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Horowitz: Election Day 2018

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

 

It will take until tonight-- perhaps longer, if there are a number of races that are very close--to know whether the Democrats take back the House or the Republicans succeed in staving off the much talked about blue wave.  Similarly, we will not know until at least tonight whether as predicted the Republicans maintain control of the Senate or the Democrats manage to overcome a difficult electoral map with nearly all the competitive races being held in the Red States and eke out a Senate majority.

 But we already know with near certainty that turnout in these hotly contested mid-term elections will well exceed recent past mid-terms and that is a good thing. Nationally, early voting is on pace to exceed 40 million, doubling the number of early votes in the 2014 mid-term elections.  Additionally, measures of voter enthusiasm which roughly correlate with turnout are far higher than in recent mid-terms. 

Turnout in mid-term elections hovers around 40% of eligible voters. This compares to the about 60% of eligible voters that come out in presidential elections. The composition of the electorate in mid-term elections is usually older and whiter than it is for presidential elections, making it a friendlier electorate for Republicans. The strong indicators are that this traditional Republican advantage will be significantly reduced this year as indicators of enthusiasm and early vote tabulations point to younger voters and minority voters coming to the polls in far greater percentages than years past.

The main reason for this increase in interest and enthusiasm about voting in the mid-term elections are strong feelings about President Trump. While all mid-term elections are in large measure a referendum on the incumbent president, this one is even more so.  And despite the impressive crowds at Trump rallies and the constant talk of his strong base, there are far more likely voters that strongly disapprove of the president than strongly approve of him.  Overall, he remains historically unpopular with only 42% of voters approving of his job performance as opposed to 53% that disapprove, according to 538’s weighted poll average.

 As a result, President Trump putting himself front and center in the closing weeks of the campaign by holding rally after rally at best has been a mixed blessing for Republican candidates. His incendiary anti-immigrant message may be providing some boost in targeted Senate races being held in Red States, but, at the same time, it is repelling independents and moderate Republican suburban voters, reminding them of what they least like about the president. Doing well in these sub-groups are essential for Republican House candidates in most of the competitive districts and the president’s rhetoric and actions are simply unhelpful. These House candidates would much prefer that President Trump stay focused on the good economic news and stay away from divisive cultural issues.

Today, candidates, political parties and organizations on both sides are engaged in the age-old practice of get-out-the-vote.  Thousands of volunteers are knocking on doors, making phone calls and sending out last minute emails and social media messages--all for the purpose of getting their identified supporters to the polls.  Election day activities are the culmination of months of hard work in identifying support and persuading less frequent voters to cast ballots.  With our politics so partisan and polarized, resulting in a declining percentage of swing voters, mobilizing one’s supporters has become perhaps the most important campaign activity.  For those of us. like myself, who have concerns about the strength of our democracy, this robust and vibrant activity by committed volunteers-- no matter what candidate they happen to support --is a welcome sign of health.  And the prospect of higher turnout for this mid-term, whatever the outcome, is a welcome positive sign as well.

 

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island. 

 

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