WaPo: Priorities USA: Democrats can expand the 2018 electorate

April 24, 2017

Priorities USA: Democrats can expand the 2018 electorate

April 24, 2017
By Dave Weigel

In 2016, Priorities USA Action spent more than $200 million to elect Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Senate — and came up short.

Its message for 2018: Democrats can, and should, shoot for the moon.

In a new survey, taken in the first week of April by Global Strategy Group and Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, Priorities USA found that Democrats who tend to sit home in midterm elections were unusually motivated to turn out in 2018. Fifty-eight percent of “drop-off” voters said they were extremely motivated and enthusiastic about voting in the 2018 elections, rating their interest as nine or 10 on a 10-point scale. An additional 22 percent of the voters were “somewhat” motivated to turn out.

“These voters are ready to turn out,” said Guy Cecil, Priorities USA’s chairman. “I was at the DSCC in 2006 when Democrats took back the Senate; I was at the DSCC when Republicans took it back in 2014. There wasn’t a circumstance where I saw eight out of 10 drop-off voters expressing interest in the election.”

The polling sample included 402 Democrats who didn’t vote in 2016 and 401 Democrats who voted in 2016 but tend to skip midterms. The latter group, they found, was more likely (61 percent to 56 percent) to be extremely motivated. African American voters, who Democrats have found difficult to turn out without Barack Obama on the ballot, were the least likely to be extremely motivated — just 49 percent.

Although Democrats have criticized their 2016 strategy as focusing too much on Trump and too little on lunchpail economic issues, the Priorities polling found that just 8 percent of drop-off voters had a favorable view of Trump. The Republican Party was less unpopular, but still toxic, with 77 percent of the voters viewing it unfavorably.

“Trump is such a hot button for these voters that when we ask them to volunteer the most important issue facing the country, the most commonly volunteered answer is ‘Donald Trump’ (16 percent) rather than any specific policy issue,” the pollsters wrote.

To Cecil, those numbers — combined with strong Democratic turnout in April’s special elections — suggested that the party didn’t need to be as conservative as in past elections about modeling the 2018 electorate. Last year, when Democrats were surprised by Trump, they saw white voters who hadn’t turned out in previous elections showing up and destroying their model, leading to upset defeats for Clinton in the Midwest and Florida.

“As we think about turnout numbers, a lot of time our polls start with likely voter screen and micro-target from there,” Cecil said. “Democrats should be taking an expansionist view for 2018. We should be looking at voters who didn’t turn out in 2016. We should be looking at non-registrants who are suddenly expressing interest in this election.”