It's About Voter Turnout, Stupid!


Now that it seems Bernie Sanders is the candidate to beat in the ongoing, too-painful-to-watch, Democratic Party presidential primary, the time is now for level-headed analysts to begin assessing things from a bird’s eye view. Ultimately, the point of an election is to generate votes. This is in the form of turnout. There has been much anticipating surrounding Bernie Sanders’ underdog campaign for “democratic” socialism among the Democratic Party’s base of supporters–and America’s youth have certainly started to “feel the Bern”–but is this momentum enough to swamp the hardcore support of President Donald J. Trump?

Thus far, two of the first primary elections in the country have been held: Iowa and New Hampshire.

For the Republicans, it was a no-brainer: the president ran virtually unopposed (save for Bill Weld in New Hampshire, who was quickly trounced). Further, President Trump’s victories broke voting records in both the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. The president attained more primary votes in New Hampshire than either former Presidents George W. Bush or Barack Obama did when they ran as incumbents. In fact, the Trump Campaign has a viable plan for “flipping” New Hampshire into its camp for the general election, as The Washington Times recently reported. Of course, there is still more to be done for both the Trump Campaign and the Democratic Party going into November.

Still, the Democrats are presently appearing as a much graver disaster than whatever the Trump Administration may appear to some “undecided” voters as.

Not only were there “voting irregularities” in the Democratic Party’s Iowa caucus for president this year, but there was clearly an attempt on the part of the Democratic National Committee and their partners to stunt what should have been a decisive victory for Bernie. The much-ballyhooed voting app created by former Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign staffers (operating under the ominous name, “Shadow, Inc.”) completely failed.

On the eve of the election, The Des Moines Register refused to release their presidential poll–which has long been the “gold standard” of anticipating which candidate will win the Iowa caucuses. Meanwhile, most votes in Iowa were decided by haphazard coin tosses.

To those of us outside the Beltway bubble, it was obvious that Bernie Sanders was the guy to beat on the Democrat side. The only real question was whether or not the DNC elites would allow Bernie to overcome their preferred stale candidates and take a shot at President Trump. As I and a handful of other analysts have warned audiences, the technocratic politics of yesteryear are over; henceforth the battle will be fought between populists of either the socialist or nationalist persuasions. An entirely new political paradigm has been forming in this country and will continue to form over the next decade and define the next 50 years.

Who Is Voting Today?

Even as the Democrats twisted in confusion and chaos during the Iowa primary, it was evident that Bernie was generating the most buzz and interest among actual voters. Millennials who’ve experienced the elite failures of the Iraq War and the Great Recession of 2008, as well as the student debt crisis and the subsequent economic (non) recovery of the Obama years have formed the nucleus of the Bernie Sanders movement. Following behind them are many Gen-Z’ers who came of age only during the doldrums of the Obama Administration and have little point of reference beyond those years (and the purported unpopularity of the current president). Meanwhile, a hodgepodge of totally disaffected, older Gen-X’er voters and a cross-section of working-class, angry, old school Leftist revolutionary Baby Boomers still trying to stoke the movement that forged their political ethos in the 1960s have also glammed on to Bernie’s socialist movement.

Despite the pictures and video showing Bernie’s huge crowd sizes (compared to other Democratic Party candidates), though, the question remains how will turnout be affected in the general election against President Trump (should Bernie, in fact, be the nominee)?

Photo courtesy of NPR.

The answer is quite clear: Trump has thus far galvanized more people than Bernie has. While it is certainly true that nothing is written in stone during an election, Bernie evokes much antipathy on the Democratic side. Not only are the moneyed interests who run the party divided on his campaign, but many others remain committed to their preferred, less controversial candidates (there are even, apparently, some dead-enders still clinging on to the fantasy that Joe Biden will be the nominee, though they are decreasing). As time progresses, Bernie will continue amassing victories or near-victories, as he did in New Hampshire and Iowa. Crowds will continue gravitating to his movement; but they will not be enough to stop Trump.

In Iowa, the Democratic Party’s overall voter turnout–those who came out and voted for any of the Democratic hopefuls–was embarrassingly low. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, the Democratic turnout was better than Iowa. Although, taken as a percentage of the voting population, it wasn’t all that great. Yes, turnout in New Hampshire’s DNC primary surpassed that of the 2008 DNC primary, when both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were on the ballot. No, that is not a good gauge of voter enthusiasm for the Democrats, considering that there are 95,226 more people living in New Hampshire in 2020 than there was in 2008.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, President Trump’s turnout “smashed” records in both the Republican primaries of Iowa and New Hampshire. Since he is running unopposed and Trump has decided to double-down on his “Make America Great Again” agenda–revving up his already-enthusiastic base while attracting new, moderate voters who may not like his personality but who very much enjoy the prosperity his policies are helping to deliver–Trump has momentum. Momentum generates turnout. And, turnout wins elections.

Bernie actually did worse in New Hampshire than he did in 2016, in terms of voter turnout. Of course, there are more candidates running against Sanders in 2020 than four years ago. Yet, the exit polls suggest that fewer young voters–the crux of Sanders’ movement–did not turnout as expected. This is not the case for Trump, who is galvanizing his coalition. The message of Bernie’s campaign (aside from “Orange Man Bad” and “Free Stuff 4 U”) is that things today are much worse today than they were a few years ago. The Trump Campaign, naturally, is making a different argument: not only are things better than they were in 2016, but they are only getting better.

Diving Into the Numbers

According to a recent Gallup poll, 61 percent of Americans say they are “better off” than they were three years ago. And, as Gallup posits, “no more than 50 percent [of Americans] have said this in past election cycles.”

Courtesy of Gallup, February 2020.

Bernie will be playing for the disenchanted 36 percent who said they “not better off” than they were three years ago. Indeed, that likely includes a group of Americans who voted for Donald J. Trump in 2016. But, that strategy just might yield diminishing returns for the curmudgeonly socialist gadfly who now finds himself rapidly becoming the de facto nominee of a major American political party. Think about it: the president has an all-time high approval rating. This has occurred in the face of such daunting political opposition and other controversy surrounding his first term in office. Thus, it seems unlikely that enough people will switch from Trump to Bernie in November.

This is especially so, if the ongoing Department of Justice investigations into the Obama Administration’s probe of the Trump 2016 presidential campaign’s supposed ties to Russia unfold in public, and as the DOJ works alongside Rudy Giuliani in investigating the Democrat-Ukraine nexus of corruption, the Democrats will look bad to most voters. Revelations surrounding Democratic Party perfidy in both of those cases will undoubtedly be revealed in public that will disincentivize many voters who might be tempted to vote for Bernie (such damaging information about DNC corruption, you can be assured, will be used by the Republicans as an “October Surprise.”)

Who Wins the Narrative Battle, Bernie or Trump?

Should Bernie receive the DNC nomination, the narrative of the election will become about “socialism.” It will be about centralization versus decentralization. The election would be defined as the young versus old as well. But, there are still more elderly voters who are tuned into the political process than there are young voters. The Millennials are certainly a large number of voters (comprising about 27.3 percent of eligible voters, as of 2019). The Baby Boomers still hold a slight majority over the Millennials (28.5 percent). There are still 9.5 percent of the Silent Generation who are eligible to vote as well, who are more than likely to vote for the more conservative of the two candidates (in this case, Trump).

Courtesy of AXIOS.

And, while elements of Generation Z may be attached to Bernie’s movement, it is important to note that many of them are likely in college, meaning they are statistically unlikely to turnout as the elderly and professional-types of older generations will. Meanwhile, the Generation-X crowd appear to be decisively divided between the youthful socialist mania of the Sandernistas and the more self-deterministic, entrepreneurial Generation-X voters. Remember also that 41 percent of Millennials voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and, if even half of them turnout again for Trump, that should help to put the president decisively over the number of votes he needs to win.

Bernie argues he represents the “working people” of America and will attempt to woo them by essentially playing the role of Santa Claus, painting Trump as The Grinch. But, this does not match up with the facts. Despite what the Democrats say, there is quantifiable data indicating that blue-collar jobs are booming and that the overall economy is operating at a better tempo than it previously was. Elections are rarely about the facts, though, and the contest will be one of popularity rather than policy.

Bernie as a Popular Candidate?

If Bernie gets the nomination, he might pick Tulsi Gabbard as his running-mate, which would definitely make a Bernie-led Democratic presidential ticket more appealing than it otherwise would be. Then again, though, Bernie is going to have to compromise at the Democratic National Convention, where the elite will give one last try at stymying Bernie’s rise to the nomination. If the Democratic Party’s moneyed interests do consent to work with Bernie (as some DNC donors have indicated to me in private they will ultimately do to “beat Trump”), their support will likely be conditional (such as Bernie naming a more moderate-type Democrat as his running-mate). Bernie will make the case that things aren’t so great for many Americans and he will attempt to use extreme negativity to overcome the very good news that most Americans are enjoying today, as evidenced by the aforementioned Gallup poll.

But, it is more than possible that Bernie wins almost every primary, faces a contested convention this summer, and his campaign is repealed and replaced by an Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg–or, as Steve Bannon keeps insisting, a Hillary Clinton stalking horse. Should that occur, the Democrats are assured of defeat (unless they cheat), because then it redounds to the electoral map and the map is still mostly the same as it was in 2016, thereby favoring Trump.

Even if Bernie wins the primary process, avoids a convention fight, and secures the nomination, he’s still coming at the general election from a deficit of voters. Plus, let’s face it, subjectively Bernie is not an enthusiastic candidate. Sure, Trump has his quirks and can appear to some as a bully. But, Trump’s celebrity still has social value whereas Bernie comes across as the angry old professor that everyone simply endures to get general education credits out of the way. He may have his followers who will remain a force over the long-term in American politics (especially given their age), but in 2020 they do not yet have enough mass to overcome the voters who still prefer the relative stability and prosperity that Trump offers compared to the revolutionary and unconventional policies of Sanders.

In all, Trump has flipped the script on the Democrats. As their party disintegrates and seeks stability, the Left has fired just about every shot in its political arsenal at the president…and each shot has missed its intended target. Trump is now stronger than he was even a year ago and this situation–barring some catastrophic event, like a recession before the election–is likely to persist. And, as oil prices are set to spike due to the coronavirus, a cratering of fracking development in the United States, and a decline in shale oil production over the next year, it is possible that a recession will come. Although, Bloomberg, a media publication whose ties to a current Democratic Party presidential dark horse candidate, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, would benefit politically from an economic decline, rates the chances of a recession this year as being at a meager 28 percent.

Bernie, while very popular among the Democratic Party base, will likely be unable to overcome the changes in perception that Trump’s consistent victories and policy movements have caused. Turnout will be a decisive element in the election and, right now, Trump is galvanizing more voters than even Bernie can.

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