the other day I talked to a Democratic congressional candidate in a district gerrymandered to favor a Republican who had just gotten polling results that put him behind by single digits and therefore in striking range. All that being said, why am I still somewhat worried? Let’s explore.
My biggest fear is the lack of voter turnout. Two factors concern me. Both presidential candidates have historically high negatives. Few voters are going to show up out of passionate excitement in support of their candidate. Hillary will get some of the first woman/glass ceiling thing; especially from women of my generation and older. The racist angle on the Trump side is reality not just Democratic hyperbole. White supremacists showing up for him will cancel out the ladies for Hillary. Most of the rest of America will be voting against, not for either. (Sadly, that is par for the course in American politics.).
The above is my lesser fear and I already said it will pretty much be a wash. My big fear is overconfidence. It could hurt Democrats differently in battleground states than in either solid blue or solid red states. Let’s look at the solids first.
Regardless of turnout (other than a complete disaster) I expect New York to go to Hillary and Mississippi to go to Trump and by large margins. Turnout won’t affect the top of the ticket final outcome. What it could affect are the results in down ballot races. A Hillary might not really need every last Democratic vote in New York but a guy or gal running for local office very well may. The reverse is true in a solid red state with Trump and down ballot Republicans. I think this will be more impactful the smaller the geographical territory with the exception of the odd really hot local races.
Now the political operative/strategist in me kicks in. How do you defend against/counter low turnout. The “textbook” answer is with robust voter registration and turnout drives. This actually favors the Democrats because of Trump. The Democrats will almost undoubtedly have more money among the national Party, state Parties and the Clinton campaign. That means more paid staff on the ground to recruit volunteers and get the “nuts and bolts” work done in a coordinated manner. Trump is running a campaign devoid of the infrastructure to register and turn out voters. Trump has so alienated the majority of big Republican donors that the RNC is actually running short of cash meaning they cannot hire the people to replace the missing Trump campaign infrastructure.
Media will be the big problem for Democrats. In the competitive 24/7 market that exists in today’s American political press every entity is trying to be the one that later can claim “We told you so.” In that vein they are going to convince a lot of voters that the top race is over. Therefore at lot of voters will figure why bother going to the polls? My vote won’t make any difference anyway. That could actually swing a swing state. A state like Ohio or North Carolina could end up being decided by a percent or two. A relatively small number of people sitting it out could determine whether Clinton or Trump wins the state. If my prediction is accurate that will only impact the margin of victory and therefore be meaningless with reference to the Presidential race. The true impact is that the fate of down ballot candidates may very well depend on those missing votes.
There is much more than the Presidency at stake this November. If you care about tissues like health care, public education, sewers and stop signs (just to name a few) then it is in your self-interest to vote regardless of what the polling tells you about the Presidential race!
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