Looking For Electoral Love In All The Wrong Places

Or, where is the genius Democratic consultant who can increase turnout? Damon Linker notes (boldface mine):

This would seem to imply that the most electorally formidable leftist candidate would combine Bernie Sanders’ economic populism with modest immigration restrictions (Socialism for Citizens) and Bill-Clinton-style moderation on social issues (keeping abortion “safe, legal, and rare”). But given the attachment of left-leaning voters to strongly progressive positions on these social issues, a candidate who staked out such a socially moderate position and made gains among Trump voters could well inspire otherwise motivated Hillary Clinton voters to stay home in 2018 and 2020.

The left appears to be stuck in a zero-sum trap, maxed out on votes and falling just shy of what it needs to prevail in national elections.

Except for one crucially important consideration: This recent study, like most others, is based on the attitudes of voters — those who show up on Election Day. But the U.S. is notorious for its low rates of voting. Just 60.2 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election, meaning that tens of millions of people who could have voted decided not to. While numerous studies have sought to determine why so many choose not to vote, little is known about the political views of those who don’t participate in elections. Do their views mirror those of more engaged citizens? Or might they choose not to vote because none of the available candidates promise to pursue policies they support?

Actually, unregistered voters strongly lean left on many issues:


But Linker’s strategy is correct:

Either way, the best chance for the American left might be for it to look for additional voters among the currently disengaged. Even if non-voters hold views similar to those who do vote, and even if they lean right or libertarian, there must still be many millions who would be willing to support leftist candidates — if only these potential voters could be reached and motivated to cast ballots on Election Day.

In that case, the ongoing rancorous debate among Democrats about whether and how to reach out to Trump voters might be a distraction from a far more pressing and challenging concern: figuring out how to turn potential left-leaning voters into actual ones.

David Leonhardt offers one possible solution (boldface mine):

…keep in mind that turnout is a human-behavior problem. It involves persuading people to change long-established habits. And there is a powerful force uprooting all kinds of habits today: digital technology.

More specifically, smartphones are changing how people interact with information. I’d encourage progressives in Silicon Valley to think of voting as a giant realm ripe for disruption. Academic research by Alan Gerber, Donald Green and others has shown that peer pressure can lift turnout. Smartphones are the most efficient peer-pressure device ever invented, but no one has figured out how social media or texting can get a lot more people to the polls — yet.

I think the other area is to find out what the equivalent of the evangelical church–or the gay bar–is for these voters (younger, disproportionately non-white). Where can Democrats go to find them, and can we use these institutions to get people out to vote?

Any Democratic consultant who can figure this out will have earned his or her money. For once.

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