Polling Shows Democrats Less Engaged In The 2016 Campaign Than Republicans
As many have already observed, one of the big questions that will help decide whether Hillary Clinton wins the White House next year is this: Can Clinton turn out the coalition that helped power Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 wins at the same levels that the president did?
A new poll by veteran Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, to be released later this morning, illustrates the challenge Clinton faces.
The new poll, which was commissioned by Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, shows that members of the Rising American Electorate — minorities, millennials, and single women — are significantly less tuned in to next year’s election than GOP-aligned voter groups are.
The poll has some good news for Democrats. The survey, which was taken in four key battleground states — Colorado, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin — suggests that in those states, the demographics do favor Dems. That’s because the poll finds that RAE voter groups — who helped drive Obama’s wins — now make up a “majority or near majority of the vote” in all those states. The poll also finds Dems leading in Senate races in two of those states and tied in two others.
Unmarried women, minorities, and particularly millennials are less interested in next year’s voting than seniors, conservatives, and white non-college men are. Non-college women — a group the Clinton camp is reportedly eyeing as a way to expand on the Obama coalition — are also less interested.
“Unmarried women are a key dynamic in American politics,” Page Gardner, the president of Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, tells me. “It’s clear that the party or candidate who can increase turnout of unmarried women and the other segments of the Rising American Electorate will be well-positioned for victory in 2016.”
Greenberg’s pollsters are sounding the alarm now, warning that Democrats need to take more steps to tailor their message towards boosting the interest level among these voters. As Stan Greenberg outlines in his new book, America Ascendant, the key to engaging these voters is two-fold. It isn’t enough to simply outline bold economic policies to deal with college affordability, child care (universal pre-K), workplace flexibility (paid family and sick leave), and so forth, though those things are crucial. What’s also required to engage these groups, Greenberg argues, is a reform agenda geared to reducing the influence of the wealthy, the lobbyists, and the special interests over our politics. Today’s new poll suggests the same.
The basic problem outlined by Greenberg (and noted by other Dem pollsters) is that, even if Democratic economic policies are broadly popular, this isn’t enough on its own, because many Americans don’t believe government can or will actually deliver on those policies. Greenberg writes: “when voters hear the reform narrative first, they are dramatically more open to the middle-class economic narrative that calls for government activism in response to America’s problems.”
With a year to go before the election, this kind of poll isn’t necessarily something that Democrats should be panicking about, of course, For one thing, Americans in general don’t focus on elections until we get closer to the actual Election Day, so the fact that Democratic voters aren’t engaged heavily in the election doesn’t necessarily tell us what the state of play will be ten and eleven months from now. Additionally, it’s not entirely surprising that Republicans are more engaged in the race than Democrats right now for several reasons. First of all, the Republican race is far more competitive than the Democratic race is right now so there’s more reason for voters to pay attention. Where the Democratic race now seems to be effectively over and Hillary Clinton the nominee in all but name only barring something highly unusual, the Republican race remains very fluid, especially since many voters don’t really appear to believe that either of the two current frontrunners will be the nominee once we get to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in June. Second, having lost two Presidential elections in a row Republicans are arguably more “hungry” for a win in 2016 than they have been in quite some time, kind of like how Democrats were energized for winning campaigns in 1992 after losing three Presidential elections in a row and barely winning in 1976 and in 2008 after eight years of George W. Bush that began with the controversial end to the 2000 Presidential election. Finally, we haven’t even begun to get to the point in the race where the kind of activities that Democrats typically engage in to energize voters have even begun. President Obama isn’t campaigning for anyone, and likely won’t until their is a nominee. Former President Clinton has yet to really do much campaigning for his wife, although it seems likely that this will change as we get closer to the primaries. And, most importantly, the unions and other groups that help to drive Democratic voters to the polls haven’t begun their traditional efforts. Once all of that starts, it’s likely you’ll see traditional Democratic voting groups becoming just as engaged in the race as Republicans.
The fact that this poll is coming from a traditionally Democratic polling firm is also something worth keeping in mind. No doubt, Greenberg and the organizations that commissioned this poll did so with at least the partial intention of sending a wake up signal to Democratic constituencies and politicians that they need to keep their eye on the ball. I suspect that they will accomplish their task.