Given the party's recent recapture of the House of Representatives, Democrats are feeling optimistic about their chances of denying Donald Trump a second term as president. But new research indicates they still face a huge problem: Getting their voters to the polls.
A study based on recently released data finds that, in the 2018 mid-terms, Trump supporters were more likely to cast a vote than Trump opponents. This disparity "softened the negative effect of Trump's weak approval polls on Republican candidate vote totals," reports Fordham University political scientist Jeffrey Cohen.
That suggests the question of whether Trump gets thrown out could hinge on turnout.
In the journal Presidential Studies Quarterly, Cohen analyzed data from the American National Election Studies' 2018 Pilot Study. Completed by 2,500 American adults, it featured a variety of politics- and policy-related questions, including the respondents' overall feelings about Trump; whether they voted in Senate, House of Representatives, and/or gubernatorial elections in 2018; and if so, for which party's candidate.
Crunching the numbers, Cohen found that conventional wisdom was, for once, correct. "To a strong degree, the 2018 mid-term elections for the House, Senate, and governorship were a referendum on the president," he writes.
But other findings were more surprising—and, for Democrats, more troubling.
"In all types of races, Trump supporters were more likely to turn out to vote than voters who disapproved of the president," Cohen reports. "It appears that the president's strategy of rousing his supporters by campaigning in many House, Senate, and gubernatorial races, and thus turning the contests into referenda on his presidency, paid off in part by stimulating his base to come out and vote."
"Doing so may have softened the national tide against the president and the Republican Party, perhaps one factor in the Republicans' keeping control of the Senate," he adds.
This bodes well for Trump's chances of re-election, which "may not be bleak, even with approval ratings of 40 to 45 percent," Cohen writes. If this same pattern persists, whereby Trump supporters are more likely to vote than his detractors are, that "may offset Trump's overall low approval ratings."
Furthermore, this turnout advantage "may play a crucial role in winning critical states that are also closely contested," Cohen adds. "This may have been the case in the 2016 election, leading Trump to prevail in several states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania by a whisker margin."
The results should serve as a flashing yellow light for leaders of the Democratic Party. They suggest that, for all the talk of recapturing Trump voters—which may be a fool's errand—Democrats should look for a nominee who excites party members and sympathetic independents, and ultimately inspires them to actually vote.
Such a galvanizing candidate, plus a ground organization that makes sure voters get to the polls, could make all the difference.