Please note: This article was originally written and published in mid-April of 2015. There were Trump rumors (which I like most dismissed) and he would not yet declare his candidacy for two months. When I did mention a specific Republican foe it was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul although I did not consider him the favorite. The real point is that I then and still now feel 2016 will ultimately be a turnout election. Please enjoy this posting while I take a few days off to travel with my wife.
Political operatives divide elections into two types: persuasion and turnout. To be perfectly accurate many are a blend of the two. Although the 2016 election is basically 20 months away it is already obvious that it will be a turnout election.
Based on the not very bold assumption that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, and the fact that the nation is so politically polarized, there simply isn’t a huge pool of persuadables. Hillary has been in the public eye since the ‘90’s and most Americans already have either a favorable or unfavorable view of her. Other than a completely earth shattering event occurring between now and Election Day that opinion isn’t likely to change in a significant number of cases. (Those on the right who think the controversy over her e-mails is going to make much of a difference are living in a fantasy world.) The differences between the two Parties are so pronounced that anyone who is paying attention has already made up their mind regardless of who either Party nominates.
Some like to talk about the increasing number of Americans who register as independents. Political scientists have proven that the “independent” label is mostly a ruse. Once a person has voted for the second or third time they have established a pattern of voting disproportionately for one Party or the other. Since the Parties’ platforms are so diametrically opposed that actually makes sense. Regardless of the label, those voters are predisposed to vote either Democratic or Republican.
There is a very small, (and more important to the Democrats), group of persuadables. They are young voters voting for the first or second time. They have not established a pattern yet and will tend to listen to both sides before deciding whether to vote and who to cast their ballot for. This is what makes Rand Paul the most dangerous possible foe for Democratic operatives. Paul has some stances that appeal to young voters, (and even old guys like me). If they base their decision on those factors alone they may very possibly vote for him.
Generally speaking young voters disproportionately vote for Democrats. They also make up a large part of the increase in voter turnout in presidential years. Historically, Democrats do better in larger turnout elections. This is the major reason Republicans have worked so diligently on voter suppression. The groups they have targeted have included students. Students are a group of young voters who do research and have not yet established a voting pattern. Republicans have chosen to suppress their vote rather than appeal to their minds. It is easier, keeps their Tea Party friends happy while disenfranchising a lot of African-Americans and Hispanics in the process. African-Americans and Hispanics vote disproportionately Democratic.
I don’t see Paul having any more success with African-Americans and Hispanics than other Republicans, but he would do better with young, first time voters.
The Republicans have been very successful with passing voter suppression laws in the states that they control. The only thing the Clinton campaign can do to somewhat counteract that is to register more voters and then get them to the polls. (Trust me those are two very different things!)
There you have it. 2016’s electorate is already very defined and polarized. The goal of the campaigns is to sufficiently motivate the people predisposed to vote their way to actually cast their ballot. The most effective tool campaigns have found for doing that is negative advertising, so expect plenty of it. I expect both major candidates’ campaigns to spend over $1 billion, so there will be plenty of money. If you want Americans to get off their good intentions and do something the best way to motivate them is to upset them. There will be a few who will be motivated by voting for a woman which will siphon some female votes from the Republicans, but for the most part the motivating force for non-frequent voters will be to vote against, not for, somebody.
Unless Rand Paul pulls an upset in the Republican primary, from a tactician’s viewpoint 2016 will be a turnout election.
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